Fall of Rome (S&T 181)
Playings, 3 (10 hours), 1 home win, 2 system wins.
Fall of Rome arrived at an opportune time as I slowly slog through the full version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. To add to my bias I have 15mm armies for most nations that hung around the Roman sphere in the 4th and 5th centuries. All that stopped me from buying an original copy of this game was the level of auction bidding which I deemed too high for a rather small map and a colour scheme based on shades of brown (counters and map, excepting the blue sea).
Having declared a bias I have to state that Fall of Rome is one of the worth-buying-anyway sort of magazine games. The original dates to well before my S&T buying days but the system is innovative SPI, untarnished by any evidence of Napoleon at Waterloo. Decision have obviously uprooted the counters and from memory the physical size of the map is bigger although I doubt if it covers any larger area. Judging by the Designer's notes combat has also been changed and there are new optional rules.
Comparing the game with history there is a lot that is right in very general terms (the game scale is too broad to cover details) and less that is obviously wrong. The system is strong enough to modify to taste and I have finished off this piece with my suggested options and noted whether they favour the game or the player. The biggest hitch with the system is shared by just about every nation building game, income. Expenditure is sound enough, you pay to recruit or maintain troops and to buy off the bad guys. The system divides the map into provinces which are further divided into areas for movement. Control of a province gives a fixed income to the Roman, if he controls the province but there are also other forces in the province he gains half the income. This is pretty standard but fails to take into account the serious opportunities for corruption between someone paying taxes and the state seeing the money. The state machinery rarely achieved a surplus and when it did this was soon spent up however if money had to be found to pay off Barbarians and "loyal" troops it would be. This naturally involved more extortion and looting of cash, very little of which ended up where it was intended. An increase in this sort of income led to greater discontent with the result that many so called Romans felt no loss in coming under the protection of Barbarian client states of Rome. These states had to be constantly paid by the Empire to keep them at peace plus they took all the income from the areas which they occupied.
This Barbarian problem is rather better handled than the control of income. Barbarians appear in homeland provinces according to dice rolls, the number of rolls per turn is governed by the scenario date. The more rolls the harder the game. Barbarians come in 2 flavours both of which move to pre-planned instructions so the Roman will know the route that they try to follow. Barbarians head for the closest, richest province, stay there until they control it, leave a garrison equal to the value of that province and then move on. Raiders aim for poorer provinces which seems odd for raiding parties but has the effect of raiders heading deeper into the Empire. The system of priorities for movement can turn up some results of Barbarians fighting each other and as the Roman sphere gets smaller there will be less Roman provinces to be targeted but less Roman income to hold off the attacks.
Barbarians come in several flavours, although far fewer tribes than historically this does allow them to fight amongst themselves. The most powerful groups are the Germans and Scythians who both come from the North. The Scythians make short work of the Dacians on their way to Rome. The Picts hassle Britain and fight with German raiders over it. The desert areas all turn up raiders and Persia is a very powerful enemy. This leaves the Tauricans who appear to have been out evolved. They are based in the present Crimea and do a little raiding. They have a place in the early Empire scenarios but by the 3rd Century the area was disputed by cities who were driven into alliance with Rome and the Scythian or Ostrogoth types. Indeed in the game these Tauricans are often overrun by Barbarian raiders from other nations. In the last (Justinian) scenario the Taurican province is realistically Roman controlled.
