Long, long ago I got copy of Imperium Romanum II. It was a fantastic idea to incorporate more or less whole Roman history in a single box, but unfortunately so flimsy that gameplay resembled more of extensive bookkeeping exercise than fun – or so I recall. Nevertheless, IRII left permanent desire to have a game that would encompass whole mediterranean and powers that contested the region over centuries.
I set my eyes to Pax Romana already about ten years ago – about the same timeframe I played last game of IRII (Great Mithridatic War). I missed the opportunity to get the game at that time and then I got somewhat worried about the comments that expressed faults in the game system. So I forgot Pax Romana for a long time…
Then, I could not help to notice that GMT had revised the system and planning to give go to second edition. Like with Wilderness War (which I also missed first two editions and have sorely regretted ever since but remedied the error finally with third reprint), I thought that I will regret if I skip it.
Pax Romana is a war and empire building game, with strong diplomatic twist. Not historical game as such but rather open ended. It is also design by R.H.Berg (which probably turn about half of potential players out – considering how much he divides opinions). Scale of Pax Romana is immense, each turn representing 25 years or so, and each activation of power roughly 7 years (or rather, actions that may have occurred during period of 7 years). It is a long time to perform actions, send envoys and commit atrocities – or rise new generation of troops, retire old and infirm. It is also a long time to found cities and expand territory. While rules and playbook constantly reminds about the vast scale, it is easy to forget that player is not micromanaging armies and battles, or administrative tasks – instead, there is an empire to run. When army goes on campaign, it can accomplish quite a lot – or, alternatively almost nothing. Much of the intrigues are abstracted, necessarily so.
Examples of misfortunes and great successes are abundant in the annals of history. Events can ravage land, governments can fall, territories cede and Legions disappear in vast Germanic forests or be lost at sea.
How to compress such variety in the world events into game system that spans over such time frames, and still keep it playable? There are events that appear very severe. Decisions may lead to severe results but it also appears that one of the four major powers is not to be wiped out just like that – they are able to renew, and stand a long time of turmoil.
Components are excellent. Rulebook is quite un-Berg and very readable and easy to grasp (unless exposure to his previous games has turned some bergese switch on…).
Because the game is quite extensive, I start from the minor scenarios. So far, played introduction where Pyrrhus invades Italy and Rome attempts to destroy Greek presence there (Tarentum). It is very tiny scenario, and offers good introduction to the movement, campaigns and sieges. However, what first appeared to be somewhat dull – Pyrrhus is going to march into Italy, cause havoc there and that’s it, turned out to be something completely different. In fact, very, very close game and swings of fortune.
At first, Pyrrhus did what he has to do, pack army into ships and ferry them over to Italy. I Reasoned that Rome should be dealt with in piecemeal, and not let to concentrate forces to a single massive army. To that end, North he went, and tried to catch Roman general there. He, however, had no will to fight, and thought withdrawal to be better part of valor. Pyrrhus, out of moves, stood then waiting what Romans would have in their sleeve.
Of course, Rome did what was expected, and nothing less. They build another two legions, concentrated forces to Rome, ready to hit Tarentum hard. Unfortunately for Romans, Fortuna decided that it was Pyrrhus to take next action, and he marched to Tarentum, to protect it. Garrison screen was established around the southern borders to slow down invaders.
Rome, after much sacrifices and foretelling went next, and decided to hit where it hurt. Massive 32 point army marched south, only to be intercepted in Venusia. A battle of great songs were to follow. Romans stepped into a trap, carefully established by Pyrrhus. Cavalry supremacy turned the tide into Greek favor, and Roman losses were 70% while Pyrrhus was unscratched. Roman legions, beaten, but not dead marched back to Rome, pondering their next move, and waiting inevitable Pyrrhic onslaught to their city.
70% losses from Roman army… Yet, still dangerous.
Lady fortuna, however had other things in her mind, and next activation was granted to Rome – Pyrrhus camping in Venusia, and celebrating the victory over Tuscan wines would not anticipate Rome’s next move. Swiftly Roman armies embarked, and set sail towards Croton, disembarked and attacked Tarentum. Greeks, in all their joy did not remember to protect the sea lanes with Galleons and it was now Pyrrhus to attempt to intercept Romans. Too much overconfidence and Tuscan wine had it’s toll and interception failed. Rome was free to attack Tarentum.
Legions set to work and Tarentum was reduced after two attempts, but at cost of last movement point from Rome. Bad turned worse when Pyrrhus had his revenge in next activation.