Soul of the Empire Review

Soul of the Empire is a game by Heath Stockburn, published by Chara Games. It is for 2-4 players. In this game, players take on the role of a faction leader in Rome during the time of Nero Claudius Caesar. Each faction will be trying to accomplish a certain set of goals. For the Romans, it’s about capturing their enemies. For the Jewish, it’s about reclaiming their Judean territories. For the Christians, it’s about converting the unbelievers. For the Coalition, it’s about seizing control of Rome and Italia. Players will need lots of cunning and strategy if they hope to outwit their opponents. In the end, the player that is able to accomplish their goal first or gain 7 Objective points will be declared the winner.

To begin, the board is placed in the middle of the play area. The Objective cards are shuffled together before being placed face down on the board. The top 4 cards are then drawn and placed face up on the designated areas at the top of the board. The 4 yellow dice are placed next to the board. Players select a faction and receive the corresponding faction board, units, dice, Combat cards and Power cards. It should be noted, the Coalition faction does not receive Power cards. In games with only 3 players, one of the players must select the Roman faction. Players will now shuffle their Power cards and place them face down to the left of their faction board. They will then place their Combat cards face down to the right of their faction board. Each player will now place one of their units on the Objective Point Tracker. They will then place their units as instructed by their faction board. The Roman player will delay placing their final 8 units until right before rolling and readying their dice. Any remaining units should be placed in the faction’s supply. The Roman Objective Point Markers are placed in Dacia and in Armenia on the board. Christian and Jewish faction players will receive 2 Objective Point Markers in their faction color. In a 3 player game, if one of these factions is not used, Rome is given 1 of the remaining markers and the other is given to the other non-Coalition faction. Jewish and Christian players will now place their Objective Point Markers in territories within the Roman Empire. It should be noted that players may not place a marker in the same territory or adjacent to another marker. At this time the Roman player will place their remaining units. Once that is done, each player will roll and ready their dice. What this means is that the player takes all 5 dice and rolls them. They may then reroll as many or as few dice as they wish, up to 2 more times, including dice previously rolled. What they are trying to accomplish is to get a dice sequence. A dice sequence can be a set of dice with the same number or a run of dice with increasing numbers. Most times this last option is known as a straight. It should be noted that the more dice in a player’s dice sequence will allow them to take more actions on their turn. Once the player is happy with their dice rolls or they have rolled the dice 3 times, play now begins.

The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round consists of each faction taking a single turn, starting with the Roman faction and continuing in turn order. Each turn that a faction takes consists of 3 phases; a start phase, a main phase and an end phase. The first phase is the start phase. This phase has 3 steps that must be taken in order but may be repeated as desired. First the player may play one of their Power Cards that are labeled for use during the start phase. Once the card’s text has been resolved, the player may use a permanent Power Card labeled for use during the start phase. Once again, after the card’s text has been resolved and if they are playing the Roman faction, the player may score any claimed Objective cards that are labeled to score in the start phase. Once these 3 steps have been completed, the player may repeat this process as many times as desired.

The next phase is the main phase. This phase has 10 different actions that may be performed in any order and may be repeated by the player as often as they’d like. It should be noted however, that 3 of the actions are only available for the Coalition player to take. The first action is to move units. The number of the die chosen is how many movement points the player has. It costs 1 point to move a unit to an adjacent territory. The player determines which unit(s) to move and may move as many or as few as they wish, up to the limit of the movement points available. Players are even able to move across water as long as the territories are connected with dotted lines. It should be noted however that a player may only have 6 units in a single territory. It should also be noted that if another faction moves into a location with a Coalition unit, they unit is frozen and may not move until the Coalition unit is killed, captured or converted. Other factions may move through territories with other units in them without any problems. Once the player is finished, the die is moved to the Spent Die area.

Another action is to recruit units. This allows the player to add more units from their supply to the board, as long as their supply isn’t empty. The number of the die chosen determines how many units may be recruited. Each unit costs 1. Once spent, the die is moved to the Spent Die area. Roman, Jewish and Christian factions may place a unit in any territory containing at least 1 of their units, as long as there are no Coalition units there. Coalition units may be placed in any area that contains only their units.

