An Evening of Multitasking with Glory to Rome

August 29, 2013

DSCN0562<1> I recently started listening to the Secret Cabal podcast and one of the guys (Jamie, I think) says Glory to Rome is his favorite game of all time. So when it came up at my last game night, I had to jump on the opportunity to try it out. Of course, I've since learned that this Jamie fellow rates Dungeon Roll higher than Agricola on BoardGameGeek, so maybe I shouldn't be listening to his opinion at all. Luckily for both of us, Glory to Rome is a pretty fantastic game. I was playing the older version with the absolutely terrible, awful art and design, but the fantastic mechanics shone through all that horribleness and I had a great time. Glory to Rome's central idea builds upon the card game concept of San Juan and Race for the Galaxy in that cards can be used as both buildings and resources. Glory to Rome takes that to the extreme, though, by having cards function as buildings, resources, roles and straight victory points as well, such that you have an extreme wealth of possible uses for every single card in your hand. And this leads to a wealth of difficult decisions about what exactly to do with each of the cards in your hand, which I find highly enjoyable. The mechanics of the game are rather more complicated than I wish to explain here, but the simplified version is that there is a player leader each turn who plays a card from his hand as a role - an action he wishes to take with the other cards in his hand. Other players can then also play that same role from their hand or pass. Another lovely idea is that passing is never bad. When you pass, you automatically draw more cards, such that you will never get stuck in a rut of having nothing to do for long. It is so easy to get cards in your hand, and all the cards have so many different possibilities, so the player is always kept active in tough decision making. It's just plain beautiful. Once you get the hang of it, that is. My group broke it out and the owner, who had played it before but not in a long time, spent the next 30-40 minutes alternating between explaining the game in a convoluted manner and reading the rulebook to refresh his memory on most of the specifics. It was a rather grueling experience. And that sense of "What is going on?" persists into the actual game because there are just so many buildings to build, and they all have crazy rule-breaking functions. So you have to keep track of what other players are building, plus what cards they are storing for victory points, what clients they have, what they have in their stockpile, etc., etc., because there's so much player interaction. You have to know what everyone is doing because it could easily affect you. For instance, if someone builds the Catacombs, the game simply ends right then and there, and I hope you stored up some points in your vault. After the grueling explanation and the first go-around the table where we all mustered through our confusion, the game started to pick up pace and actually be enjoyable. In my starting hand, I had a stone building that allowed me to build any future building with a single high-value resource (as opposed to 2 or 3 resources), and I easily identified that as an early-game goal. I didn't fully get the game, but I figured if I could start pumping out loads of crazy buildings, that would definitely help me win the game. The problem, though, is that stone buildings require 3 stone to build, and that's hard to get early on. Luckily, soon after than, I picked up an easy rubble building (rubble buildings only require a single resource to build), that allowed me to use any resource as stone. So I laid down that one-two punch and kicked my game-winning engine into high gear. After that, I felt kinda bad because me winning was more-or-less a forgone conclusion. I start churning out all sorts of other high-powered buildings that allowed me to put extra cards in my vault (lots of points) and steal lots of resources from everybody at the table. One guy threatened an early game end with the catacombs before my engine got me into the lead, but everyone worked together to stop him from completing it until he was clearly not going to be the winner if he did complete it. So we kept playing, and I kept amassing vast amounts of points until the catacombs guy got tired of the game and just finished it anyway. The final score was 39-16-13-12-11. While I did enjoy winning so handily, it did worry me greatly that such building combinations could result in such overwhelming victory if acquired early enough in the game. Nobody likes luck-based games, and nobody like having someone draw an "I win" set of cards at the beginning of the game and have the next hour be a battle for second place. It makes me very apprehensive indeed, but I definitely want to play this again to see if I can earn victory in a more legitimate way, especially the more I think about just how much depth of strategy and player involvement there is in the game. Maybe I can find a copy of the black box version, though, so I don't have to look at all that horrible artwork again.

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