Spotlight on Games > PrintNPlay > Rome in Crisis

This sample Influence card
has value 9. Type is SPQR.
Range of values for this
type of card is 3-9.
Precedence in case of a
crisis tie is D, i.e. fourth.

Sample Candidate. Name:
Probus. Military power is
2. SPQR power is also 2.
His special ability is +6
against Goths, but -3
against Persia. The red
"B" means he is on the
back side of the card.

Sample Office. Legatus
provides +3 military
influence. Helpful other
information is included.

Selection method card.
Rotate to show the next
method of selecting the
emperor. Also includes
the Sequence of Play.
Rome in Crisis
The years 235-284 AD were turbulent ones for the Roman Empire. During that five decade period there were no fewer than twenty Emperors, managing an average of a mere two and a half years per reign. Each of them gained power in one of three ways: by being the most prominent soldier, by being the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard or by being the favorite of SPQR, the Senate and People of Rome. But always, before very long, they died. The causes were many: battle, plague and not least, the treachery of their own soldiers. Some showed brief flashes of glory – one was even struck by lightning – but it was not until the reforms of Diocletian that this tumultuous era came to an end.

In this card game for 2-4 players (best with 4) they try to gain power as often as possible and gain as much glory as possible before succumbing to the inevitable ...

Cards (64)
48 Influence cards
(Goths, Persians, Palmyra, SPQR and Gold)
10 two-sided Candidate cards
(showing a different candidate on each side, and his special ability)
5 Office cards
(Emperor, Legatus, Cavalry Commander, Praetorian Prefect, Senate Leader)
1 Emperor selection method card

Players need to provide a pencil and paper, or Poker chips to record points.

Setting Up the Game

  1. The oldest player becomes the first Dealer, shuffles the influence cards and deals two face down to each player to form the initial hands.
  2. The Dealer checks his cards and decides the selection method for the first Emperor – Military, SPQR or Praetorian – and indicates the decision by placing the corresponding side of the Emperor Selection card against the edge of the deck.
  3. Lay out all of the candidate cards on their A sides and also the Cavalry Commander, Praetorian Prefect, Senate Leader and Legatus (except that Legatus is not used in a two-player playing). Beginning with the player left of the dealer and continuing clockwise, each drafts a card and leaves it face up. Then, beginning with the last player, each takes another, in reverse order. After this it begins again with the original first player and again goes clockwise, etc. When taking an office, it must immediately be assigned to a candidate having a rating in the office's category. Players continue to draft until each player has two candidates and all of the offices have been taken.
    For example, Cavalry Commander is in the Military category. Thus, this office may not be held by Gordian I who has no Military rating.
  4. The Dealer splits the deck in half, inserts the remaining candidate cards with their A sides face up and puts the halves back together.

Playing the Game
The game is played over a series of turns consisting of repeating the following steps:

  1. Reveal Cards and Draft.
    Factions acquire Influence.
    Note: Players are deciding whether to take cards to try to become emperor, or to solve a crisis, or to make a crisis more difficult for others to solve. The decision is often not easy.

    The dealer deals out face up a number of cards equal to 3 times the number of players. (If there are insufficient cards to do so, each player removes an influence card from the hand or display of the player to his left and places it in the middle. Repeat this until the number of cards is sufficient. If there are more cards than necessary, those left over after drafting are used to re-form the deck.)

    Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, in clockwise order players each take one card into hand.

    Then the last player to draft a card drafts another and each player takes one in anti-clockwise order.

    Finally, the player to the left of the dealer drafts a card and this continues in clockwise order.

    No player may draft a candidate card if any other player has fewer than he does, unless it is the player's turn to draft and candidates form the only remaining choices.

    When a candidate card is drafted, it is immediately put into play.

    If the deck has become exhausted, gather up the discards and shuffle them to form the new deck.

  2. Select Emperor and Legatus.
    Players bid to become the next Emperor. The process may also result in a new Legatus if this office is in play.
    Note: The more cards a player plays, the better his chance to become emperor, but if he plays too many they may be wasted because the new emperor dies at the end of the turn.

    The orientation of the Emperor Selection card indicates how the Emperor will be selected.

    Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player must put forward a single eligible candidate for Emperor, if able. Eligible candidates must have a non-zero rating for the current selection method. If there are no eligible candidates, then for the current turn only, all candidates are automatically considered eligible. If there are no candidates at all, phases C and E are not conducted.

    Once the candidates have been determined, players conduct an auction to become Emperor.

    Each candidate's starting worth is computed by adding together his rating for the current election type, his office (if any) and any applicable influence cards played on his card.

    An office held by a candidate adds to his starting worth, depending on the selection method being used, as stated on the cards.

