In this series of Action Points we have talked about a lot of the aspects of this very cool 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. The game uses cards in a pseudo CDG format to move the game along and is very well done.
In Action Point 1, we examined the map and the various Barbarian Tracks down which the Marcommani, Quadi and Iazyges tribes move toward Roman territory. In Action Point 2 we looked at The Barbarian Deck and how the Barbarian Phase works. In Action Point 3 we looked at The Roman Deck and how the cards can be used for their printed events or discarded to take various actions in the Roman Phase and in Action Point 4 we looked at a few different examples of combat in the Battle procedure.
But with all good things, an end is inevitable. In this our final Action Point for the game I will share some strategy tips that I have learned from my plays of the game. I do feel compelled to divulge to you that these strategy tips are being provided by a player with a 3-8 record, although I have won 3 out of my last 4 plays. So take this advice for what it is worth!
1. Always Take IP Track Events
In my first 5 or 6 plays of the game, the most common way that I lost was by allowing the Imperium Point Track to reach zero, which results in Marcus Aurelius being usurped and the player immediately losing the game. I was confounded and very frustrated about why I couldn’t prevent this from happening! I could see the end coming but struggled with keeping that Track above water. There are a few cards included in The Roman Deck that provide increases to the Imperium Track and I highly recommend you take these events when they come into your hand rather than discarding these cards to take another action, that might seem important at the time, but in the end these events are just too efficient to pass on. In the above picture you can see three of these cards that you should be keeping an eye out for, including Commodus, Column of Marcus Aurelius and Auction in the Forum of the Deified Trajan.
Each of these cards will provide you an option. This option is taking the +2 IP or another type of action such as ending a Mutiny (very important as it usually takes you discarding a card and losing an IP) or drawing two cards to add to your hand (imagine if you can only draw that Local Guides card you have been looking for or the Ambush that you need to take on the Quadi in their Home space). It becomes a choice of “either/or” and I am here to tell you the only reason the “or option” is provided is to lure you away from the real prize in that of gaining the +2 IP. Please listen to my advice and take the +2 IP. You will thank me in the end!
The above picture is a look at all of the nasty Imperium Point Track attacking cards contained in The Barbarian Deck, just in case you are still debating not listening to my sage advice. Scandal Faustina and Alexander of Abonoteichus simply take 1 IP but Plague and Plague Worsens are even…well…worse! You will not only lose 1 IP automatically but will roll a die and are going to lose at least 1 Legion with a chance of losing 2 Legions if you roll a 1. Nasty stuff! Also, keep in mind that if you roll a 1 while in combat with an army led by Marcus Aurelius you will also lose 1 IP. There are lots of ways to lose these important IP’s and only a few ways to gain them so use the events when they come up…you will thank me later as your chances of winning will improve drastically!
2. Always Hold a Card – to Either Discard for Battles or to Prevent Surges
When three cards from The Barbarian Deck have been played that say “add to the Surge pile” you will initiate a dreaded Surge. This simply means that the Tribes that were not activated by the play of the 3rd “add to Surge pile” card will now be activated and get a chance to either flip from their Demoralized side to their Bold side or will get to advance one space on the Barbarian Track closer to a crossing of the Danube where they will start doing damage to you, including forcing you to discards cards, lose IP (see Strategy Point 1 above) or even lose the game automatically! If you happen to have held a card over from your last round, rather than playing it for the event or discarding for an action, you can discard that card now to prevent the Surge from going off. The built up cards will simply be discarded without adding more pain to your Legions as the Barbarians roll down the Track. It is sometimes very hard to not play a card during your turn and hold it over until the next round but it is great to have the option of stopping the Surge. Patience is a virtue after all!
The other important reason to make sure you have a card in your hand at all times, either carrying it over from the previous round or just having that card in your hand as you initiate a critical Battle, is the rule where you can discard a card to add +1 to your Total Attack Value during combat. If you look in the above picture you will see that the Roman Attack Value is only a 12 as compared to the Marcomanni Barbarian Attack Value of a 13. This means that you are going to lose this Battle and will be forced to remove a Legion from your army to the Recovery box and your future attacks with this army will be -1 to their Attack Value. Plus when you have the Barbarians this close to their Home space, you don’t want them to move any further as you will have to win one more Battle to get them back to where they started at. So having a card in your hand allows you to discard it to add a +1 to your Attack Value, which can either win the Battle or force a tie and a reroll. Battles are very hard to win as the Barbarians approach their Home and you have to win every time you can.
