While talking about Pax Romana, and Imperium Romanum II, it would be somewhat unfair to leave out Italia – an offshoot of Britannia. Unlike Britannia, Italia never quite didn’t make it, and I genuinely wonder why. Of course Britannia was there before, and yes it has different geography, but italia had more interesting geographical constraints – at least in my opinion. Italy, a narrow boot that it is. Italy is divided in two games, three player game of early Rome, and four player version for late game. Movement and economy are very simple. In fact, sometimes even too much, so it does not offer whole lot of decision points.
In the basics, Italia has several nations on map, each player controlling a group of color coded nations, or a single one in case of early game Rome. Nations come and go, whenever nation expires (is most likely overrun by barbarian horde, or some other aspiring group op people) there is already others waiting in the queue to occupy their share of the place. During the entire game, Italy is in constant flux, new groups of nations pouring in from the restless northern border, pushing everyone southwards as they go. Something a kin to small world, but much better. At the same time, Rome (in early game, Italia I) attempts to establish itself as ruling power in the peninsula, and fight off Carthage, Greece, and other rivals. In Italia II, Rome is fracturing, and players try to gain what they can from the seceding territories.
Each faction has a card that provides essential idea what each nation attempts to do for maximum victory points and hence, like it’s brethren, becomes quite scripted. Cards do not really give options, but rather rigid framework, which you should follow. Nowdays, after many games, I cannot stop thinking that perhaps the chief problem with Italia is among it’s super simplicity that you are only riding along the script, and have only little chances to do otherwise. There is little mechanics that drive the game besides of the cards and their VP pointers. It is not hard to see that the contest between factions is very difficult to execute for balanced game, and makes one wonder how well it is done in Pax Romana.
Unfortunately, Italia is also quite long – and good grief if group includes someone that has tendency to optimize, or someone that does not use the downtime to familiarize him/herself with the nation cards. Italia can be easily a slogging match of whole day and the end result may not be as satisfactory, albeit it is fun. Again, in same time span, one can play Pax Romana, and have much more rewarding experience.
So, if there are group of three to four players – and sufficient free time – like being stuck in mountain cabin with sufficient food, drink and other resources, Italia is quite nice way to spend an afternoon+evening. If however, there is no such luxury, and more careful selection is needed for the game that is brought to table, then there are better alternatives.