Some times player’s units will come into contact with their opponents units. This brings us to the next action, initiating combat. To initiate combat, the player must have at least 1 unit in a territory that contains an opponent’s unit(s). The die chosen is moved to the Spent Die area and does not affect combat. The player declares which territory and which faction they are attacking. The initial combat value for each faction is equal to the number of units in the territory. Next the attacker and defender will both choose a combat card, placing it face down on the table. Power cards may also be used but must be played before placing combat cards. The combat cards are revealed simultaneously. If either of the combat cards have text on them, this applies before totaling the combat value. If both have text, the attacker’s effect is resolved first, unless the defender’s card cancels the attackers text. Once the effects are resolved, the initial combat value is added to the number on the combat card, along with any effects provided by the combat card. Coalition units will also add their rage as shown on their player board to the value. It should be noted that if the Coalition is fighting either Rome or the Jews and there are Christian units in the same territory, the number of Christian units is subtracted from the Coalition combat value. Once each factions combat value is calculated, combat is resolved. The highest value wins in combat between Romans, Jews and Coalition. The lowest value wins in combat between Romans or Jews against Christians. The highest value also wins between Christians and Coalition. If combat ends in a tie, the defender wins. If Rome wins, all of the losing faction’s units in the territory are captured and placed on the Roman player’s faction board. If the Jews win, all of the losing faction’s units are returned to the faction’s supply. If the Christians win, a number of the losing faction’s units are returned to the faction’s supply equal to the difference in the combat values. Chrisian units are then used to replace them from their supply, from a Roman captured unit space on the Roman player’s board or from other locations on the board. Units removed from the Roman player’s board are not replaced but the highest filled capture space must be marked with an already captured unit to note where the Roman player was already. The Christian player must also advance their converted units track on their faction’s board by the number of converted units. At this time, if there are more than 6 Christian units in a territory, the player may move excess units into adjacent territories as a free move. If the Coalition loses, they will increase their Rage by 1 on their player board. It the Coalition wins, all of the losing faction’s units are returned to the faction’s supply. the Coalition then decreases the Rage on their faction board by 1. They can then choose to Plunder if they wish. If the Coalition player is unable to decrease their rage, then they may not plunder. This is because Plunder will further reduce the Coalition’s rage by 1. When choosing to Plunder, the player has 3 options. They may rampage, salvage or exploit. To rampage, they will be able to move as many of their units in this territory into an adjacent territory. To salvage, the player will draw a random Power card from the defeated player’s hand of Power cards. If they don’t have any in their hand, the player may pick any card from their discard pile. If there are no cards in the discard pile, the player may draw 2 from the top of the defeated player’s deck, keeping 1 and returning the other to the bottom of their deck. The Coalition player is then able to player the Power card as applies with the card’s instructions. When the card is discarded, it’s discarded to the original faction’s discard pile. To exploit, the defeated opponent must discard an active Power card of the Coalition player’s choice to their discard pile. It should be noted that after combat of any type, the combat cards are discarded face up in front of the player. Discarded combat cards will only be returned to the player’s hand once they have used all 6 of them.

Another action that may be taken is to claim an objective card. Any value of die may be used to claim an objective card. To claim an objective card, the player will place their chosen die on the card they would like to claim. The die will then remain there till either the player scores the objective card in their end phase, another player scores the objective card – in this case, the die is placed in the Spent Die area, another die is paid to retrieve this die placing it in the Spent Die area or the player passes their turn allowing them to retrieve the die.

Yet another action the player may take is to designate a die or dice to purchase Power cards. To purchase a Power card requires 2 pips for each card. One die must come from the player’s dice sequence. However the player may use a second die that is not part of the dice sequence to add to the original die to be able to have the required number of pips. Any dice used for this purpose are placed into the Power card area of the player’s personal board. It should be noted that a player may purchase up to 6 cards, as long as they have enough dice and pips. The dice in the Power card area remain there until the end phase. Once the end phase starts, the player may draw the corresponding number of Power cards from their faction deck. Also of note, players may only have 3 Power cards in their hand. Any excess must be discarded after drawing any new cards. Once this has all been done, the player moves their dice used to the Spent Dice area. They will then roll and ready their dice. One last thing of note, a player may only use 1 Power card per turn, unless they are using them as a defender in combat.

The next 3 actions are only usable by the Coalition faction. The first Coalition action is to claim an Objective Point marker. This may be done using any die and placing it on the Objective Point marker of their choosing. The die will remain on that marker until it is scored during the end phase by having sole occupancy of that particular territory or by the player paying with another die of any value to retrieve it, placing it in their Spent Die area. Another action is to block or unblock an Objective. To do this requires the player to have exactly 6 pips and use a die taken from their Dice Sequence. They may use a second die not in that sequence to add enough pips to get the 6 required. Any dice used are then placed on the Objective that they wish to block. However they are not able to block an Objective that has already been claimed. As long as a die or dice remain on the Objective, other players may not achieve it. It should be noted that the Coalition player is only allowed to block 1 Objective on each card and only 1 of each faction’s Objectives. They may, however, move their die or dice to another Objective to block it instead. However when this happens, they must add another 6 pips. They may also unblock an Objective, returning their die or dice to the supply by using a single die of any value. Any affected dice are placed in the Spent Dice area. The final Coalition action is to increase Rage. To do this requires 2 pips per point. The player must use a die from their Dice Sequence, but may add an additional die to meet the requirements. It should be noted that the player may not increase their Rage above 3. Once finished, any dice used are placed in the Spent Dice area and the Rage is increased by the appropriate amount.

