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Subject: The Great S&T Play-off! Review! rss

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The Game

With the July/August 1973 issue of S&T, SPI decided to try something a bit different. Using the area-movement maps and strategic rules pioneered in 1812 and The American Revolution 1775-1783, John Young (the creator of 1812) developed the company's first solitaire offering: The Fall of Rome.

The Western Roman Empire lasted five centuries, punctuated by periods of crisis during which the Empire had a strong chance of falling apart due to internal and/or external forces. There is a neat graphic that game with the accompanying magazine that graphed the probability of dissolution over time, eventually reaching 100% in the fifth century.

In this game, you get to play the part of the Roman Emperor in one of six different eras (including one Byzantine scenario--after the fall of Rome) trying to maintain the Empire against internal rebellion, revolting generals, invading barbarians, and warring Persians.

Please note that this game is much maligned because it was released with a legion of rules errors. Though they were fixed quickly in a subsequent issuance of eratta, the eratta was clunky to incorporate and many had already abandoned the game. Thankfully, I had a revised rules set that incorporated the eratta, so rules were not an issue.

The Components

The map is typical two-color of the time: a blue and black and white area-map of Europe cleanly laid out. The counters are rather plain in shades of yellow and brown, nationality indicated by adding label counters. It's all functional, even elegant, given the counter-mix restrictions attendant with a magazine publication.

The Rules

Fall of Rome is quite a fiddly game, in large part because the enemies of Rome are controlled by a complicated artificial intelligence algorithm, and all eventualities need to be accounted for. The map is divided into provinces, each with an economic/victory point value (showing how much they contribute to the treasury and endgame winning) and a militia value (units that pop up when invaders appear and disappear when they leave). Provinces contain 1-5 areas.

Each turn is a year and is divided into many phases. First, one rolls to see if any provinces go into internal revolt. If so, militia appear and halt the flow of gold to the Roman treasury and prevent control for victory purposes. They double every turn if unaddressed, up to their province militia maximum. This can be a serious irritant, particularly in scenarios where the chance of revolt is high.

Then the enemies march. Each have their own priority--Persians want their old empire back, raiders loot poor provinces, barbarian regulars want the big ones. They will fight amongst each other, which can be anticipated and used by the Romans, but mostly they are a threat to Rome. When they are in a Roman province, even if they do not take control, they seize half of the income.

Then new barbarians are spawned. They will move next turn unless bought off by Roman gold.

Finally, the Romans get to counter--moving, fighting and regaining control.

Of course, if you stack more than three legions together (there is a maximum of around 30 in a scenario), there is a chance of a rebellion. Sometimes, the rebels will form an independent nation, especially if they were sent to quell revolting militia, but otherwise, they march on Rome. Either they are stopped along the way, or the revolter becomes the new Roman Emperor, and the game goes on with a depleted treasury.

Gold is used solely to maintain the army, replace destroyed units, and to buy barbarians into immobility. Because barbarian forces attrit 50% for each turn they are in an uncontrolled province, a useful tactic is to maintain sufficient Roman forces to deny control to the barbarians and buy them off. Eventually, they will melt away. It beats losing Rome.

Combat is decided by a CRT with exchange a quite common result. Attacks at less than 1:1 are not allowed, and there is always a "no result" possibility, even at the highest odds (6:1).

Victory is generally measured by controlling a specific number of victory points in provinces by the end of the game.

Gameplay

Much of the game is based on luck. One never knows when it's going to be a good or bad year, so the trick is risk management. If one can build a big enough treasury, then buying off barbarians becomes a live option. The game is basically wack-a-mole the rebellions with as few forces as possible (to avoid a revolt), defeat the Persians by attrition and misdirection (invading Armenia is always a good bet), and speed-bump the barbarians so they can't get to Rome. Occasionally, one can launch punitive expeditions into barbarian lands, but it's not usually worth it.

Conclusion

Fall of Rome is really an interesting game, and I got two solid sessions out of it. That said, once you've experienced all that the rules can offer, there isn't much replay value. It's just not a very deep game. On the other hand, if you get ten hours of entertainment from a game, that comes out to 17 cents (1973) per hour, which isn't bad compared to, say, movies. Moreover, the system is fun to watch, even if it takes some time to master its intricacies, and I bet the game could be improved upon by enterprising developers.

It was better than Chicago, Chicago!!

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Mike Szarka
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When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
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There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.
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Michael Sommers
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mcszarka wrote:
There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.

I think there were precisely zero wargames designed to be played solitaire before this one.
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Mike Szarka
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When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
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tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.

I think there were precisely zero wargames designed to be played solitaire before this one.


I wonder if this was verifiably the first ever.
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Michael Sommers
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mcszarka wrote:
tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.

I think there were precisely zero wargames designed to be played solitaire before this one.

I wonder if this was verifiably the first ever.

I think it was. There was a list of wargame firsts in S&T 53 (Nov/Dec 1975) that listed it as the first solitaire by design wargame. The list was printed (and updated based on readers' information) in the thread Wargame firsts, and no one came up with an earlier one.
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Brett Christensen
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tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.

I think there were precisely zero wargames designed to be played solitaire before this one.

I wonder if this was verifiably the first ever.

I think it was. There was a list of wargame firsts in S&T 53 (Nov/Dec 1975) that listed it as the first solitaire by design wargame. The list was printed (and updated based on readers' information) in the thread Wargame firsts, and no one came up with an earlier one.


Presumably you're excluding miniatures games. Featherstone's Solo Wargaming book came out in 1972. I'm guessing some of the rules in this book by Tarr, Scruby, Featherstone and Schuster go back many years (my speculation).
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Michael Sommers
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mothertruckin wrote:
tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.

I think there were precisely zero wargames designed to be played solitaire before this one.

I wonder if this was verifiably the first ever.

I think it was. There was a list of wargame firsts in S&T 53 (Nov/Dec 1975) that listed it as the first solitaire by design wargame. The list was printed (and updated based on readers' information) in the thread Wargame firsts, and no one came up with an earlier one.

Presumably you're excluding miniatures games. Featherstone's Solo Wargaming book came out in 1972. I'm guessing some of the rules in this book by Tarr, Scruby, Featherstone and Schuster go back many years (my speculation).

Well, this site is Boardgamegeek.
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Ronald Delval
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tms2 wrote:
mothertruckin wrote:
tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
tms2 wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
There were darned few solo wargames around when this came out. It was very creative.

I think there were precisely zero wargames designed to be played solitaire before this one.

I wonder if this was verifiably the first ever.

I think it was. There was a list of wargame firsts in S&T 53 (Nov/Dec 1975) that listed it as the first solitaire by design wargame. The list was printed (and updated based on readers' information) in the thread Wargame firsts, and no one came up with an earlier one.

Presumably you're excluding miniatures games. Featherstone's Solo Wargaming book came out in 1972. I'm guessing some of the rules in this book by Tarr, Scruby, Featherstone and Schuster go back many years (my speculation).

Well, this site is Boardgamegeek.


Yes though miniature wargame rules and the likes are also present and listed on the geek.
Not to mention miniature wargame and boardgame wargame are so entangled and cross polinating that one might think they were recurring stars in the porn industry.
 
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