Thank you for checking review #88 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.
An overview of Burning Rome
Burning Rome is a board game designed by Emil Larsen that was published in 2018 by SunTzu Games. The box states it plays 2-4 players in 15-30 minutes.
Burning Rome is a quick tactical card game about leading your ancient armies to victory over your enemies.
The game involves:
Deck-construction – Build an army from a roster of 54 different units, generals, tactics and auxiliaries.
Tactical card placement – Deploy your units on the battlefield to maximize their damage and defenses.
Special abilities – Use tactics and unit abilities to manipulate your deck, stats and mechanics.
Can you neutralize the enemy’s war elephants? Do you prefer slow advance in all columns or will you imitate Hannibal’s outflanking maneuvers? These choice are just the beginning – as your armies’ strengths and weaknesses are tested in combat.
Ancient battles – Put yourself in the shoes of history’s greatest generals in some of the most iconic battles of the ancient world.
Quick battles – Master your deck-construction skills and fight short intense battles with other players using any faction at your disposal.)
Burning Rome was created to simulate historical accurate synergies and plausible confrontation between soldiers and armies of the ancient era. Developed by a military mindset to be enjoyed by regular gamers.
The gameplay for Burning Rome makes it fall firmly into filler territory, with matches usually lasting in the 10-15 minute range. This allows Burning Rome to be the game that can be pulled out when pressed for time – such as while waiting for people to arrive at, or for a game to end during, a game day – or played with multiple battles in a single session. Its fast setup and reset also encourages this, assuming you are not modifying decks between games.
The strongest thing about Burning Rome is the number of cards contained in the box. Each side will use roughly 15 cards for a game, and there are over 200 cards in the box (divided among four distinct historical factions) to provide a ton of opportunity to construct and tweak unique decks to use for each game. The deck construction rules are fairly easy to understand and follow, making it simple to progress into making your own decks for the battles.
The game is a quick and easy teach, with low rules overhead. That makes this game easy to get to the table with new players, as well as easy to pick back up even if it has been months between plays. A lower barrier to entry means this can have a wider appeal and in theory could enable it to hit the table more often.
For those not inclined to construct their own decks, there are plenty of opportunities in the Ancient Battles booklet to use a variety of decks against each other. So even if you cringe at the idea of making a deck of your own, there is plenty of value and gameplay to be found in here.
The card quality and artwork is fantastic. Enough said about that, right? You’re getting a good product for your purchase here.
Conflict resolution is simple, adding the attack values on one side and comparing them to defense values on the other. Players can usually tell at a glance where they stand at each skirmish line, and a limit on units for each line helps make sure that no one area dominates the other. However, since there is a limit on units and those units never get destroyed, placing a unit in the wrong location can mean the difference between victory and defeat. And if your opponent gets out a card you have no answer for in your hand, that one skirmish can lead to devastating effects.
The abilities on cards are interesting, and have several types of abilities that can appear. They are useful, yet once you deploy another unit in that skirmish line that ability gets covered up. This means you need to give some consideration to how to order your troops, as the top-most unit also uses a different set of attack and defense values than the troops below them. But not being able to adjust the order of the troops can be detrimental, especially if you need that unit to be among the covered units for the better stats while keeping the better ability uncovered.
The game is far too tactical for what I would have expected in this box. Especially considering the amount of variability it offers with deck construction. Yes, I know, the game’s description tauts it as a tactical gameplay but I had hoped for at least a little more strategy in the game. Units are rarely able to be redeployed, nor can they be reordered to uncover buried abilities when necessary. It becomes a challenge to get the cards you need, if they aren’t drawn in your opening turn or two, and the game ends far too quickly to make any changes necessary to adapt to your opponent if they get an early advantage. Thankfully the games are always relatively fast, allowing for a quick rematch after a brutal defeat, but too much is able to be decided within the first two rounds between placement and the cards you draw into your hand.
Burning Rome is one of those games that is hard to pinpoint my exact thoughts about. On one hand, I love the concept, the artwork, the rapid playtime, and the ability for deck/faction customization. On the other hand, in order for this game to shine it requires that deck customization for a game that will play in 10-15 minutes. Unfortunately, that investment falls short of the actual gameplay results, providing a game ripe with opportunity and potential that fails to live up to what it could have been.
The randomness in the card draw, even with such a small deck, has led to games where one side runs away with things long before the other side can get to any of the key cards. Because the game is so short, much of the battle is decided by that opening hand of cards. There is too little time to pivot and recover from a poor start, and little freedom to adapt to your opponent’s strategies and deployments. This makes the game almost entirely tactile, and dumping a ton of bodies out onto the board to overwhelm an area or two can be difficult to overcome.
And this is where the deck construction is supposed to step in and help fill in that gap, allowing players to adapt between games and shape theoretically balanced decks that can be designed to counteract your opponent’s preferred strategies and strengths. Yet the gameplay is too fast and furious, while also being furiously dependent on the right card draw, to really encourage players to dive in so deep. If you could, rather than drawing a random card, take any card in your deck then it might make things a step in the right direction. After all, a battle general knows their armies and tactics and can deploy troops as needed to make the right strategies play out. Altering that one aspect, and thus eliminating the randomness, would make this game far more interesting and encourage deeper exploration from its players. It would likely increase the playtime by a fair chunk, not only because of the added decision of what card to pull into your hand but because it would discourage the dumping of armies strategy since the opponent would then have all of the information and could counteract accordingly.
For such a beautiful presentation with a great premise, Burning Rome fell short of what I had hoped to find in the box. However, it is still a game I did enjoy for the short time it was on the table each time. I always wished it had been a little longer for playtime, a sign that I was eager for more, but I also found myself wishing there was just a little more involved for long-term strategy rather than being a wholly tactical skirmish. However, if the idea of lightning-fast skirmish battles and the deck construction with an ancient warfare theme are appealing to you, then you may find Burning Rome to be catered more toward your personal tastes. It is by no means a bad or flawed game, but rather one that delivers an experience that was different than what I hoped to discover in the box.