Sunday, July 1, 2018

Gangs of Rome review

A few weeks ago I bought Gangs of Rome. It was much hyped all over the interweb but I had heard some good things about it. And furthermore, as another example of my usual upside-down prioritising, I felt the need to build me some Roman terrain. That last exploit is being detailed elsewhere but I have found the opportunity to play the game and want to let you know what it is like.

GoR's theme is firmly rooted in one of my favourite BBC series: Rome. Violent gangs roam the streets of Rome (see what I did there?) in the service of rich Romans who want to stay or become senator or just very powerful. On the side they have various criminal projects running, like robbing temples, ambushing money-carriers and assassinating the odd rival.

GoR is quite PC in that half of the gangers is female. Probably not very historical (given the extreme machismo of Roman society) but it makes for more variation in the models. Playing either female of male gangers yields no specific advantages.

Game genre
GoR is an alternate turn-based skirmish game. Drawing pebbles out of a bag gives you an activation of one ganger for each pebble of your own colour. Gangs number 3 to 7 gangers depending on the size of your game (or collection). An Activated ganger may perform one or two Actions in fixed combinations like Move and Fight or Move and Bind (a wound to heal a HP (or Flesh as it is called)).

The Blood on the Aventine starter box is a great way to start the game. Its value for money has been extensively dealt with elsewhere so I won't get into that. It is excellent. It has a temple. Buy it.

Special stuff
One needs a 3x3 ft table and some Roman terrain (or at least buildings and temples and stuff) to play GoR on. The game comes with thematic dice (with Roman numerals) and thematic MDF measuring sticks in the form of a Gladius that in my not so humble opinion are more appealing than practical. But they work. There are a few innovative aspects to GoR that merit separate treatment. These are the collectible character of the game, the Denarii and the Mobs.

When buying a ganger (or "Fighter" as they are officially called) one receives a figure, three head swaps, 5 or 6 weapon options, a 6-sided die with Roman numerals, 4 random Denarii (see below) and a random Fighter card. The randomness of the Fighters essentially makes it a collectible game, as there is no possibility to generate your own gangers. You have to use the cards provided in the set. Since there are hundreds of variations and only a few handfuls of fighter models this sounds a bit strained. I expect (hope...) that War Banner will release a way to generate your own gangers in time or someone will start scanning and posting them on the internet soon.....
I don't see myself buy dozens of Fighters just to get new cards.

A Fighter carries two counters slotted into its base. One is his ID number to link it to its card, the other one is is Flesh Score (HPs). Flesh 0 = Out of the Game.

The Denarii
This is your gangs collection of special weapons, equipment and allies. The base set provides a small number of them but you can buy Denarii separately from War Banner. This gives your gang some exotic weapons (stranglers rope anyone?), handy equipment (caltrops) and allies (like a Gladiator or a big dog). A Denarius is a card with the Denarius' description on it and a wooden coin counter that "shadows" your ganger on the table to indicate he possesses it. People who are allergic to counters on the table (I for one am not wild about that) can soothe their nerves by placing the Denarii on the gangers card.

The denarii are limited to the number of your gangers plus 7. You can supply your gangers with them at the start of our turn and may change them every turn. However, they return to the Used Pile which can only be assessed once your hand is empty. So choose carefully, since a Denarius that enters the Used Pile might be away for some time. Denarii offer in-turn as well as out-of-turn effects depending on the description.

A Mob mauling two Fighters

The Mobs
Rome was of course a bustling place full of people. So a number of Roman crowds randomly traverse the table during play like some kind of moving terrain. When angered or panicked these turn into mobs that can flee and trample your gangers or outright attack them. There is even a way to set them onto your opponents! A mob are five Roman civilians on a large round base.

Fighters can also hide in mobs and may use this to surface again somewhere on the table in any mob they so choose. But be careful. When a mob panics, it stampedes off and leaves you behind and that might be right in front of your enemies....

Rules Mechanics
Nothing really new here. A Fighter gets Activated once a pebble of your colour gets drawn from the bag. A Fighter has a number of stats indication the number of dice it may roll. A 4+ is usually a success. In Combat both Fighters roll Attack vs Defence. Defence successes cancel Attack successes and uncanceled attacks usually result in Wounds that diminish the Flesh score. There are a few modifiers like cover. And of course Denarii can greatly influence play by replacing standard attacks or defences. An attacked Fighter usually gets the chance to fight back (if he is not dead or badly wounded). Extreme damage results in gushing wounds that prevent counter attack and lost Flesh (HP) slows your Fighter down. Flesh may be regained by Binding the wound.

Movement is straightforward in inches and moving through hazardous terrain (like jumping from one roof to another) requires Agility checks. It is a decent and elegant system that makes for quick play.

Like most skirmish games GoR excels in scenario play. Three scenarios are included in the book, which is meagre given the fact that it is a game that profits greatly from scenarios. However, six more can be downloaded from the War Banner site.

Other rules
There are a host of other options as yet unexplored by me. There are Incola, wandering citizens of Rome that may influence the game as a sort of NPC. There are the Gods you can pray to and there are the religious affiliations of your gangers that may yield advantages when your entire gang worships one god.

I have a feeling War Banner is preparing a lot more stuff to populate this game.

Campaign play is supported and rules for this variant are given. Winning games yields you Influence Cards that may be exchanged for favours or saved to become senator!

The combination of a relatively simple rules mechanism and a large number of options offered by the Denarii, Incola and Mobs, all bundled into a scenario-driven game, makes for a quickly-learned but tactically interesting game that plays fluently and intuitively within 90 minutes or so. Your Fighters sneak up on their opponents, fight, blend into mobs and use terrain to their advantage. Using larger gangs and more mobs is only likely to make it more interesting.

Strongly recommended! 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds awesome I've read nothing but great things about it.