Guest Author - James Shea
A historical country-management game set in the Ancient era, EU: Rome seems interesting and in-depth at first glance but falls short in terms of production and design. While strategy games of this sort might be for a niche audience, even such people will not find much to enjoy in Rome.
"Europa Universalis: Rome" is a complex "grand strategy" game, similar in some ways to Total War or Paradox's other games. The player takes control of a country or tribe from 300 BC to 0 AD. The player is in charge of appointing leaders, generals, scientists, and so on for the country, as well as negotiating trade, diplomacy, and military agreements. However, the level of interaction that the player has with the world is somewhat "board game"-ish: You move armies around on provinces and make "big decisions", but the actual depth of the game is lacking.
For example, each province produces one trade good - grain, wine, horses, iron, etc. Trade routes between province give the benefits of one province to another in exchange for their own trade good. For example, having access to horses allows cavalry to be trained, having access to wine improves happiness, and so on. This is a fairly "board game" way to resolve the issue - reminiscent of Settlers of Catan, for example. While it works fine in the game, it's a really obvious "meta-game" point, which the game tries to make up for by having it be immersive in other fields.
Each country has a roster of nobles, who can be assigned to different roles: generals, governors, priests, and so on. These nobles have stats and traits, as well as their own opinions and loyalties. This is one of the game's most interesting points, though it's not exactly unique. For example, a succession crisis (with some nobles supporting one candidate and some nobles supporting another) might lead to a civil war, splitting the country and making it vulnerable for outside exploitation. Foreign politics are interesting, as well. Networks of alliances and trade agreements complicate the standard template of "conquer your neighbors", especially since war without a proper Casus Belli (motive for war) leads to political turmoil in your own country.
The setting, to be frank, disappointed me. While I really love the Roman Empire as a setting, especially with all the eastern and barbarian cultures around it, the time period isn't particularly great for a game of this type. If you start off as a large country (like Rome or Egypt or Carthage), you have to deal with a large amount of turmoil and work from the get-go. If you start as a medium-sized country, you're undoubtedly next to one of those larger countries and can get bulldozed at any minute if you don't play your cards right. If you start as a small country far away from the larger empires, you can't really do anything because it takes so long to develop your technologies.
Normally I wouldn't complain about the graphics for a game of this type, but in EU: Rome, the visuals are kind of unhelpful in terms of indications of what's going on. It's not just "simple" or "low-quality", the map is just generally not representative of what's going on in a given province. It would be okay if the graphics were more clear, but there's issues like one generic "army unit" to a province (rather than splitting up armies to show how many are present). This is on top of the fact that the game's already fairly simple - combat animation is just two giant soldiers (representing armies) attacking each other on the world map while numbers get taken off.
Overall, EU: Rome was a disappointment. The setting looked promising, and the political intrigue is pretty good, but the management and handling of the gameplay is just so boring that even strategy aficionados I've talked to have spurned the game.
We bought this game with our own money via steam.