All combat units come in strength points which are a little thin on the ground, I had to make up some more Militia units (photocopying the original s onto green card). Combat is between units in the same area and is not odds based. Barbarians must attack but Romans may choose to. If 2 sorts of Barbarians and Romans are in the same area the Barbarians will fight each other and then any surviving will all fight the Roman in turn. The CRT has 3 rows for 3 classes of troops, Legions are best having 1 die effect column for each Legion in combat. Persians and Raiders require more strength points per column and Barbarian tribes and Militia need even more points for each effect column. The result depends on a D6 but not on the strength of the defender but a bad roll will enable the original defender to counterattack and roll for damage. A common result is 1/2 destruction of the enemy often with the survivors being allowed to counterattack This can be bad news for large stacks which are good at attacking but very brittle. A force of 2 is as easy to half destroy as one of 50. Losses must be taken in a strict order of unit types but the row used may be that of the equal largest type. Typically the Roman will bulk up a force of 3 Legions with 3 Militia but if the force is half destroyed all that half must come from the Legions. The Romans have an added in problem with any stacks of 4 or more Field Armies or Legions having a chance of revolting and declaring a new state or marching on Rome. The larger the stack the greater the chance.
The period is full of tales of large forces being destroyed by smaller and of seeming victory turning to disaster. The combat system reflects this rather neatly. It does leave a lot of small stacks, the Roman can combine his but the Barbarians have to be removed. They can be further reduced by combat but it is much easier and highly historical to buy them off. 1 point of tax revenue is required to try and win over 1 point of enemy strength but the odds are improved by paying 2 or preferably 3 points on each one. Success will turn the unit into a Roman Federate which can be moved out of the Roman area and better still be used to attack other Barbarians. The bad news is that Federate units must be bribed every turn and the attempt is not always successful. Rome did end up paying out a lot of money to Federate tribes which would declare war if not paid up. The only slight wrinkle is the Roman replacement rate is high enough to keep the number of Federate units low, the system should prompt a lot more Federates and fewer Roman units.
Barbarians can be predicted, a bigger problem is revolution within the Roman world which can occur from a 6 to 3-6 on D6, depending on the date. This will result in a broad spread of provinces revolting from Rome, removing their Militia and their revenue. Some of these revolts should be thought of as local corruption rather than a desire to usurp Rome. The revolts can be put down by arms but it is simpler to buy the provinces back. This payment might represent the money that is removed by higher than average levels of corruption. A revolt in the last turn of a game can turn a winning play into a loss unless there is a large surplus in the bank to buy the provinces back. Any revolt will be serious enough to cause a large drop in Roman revenue as well as the increased cash demands to buy back the rebels.
Play is clearly reactive, there is little that the player can do to stop the rot at source. The only option is to occupy Barbarian base provinces which will prevent any Barbarians of that type appearing. The problem is that all Barbarian Militia regenerates so will have to be totally removed to conquer a province. Also the revolution dice rolls can lead to Barbarian provinces going back to their original owners. Money is the best way to do well by buying Federates and keeping up the Roman replacements. If a healthy surplus is built up some Barbarian provinces can be bought at long odds but the rewards are worth it.
Fall of Rome Variants
The Emperor (No Bias)
In the standard scenarios the player represents the Roman state not the Emperor in person, several of whom may reign in any scenario. As an option the player may represent the sole Emperor or the Emperor of West or East but not both.
Use the "A" Roman Leader as the Emperor. If Rome is split into East and West the Emperor must be stated as Eastern or Western and only affects die rolls when in his home part of the Empire.
Any stack containing the Emperor has -1 to the die on attacks and counterattacks, the Emperor may not stack with other Leaders. Stacks containing the Emperor have a -1 die modifier when rolling to split up the stack. Rebelling Roman Provinces have a -1 to the rebellion die (if that option is in play and there are Roman Field Army or Legion units present) if the Emperor is present in that Province.
If the Emperor is not present in his relevant capital at the beginning of each Tax Collection Phase all Roman tax credits are halved (round up fractions) before counting new revenue for the current turn. To clarify, if the Emperor is not in place to control corruption, half of each turn's surplus revenue is lost.
The Emperor is killed if alone in an area with non-Roman units. If the Emperor is killed the game is instantly lost.
Legion and Field Army Stacking (Pro-Game)
In the standard rules a stack of Field Armies or Field Armies and Legions can be assembled for Roman Combat and the stack split up during Field Army movement to reduce the stack to 3 or less units and avoid rebellion.
