When it comes to board games (and debacles), there is nothing quite like Glory To Rome.
Rated 129th overall on BoardGameGeek and released around 2005, I have played it maybe a dozen times, and every time I am both delighted by its intricacies, and so frustrated that I need to play it again.
It is also virtually impossible to acquire. The game is long out of print. If a copy is resold, you will almost never find it for less than $200. A friend of mine was extremely chuffed to find a French-language copy, and spent several evenings sleeving all the cards and physically cutting and pasting in English text, just so he could have a copy of his very own.
Glory To Rome began life in 2005 as a little niche game, written by Carl Chudyk, a mathematician-turned-game designer. It confused a lot of people. It had controversial artwork. It was published by Cambridge Games, a small indie games publisher which was a side project for Ed Carter. It did relatively well, so Ed Carter decided to republish it through Kickstarter.
You can get good board games via Kickstarter. You can also get right royally screwed. In the case of Glory To Rome, that went both ways. Those who ordered games got very angry, but you should feel more sorry for Ed Carter, Glory To Rome’s publisher. Because the Kickstarter page is a warning about how everything can go wrong: you can lose your house, bankrupt your company and send one of the most innovative board games ever made permanently out of print.
The story: Nero has burned down Rome, and now it’s up to you (and your fellow patricians) to rebuild it, bringing glory to you, and to Rome. For the most part, you are trying to build buildings. You’ll lay foundations and then accumulate enough materials (e.g. stone, marble, brick or wood) to complete those buildings. Those buildings give you points, increase your capabilities, and give you special abilities. By building buildings with synergistic abilities, you are able to build an engine that lets your gain an unfair advantage.
As one of my friends is fond of saying, Glory To Rome is a race as to who can break the game first, without losing their sanity.
The most innovative thing about Glory To Rome is how the cards work. Each card is multi-functional. Notice something different on each edge of the card? Every card you hold in your hand only starts as a card. But you can also play a card to perform an Action.
After you play a card, it is discarded to the Pool, where it becomes a bit of building material (rubble, brick, wood, marble, stone). You play Labourers to gather those materials into your Stockpile. If you have an Architect, then you take a card, turn it into a building by placing it on a building site, and then build it with the building material you have previously accumulated.
Alternatively, you can take cards as Clientele, which means they provide you addition actions. Or you can use a Merchant action to put cards from your stockpile into your vault, earning you money at the end.
If you’re confused, that’s basically how almost everyone feels the first time your play Glory To Rome. A “helpful” flowchart-style diagram is provided on your playmat, which only serves to demonstrate that this game is actually as complicated as you think it is.
The first time you play Glory To Rome, you slowly piece together how this system works. By the end of the first game, you can grasp the elegance of how every card could go anywhere, but also how you should have planned slightly better because the guy who’s played before has three times more buildings and five times more points.
By the end of the second game, you realise how you could and should have planned several turns ahead so that the building you wanted to build was finished by the card in the pool - which you planted a turn ago - when you played an Architect to build the foundation of the building.
By the third game, you’ve figured out which buildings combine with which other buildings to break the game and give you an outrageous amount of points in record time.
By the fourth game, you realise you were well and truly hooked several games ago. And that you still don’t quite understand how this game works, but it is magnificent and you must play again.
Well, if you’re a native Spanish or French speaker, and you have 2-3 friends who speak the same tongue, you’re in luck! Only the English-language version is locked out by a bankrupted company. The French and Spanish versions are both available cheaply from your favourite overseas games retailer.
If you feel industrious, as a certain friend of mine did, you could buy the French-language version to legally own a copy, and then use your print-and-play skills to cut out the English text for each card, and slip it carefully into card sleeves.
The more expensive, and equally difficult way of procuring Glory To Rome is to wait patiently for it to come up on eBay, or a Buy/Swap/Sell group, and then pay the going rate of at least $200+.
Alternatively, you could try playing Uchronia or Mottainai. Both are games that re-implement Glory To Rome’s key mechanics. They are still confusing, intricate games and are legitimately different games in their own right, but will give you an idea of what Glory To Rome represents. However - and I own both of them - neither of them are as intricate, as clever, as intriguing, or as fun as the original.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku Australia.