Ancient Rome is a period that I have always had an interest in and have loved to game. I feel like I am always on the lookout for a good Roman game and have found tons of good ones over the years. Last year, this new game Roma Victrix: Campaigns of the Roman World from Compass Games was announced I immediately sat up to pay attention. After looking it over a bit, I reached out to the designer Paul Kallio to see if he wanted to share some details on the design.
Grant: First off Paul please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Paul: Hobbies and interests include board wargaming (of course), occasional miniatures wargaming, historical research, reading, militaria, collecting and travel. I am a Senior Claims Representative handling casualty claims for corporate clients and managing defense litigation.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design?
Paul: From my earliest beginnings into the board wargaming hobby I had the irresistible inclination to modify rules and scenarios of games in my collection. That quickly transitioned into designing “home brewed” wargames for friends on a variety of topics.
Grant: What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Paul: I have really enjoyed watching and overseeing the entire process of how a “pet project” has evolved over time into a professionally designed end product with state-of-the-art graphics; seeing how once abstract ideas of mine are transformed into a tangible game and knowing that I helped to bring this about.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Paul: I “cut my teeth” on the old SPI games, so that would include designers like James Dunnigan, Redmond Simonsen, Al Nofi, Kevin Zucker, Richard Berg and the rest of that legendary crew. Frank Chadwick (whom I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting and playing with at a couple of wargame conventions). Ted Raicer is also a designer who’s work I greatly admire.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process?
Paul: To begin with, designing and drawing counter-art for playtest counters. I’m not proficient in computer-graphic arts. Although I have an idea of what I want the counters to look like, making that happen without outside help has always been a problem. Second would have to be writing the rules and ensuring that all the terms and other details remain consistent throughout. Finally, deciding what elements to leave in the game and what to take out. Oftentimes I find myself continually going back to a design to make this change or that change and it seems like I have difficulty bringing the design to a final conclusion.
Grant: What do you feel you do really well?
Paul: I know what I enjoy doing, and that’s the research that goes into a game’s design. I also enjoy making maps, which for the reason mentioned above, I do by hand.
Grant: What historical event does your upcoming Roma Victrix cover?
Paul: Roma Victrix covers a period of Roman history spanning more than 700 years from 218 BC to 533 AD in seventeen historical scenarios, one hypothetical scenario and two “freestyle” scenarios.
Grant: What is the meaning behind the subtitle Campaigns of the Roman World?
Paul: The various scenarios depict selected wars of the Roman Republic and Empire across the time period that the game covers. I wanted to make sure that players understood that the design was dealing with multiple campaigns and wars and that they would be different from each other. In each scenario, the Players alternate taking game-turns representing a one-year military campaign season.
Grant: What was your overarching design goal for the game? Do you believe you have succeeded? Why?
Paul: My primary goal was to design a modest simulation of Roman era military history emphasizing simplicity of rules and variability of play to create an interesting delve into the combat of the time and see how it worked out on the game board. I’m going to respectfully defer that judgment to the gaming community. Once it it out and people have played we will see what the response is.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and the force structure of the battle units?
Paul: The scale is Operational and Strategic. Land combat units represent 5,000 infantrymen (the average size of a Roman Legion, which I have used as the “baseline” for all other infantry forces) and 2,500 cavalrymen and horses.
Grant: I understand the game is scenario based. How is this accomplished on just one large map?
Paul: The game-map consists of Provinces which are subdivisions of larger areas called Regions (i.e., Belgica is a Province located in the Region of Gallia). As Roma Victrix covers a period of time of more than 700 years, compromises and accommodations were made in terms of delineating provincial boundaries. The boundaries of the Roman Provinces depicted on the game map roughly correlate to those of the Empire at or about 200 AD.
Grant: What different scenarios and what battles are covered over the time frame of 218 BC to 533 AD?
Paul: The usual suspects are represented, including the Second Punic War, the Civil Wars of the Late Republic, The Year of the Four Emperors, the Imperial expansion under Trajan, the Crisis of the Third Century, the wars with the barbarian invaders, Alaric, Attila and finally Justinian’s attempted reconquest of the Western Empire.
Grant: How does combat and the units change over those 700+ years? Was this tricky to design scenarios for?
Paul: The combat system remains consistent in each of the scenarios. What changes is the composition of Roman forces from the earlier to the later scenarios as the Roman army transitions from an army centered around the elite Legions to an army containing a greater percentage of cavalry and weaker infantry formations.
Grant: What is the game’s Sequence of Play and how is it interactive?
Paul: The Sequence of Play contains four initial Phases which are conducted simultaneously by all Players and these Phases center around collecting revenue, creating, rebuilding, replacing and maintaining existing forces on the map and performing attrition checks. The Players then determine who has initiative by a chit-pull procedure. Each Player then conducts an individual Player Turn consisting of an Operations Phase during which he or she activates Leaders and performs Movement and Combat.
Grant: How does the process of revenue collection work?
Paul: Each Player collects revenue based on the value of the Provinces under his or her respective control. A Player also collects revenue for a Capital City and may generate additional revenue during an Operations Phase by pillaging a conquered Province.
