Soul of the Empire Game Review
Designed by Heath Stockburn and published by Chara Games, Soul of the Empire places 2-4 players in Rome during 54 A.D. as either the Romans, Jews, Christians, or the Coalition (Germanic tribes, Goths, Parthians). Each faction is trying to accomplish its unique goal in order to win the game. The Romans need to take 25 captives, the Christians need to convert 18 souls, the Jews need to have sole occupation of Israel, and the Germanic tribes have to make their way into the heartland of Italia and capture the Roman capital. Each faction can also win the game by scoring 7 points worth of objectives, which are unique to each faction and are likely to be a little different each time you play.
In order to accomplish their goals, each player will roll five dice, Yahtzee-style, to achieve their best set or sequence (in either same numbers or straights). The dice in the set or sequence dictate how many actions a player will have on her turn. The dice are then used for recruiting and moving units, initiating combat, and claiming objectives. They also allow you to acquire power cards, which are geared toward each faction’s historical strengths, and which are extremely… well…powerful. The components in the box are sturdy and attractive. Each faction’s meeples are unique and thematic. And the board is colorful and well laid out. The individual player mats for each faction are fantastic, as they summarize the unique set of actions that are available each round very well.
The strength of Soul of the Empire is how well it combines theme and asymmetry, while still maintaining a mechanical cohesion and balance between powers. In our 4-player game everyone was a couple of turns from winning when the Coalition got its seventh objective point to win. Another strength of the game design is that it doesn’t pretend to be nice. There is conflict from the get-go and it doesn’t stop until the game is over. There is really little engine building, other than recruiting units to the board and the occasional power cards that stay face up in front of players to provide ongoing benefits. It’s mostly fighting and hitting each other with timely power cards to get you to your objectives the fastest.
Combat is deterministic, with strength calculated by number of units in the space and adding the strength on a single, simultaneously revealed combat card played by each combatant. Occasionally, a player may be able to add a power card to his combat card, but we rarely saw that. Again, asymmetry is ever present, because if the Romans or the Jews are fighting the Christians, the lowest number wins the fight. The Germanic tribes, however, always demand the highest strength to win when when they are involved, including when battling the Christians. In short, the battles are simple rules-wise, but the choices are exciting and difficult.
Suffice it to say, if you are looking for a game that is historically based and saturated with theme, AND you don’t get your feelings hurt by constant meanness in game play, you really should check out Soul of the Empire. I’m not sure there are any games similarly themed, and the unapologetic decision to allow game design to reflect the chaos and brutality that was certainly present in 54 A.D. Rome is quite refreshing. But then again, I enjoy historical games like Academy’s Freedom: The Underground Railroad, that take potentially difficult historical themes and actually deepen your understanding of them in an engaging, fun, and fulfilling way.
Here’s an excellent how-to-play video from the publisher:
Thanks for reading and keep nerding on.
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