I’ve recently been enjoying the TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand on DVD, a ridiculously over-the-top schlock-fest full of brutal 300-style stylised violence and explicit nudity that also manages some interesting character and plot development. There’s not a huge amount of historical realism here—while everyone speaks in a mock-Classical style, one of the main characters blurted out “fantastic!” in a recent episode—but it’s a lot of silly fun.
This look into the Roman world—well, Spartacus’s stereotypically violent and sexualised Roman world anyway—inspired me to put together a list of Roman-themed games for your enjoyment!
Colosseum is a beautifully produced game from Days of Wonder that has players competing to produce the most spectacular entertainments in the arena. As your resources grow, you’ll be able to stage larger and larger shows and expand the size of your arenas; and if you time things just right you may be blessed with a visit from the local senator, consul, or perhaps even the Emperor himself! This is an extremely entertaining game that strikes just the right balance between smooth mechanics, fun, and atmosphere.
In Sylla, the year is 79 BC and players take the role of Roman senators in their quest for glory. Use your fortunes and connections to build great works and resolve the political problems of the Republic. You will have to co-operative with the other players, as one player alone cannot influence all parts of the Roman social or political life, but at the end of the game, there can be only one player with the most prestige who wins and takes control of Rome.
Gloria Mundi is set in the dying days of the Republic. Players are Roman statesmen struggling to survive in this era of cultural decline and political chaos. While foreign invaders and domestic incompetents devour the last resources of the Empire, you’ll try to build your career out of the rubble. Administer your farms, cities, and legions, and try to score the most points while deciding which will be improved—and which will be destroyed.
All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? A fresh water system! Players are master builders trying to erect the longest and mightiest aqueducts in Aqua Romana. Remember however, that all your achievements will receive less attention if the other players manage to transport the same amount of water to the town.
In Tribune, players each control one of the large and ambitious patrician families of ancient Rome who thirst for influence and power, exerting their influence on the city’s many factions. Send your followers out into the streets of Rome to win influential allies and use them to control the city; win over the legions, be crowned with laurel wreaths, control the Senators, and gain the favor of the Gods!
There’s also a Tribune Expansion adds new elements to the Tribune base game: try to earn the favor of the Emperor, become well known as a patron for your mercy towards the slaves, or gain hold of high offices in the administration of Rome. The expansion also adds a new faction, expanding the game to accommodate up to six players.
Alea Iacta Est challenges each player to become Caesar by collecting fame points. Cleverly allocate your eight rolled dice among the five buildings to acquire the fame you require, conquering new provinces and assigning suitable patricians to them. You will also need to show diplomacy in the senate; and perhaps the favour of Fortuna’s temple may also be of advantage in your quest for power and fame!
While we’re on the subject, another excellent TV mini-series available on DVD is Rome. The historical accuracy is far greater in this highly recommended two-season HBO series, set in the 1st century BC. Beginning with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and ending with the death of Mark Antony and the rise of the first Emperor Augustus, the plots focus on two soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, who find their lives intertwined with key historical events. If you’re a Roman history buff, you’re sure to enjoy the series.
Until next time, memento mori—so game as much as you can!