Grant: What are these funds used for?
Paul: Revenue Points are primarily used for the creation, rebuilding, replacement and maintenance of Land and Naval units.
Grant: How do players go about recruiting and maintaining military forces?
Paul: Land and Naval units may only be created or replaced in a Province containing a Leader
or a Player’s Capital City and is limited to 2 Legions or 2 Heavy Infantry units, 2 Auxilia units, 1 Cavalry unit and 1 Fleet unit. The Player expends the requisite number of Revenue Points and places the units with the Leader in the Province. Land and Naval units already existing on the map are counted and maintained at a cost of .5 Revenue Point for each. Units which are not maintained are considered to be “unsupplied” and may defect to another Player who then has the option of maintaining those units and replacing them with his or her own unit counters.
Grant: How are land and naval operations different and how do players use them most effectively?
Paul: Aside from the obvious that one takes place on land and the other on sea, land and naval operations are similar in the respect that a Leader is required to conduct either. The extent of land and naval operations which may be conducted each Player Turn depend on the number of Operations Points available to a Player’s activated Leader. The Player expends Operations Points for that Leader to conduct both Movement and Combat during his or her Operations Phase.
Grant: What role does diplomacy play and how is this mechanically carried out?
Paul: Although diplomacy is not a specifically defined activity within the Sequence of Play, diplomacy is present in that each scenario identifies certain minor powers as “Allies” or “Client States” of Major Powers and as such, they may be activated by the Supreme Leader of the particular Major Power. Diplomacy may also be conducted through the play of certain Event Cards. Finally, there is nothing to prevent Players from negotiating among themselves and making agreements as they see fit, so long as they don’t specifically contradict any of the rules. Naturally, any such agreements are only as binding as both Players feel obligated to honor them.
Grant: What is the structure of field battles and how do sieges differ?
Paul: Field battles (Land Combat) is conducted between opposing forces occupying the same Province. Siege Combat is specifically directed against an opposing Player’s Capital City.
Grant: What special rules are included in the design?
Paul: There are special rules governing the composition of the armies belonging to Barbarian Major and Minor Powers, Parthia and Persia and how each of those Powers recruit new units. First of all, they do not collect revenue as Roman and other civilized major powers do. Barbarian army strengths and composition are determined by revealing “Barbari Incognita” markers and consulting the “Barbaricum” Chart for each scenario. Barbarian Land Combat units consist of Barbarian Infantry and Cavalry units in varying percentages. Parthian and Persian Land Combat units consist of Cavalry, Auxilia (light infantry) and Garrisons.
Roma Victrix also contains optional rules which change the initiative determination process, a special rule which allows all Major Powers (including Barbarians, Parthians and Persians) to engage in revenue collection and expenditure the same as Roman and other civilized major powers do.
Grant: How do you model the overall effect of leadership?
Paul: Leadership is perhaps the single most important aspect of Roma Victrix. Each Leader has a Command Rating of between “1” and “4” which abstractly represents that Leader’s administrative, diplomatic and military skills. Thus, even the most abysmal Leader is rated as a “1” merely for showing up. The best Leaders such as Hannibal and Julius Caesar are rated at “4”. As noted above, Leaders are required to recruit new units, conduct Movement and Combat with Land and Naval units and to perform other activities as well.
Grant: How do you emphasize Roman cavalry superiority? Can the barbarians match their ferocity?
Paul: There are no specific rules which address this. In the later scenarios, Roman cavalry is more prevalent than in the earlier scenarios. The Barbarian response would be to deploy greater numbers of Barbarian Infantry and Cavalry against Roman forces with the objective of overwhelming or attritting them.
Grant: How does attrition work on military formations?
Paul: Attrition occurs at the beginning of each Game-Turn whenever a Province is occupied by Land units belonging to two or more opposing Powers. Each affected Player rolls 1d6 on a table and an attrition result is determined according to the force’s Leader Rating and the die-roll. The result is a percentage of the force that is eliminated.
Grant: What Random events are included and why did you feel they were important to include?
Paul: There are 21 Event Cards representing situations that frequently or occasionally materialized during the period encompassed by the game. These events are not specific to a particular scenario but rather they actually did arise or could have arisen under the right circumstances. The Events include ambushes, assassination attempts, changing allegiances of allies and client states, barbarian raids and invasions, frontier wars, major and minor rebellions.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?
Paul: Counters consist of a unit icon, unit ID and the unit type (Legion, Heavy Infantry, Auxilia, Barbarian Infantry, Cavalry, Garrison and Fleet) and the value of the unit in terms of Combat Strength Points (CSP’s). There are six sets of identical counters in six different colors.
Grant: Are there elephants? What special rules do they include?
