Rome in a Quarter Hour

Looks like Rome's going through some growing pains, hmm?

Despite being familiar to anybody who’s divided a last piece of cake, “I cut, you choose” doesn’t tend to attract much attention. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Evgeny Petrov’s Rome in a Day is looking to change that. This is a quiet little game, such an embodiment of the filler category that it takes literally fifteen minutes to play. In spite of that, it’s an unexpectedly solid title that transforms its players into shrewd speculators of hexes and laser-cut structures.

Ancient Rome didn't have windmills. Actually, windmills were derived from how Roman watermills functioned. But nobody hired me on as a historical consultant for this game, so don't go blaming me.

Welcome to Rome!

Welcome to Rome. Or at least to a countryside estate in the south of medieval France. Like any good landowner, your goal is to maximize your points by lining up your parcels of land with the buildings that work those parcels. To wit, fields of grain should be attached to windmills, vineyards to wine presses, olive groves to olive presses, quarries to stoneworks, and, um, red lands to red buildings.

The hiccup behind this bellyful of wine is that you don’t have full control over which lands you’ll be given. Played over a short four rounds, each one opens with everybody drawing five tiles and placing a pair of buildings on the first two. Lest you think this is a good opportunity to match lands to structures, sorry, their order is determined in advance. The result is five parcels of land per player, only the first two of each set improved by ancient industry.

What comes next will prove familiar to any landholder who’s been forced to divide his estate with a greedy heir. (Relatable.) Behind screens, everybody splits their hexes into two groups. On the first round, this is an undemanding decision. These groups will be unequal — there are five tiles, so equality would demand that you ruin your copy of the game — and as a sweetener, the smaller parcel receives a gem. You don’t need to know much about gems other than that they’re worth a few extra points at the end.

Pie divided, now comes the choosing. With all those parcels revealed, everybody plays a card that simultaneously determines which portion they will add to their map. You claim any tiles, buildings, and gems, stick them onto your growing province, and there you have it.

Here's another historical fact for you: Rome was not built by ripping up portions of the landscape by the bedrock and rearranging them willy-nilly.

Putting the pie rule into action.

If that sounds unembellished, wait until you see the maps. On the tile-laying side, Rome in a Day doesn’t break new ground. If anything, it’s simplistic. Structures earn points by being adjacent to matching lands, but once that requirement is met, those lands can stretch to the horizon without any trouble. Since there are only five colors in play, and because hexes have six sides, it’s fairly easy to ensure every structure abuts any relevant hillock. At times, it feels like a game that could have done with a few more shakes of pepper. Aqueducts for connecting far-flung regions. Mountains that hem in expansion. Forts for warding off handsy Gauls. Anything. Once in a session, you’ll grab a building on a mismatched tile that won’t easily connect to the proper spot to score both the structure and the land it sits on. Such moments are welcome puzzles compared to the sedentary ease otherwise on offer.

However, those moments also highlight the best part of Rome in a Day. This isn’t so much a tile-laying game as it is a game about engaging in those divisions. After the first round, maybe the second, your neighbors’ plans begin to take on substance. Maybe they have a big stretch of vineyards, or two olive presses they’re hoping to capitalize on. Or… well, those are the main examples. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to work with. From that moment on, you’re playing a different game entirely, one of observation, speculation, and denial. If your neighbor is looking for grain fields, you can force them to make sacrifices to claim yours. You can set up a situation where they’ll only get one tile as opposed to the four you’ll keep. You can bait them to take a desirable structure with junk tiles you’d rather dispose of.

The nefarious beauty of this process is that you’re also locked in the same head games with your neighbor on the other side. Every round swaps which neighbor steals from whom, but the basics remain as pure as the oil you’re squeezing out of those olives. This gives way to some truly devious abuses of the game’s core divvies. I’ve seen players forced to absorb tracts of junk along with the building they need, desperate claims on single tiles, even a six-wide span of vineyards with no attendant winery. Just because you aren’t directly ransacking your neighbor’s lands doesn’t mean you can’t leave them indigent.

I should have shown a comparison between my offer and a neighbor's lands, but the game is so fast and so absorbing that it was hard to remember to take pictures.

Checking out the lay of the land.

Is that too harsh for a fifteen-minute game? I think not. If you don’t know the exact value that each tile and each structure will award to your neighbor, perhaps you don’t have the makings of an emperor. At least not one of the emperors who didn’t get shivved by his imperial guard after only a month in the purple toga. Like many short games, Rome in a Day lessens its sting by making it brief. Then it’s onto the next session. Your construction might not look like Rome, but putting it together was fifteen minutes well spent.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on April 25, 2023, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This looks good! Have you played Tussie Mussie? It’s also a minimalistic (18 cards!) I-split-you-choose game and it’s great. Why are they always so small, though? Is the mechanism simply not cut (tee-hee) for bigger games?

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