December, 218 BC, northern Italy. A javelin’s throw from the ice-fringed Trebia river, Sempronius Longus explains a last minute change of plans to his generals. “Gentlemen, I don’t like it any more than you do, but the fact is the Senate have decided that if we take more than [checks telegram] six minutes to beat Hannibal tomorrow, or suffer more than [checks telegram again] 140 casualties the battle will go down in history as a Carthaginian win.”
Welcome to the pedantic but fun world of Great Battles of Rome. This puzzle-like real-time wargame recreates (probably too strong a word) one hundred of the most significant scraps in Roman history. These are chained together into two Via-Appia-straight campaigns, with the chance to recruit, repair and upgrade your army between bloodbaths. The key to each battle is deployment: once the slaughter starts every mouse-click costs command points, so how you position and program your troops at the start can, and often does, make the difference between victory and failure.
Extra novelty comes in the form of the fussy victory conditions like the ones mentioned above. Meeting these can be devilishly tricky, but they give the game a clarity, a zip, and a we’re-not-going-to-bed-until-we’ve-beaten-this-bastard-battle quality that its more realistic (and more famous) peers can’t match.
What realism GBoR does possess is wrapped up in the treatment of terrain, morale and troop types. Send your Praetorians into a bog, or your elephants into a forest, and enemy skirmishers will love you forever. Let new conscripts get into trouble far from the stiffening effect of a standard or a general and they’ll flee like fire-spooked fawns. Only fatigue modeling appears to be missing.Does this sound familiar? You might be recalling Slitherine’s last release, Legion Arena. Both games share the same concept, engine, units and maybe some of the same scenarios. Remove the jockstrap from the “naked” fanatics, the 3D fort backdrop from the army management screen, and the History Channel docu-drama crammed awkwardly between the scenarios, and GBoR is a ringer for LA.