Imperium Romanum II
Although sold as a game Imperium Romanum is more of a boxed study guide than the sort of affair to set up to while away an evening. Despite this I have played out both editions of the game in a variety of time periods over some 15 years or so. Recently the cardboard counters have seen Caesar in action against Pompey (probably the best scenario), Constantine against Licinus, Theodosius against Eugenius and the sons of Constantine knocking lumps out of each other. This lot covers some 400 years and the game scenarios stretch for another 200 or so. This wide time line is the strength and weakness of the system, you get a lot of wars in 1 box but the system works better in some time frames than in others.
In a dim and distant Phoenix the original Imperium Romanum was trashed for historical error after historical error. Certainly some of these will have been corrected but it is not my purpose to delve into when cities first became important, exactly where units were placed and how much this all cost. As a player I hope that all the basic homework has been done but more importantly that the end result should give some feeling for the subject matter if necessary at some cost in accuracy. The game includes some very clever simple systems to cover the passage of time, notably having a bar by cities which do not exist throughout the game to show when they are counted. More usefully roads are not marked but provinces are rated as cultivated or wild, road or non-road. Roads improve movement and cultivation aids supply. Which provinces are what changes with the boundaries of the Empire, roads remain as provinces slip into uncultivated, cultivated, non-road areas are typically civilised states outside the Empire.
Other less slick rules show the passage of time, units cost different amounts as time passes as does the income of provinces and their ability to raise troops. Thankfully the income of provinces are worked out in the scenario guidelines so they do not all have to be calculated from scratch. Unlike the 1st edition, taxation and recruitment takes place quarterly which cuts down on the maths, unfortunately 2 of these phases fall in Winter. Due to hefty attrition penalties not a lot happens in Winter unless you are campaigning in the Southern Mediterranean, so most units will have done nothing between these 2 taxation and recruitment phases. The number of units that a faction can raise is limited by the need to have a leader in a province to raise troops plus all mobilisation fees except in the March phase are doubled. Some units also require another unit of the same class to be present to train a new unit or the new unit's cost is doubled, it is possible to quadruple the basic recruiting cost. The aim here is to stop Romans going into immediate arms races and building every unit in the countermix as fast as the pennies come in. Unfortunately it doesn't and they do.
Recruiting and supply are the 2 big factors that govern the game, players have to avoid the deadly attrition and recruit like mad. Although recruitment is a function of income, troops available to raise and position of leaders it is the troops available that are limiting. Unless a faction is desperate for money there should be plenty of cash to raise the necessary new troops in March (a clear mistake, Rome was regularly broke), with suitable moving of leaders most of the useful units in the counter mix will have been raised even at double cost by the following March. This will leave a healthy cash surplus that is best used as donatives to the troops prior to battle (a rule obviously designed to thin out player's groaning treasuries). A big enough difference in donatives between 2 factions prior to battle will affect the dice roll so a little in the bank is helpful. Unfortunately the bi-words in Late Roman economics were inflation and currency depreciation. If factions are regularly pulling off a surplus then something must be wrong. The limit on what troops can be raised where reflects the Empire's manpower shortage but a destroyed unit goes back in the build pile. If all possible Legions of a faction's colour are in play then he can raise no more but if some are lost in battle there may be some province where those units can be raised again. Units are only going to end up in the build pile as a result of combat so it can be seen that defeat is an aid to recruitment because the loser is likely to lose more units which are now available to be rebuilt. The limits to what can be raised where will restrict this but the situation can be got around if your Empire is big enough. The maximum number of Legions may have been raised in Gaul but there could be room to raise some more in say Hispania. This trend allows a faction to bounce back especially if they have kept cash in the treasury (not a common Roman situation) or they still hold enough territory to maintain a decent tax base. New units often come back at lower strength than old but the slow advances of victorious forces gives enough time to build up to a decent proportion of pre-battle levels.
The basic effect is for sides to recruit like mad and gather all possible forces (leaving garrisons on the dangerous frontiers) then invade the enemy. Strategic withdrawals only lose territory and reduce the tax base, striping troops from the frontiers encourages barbarians to invade. Barbarians are numerous, controlled by the opponent and re-gain units without having to collect taxes, they have to be wiped out to be removed from play and even then may come back. In order to reduce the opposition's tax base and improve your own 1/2 the cities in a province plus the capital have to be held, following a victory or withdrawing enemy this is not difficult but does burn up a lot of time. There are no non-player governors who will sit buy and defect whole provinces on the report of a major battle, you have to split up and send the boys round to spread the word.
While the loser's Empire is shrinking the opposition has a chance to send out leaders to replace lost units. A typical course of play would be some initial manoeuvre followed by 1 or more battles and the loss of some territory. The whole thing will then begin again except that if the victory was big enough and enough territory taken then the loser will be less able to re-coup his losses than the victor. It will take some time for the end to come but factions tend to waste away rather than fall apart, they should tend towards falling apart. With leaders being crucial to recruitment any loss of leaders in battle will reduce the chance of re-building afterwards. Leaders are only lost when alone in a hex with the enemy, usually as a result of losing a battle badly. Having your Imperator killed will guarantee immediate loss of the game, in a multiplayer game all remaining forces will disperse or re-align to the other players.
