Glory to Rome Review: Brilliantly Ugly

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Glory to Rome is a card game from Cambridge Games Factory that is perhaps more well-known for its disastrous Kickstarter campaign than it is for its actual gameplay. Gameplay, by the way, that is pretty fantastic. So fantastic that it earned the #71 spot in our Top 100 Board Games of All Time.

It’s a shame that such drama has overshadowed and overwhelmed what would have been a great game for the table top community to rally around. Before we get into my review of the game itself, let’s go over Glory to Rome’s odd history.

Rome was built in many… many days

The print copy I have of Glory to Rome is quite simply one of the ugliest games I’ve ever played. The artwork is just terrible. It may not be so noticeable if it weren’t for the fact that the art style seems to change drastically from one card to the next.

Some of the cards are hand drawn cartoons, with the human characters on cards like the Atrium or Bath often looking like a goofy newspaper comic strip, while some of the buildings appear to be made in “Baby’s First 3D Modeling Software 98.” Cards like the Forum and the Fountain just look like were copy and pasted wholesale from some stock clipart.

Glory to Rome 1

This version was printed in 2007. For reference, that’s the same year Race for The Galaxy released, a game with beautiful artwork that still holds up well nearly ten years later.

Needless to say, the game needed a reprint in order to maximize its reach. People like me loved the game, but were tired of giving the “I promise this game is good, don’t worry about how it looks” speech to newcomers of the game.

When a Kickstarter was launched for the game to get a full makeover, the money came pouring in as their goal was reached in just a couple of days. Everything after that was a nightmarish barrage of delays, damaged product, and more.

Eventually, most of the Kickstarter backers received their game with objectively improved, or at least it was stylistically cohesive. All the frustration leading up to this left behind a sour taste for some people.

But, here’s the thing, the game’s pretty damn fun. So let’s talk about that now.

Glory to Rome’s Gameplay Breakdown

Glory to Rome plays between two and five people, with most games lasting about 45 minutes to an hour. The reprinted game has a handful of new cards, which can make the game to last a bit longer. The theme of the game is that there has been a great fire in Rome, wiping out much of the cities infrastructure. Players are Roman leaders deciding how to rebuild the city.

Players take actions to construct buildings that provide various bonuses and collect Influence (victory points). In addition to constructing these buildings, players can move cards of different values into their Vault, which will be counted as pure victory points at the end of the game.

Glory to Rome 2

The actions you take in Glory to Rome will consist of gathering resources via the pool or by demanding it from other players by using the game’s Legionary action, founding and building structures with the Craftsman and Architect, gathering patrons (cards that will allow bonus actions in a turn), and moving cards from their Stockpile to their Vault by using the Merchant.

Glory to Rome can be a difficult game to explain to new players because of one of the game’s core concepts: every one of the game’s cards from the draw deck has four different functions depending on when and how the player is interacting with it. One card is a resource, a patron, a building, or victory points depending on how it’s being used.

Once you’ve hammered that home, the game basically breaks down into two phases: Order phase where the leader chooses an action that other players can follow, and the Action phase where those actions are happening. The leader token cycles around the table, repeating those phases, until the draw deck is empty or when there are no more Site cards to build on. Whoever has the most Influence, earned by completing buildings and stashing points in your vault, wins the game.

New players probably won’t “get” their first round. It may click at some point in the last few rounds, but there is a bit of a learning curve.

Glory to Rome’s Great Tipping Point

I really love the pace of Glory to Rome. The decisions you have to make feel like they have real weight and importance, but the average game usually has enough rounds so you don’t feel like a single turn derailed your strategy.

At some point in Glory to Rome, you will reach a fun tipping point where players have built up a healthy collection of patrons and bonuses from completed buildings that they’re able to take several actions in a single turn. Rather than laying down the site for a building and hoping to finish it in the next few turns, you’re able to start and finish a structure in a single Action phase. If you’ve pulled of your strategy, your abilities are synergizing and allowing you to get lots done in little time.

This frenzy of activity is the climax of most Glory to Rome sessions, and it’s a nice payoff if you’ve set yourself up the right way. It may take a few plays to understand your optimal strategy, but the game’s relatively short length means that you’re not stuck in a game where you’ve made some bad choices.

There a few cards, and a few more in the reprint, that allow players to more directly interact with each other. The Catacomb is a building that, when completed, instantly ends the game, triggering the scoring phase as usual. This means that someone could quickly capitalize on an early lead and finishing things before anyone gets a chance to finish anything significant.

The Takeaway

Glory to Rome, purely from a gameplay standpoint, is one of my favorite tabletops out there. As I mentioned before, the artwork being atrocious in the original print is a bit of a turnoff, but the aesthetic can only hurt the game so much.

You’re always trying to think one turn ahead and keeping track of available resources, by the time it’s your turn to lead, you should have a decent idea of what your game plan is. You’re anxious to get your chance to be leader, and you’re really hoping the people going before you do you some inadvertent favors with their lead actions. There’s always something to pay attention to, and it can make an hour go by quick.

Prints of this game are quite rare at this point, which is another reason I tolerate the ugliness of my version. If you can find a print, it probably won’t be cheap, but it could be worth it if you’re looking for an excellently designed game. Glory to Rome is loaded with replay value and is an addicting overall game.

If you’ve got the cash or the connections, Glory to Rome is a can’t-miss card game in my eyes. But, with the ongoing conflict between the developer and the publisher of the game, the likelihood of another reprint seems low.

Buy Glory to Rome if you can, lament if you cannot.

Verdict

9.0 Buy! (if you can find it)

Glory to Rome is one of the great card games of the last decade, made all the more tragic by the issues the game has had in production and distribution. If you can get your hands on a copy, buy and play this game!

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