Dale Yu: The Great City of Rome

The Great City of Rome

  • Designers: Matthew Dunstan and Brett J Gilbert
  • Publisher: Abacus/Z-Man
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: about an hour
  • Times played: 4, with review copy of The Great City of Rome provided by Abacus

In the Great City of Rome, players are competing architects in the Great City of Rome working to layout the best buildings in the Great City of Rome in order to gain the favor of the Emperor of the Great City of Rome.  Each player’s initial building plan is modest – two starting cards along with five bucks and your emissary pawn. You will eventually be building a 4×4 grid of cards for the Great City of Rome, so make sure to reserve enough table space for your sprawl.

Fun (and completely unrelated) Fact – I once read that the record for most times a title of song is repeated in a song is “Say What You Mean To Say” by John Mayer.  Fifty-three times including all the echos/reverbs. Which really feels like a hundred after your mind comes out of the haze it is put into by being forced to listed to a John Mayer song.   After discussing the title of the game with both the designers as well as the folks at Abacus – it came to light that the German name of the game (City of Rome) is different from the English version (The Great City of Rome), because it supposedly sounded better.  Well, I decided to put it to the test and see whether the repetition of The Great City of Rome title sounded good or not. And, I wanted this review of The Great City of Rome to vie for the record for game review using the game’s title (The Great City of Rome) the most times in a web blog post.  You may be tired of it already [accurate – ed.], but my friend, this review of The Great City of Rome is just getting started…

The building decks are shuffled and set up – the cards are numbered (obviously with Roman Numerals since this is The Great City of Rome) with IV, III, II, and I.  Before you put that I deck on the table though, there is a somewhat complicated intercalation of influence cards which must be put in exact intervals in the deck. Make sure to pay attention as not all the cards are used – some are used only in the 2p version of The Great City of Rome.    Each player then drafts a card from the II deck in reverse player order. The action strips for The Great City of Rome are shuffled and placed in the center of the table and the emperor pawn is placed at one end of that stack.

The Great City of Rome is played over 14 rounds, each of which has the same 3 phases: Upkeep, Emissary and Action.

In the Upkeep Phase of The Great City of Rome, you take the top action strip and place it at the bottom of the pile.  Then, flip up the top card of each numbered card deck to show the buildings on offer in this round of The Great City of Rome.  If an Influence card ends up on the top of deck I, place it on the table next to Deck I. As there are 14 cards in Deck I, this also acts as a timer/reminder of the game – you will play 14 rounds in each game of The Great City of Rome.

In the Emissary Phase, players in turn order place their emissaries on any unoccupied space on the action strip.  The action strips show cogs and bricks in different orders. The closer your emissary is to the Emperor, the fewer resources you will have to perform actions, but you will choose buildings earlier in turn order.

In the Action Phase, players resolve the action strip by going from closest to furthest away from the Emperor of The Great City of Rome.  When it is your turn, you choose an available building card from the table and add it you your hand. You then get to perform one building action (using bricks) and one production action (using cogs) – these can be done in any order.   You calculate the number of bricks and cogs based on your position on the action strip. You start at the emperor and count all the icons up to and including the space where your emissary pawn is. You can also choose to buy more bricks (2 coins) and cogs (1 coin) as your money allows.

To build in The Great City of Rome, you play a card from your hand, and pay the brick cost in the upper left corner of the card.  You then place the card so that it is orthogonally adjacent to at least one of your previously played buildings. It must go in an empty space in your 4×4 grid.  You can never place a building to extend a row or column to 5 cards. There are 14 rounds in each game of The Great City of Rome, and you start with 2 buildings – thus if you build your one allotted building in each round of the game, you will have a complete 4×4 square at the end of The Great City of Rome.

If you have built a special building (which comes from Deck I), you will see between 1 and 3 stars near the bottom bar.  Take a matching number of influence tokens and place them next to your part of The Great City of Rome. Each time you build a public building, you can immediately take the effect printed on that card.  These buildings are brightly colored (green, red, yellow and blue) so you can see them easily. If you build an aqueduct, note that you can only build one in each row and column of your grid in The Great City of Rome.

When you do a production action, you must spend 2 cogs.  Then you use the abilities of EACH production building in your area of The Great City of Rome.  Vegetable farms produce one coin to your supply each time they produce. Grain farms will produce a brick that sits on that tile; there can never be more than one brick on a grain farm.  You can use this brick on a build action at any point later in the game. Sheep farms produce one influence token each time they produce in The Great City of Rome.

You can choose to pass on either or both action options.  At the end of your turn, any excess bricks and cogs are lost, so there is never a reason to have more than 3 bricks or 2 cogs during your turn.  When your turn is over, remove your pawn from the action strip, and it is now the turn of the player who is now closest to the emperor of The Great City of Rome.

When all players have taken their actions, the round ends.  The start player token is passed clockwise and then there is some interim scoring if there is an influence card on the table.  The player who currently has the most influence in The Great City of Rome – that is the player with the most influence tokens at that time – will collect the influence card(s) and place it in their area, but they have to discard all their influence.  At the end of the game, it will be worth the points shown on it. If there is a tie, no one collects the card and it will be scored again at the end of the next round. If there are multiple cards on the table, the winner will take all cards at once.

The game of The Great City of Rome continues through the end of the 14th round.  After that, the game moves into the Scoring phase.  You score for:

  • Residential areas – adjacent residential buildings of the same value form an area, the value of which is the sum of their buildings.  This sum is multiplied by the number of different colors of public buildings which are orthogonally adjacent to them. You can have multiple residential areas in The Great City of Rome; they will all score.  It is possible for a residential area to be a single card.
  • Aqueduct – score 4/12/24/40 points for 1/2/3/4 aqueduct cards in your part of The Great City of Rome
  • Temples – each of the 10 temples has a specific scoring criterion which is based on the buildings in your part of The Great City of Rome.  The conditions are shown at the bottom of each temple card. Score each Temple that you have.
  • Coins – worth 1 VP per each coin
  • Influence tokens – worth 1 VP per two tokens
  • Influence cards – these were collected during the interim scorings; they are worth the VP value printed on them.

