Defend Rome from the invading tribes, in this epic twist on a classic game
At its peak, the Roman Empire ruled over two million square miles, but by the beginning of the 5th century, cracks began to appear through economic crises, weakened miltary and importantly for this game, the constant invasion of neighbouring tribes. In Pandemic: Fall of Rome, you and your team must unite and prevent Rome being overrun by training armies, defending your cities and forging alliances before the invading tribes get too far.
If you’ve not played the base Pandemic game before, I would strongly recommend checking that out first (what a wonderful gaming experience that will be for you, enjoy!), as the Rome version does add a layer of complexity so it would be useful to have a good understanding of the Pandemic world first.
So for those that have played Pandemic and want a new challenge, what’s the same and what’s different? And most importantly, is it worth your hard earned money buying this version?
Firstly there’s no actual “pandemic” to cure in this game (just in case there was any confusion), instead your problem comes in the form of invading barbarian tribes. The aim is to forge alliances with all five of these tribes, before you are either overrun (run out of barbarian cubes), run out of time (exhaust the player deck cards), are destroyed entirely (suffer eight ‘decline’) or worst of all, allow Rome to be sacked.
Forging an alliance with a tribe works in pretty much the same way as discovering a cure in regular Pandemic, you need to discard a number of cards of that tribe’s colour, in a city with at least one barbarian cube. The number of cards you require varies for each tribe. The Ostrogoths (blue), require three cards, whilst the Visigoths (white) require five. Thematically, this is reflecting their varying influence in the region.
The map is a lot smaller than regular Pandemic which initially put me off the game, but as movement is more difficult (no shuttle or charter flights!), it actually works perfectly. There is one way of skipping around the map, by sailing between ports, but that requires a card to be discarded.
In regular Pandemic, to remove a disease cube you simply spend one action while in that city, job done! In this version, it’s not so simple. You require legions to fight for you, and as with any battle they sometimes die, and require reinforcing. You can train legions at forts (built in the same way as Research Stations in the base game), but the number of legions you can train per action decreases as the game goes on (a simple but brutal rule). You roll one battle dice per legion present, the result of which determines how many of each side die. This can be absolutely brutal! Sometimes we’ve gone to take on three barbarian cubes, and all three attacking legions have died! For me it’s a really great twist on the original as it introduces some jeopardy into that part of the game.
The other useful thing legions can do (and do not underestimate this) is defend your cities once you leave. So if you leave a legion on a city and that city would have received a barbarian cube, you instead remove the legion. That can really help protect you in the long run- it means you can leave a legion in a city that has three cubes on it, protecting it from revolt next time that card is drawn, instead of attempting to battle three barbarians with only one legion. It took us way too long to realise this!
In the invade phase (‘infect phase’ equivalent in the base game), there is another twist. Because the tribes marched to Rome on different paths, instead of simply drawing a card and adding a cube of that colour, you trace the path back to the pool of cubes until you find another cube, then put the cube down in the next vacant space along the track. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t, it basically gives the effect of the barbarian armies slowly getting closer to Rome if left unchecked. I really like it, as it provides another way of cubes getting into cities, and it fits with the theme too.
The revolt cards (‘epidemic’ cards in the base game) work in the same way as in regular Pandemic, except that there are more of them! 5 in easy, 6 in standard, 7 in legendary. This is particularly brutal as many of the city cards are in the invade deck more than once due to having multiple tribe colours represented on the map (there are five Rome cards in there!).
There’s a really cool new action in the Rome version which again fits with the theme. Because the Roman army was overstretched, occasionally they would make allegiances with the tribes and then recruit the barbarians to fight for the Roman army. So once you’ve forged an alliance with a tribe, you can discard a card of that colour to convert all barbarian cubes in your city to legions. This is so important later in the game as it has the effect of boosting your army, getting rid of pesky barbarians and using up otherwise useless cards. Such a good addition to the game.
The final thing I want to mention which is new to this version is the ability to be corrupt! In regular Pandemic you get some bonus cards in the player deck which provide instant effects to help your cause, and whilst the Rome version has them (and loads of them, fantastic variety!), each card has two effects. The regular one, such as remove a barbarian cube from your city, and then a corrupt one, such as remove all barbarian cubes from your city. Who wouldn’t go for the corrupt option?! Well, it’ll cost you a decline, so if you’ve got plenty left and you’re nearing the end of the game, by all means take the corrupt option, but if that decline marker gets to the 8th section, you’re doomed!
There is nothing I don’t love about this version of the game. I think the artwork is fantastic, the colour scheme is really lovely with the pastel coloured cubes for the barbarians. The addition of the legions with the battle dice are awesome, especially as each of your characters has a special ability which when rolled will do something different (so one of you might be much better at fighting whereas another might be better at moving quickly across the map). The theme is awesome and is brought into gameplay in a really pleasing way with the invasion paths and the ability to convert the tribes to fight for you instead of against you, it all just fits brilliantly. There’s nothing quite like the final turn of a game hinging on the result of a battle, or the flipping of an invade card, it’s so exciting! I cannot recommend this game enough to you.
If solo gaming is your thing, there are a couple of solo modes you can play which are fantastic and basically allow you to ramp up the challenge. My favourite one is another theme-based addition where you cannot have legions enter Rome (same as in real life!), and your normal starting fort in Rome does not exist. Every time a cube would be added to Rome you move down one on the decline track, so it is absolutely imperative you look after all routes into Rome! So. Much. Fun.
If you like Pandemic and you aren’t sure whether to get this game I’d implore you to give it a try, we’ve had an amazing time playing it this year.