When I first played this game, I was all out aggressive and would play every card in my hand every turn. I quickly realized that this wasn’t the most sound strategy and that it was better to prepare for the future and sometimes simply holding onto your cards. Trust me, a more prepared and varied attack will produce better results than a ferocious onslaught of charges. Hold a card to hedge your bets. You will be pleased with the outcome!
3. Stack Cards in Battles
As I mentioned in the last point, Battles will become increasingly more difficult to win as you push the Barbarians back toward their Home space as their Terrain Value will increase. As you can see from the picture above, the Marcomanni Terrain Value is +6 and +8 in their last two spaces. This means that they are more often than not starting the Battle at an advantage with a +10 to +12 bonus to their Combat Roll. The highest that the Romans can get in these same spaces (without the play of an event) is a +11 but that is with a Level 2 Fort, which can be very hard to build, so more often than not they will be at only a +9 (6 Legions plus +3 for Marcus Aurelius’ Combat Value). In comes the importance of stacking up your event cards in these key battles as you look to throw the knockout punch that will force the Tribes to surrender and get out of the fight.
Stacking events simply means that you hold a few good cards in your hand to increase the odds of you winning a key Battle. I don’t know about you but the dice are generally unkind to me and if I am looking to roll well each Battle to win then I will be losing more often than not. I like to stack the odds in my favor by getting a few good cards and playing them together. In the above picture you will see that my situation is not dire but I want to win this fight to force the Marcomanni to surrender. We are battling in their Home space and their base Attack Value is currently a mighty +12 to which they will add a d6 for a possible range of a 13-18 Attack Value. My Roman stack is only a +9 at this point and I will also add a d6 for a possible range of a 10-15 Attack Value. This just isn’t good enough and means that I would have to roll a 5+ to the Barbarians roll of a 1 to win. So, here is where event cards become important.
I decide to play my Ambush card, which will add a +3 to my roll thereby increasing my range of possible Attack Value to a 13-18, which is must better but just not quite good enough. I then add to that my Local Guides card which will halve the Terrain Value of the Home space, reducing it by 4 from an 8 to a 4. This decreases the possible range of the Barbarian Attack Value to a 9-14. This is very possible for me to win now as I just have to roll a 2 or higher to overcome the Barbarians. I roll the dice and get a 4 to their 2 resulting in a final Roman Attack Value of 16 compared to the Barbarian Attack Value of a 10. Do you see the importance of holding onto good cards until you can stack them to assure victory? This is a very key point in my strategy and you must pay attention to this point, unless of course, you are a very skilled dice roller!
4. Add Legions and Leaders through Events Whenever Possible
The basis of this game is defeating your enemies through Battles and you have to have good Leaders and Legions to do this. At the start of the game, you only start with a total of 10 healthy Legions, as two of them are recovering from the effects of previous Battles and the Plague, and there are a few Legions that haven’t been formed and released to join the war in the Danube (Legio XXII and Legio Slaves, Gladiators and Bandits). You must keep your eye out for the event cards that add Legions to your forces and that add better Leaders. These extra forces will be most important when you begin to force the Barbarians to surrender and must then switch from the work of waging war to keeping the peace as you attempt to Pacify them (see Strategy Point 5 below for more details). Pacification takes a combination of Leaders and Legions in the various subjugated Barbarian Tracks and the construction of Level 2 Forts from which to intimidate your foes into inaction and to launch patrols from to quell minor fires of rebellion. You cannot adequately staff these Forts and provide men to man them unless you add forces. 12 Legions (the 10 you start with along with the 2 Legions that recover and join your forces at the start of 171CE) divided by the three Tracks means that you can have only an average of 4 Legions at any given time in an army box and this just isn’t good enough. You have to prioritize using the events that add troops and Leaders or you will eventually fail. I know it is hard to not use those cards for other activities, such as increasing your IP Track, building Forts, putting down mutinies or moving armies to Off-Map Conflict boxes to deal with troubles, but you have to use these cards to increase your forces every time.
