Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Free Games

HISTORIA ROMANA is Experimental History

If you've never thought of warfare in the Roman Republic and Empire periods in terms of corn rebellions, naval disasters, and barbarian uprisings, you're only thinking of military tactics and not of the entire era being considered. Historia Romana is a free "print and play" game that also has a free cyberboard version. The game comes with a "Republic" scenario ("Rise of Sulla" in 85 BCE), a "Civil War" scenario ("Caesar vs. Pompey" in 50 BCE), and an "Empire" scenario ("The Year of Four Emperors" in 68 CE). Yet, in spite of handling such a vast expanse of time and even differences in military and political organization, the game works extremely well and has a different feel than many of the other Roman Era games I've been playing in preparation for a theme issue of our upcoming magazine Reroll and Replay (Yes, I know you haven't heard of it, because we haven't announced it yet--this is our first "official" leak.). I've also been playing a lot of "free games" of late and this is one of the very best available. You can find it at: I believe Flavio adapted the game from a more complex experience, West End Games' Imperium Romanum II.

Historia Romana is played in turns (duh) with nine "turns" representing one year (8 months plus Winter). During the first simulated month, all players go through a taxation phase where they collect gold according to the values printed on the map board for every province they control. In addition, the first month offers a diplomacy phase where alliances can be formed and "foreign aid" proffered. This is also the time when, each "turn," one checks for corn rebellion. On the winter turn, players have to pony up their gold to provide support for each unit on the board (all of that Roman Meal costs money).

After these special phases common to all players, each turn is divided into six "phases" for each active power involved in the scenario, respectively (obviously, there would be four phases per turn for the four emperors scenario since four major powers are represented in the Roman power struggle). These phases consist of a random events phase with a very robust number of random events (and we suggest a few new ones in the first issue of Reroll and Replay that can be easily added to our Microsoft Excel Game Assistant for Historia Romanaor MEGAHR(see more later)); siege resolution phase (easy, chart-based resolution); looting phase (a quick opportunistic die roll when one has occupied a city); movement and combat phase (with an interesting approach to both (see below)); supply phase (so typical you could almost guess the rule); and the purchase phase (a very nice approach for which we have also provided help in the MEGAHR)).

The gameboard and components are very colorful for a free downloadable game. They are also very functional in that all of the units are compatible with all of the powers since they are a basic gray and they "change allegiance" as it were when a colorful leader counter is placed over them. Movement was interesting because it combines randomality (the d6 roll that controls everything in the game) and the leader's movement rating. So, most stacks will move from four points per turn to eight points per turn.

Combat features a more interesting choice. Combat occurs when one stack enters a hex containing hostile units. In a system reminiscent of many sets of miniatures rules, combat is resolved by both attacker and defender selecting a strategem and comparing them against a combat matrix. The matrix will often adjust the combat values based on this resolution (but not always). You can see these options below (as pictured from our MEGAHR)

Depending on the matrix, cavalry units may be doubled or tripled, standing units may be doubled, or all charging units (except for light (ie. skirmishing) infantry) are doubled. It's an interesting approach that would work well for many different eras of warfare. In fact, it reminds me of Napoleonic Era rules.

The strange choice with regard to combat is that one would expect terrain to play a part in combat resolution. Yet, we can find no such rules. Naturally, there are many "strategic" level games where terrain is abstracted out because the turns represent longer periods of time than found in "tactical" level games, but since the strategem matrix has a lower level feel to it, one would expect that lower level feel with regard to terrain, as well.

At any rate, combat is resolved when one totals the modified combat values of both sides to get a grand total. If the grand total has a digit in the hundreds position, the player gets to roll a d6 against the 100s column in the Combat Results Table (CRT), one roll for every "hundred." Then, if there is a digit in the tens position, the player gets to roll a d6 against the 10s column in the CRT. Obviously, for each unit, the player rolls a d6 against the unit column in the CRT.

While this is very entertaining, it can get quite out of whack when the smaller side has nine rolls in the digits column and the larger unit has two rolls in the tens column. Even though one can only use a half-point per hit in the units column, a streak of good die rolls can outperform two bad rolls on the superior chart. (Bet you wonder how I know this--grin.) Still, I like it better than just rolling massive numbers of dice and playing in double jeopardy a la Sword of Rome (GMT) where you can not only "not hit," but decimate yourself with bad die rolls.

As for the MEGAHR, you can find it on the prototype site. Click on the "Downloads" tab and see all of the game assistants we've provided. If you plan to use the MEGAHR, you'll want to copy the spreadsheet and save it under a specific game name each time you use it. That way, after you roll a random event on the chart, you can change it to N/A (going to the right sheet and typing N/A into the description cell of the large Random Events chart) to represent the "chit" having been drawn if you were using physical components. There is a downloadable Word document that serves as documentation which is also available on the Reroll & Replay site.