Paul: Unfortunately, there are no elephants in Roma Victrix as a separate and specific unit type and this was a conscious omission for a number of reasons. Historically, there were six battles involving the use of elephants in the Scenarios represented in Roma Victrix. These are:
Saguntum, 219-18 BC
The Trebbia, 218 BC
Raphia, 217 BC
The Metaurus, 207 BC
Zama, 202 BC
Thapsus, 46 BC
Only one of those battles involved the use of elephants by both sides, that being Raphia. The Ptolemaic Egyptians had 73 elephants and defeated the Seleucid Kingdom which had 102 elephants. In four battles, the Carthaginians employed elephants at Saguntum, the Trebbia, the Metaurus and Zama. Carthage was victorious at Saguntum (which was actually a siege and not a field battle), and at the Trebbia. She was defeated at both the Metaurus and Zama. At Thapsus, the Numidians had approximately 60 elephants but were defeated by the Romans.
Thus, there was only one field battle of five in which the victorious army was exclusive in its use of elephants. In the remaining instances, elephants do not appear to have provided any real military advantage at least in terms of the time frame represented in Roma Victrix’s Scenarios. The principal reason for this seems to be that the Romans had developed effective tactics to counter the use of elephants by their enemies.
Nevertheless, the use of elephants and / or counter-measures, can be considered to be represented by the “Land Combat Advantage” Event Card which affords the Player using said card with a beneficial die-roll modifier.
Grant: How does combat work and how are outcomes decided?
Paul: Land Combat is resolved when two opposing forces occupy the same Province. If the defending force does not retreat before combat, each Player totals the number of Combat Strength Points (CSP’s) of his or her force and any applicable die-roll modifiers for Leadership Command Ratings, the attacker to defender CSP odds ratio, and cavalry advantage (if applicable). Each Player rolls 1d6 and the result is expressed as a percentage of casualties inflicted on his or her opponent. The Player with the net die-roll modifier may modify the result of one or both dice up or down, either reducing his or her own casualty percentage or increasing the casualty percentage of his or her opponent or a combination of both.
Grant: What is the layout of the map?
Paul: The map depicts Europe, North Africa and the Near East to the Persian Gulf and just South of the Caspian Sea. Essentially the Mediterranean Basin with the important periphery.
Grant: Why did you choose area movement and what advantage does it give the design?
Paul: Given the scale of the game (1 Game-Turn = 1 Year) and the subject matter, I believe area movement was the best way to go. Point to Point would have worked as well, however I think a larger map (two map sheets) would have been necessary to do that system proper justice.
To be honest, I’m an old hex-and-counter grognard, but hexes never seemed appropriate to me for games on strategic or operation ancient and medieval warfare. Hexes are great when a line or frontier must be defended, or a front maintained. A hex-map is also more suited to an ancient or medieval tactical battle where identifiable terrain features might play a greater role.
Again, in terms of the scale of Roma Victrix, the most battles were fought by mutual consent on relatively level ground. Actual and potential battlefields meeting that description can be found in the vast majority, if not all of the Provinces depicted in Roma Victrix.
Grant: How have you designed the game for the different player counts?
Paul: The number of Players ranges from 1 to 6 depending on the scenario. Two scenarios were specifically designed as solitaire scenarios, but there are options to play those scenarios competitively as well. Scenarios having larger Player counts also have options for fewer Players, in which certain factions or powers are “neutral” or Players may control more than one faction or power.
Grant: How is victory achieved?
Paul: Each scenario lists a number of Victory Objectives for each power. Examples are the control of one or more specific Provinces or Regions, the elimination of specific opposing Leaders, or to have the sole remaining Supreme Leader. The Player who achieves the greatest percentage of his or her Victory Objectives is declared the winner of the scenario. In the event of ties, victory goes to the Player with the highest total revenue base of all controlled Provinces. If still tied, victory goes to the Player with the highest total number of Revenue Points in his or her treasury.
Grant: What do you feel the game models well?
Paul: In the historic scenarios represented in Roma Victrix, the original participants were often presented with a variety of decisions to make which ultimately led to the historic outcome. I believe Roma Victrix affords each Player with a variety of options and paths to victory. The scenario starting set-ups are meant to represent the approximate historical situation that existed at the beginning of the scenario. Event Cards are present to add an element of random uncertainty yet still remain within the realm of reasonable possibility.
Grant: What has been the experience of your play testers?
Paul: The overall experience of the play testers was extremely positive and very helpful in identifying potential conflicts with rules and game mechanics.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Paul: I’m very pleased with how the design progressed from an idea to a prototype to the finished product. I am very grateful to Bill Thomas at Compass Games for giving me this opportunity. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bruce Yearian who did the lion’s share of bringing this project to life with his excellent graphics and countless hours of hard work. I hope that Roma Victrix is as enjoyable for those who play it as it was for me to design it.
Grant: What other designs are you contemplating or already working on?
Paul: Currently I am working on several projects in various stages of design and development including a game on English medieval history from 1066-1500, a game covering European medieval history from 700-1500 and a card game on the Stalinist purges. I am also working on a game for Paper Wars Magazine utilizing the Roma Victrix system but covering conflicts around the Western Mediterranean Sea during the Roman Republic.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions Paul. I am excited for the game and look forward to playing it latter this year possibly.
If you are interested in Roma Victrix: Campaigns of the Roman World you can pre-order a copy on the game page from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/roma-victrix/?sfw=pass1649966061