The final 2 actions have already been covered somewhat. However I will briefly mention them here. First, the player may retrieve a die or dice from an Objective card or an Objective Point Marker. This is done in the same way as has been described earlier using a die of any value. Finally the player may play a Power card labeled “Main Phase”. Just as was noted earlier, players may only use 1 Power card per turn unless they use them as a defender in combat. Once a player finishes taking any or all of the actions that were just listed, play moves to the end phase.

The end phase has 5 actions that must be taken in order but may be repeated. The first action is to play a Power card that is labeled, “End Phase”. Next they can purchase Power cards, if they designated any dice to purchase them with during the main phase. After they’ve completed that, they will roll and ready their dice as explained earlier. It should be noted though that in this phase, the player is only allowed to roll and ready the dice in their Unspent and Spent Dice areas. Any dice used to score Objective points are not allowed to be rerolled on the same turn. Finally they will score any claimed Objectives that they have completed the requirements for, placing the claimed Objective card(s) in their play area. They will then advance their Objective Point Tracker by the corresponding number of points. Any dice on the Objective card are placed in the Spent Dice area and are not rolled this turn. A new Objective card is then drawn and placed face up. If any other players had dice on the Objective card they are returned to the player’s Spent Dice area. If the Coalition player was blocking an Objective on that card, they may immediately roll those dice up to 3 times and place them in their Unspent Dice area. At this time, the Coalition player may also claim Objective Point markers that they have the sole occupancy of that territory for. The Objective Point Marker is placed in the player’s play area and their Objective Point Tracker is advanced by 1. Any dice used are then placed in the Spent Dice area. If the Coalition player captures a second Objective Point marker from the same faction, that faction loses 1 Objective Point and the Coalition player gains an additional one. The final action in the end phase is only for the Coalition player. That action is to score sole occupancy of a region and regroup. If they are the only player to occupy every territory in a region inside the Roman empire, then they will automatically gain 1 Objective point. Each region can only be scored once per game. It is not necessary for them to maintain sole occupancy for the entire game. They do not lose the point, just because they lose the territory. Once they’ve scored, the Coalition player must then take a unit from that region and place it in the appropriate spot of their faction board. They are then able to regroup or move 6 units from that region into a single territory as a free move.

Instead of following the 3 phases listed above, a player has the option of passing. This allows them to gather all of their dice and immediately roll and ready them for their next turn. This means that they can return dice from Objective cards, Objective Point markers, the Spent Dice area and the Unspent Dice area. They are then unable to take any further actions. Of course, this course of action is not recommended, though it is available to be performed. Once all 3 phases have been completed or the player passes their turn, play will then pass to the next player in turn order who will then follow the same 3 phases or pass.

The game continues until one of two things happens. If a player achieves their special victory condition or they gain 7 Objective points, the game ends and that player is the winner.