The reason why it takes so long to knock an opponent down is supply. Units can either stack to stated supply limits which aren't so bad in cities in clear terrain but get worse elsewhere. The situation can be improved by using supply trains which allow more units to stack in the hex but are burnt up and have to be replaced by sitting in friendly cities. Any unit not in supply is eliminated so players will spend a lot of time studying the supply charts. Supply units only move 4 points compared to 10 for a Legion and 16 for cavalry. Naturally any reliance on supply trains will put lightening moves out of the window. By using supply units seriously large armies can be raised which will trash any that live off the land so supply units are hard to ignore. They can be overcome by sitting in a friendly port which will supply any number of units using invisible ships. The keyword here is friendly, if the opposition blocks up the port with ships then you have problems. In some areas there are so many ports that it is pretty easy to shift from port to port and avoid the blockades. Ships are expensive in terms of manpower and money, plus take a long time to build but come in handy for chasing the enemy fleets out of blockade positions. A common result is to have 2 fleets of much the same size both sat in ports away from the main front because neither dares split up to blockade the opposition armies. Some leeway can be had by moving small stacks without supply units at maximum speed to capture ports, larger forces move from port to port after they are secured, supply units must still be built and kept nearby but may lag behind the advance. If ships are available they can be sealifted to the front, if not everything will eventually ground to halt when the supply units are needed and have to be brought up. If the supply units are kept with the main armies they are burnt up as the armies move but with the 2 kept separate and intelligent use of ports they can be made to last a little longer.
Although I got rid of my copy of the 1st edition some time ago, it saw a lot of play and from memory that play did not take so long. Part of the reason was the lax supply rules which allowed truly huge armies to move at great speed. It took a long time to work out the odds for combat but 2 factions could put most of their forces in a single hex to decide a scenario on a single dice roll. A common cause for defeat used to be having the faction morale descend below 0, this is still possible but takes a great deal of knocking. The morale gains and losses balance each other just a little too neatly in Imperium Romanum II. Generally morale goes up and down for taking provinces (change is the same as the tax value) and combat. Morale changes are based on losses inflicted in a combat, the proportion for actually wining or losing is low. The points gained are modified by units lost to the enemy so if both sides lose the same number of troops then the only morale change will be due to winning the battle or eliminating any leaders. A battle which shifts a morale index by 20 or more is rare, faction's morale tends to be about 100. Any losses in 1 area may be compensated by advances on another front allowing factions to hang on for just too long.
The general course of play in Imperium Romanum fits some areas of Roman history better than others. Certainly the best parts are the potted history at the beginning of scenarios and the set ups. The general forces used by factions and barbarians seem to fit the WRG norm right up to the use of the same units for cataphract cavalry and charging barbarians, the knights of DBM. Once the counters start moving scenarios tend to follow similar trends (although I have not played all scenarios). The Bosphorous is always hard to cross and Greece correspondingly hard to defend as enemies sweep down from the North. Persia or Parthia is present in many scenarios as a non-player which will only become active if the Roman frontier is stripped of troops. This frontier always has a good sized Roman army reducing any danger from the East as long as these forces are left intact. Some scenarios have more than 2 factions, 1 of which gets to have Italy and a few provinces either side, this faction typically collapses first.
The most accurate scenarios are those of the late Republic The time when most Legions were in play (Augustus demobbed several to save money) and for some reason the economy was not in too bad a shape. Alleged allegiance to the Senate or some faction of the Senate allowed Romans to maintain control of regions distant from Rome. Pompey's son was still ruling in North Africa after Pompey's death and there were still troops loyal to Pompey in Spain at this time. At a later date there would be some need to declare loyalty to the Emperor, stay neutral or declare ones candidacy to the purple. Factions did not appear to have any difficulty in raising troops outside Italy, you had to be a Roman to join the Legions but there was a cunning proviso that you could be given citizenship immediately before joining. Also as provinces were held from the Senate rather than an Emperor there was some justification in holding onto a province until or beyond the end of an appointed term. The various coalitions did not have any qualms about splitting up the Republic into various sized chunks which could last for years.
There are few scenarios of the early Empire because it was generally at peace but not surprisingly many scenarios from the civil wars of the later Empire. For some good reason this period was marked by chronic manpower shortages but the game countermix remains the same as for the Republic. To reduce the chances of civil war individual commands had been made smaller so a faction leader may personally control some of the troops in his area of control but have to hope that others would be loyal. Compare this to the forces that were directly controlled by Caesar or the Senate. In the game all sub-leaders are always loyal to the faction, no-one could ever be too sure in late Roman politics. Consider the British usurpur Constantius, he had control of the British army, moved over to Gaul to take over Gallic forces but failed to win over the Rhine forces. In Imperium Romanum you know exactly what you have got, in reality a large body of troops would remain out of play often with the good excuse of imminent external war. There is considerable scope for making un-named leaders (who are commonly used for raising troops and undertaking minor campaigns) less reliable. If asked to do nothing they will co-operate but if entrusted with power they may set up on their own or change sides. This could happen, Carausius was doing fine as Emperor in Britain but was eliminated by his own subordinate as was the Constantius mentioned above. In other cases it never did, Theodosius being undisputed as master of the East although he had to clear the West of pretenders. Any changes to the alliance of un-named leaders in scenarios dated 69 AD and later will wildly skew the game in unknown directions.
Suggestions to change the game
To speed up the game and make factions more brittle all negative morale losses should be doubled. So if a province bringing in 20 "talents" changes hands the winner gains 20 morale points and the loser loses 40 (rather than 20 each in the current system). The habit of factions building up healthy surpluses can be overcome by not allowing surplus income to be held over from 1 tax phase to the next. To compensate the donatives rule has to be removed and morale increased by 1 point for every 10 "talents" that are not spent at the end of a tax phase, we can assume these spent on good works (aqueducts) and bribes and games.
As a wild card rule, on or after 69 AD if an unnamed leader is used to raise troops or move without being in the same stack as a named leader he disobeys on a D6 roll of 6. Roll again for effect.
1-3, does nothing, unable to move or recruit.
4-5, declares for the nearest other non-Roman faction, all forces in Province defect.
6, sets up as a new Roman faction, al forces in Province defect, forces in adjacent Provinces defect on a 1-2. Further Provinces may defect in a cascade system.