5. Don’t be Soft on Surrendered Tribes – Always have enough Forts and Legions to Quell Oathbreaker Checks
Once a Tribe has surrendered because you defeated them in their Home space, your work is not yet done. You must now move to the work of Pacifying that Tribe by building Forts and leaving behind the appropriate amount of Legions and Leaders to make sure their future Oathbreaker Checks fail.
Remember that after Tribes have surrendered, and a Surge or Oathbreaker card event occurs, you will have to roll to determine if Pacified Tribes rejoin the fight. Believe me when when I say the worst thing that can happen in this game, besides an auto loss from the Usurpation or the Marcomanni reaching Rome, is a surrendered Tribe passing their check and reentering the fight! It is very deflating.
When an Oathbreaker check is required, the player will roll 1D6 and compare the number to the Pacification Value of that Track by checking the number of Legions in the appropriate army box plus any attached Leader’s Combat Value plus the number of Level 2 Forts in that Tribe’s territory (Level 1 Forts don’t count for anything with this check). If the die roll is greater than the Pacification Value, the Tribe breaks their treaty and resumes the offensive. This means that you will remove the Tribe’s marker from the Surrendered Tribes box and place it in its Home space on its Bold side.
Herein is where I make the statement to not be soft on these Tribes. You cannot risk them coming back into the fight. Remember, that as long as you have a total of 6 points combined keeping watch over a surrendered Tribe, they will never rebel unless triggered by the Barbarian card Rebellion! So do yourself a favor and keep your Pacification Level at a 6 or higher in each of the surrendered Tribes Tracks. I actually think that you should be at 8 or so with Forts as there is a card in The Barbarian Deck that causes you to check each Fort by rolling 1d6 and trying to roll above the Terrain Value of the space they are located. If you fail that roll, the Fort will take a loss and be reduced to a Level 1 Fort and will no longer add to your Pacification Value. This will take your vigilance and a significant investment of cards to place and upgrade these Forts so get going on building them from the very beginning of the game and don’t wait until you have defeated a Tribe to start!
6. Always Start with the Marcomanni Tribe First
There are three Tribes that you have to defeat and they are all tough. The one that offers the greatest immediate threat to your victory though is the Marcommani. Why is this the case? Well, if you look at the bottom of their Track you will notice that the Box there represents Rome itself. If the Barbarians breach the walls and your home city falls, you will lose your source of supply of both men and material as well as the support of the people and the Senate. They will surely fire you as their leader and turn to someone that can keep the Barbarians at bay. Because of this danger of losing the game, you must focus on the Marcommani. I actually recommend that you have them surrendered by the end of 170CE if at all possible. This will take a sincere effort with access to good event cards (as well as some lucky dice) but can be done. I then usually like to move to the Iazyges Tribe as they cause you to lose cards if they reach the end of their Track and less cards means your job gets harder.
7. Never Attack in the Winter – Save that Single Card for the Spring!
This is a simple strategy and really involves two of my previous points. During the Winter Round, the Romans will only draw 1 card. That is all that they will have during this entire round. 1 card just doesn’t provide you with the options that you need to realistically make any progress. I have preached keeping a card over from round to round to offer you flexibility in dealing with Surges as well as to provide you a card to discard to add +1 to your Attack Value in a battle to make the difference between winning, losing or ever tying the Barbarians. With only 1 card being drawn, if you play it you will find that you don’t have a card to prevent Surges in the Spring round (remember that the Barbarian Phase occurs first in the round before the Roman player gets to draw cards) or to discard to change the outcome of a Battle.
To add to that, the Romans suffer a -1 penalty to all Battles fought during the Winter. This means that you will not only most likely not have cards to discard to help but your Attack Values will be less. Winter is a time to prepare for the coming Spring when the Romans will draw 5 cards (6 if their IP Track is at 7!) and will have plenty of options to stack event cards during Battles and have the flexibility to discard cards when needed. Be patient and understand that you might have to take a break during the Winter round. Maybe send your Legions for some R&R in Florida, Arizona or California!