COMPONENTS
This is a great looking game with a lot of high quality pieces. The board is really bright and colorful. It has a great textured shine to it that keeps it from being too slick. Then there are the faction boards. These are double sided with some great artwork on both sides. When playing the game, it doesn’t matter which side you choose, only the artwork is different. Each one of these has an even better finish than the board. They also have the special setup rules for each particular faction, as well as their special victory condition and the order of play as a reference. These are the absolute best parts of the game, in my opinion. Of course the second best parts would be the wooden pieces. There are large colored discs that are the Objective Point markers. These come in 3 different colors with 2 of each one. No Coalition green markers as they’re the faction trying to gain these. Next there are all the different faction units. There are 5 different types of meeples and each one is completely unique looking. The blue Jewish units look kind of like a robed figure. The burgundy Roman units look like warriors with shields. The white Christian units are down on their knees praying. The green Coalition units look kind of like the warrior on the faction board. Then there are the gray revolting units. These simply look like plain people. The rulebook shows them as cubes, but that’s not what they are. I didn’t really explain these in the overview, but will touch on them in the gameplay section. I really like the differences and the thematic look of each one. That makes for a very nice touch indeed. The game also comes with a whole bunch of colored dice, 24 to be exact. They’re brightly colored and match the different faction colors. Finally there are the cards. These have a really nice linen finish to them. The different Power and Combat cards have a unique back to them that is specific to each faction. For the Roman, Jewish and Christian factions, the different card types have inverted colors to them. For instance, the Christian faction has a gray background with white borders and white fish symbol on the back of the Power cards. The combat cards for this faction have a white background with gray borders and symbol on it. The Objective cards have a row for each of the 3 main factions to take an Objective. The game even comes with reference cards to help out while playing the game. Overall I like the cards, but think a bit of artwork or something would have broken up the rather bland and straight forwardness of the designs. Not that they’re bad, I really like the coloration and designs. I just would have like a bit of art thrown in for good measure. Overall this is a really great looking game. The meeples and faction boards are quite thematic and everything is pretty much color coordinated. I think for the most part, it accomplishes the look that the designer was going for. I’m pretty well pleased with it.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is well written and has plenty of great pictures and examples. The has a great beginning section that is dedicated to explaining the story of each faction and describing their resources, mindset and mechanics for the player that chooses to play them. There’s a great looking picture that not only explains how to set the game up, but shows it too. Step by step, each phase of the game is explained and each important term is covered. The book also has a 3 page section that explains each of the different Power cards. It covers when they can be played as well as what each one does. The book also includes rules for playing with only 2 players. This way of playing has players playing either the Roman or Coalition faction, along with one of the other remaining factions. Everything in the book is well written and explained. I couldn’t find any errors or anything that I needed clarification of. I think everything is very easy to find when you’re playing the game, especially since the book includes a table of contents on the inside cover. However, it wasn’t really necessary as each step and phase is highlighted in large enough text that you can’t help but find what you’re looking for. I think the book is well designed and looks really good too. I was very appreciative of all the great examples throughout the book, as they helped me understand things a little better. Overall I think the designer did a really great job with the rulebook.
8 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This game is a bit complex, to say the least. It’s a fairly heavy game, though most players would probably rank it somewhere between a medium weight and a heavy weight strategy game. I’ll be honest, the first time I saw the game, it made me think of Risk. The idea of moving the units around the board trying to take control of the different territories or capturing them, really enhanced my feeling. That’s not to say that this game should be compared to Risk though. Just pointing out what my initial gut feelings were. Needless to say, there’s a whole lot going on with this game. Depending on which faction you play as, you’re going to have a completely different objective to work towards. Romans want to capture the other player’s units, while the Christians just want to convert them. I do like how that each faction will feel different when playing it. Speaking of feeling different, one thing I didn’t cover in the overview was the grey faction. This grey faction is a revolt led by the Jews through 3 Power cards. When these come into play, they can help out the Jewish faction to complete their special victory and can help out during combat by lending their combined might. Needless to say, it can be quite helpful to the Jewish player to get these units out on the board to lend a hand. There’s actually quite a lot going on in this game and it can be a bit overwhelming for new players or younger players. This is definitely one to be played with older teens to adults, simply due to the heaviness of the game. In my opinion, this is more of a gamer’s game than a family game. It’s actually quite a long game to play too. In my first couple of plays, it took in excess of 2 hours to play. I’m not one to normally like games that take that long. I will say that if you’re ok with the play time and the heft of the game, then I think you’ll probably enjoy it. I liked it, even with the longer playtime. There’s actually a lot to think about when playing this one, regardless of which faction you use. My first game I played as the Romans and was trying my best to gather up my forces in certain territories so that I could go after the other players when they were at their weakest. For the first couple of turns, it worked pretty well. That is until my opponents figured out what I was doing. There’s actually a lot to like about this game. Thematically you get a good feeling for each specific faction. I think the specific win conditions for each one, really help push that feeling. I think that fans of high strategy games with area control in them, like Risk or Covil: the Dark Overlords, should enjoy this one. This is a game that I would recommend for veteran gamers. I think other players could learn to play it and like it, but the veterans would be more likely to really appreciate it for what it is. For me, I think it’s a little more game than I’m comfortable playing with my group or family. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not exactly right for us.
8 out of 10

OVERALL
Soul of the Empire is a medium to heavy weight game of area control and variable player powers with an ancient Roman theme. The game is quite long. I’ve yet to play a game that lasted less than 2 hours. Most play sessions lasted a good bit longer. The components are excellent quality and look quite nice. I especially like the various unit meeples and artwork on the player boards. I do wish more art had made it’s way to the cards as well though. The rulebook is well designed and is very thorough and easy to find what you’re looking for. I really appreciated the many examples and the detailed guide for the Power cards. Both were very helpful. The game itself is quite good, even though it is quite long. The various objectives and win conditions for each faction make for a rather unique game. I especially enjoyed how thematic each faction’s special win condition was. The game did kind of remind me of Risk in some ways, but this one has a lot more going on with it. Fans of high strategy games with area control like Risk or Covil: the Dark Overlords should really enjoy this one. I would mainly recommend this game for veteran gamers, even though I’m sure others may enjoy it as well. As for me, it’s not the best fit for my group or family. The long play time and heaviness of the game tend to wear out my family and friends before the game is finished. I do like this one. I just think it wasn’t exactly right for us.
8 out of 10

 

For more information about this and other great games, please check out Chara Games at their site.

http://www.charagames.com/

 

 

About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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