So I received this game in the mail with an offer to review and jumped at the chance. I love Chariot Racing games and always have thought that anything since Avalon Hill’s venerable (oh, so venerable!) Circvs Maximvs kind of suffers from not being the firstest with the mostest (as in, what? 1979?80?). The problem with classics from the bad old days is that they can heavily influence the design of any other game on the same subject that comes out later (see: Circvs Minimvs). I’m not a huge fan of maintaining a race log (which was all the rage back then) or checking a bazillion densely printed charts to figure out what.. exactly.. happened in that last turn. Bottom line up front– there’s a lot that can be done with the subject of chariot racing, both in and out of a historical model.
CHARIOTS OF ROME from Victory Point Games is the latest in their deluxe line. So unlike a lot of VPG products it sports a huge box, which is an actual box and not inside a cardboard sleeve. Components are definitely up-gunned
and look splendid, if not amazing, in terms of counter and map art. I mean, they look like chariot standups, and a bunch of status markers.. and the track looks kind of like Circvs Maximvs. I think that’s because there’s only so many ways to make a historical chariot race track..
The components are an integral part of this design. Instead of maintaining chariot status on log sheet, the racer uses slider bars with tokens, which go up and down as the chariot’s fate unfolds in a race. Up AND Down? That’s correct, there are actions you can take to bump up your tokens in various categories. For instance, you can gain a tactics rating by the order you enter a curve. Or, you can regain “rattledness” and Endurance, plus one tactics token, if you start the turn by switching to a slower speed. This can lead to admittedly gamey situations– slowing up one turn, speeding up the next, but it all balances out– you usually have to sprint to the finish so it’s important to keep your chariot in one piece for the duration.
How does it play?
Fast and elegant, if you want my opinion. Initiative and activation is managed by drawing color cards for the racing teams (the historical Red, Green, Blue and White teams). I’ve played five games now and each one was a little faster than before, as we got used to the mechanics. The most similar chariot racing game I can think of (one that also uses multi-use cards and special dice) is Matt Leacock’s recently Kickstarted Chariot Racing game, which is far more “compact” than this game.
We did put a Youtube video of the game here, which sums up things nicely and provides some moving pictures.
Chariots of Rome pulls a lot of familiar mechanics together (the track, initiative pulls, etc.) and mixes it with some brand new mechanics like Fate Cards, Charioteer characters and the Action Card draw. Everything new that was added was designed to make the game play just like a familiar chariot racing game, yet play in half the time as good old Circvs Maximvs.
I think Chariots of Rome delivers on this premise elegantly. The initiative draws are fast, the speed bands work perfectly and the game is able to build the tension that it requires to call itself a chariot game.
What would I do differently? Probably publish an expansion or two adding in other colored racing teams (AH had Pink, Orange and Yellow teams, why not this game?). I’d also consider adding fantasy chariots and downright designed for combat chariots like the giant multi-man Assyrian beasts.. the designer would just have to figure out rules for missile weapons. There’s nothing I’d change about the mechanics themselves.
Fortune and Glory, citizens!
PS: All the pictures for this review are here on Flickr (I took a lot more than you see here).