In this series of Action Points we are taking a look inside the solitaire only game The Wars of Marcus Aurelius: Rome 170-180CE from Hollandspiele. The game simulates the strategic level struggle of the Romans led by Marcus Aurelius to stave off the invasions of Germanic tribes and Sarmatian raiders as they encroach on Roman territory across the Danube River.
In Action Point 1, we took a look at the map and the various Barbarian Tracks down which the Marcommani, Quadi and Iazyges tribes move toward Roman territory. In this Action Point we will look at The Barbarian Deck cards and how they are used during the Barbarian Phase to control the enemy and challenge the player.
The game uses two separate decks of cards; The Barbarian Deck (Green) and The Roman Deck (Red). Both of the decks are made up of 50 cards each but each have very different purposes. The Barbarian Deck is used to determine the actions of the invading Germanic tribes as well as events that effect the war effort including mutinies, plague and the will of the people. While The Roman Deck provides the resources and events that are used by the Roman player to mount a defense against the invasions and to fight back each of the different barbarian tribes. There are unique cards called Late War cards in the deck that will be held out until the start of the 175CE turn at which time they will be mixed in with the cards to form a new Late War Deck. There are also special cards that are marked with an asterisk that if played for the event will be discarded from the game to form what is called a History Pile.
In this Action Point lets dive into The Barbarian Deck.
First let’s take a look at the makeup of The Barbarian Deck. Remember there are 50 cards in each deck. The Barbarian Deck has 8 Late War cards that are added to the deck only at the start of the 175CE turn which is the 6th turn. So this means that the deck used in the first 5 turns consists of only 42 cards.
Of those 42 starting cards, there are 7 cards that activate the Quadi Tribe, 8 cards that activate the Marcomanni Tribe and 8 cards that activate the Iazyges Tribe with 2 of those cards being special causing them to activate the Tribe twice. This means that 54.7% of the cards in the starting deck (23 of 42) activate the Tribes.
Once the Late War period is reached the statistics change slightly with 9 cards that activate the Quadi Tribe, 8 cards that activate the Marcomanni Tribe and 8 cards that activate the Iazyges Tribe. This means that only 50% of the cards in the deck as of the Late War (25 of 50) activate the Tribes. This can be less if certain other cards have been removed from the deck but you get the general idea. The Barbarian Deck is made with the purpose of moving the Tribes down each of the Tracks toward the Roman homeland.
The remaining cards in the deck do various things through a kind of “event”. Some of these Events cause the Roman player to lose Imperium Points (Alexander of Abonoteichus, Scandal Faustina, Plaque), flip all Barbarian armies to their BOLD sides (Good Omens), activate all Tribes that haven’t surrendered (Coordinated Attack) and sometimes are a reprieve for the Roman player that can end the Barbarian Phase (Quiet on the Danube). These cards are brutal and it always seems that they come up at the most inopportune times to vex the efforts of the Roman player.
The other kind of cards in the Barbarian Deck are called Off-Map Conflicts as they represent historical events from the time of the Marcomannic Wars that didn’t happen on the Danube front but occurred in other parts of the Roman Empire and needed to be dealt with by Marcus Aurelius. For example, the card called British Uprising represented a revolt of British Tribes that were taking advantage of the ongoing conflicts in the east to foment their own rebellion. Historically, it was a pressing matter and forced Marcus Aurelius to dispatch Roman Legions as well as some surrendered Iazyges horsemen to attempt to put down the insurrection.
When the Off-Map Conflicts cards are drawn they are placed in the appropriate box on the map and the player must deal with them by moving an army and a leader to put down the uprising or suffer the loss of support at home in Rome represented by Imperium Points. If your IP Track ever reaches zero, it results in an immediate defeat for the Roman player.
As you can see, there are lots of challenging situations to deal with in the Barbarian Deck in addition to the savage and fierce Tribes. The deck cannot really be controlled but only managed and you must also be a little bit lucky to have the cards come out in your favor.
Now let’s take a look at the Barbarian Phase to see how the cards come into play and effect the game.
The Barbarian Deck is used during the Barbarian Phase of the game and is controlled by the system against which the Roman player is fighting. During this phase each round the player will draw and resolve three Barbarian Cards.
As mentioned above, Barbarian cards will trigger either Barbarian Activations or Events. Barbarian Activations will cause one of the Tribes to advance one space down the Track as long as the Barbarian Tribe counter is on its BOLD side. If the army is on its demoralized side the Activation will simply cause the counter to flip to its BOLD side and it will not advance on the track.
After you have resolved a single Barbarian Activation Card you will place it in one of the Surge Spaces on the upper right hand side of the map. This will happen with each card after activating unless the card says discard or ends the round like the card Quiet on the Danube. These Surges are another way that the game will force you to think about what you are doing and what you wish to accomplish.
When the third Barbarian Deck Card is activated and placed in the third spot of the Surge Spaces, the player will experience a Barbarian Surge. Oh what fun! A Surge simply activates all Barbarian Tribes in the Tracks that were not activated with the last played card and that have not as yet surrendered. Once the Surge is over you will remove the cards from the Surge Spaces to the discard pile. Players do have a choice when a card is to be placed in the third Surge Space however. They may simply discard a Roman Card from their hand to prevent the Surge. This Action is a representation of diplomatic tactics used by the Romans to pacify the Tribes and prevent them from rising up together.
If any Tribes have surrendered and a Surge or Oathbreaker Event is triggered the Roman player will roll to determine if pacified Tribes (those that have surrendered) rejoin the struggle. At that time the Roman player will roll 1d6 and compare the number rolled to the Pacification Value which is the number of Legions in the appropriate army box plus any attached Leader’s Combat Value plus the number of Level 2 Forts on the Track. If the roll is greater than the Pacification Value the Tribe will break their treaty and resume the offensive after being placed in their home space.
At the conclusion of each Barbarian Phase, the player will next move to the Roman Phase and take their actions using their cards.
I hope you got a good feel for The Barbarian Deck and how those cards are used. In Action Point 3, we will examine The Roman Deck and look at the various actions available.