The player with the most points is the best architect in The Great City of Rome.  Ties go to the player with the most coins left at the end of the game.

My thoughts on the game

The Great City of Rome is a pretty great city building game.  Our first games have been a bit slow as we’ve had to look up rules and check on the card distributions in the different decks, but I can definitely see this game speeding up into the 40-45 minute territory.  And, for that time frame, there are a lot of interesting decisions to make while you build The Great City of Rome.

My initial games have shown that there are multiple ways to score large amounts of points. I have seen the 4-aqueduct-for-40-points strategy work well.  A huge block of 3-sized-apartments in The Great City of Rome turned into 62 points once; that was pretty swell. And there are plenty of temples which can reward you well if The Great City of Rome that you build dovetails with the scoring criteria on the Temple cards.

Each round is deceivingly simple, and in most rounds of The Great City of Rome, the play can be quite quick.  Oftentimes, you know that there is a particular card that you want – and if so, you try to place yourself as close to the front of the line as possible.  Other times, you know that it doesn’t matter (say that you’re trying to build a Public building which is in your hand), and you know that you want to be near last in order to get as many bricks as you can for free.

I have found that the turns which take the longest are the ones where there is no clear cut card choice, and you have to spend a bit of time doing the mental gymnastics to figure out which card should be chosen and then which card should be played (if any).  There are a few rare times when it might actually make more sense to not build a building and leave an empty space to give you more flexibility with cards which might be drafted later on… A lot of the Public Cards give nice bonuses based on how many other buildings in The Great City of Rome are orthogonally adjacent to them; and if you hope to draft one in the final rounds, you might be better off leaving yourself empty spots to play the cards to.

Early on, it helps to have a visualization in your mind of how you want to build The Great City of Rome. You will quickly find that you can get boxed in by the 4×4 grid for The Great City of Rome, and you need to be sure that you leave yourself enough space to get that all-important Public Building next to your valuable block of residences…

In addition to the spatial planning in The Great City of Rome, you need to be sure to draft cards that you can use.  You start the game with one card in your hand, and there may come a time early in the game where you draft a building that you can’t or shouldn’t build just yet… You need to wait for the rest of your city to come together to find the right spot for the card (or to generate the right reward for a public building).

In addition to building your own city, you should also try to keep an eye out for the bonus cards; especially near the end as a  10 or 14VP card can really be a significant percentage of your total score for The Great City of Rome. (Most of our 4P games have had winners around 100VP).  I have found that I like to hold onto a Red Public Building for an instant and sometimes unexpected bounty of influence tokens at the last possible moment before scoring the Influence card.

The rules for The Great City of Rome are well written and easy to understand.  The setup is a bit cumbersome with the placement of the Influence cards in the midst of Deck I.  I almost would have rather had a turn board with the interim scoring reminders placed on that board.  I also wish that the action strips had a bit more space on them. As players place their emissary pawns down on the circles, it becomes hard to see what’s underneath them – we have resorted to placing the pawns either at the edge of the strip or sometimes entirely off of the action strip so that all players can actually see how many cogs and bricks they will get during that round of The Great City of Rome.   

But, those complaints are minor.  The game itself works well, and there are many interesting paths which can be taken in The Great City of Rome; and so far, many different ones have lead to success.  I look to continue rebuilding The Great City of Rome this winter with my game group.

In case you wanted to sing along to the song – here are the lyrics.  Genius songwriting, really…

Take all of your wasted honor

Every little past frustration

Take all of your so-called problems,

Better put ’em in quotations

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Walking like a one man army

Fighting with the shadows in your head

Living out the same old moment

Knowing you’d be better off instead,

If you could only

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say

Have no fear for giving in

Have no fear for giving over

You’d better know that in the end

Its better to say too much

Then never say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking

And your faith is broken

Even as the eyes are closing

Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say

In the end, what I need to say is that The Great City of Rome is a great game; one that I’m glad to have brought home early from Essen, and one that will stay in my game collection. I say that it needs to stay.  (and i said the title 51 times)

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): My reaction to The Great City of Rome was almost as far removed from Dale’s as can be.  I found the placement of pawns trivial, the selection of tiles uninteresting, the game completely abstract, the iconography unclear, and the game – boring.  To the game’s credit, it does not go on too long.

Dan Blum (1 play): I didn’t dislike it as much as Joe did, but my reaction is along the same lines. Choosing a card is sometimes interesting, but usually not. Pawn placement is slightly interesting at the start but if everyone manages to get a little production that ceases since then everyone can always build and produce no matter where they place, so the “decision” is just “if there’s a card I want place as far to the front as possible, otherwise place as far to the back as possible.”

Doug Garrett: (3 plays, all 2-player): As a 2-player game Shelley and I quite enjoyed this new title. Instead of the 14 rounds listed above for 3 or 4 players, there are only 7 rounds and each player has 2 pawns; this 2-turn modification makes the game extremely quick and fun. Yes, you are limited to just the first 2 decks, thus narrowing the choices that will be revealed, but that makes the choices and possibilities more interesting. We’ll be talking about it extensively in one of Garrett’s Games’ upcoming episodes.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Doug G.
  • Neutral. John P, Dan Blum
  • Not for me… Joe H., Lorna, Alan H

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2018, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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