While you read, listen to this:
I am easily swept away by the enticing history surrounding that age-old lust to conquer the Mediterranean. The giant three and a half by four foot map of Europe and Northern Africa immediately captures my imagination; whatever inner child managed to survive a dozen years of schooling is immediately drawn forth and begins to play with the detailed and varied game pieces right out of the box, requiring neither rules nor other players.
I am conflicted about what I must do; I am often horrified by the great violence unleashed by my bloody hands. Deep down I know that I am only doing what I must if I am ever to brush my hand over the flowering tops of golden grain and enter the gates of my beloved home again.
I stop in prayer to center myself before moving ahead with the slaughter.
Ancestors, I ask for your guidance.
Blessed mother, come to me with the gods’ desire for my future.
Blessed father, watch over my wife and son with a ready sword.
Whisper to them I live only to hold them again.
Ancestors, I honor you and will try to live with the dignity you have taught me. (Thanks Gladiator!)
I definitely need to do a little finagling to ensure that my inspirational mythos gels with the goal of the game: murder up to five other Caesars in this bloody Roman civil war. Well, I was pushed into the role of Caesar and am only using the position for the good of the Empire: I must remove the tyrannical threats to the delicate dream that was Rome if I am ever to hold my loving wife and young son in my fearsome arms once again.
I first played this game with my roommate in college and while we definitely cherished standing over such a massively magnificent map and moving the many detailed representatives of our mighty forces, very little actually happens when you only have two players. The size of the map and the quickness with which travel can be achieved on the roads allows far too much dancing and posturing. Each side tends to conquer empty spaces and then escape from the defending army before any actual battles take place. Building roads and cities does add a unique twist that makes the game-play feel more Roman and really adds to the experience when playing with more players.
Without more players to fill up the massive map, there is little pressure to actually fight; half of the entire land mass surrounding the Mediterranean isn’t bad, right? Maybe we can work something out. If adequate peace-terms are arrived at, why stretch the impelling narrative into a container for so much bloodshed. I’d rather just skip ahead to riding with my son through sunny fields of gold!
Even with the disappointing lack of action, we didn’t want to leave the world induced by such a beautifully wrought game and kept our set-up in tact for some time. We found great pleasure in standing over the giant map and allowing our imaginations to run wild.
With more players, the game becomes much more the epic war-game that it is meant to be. This is a perfect game to draw in non-nerds and newbies because the Classic Rules (which my roommate and I had used and which can be found here) are a great introduction to this style of game.
The game-play is smooth and satisfying and fairly similar to the action of games like Axis and Allies; however, the game instructions can be vague and some scenarios manage to sneak through unexplained. Fortunately, this is not enough to derail the game because most of the omissions are solved by this helpful FAQ provided online by Eagle Games. For instance: crossing arrows over straights is not clear. (Note: It is allowed if the surrounding water is devoid of ships or if the player with ships in the surrounding water acquiesces to the crossing.)
The FAQ is a must and I would definitely recommend finding at least three people, but the closer you can get to the full six possible players the more exciting this game can be.
I should also point out that the game includes a more advanced set of rules called Conquest of the Empire II. I have yet to fully immerse myself in this version but I can already see how the use of things like influence tokens root the game more deeply into the historical period so that we’re not just playing Axis and Allies with different pieces (which are so cool that I’d say it’s worth it). This expanded version will most certainly appeal to more advanced players. A large part of this version of the game deals with achieving and protecting the influence each Caesar maintains over each region and the politicians. I’m really excited to expand my foray into the Empire and will update as soon as I can find some other Caesars (who aren’t afraid to be crushed by the real Caesar -even though I’m only using my power for the good of the Empire or whatever).