Variant. Whenever a stack of Field Army and/or Legion units wants to split up into smaller stacks 4-6 must be rolled on D6. This is modified by +1 if a Leader is present with the stack or -1 if the Emperor is with the stack. If the roll is failed the stack may continue to move normally but may only drop off Militia units. There is no effect on new units joining stacks during or after the stack's movement.
Rebelling Roman Provinces (No Bias)
The presence of Roman Field Army or Legion units may affect the likelihood of a Province rebelling by nipping the event in the bud or joining the rebelling Militia.
If a Roman Controlled Province containing Field Army or Legion units is designated to rebel roll D6; 1-3, Province does not rebel but reduce the number of Roman Militia factors in the Province by 1/2 (rounding fractions up). 4-6 Province becomes an Independent State with all Legion and Field Army units in the Province flipping to their rebel side. Modify the die by +1 if a Roman Leader is present in the Province, -1 if the Emperor is present.
Peace With Persia (Pro-Rome)
Being a civilised nation Persia may be forced into neutrality by the actions of other countries units or events occurring in off-map Provinces.
Persia starts every scenario at war with Rome but all Persian units will instantly become neutralised if a 1 on D6 is rolled in the Persian replacement phase. The die is modified by -1 if there are less than 6 Persian non-Militia units on the map, -2 if there are less than 2 Persian non-Militia units on the map.
If all Persian units are neutralised by a peace die roll or expenditure of Roman tribute Persia is considered at peace with Rome. Starting with the turn after Persia is declared peaceful, Persia will declare war on Rome with a D6 roll of 6. Modify by +1 if there are less than a total of 3 Legion or Field Army units in Provinces adjacent to or in Persian controlled Provinces. If Persia declares war on Rome all Persian units are no longer neutralised. Persia may not declare war and peace in the same turn.
Frequency Of Rebellion (No Bias)
The likelihood of Provinces rebelling depends on the date of scenario in Fall of Rome. as an option the player can reduce the taxes levied to reduce the chance of rebellion.
The chance of rebellion occurring at the start of a scenario is not altered but may change during play. The chance may never be more than 4+ on D6 or less than 6 on D6. If during the Tax Collection Phase the number of new tax credits levied is halved (round down fractions) before adding the total to the treasury the Internal Revolution odds are reduced by 1 in 6. If during the Tax Collection Phase there are any non-Roman units in the same Province as either Roman capital the chance of rebellion is increased by 1 in 6.
To summarise, Internal Revolution may occur on 6, 5-6 or 4-6 on D6. Halving collected tax credits will reduce the odds by 1 in 6, non-Romans (including rebelling Romans) close to the capital will increase the odds by 1 in 6.
Barbarian Creation (Pro- Rome)
Barbarian Creation is also dependant on the time period but could be affected by aggressive Roman campaigning.
The number of rolls on the Barbarian Creation table is initially that given by the scenario in play but may be changed between a minimum of 1 roll and a maximum of 3. If there are at least an equal number of Roman and non-Roman strength points in any province that began the scenario with Barbarian (not Persian) militia at the beginning of the Barbarian Creation Phase, reduce the number of dice rolled in each row by 1. The number of dice rolled is reduced by 1 for each relevant Province but the number of dice rolled may never be reduced below 1.
Control Of Non-Roman Militia (Pro-Game)
It is possible (although uncommon) for a player to rid the Empire of Barbarians for a few turns and build up a healthy cash surplus. This can be spent on non-Roman Militia with a slight chance of bringing new Provinces into the Roman Empire without combat. This did occur with small areas under the Republic and Early Empire (Bythinia, Iceni) but has no parallel in the later scenarios.
All tribute results against non-Roman Militia in provinces which had never been part of the Roman Empire prior to the scenario being played are treated as Neutralised not Roman Controlled. In the Justinian scenario all Provinces classed as part of the (defunct) Western Empire are considered to have never been part of the Roman Empire.