8. Forts are Your Friend!
Forts help the Roman player in several different ways and Forts are an investment and act as insurance! What can they do for the Roman player? Well, they can stop Tribes from moving (when a Tribe is activated by a Barbarian card you can reduce the Fort in their space or discard it if a Level 1 Fort to stop the advance of the Barbarians), add bonus Attack Value of +1 or +2 in Battles, the Forts can absorb losses for your Legions when you lose a Battle (instead of discarding a Legion counter to the Recovery box you can reduce or discard a Fort instead) and keep the surrendered Tribes out of play (as mentioned in Strategy Point 7). Please don’t wait until you force a Tribe to surrender to start building Forts. You should invest in them early in the game building 1-2 per round and also looking for the few events that allow you to place two Level 2 Forts on the board. Those cards are very good and efficient as well, as you normally have to discard a card to place two Level 1 Forts and then discard another single card to flip one Level 1 Fort to a Level 2 Fort. These cards give you two Level 2 Forts for one card! Very efficient!
9. Not All Events are Created Equal – Some Events are Simply Better than Others
Becoming familiar with the options that your deck offers is a part of the game and will take 4-5 plays to really learn. This is a key part of the game though and you must know what cards are available and when you get them how best to use them. There are some events that are simply fantastic! These events are typically associated with Battles. I have already discussed a few of these cards in my previous Action Points and in this Strategy Guide but wanted to share with you the event of all events in my opinion: Barbarian Auxilia.
The first time that I won the game was due in large part to the play of the Barbarian Auxilia Card. The card reads as follows:
If any tribes have surrendered, discard this card to place the Auxilia marker in any Danube or Off-Map Conflict box. If one tribe has surrendered use the +1 side. If two tribes the +2 side. Add this number to all attacks along this front for the remainder of the turn. Remove the marker after the Winter turn.
This card is very powerful and if pulled at the appropriate time and played it can add a lot of fire power to all of your attacks on that Track for the remainder of the turn. As you can also see the card only comes into the deck after the 175CE year so it will only be available near the end of the game. But, when played, it will give you a +1 or +2 for each Battle there. Such an awesome event! But you need to plan for and prepare for this card as you will only gain the greatest benefit when you have forced the surrender of two of the Tribes. But, if you know it is in the deck you can be looking for it and preparing and that is what is important.
The other card that I think is really very good is the Local Guides card (seen above in Strategy Point 3 Stack Cards in Battles). It takes away the best advantage of the Barbarians in their Terrain Value. It is very important to get this card in your hand and hold onto it until you really need it, most likely when you have pushed a Tribe into their Home space and are ready for that final battle to force their capitulation.
Know your cards and plan for their use. If you do this you will be prepared for victory! If not, you will be lost to the memory of history as the loser of the Marcomannic Wars.
10. Don’t get Discouraged When You Lose – It will Happen Often!
My final Strategy Point is simple. Be prepared to lose your first few games, and maybe even your first 5+ games. I know that I lost my first 7 games. I came close to victory a few times in that awful opening stretch but I now see that my losses prepared me for future success by teaching me what was important in the game and what elements to focus on. Don’t get discouraged! You will lose often. But that doesn’t mean that the game isn’t challenging or fun. It is a great time and even though I lost my first 7 games, I had a good time playing and felt that the game was beatable with the right cards, playing those cards properly and some lucky dice.
Now, after having played and won 3 out of my last 4 games (the last game I played was simply a cake walk. Not because it was easy or I rolled sixes to their ones all of the time but because I finally knew what I needed to do!), coming in with a record of 3-8, I have grown to admire and appreciate this game even more. I love this game and have really enjoyed not only playing it but sharing it with you in the form of these Action Points and my posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Unfortunately, all good things end and I am now done with this series of Action Points. I did shoot a playthrough video the other day that should be up on our YouTube Channel soon and also shot a video review sharing what I liked and didn’t like. Look for both of those soon for your Ancient Roman solitaire fix.