    Then, beginning with the player immediately left of the player having the highest rating so far (if there is a tie, first such left of the dealer), players take turns playing one or more of their hand cards to his candidate so long as they match the current election type and the new total exceeds the worth of every other candidate.

    However, no player is permitted to play all of his cards during this phase. Each player must save at least one.

    Cards played must match the election type:

    • Persians, Goths, Palmyra – contribute to Military
    • SPQR – contributes to SPQR
    • Gold – contributes to any

    A player who cannot or will not exceed the highest rating must pass and drops out of the election. When all players have passed on playing cards, the candidate having the highest total becomes Emperor. (If there is a tie because no one played cards, the first tied player left of the dealer is considered highest.)

    All cards played on a candidate stay face up with that candidate.

  3. Set Selection Method.
    Determine how the next Emperor will be chosen.
    Note: A player who feels he has little chance of becoming emperor on this turn can bow out and gain the advantage of setting the selection method on the next turn.

    The first player who passed, or did not have a candidate, in the auction for Emperor chooses the selection method which will next be used, which may not be the same type as the current election. Indicate this by placing the corresponding side of the Emperor Selection card against the deck.

  4. Emperor Actions.
    1. Assign Offices.
    Note: Players who do not become emperor receive other offices to give them a better chance next time.
    The Emperor card is now assigned to the winning candidate.

    The Legatus card is now assigned to the candidate other than the Emperor having the best Military qualifications (ties resolved as with the Emperor). If this candidate is holding a different office it is automatically relinquished.

    If the new Emperor or Legatus were holding offices, or if any offices were vacant, these are now re-assigned in the order decided by the Emperor, who must observe the following priorities:

    1. To the player who has an eligible candidate and the fewest offices (Emperor is an office):
    2. If tied, to the player of these having the fewest victory points.
    3. If still tied, to the one of these closest to the dealer's right.

    If there are multiple eligible candidates belonging to the player chosen, the owning player decides which takes the office. If the candidate chosen already has an office, the owner may relinquish it, upon which it is re-assigned as above. If there are no eligible candidates for an office, it is simply placed aside until the next turn.

    2. Crises Mount.
    Factions influence crises and their perceptions.
    Note: Players must decide whether to try to make a crisis too difficult for the opponent or to save such a card for their own use later.

    A crisis is a group of cards representing a challenge to the empire. Crises correspond to influence cards and come in four varieties: War with Persia, War with the Goths, War with Palmyra and domestic crisis (SPQR cards).

    The strength of a crisis is determined by adding up the numbers on all of the cards within it.

    Each player chooses a card from his hand and places it face down. These cards are simultaneously revealed and added to the crises. A card of a new type begins a new crisis, or if cards of that election type are already present, they are added to that crisis.

    When Gold cards are present as crisis cards, all of them are assigned to the crisis which is top-ranked after all non-gold cards have been assigned. (In case of ties, the crisis which has the tiebreaker letter which is earlier in the alphabet has the higher rank.)

    3. Emperor Addresses a Crisis.
    The Emperor attempts to solve a crisis.

    1. Crises are ranked for signficance. Total up the values of all of the cards in each crisis. The one with the highest total is the top ranked, the one with the second highest total the second ranked, etc. (In case of ties, the crisis which has the tiebreaker letter which is earlier in the alphabet has the higher rank.)
      Hint: To make these rankings clear it helps to order them from left to right.
    2. The Emperor attempts to resolve any one crisis, regardless of his attributes. The Emperor may play cards from the hand appropriate to the crisis. These are cards which either match those of the crisis type or gold. These are added to any cards already played for the Emperor.
    3. Total up the Emperor's played cards (not including the ratings on his card) plus any applicable special ability listed on the Emperor's card. Discard cards from the crisis which total up to this amount. If it's not possible to achieve the exact number, discard the largest possible amount that is lower than the Emperor's total. If there are different ways to add up the cards to use, the Emperor player decides which method to use.
    4. If no cards for the crisis remain, the Emperor has had a Success. Otherwise the Emperor has had a Failure. This player receives points as follows (this information is duplicated on the Emperor card):
      Rank of Crisis Points Received
      Failure: The Emperor player receives 1 point for each card of the crisis that was discarded.
    5. If there are any Gold cards which were formerly part of a Crisis, but are now unattached, they are attached to the top-ranked remaining Crisis. If there are no remaining Crises, the cards remain in place to be assigned on the next turn.

    4. Legatus Addresses a War.
    Note: The Legatus office can earn a lot of points. A canny player may choose to avoid becoming emperor and instead regularly score points turn after turn by holding the Legatus (General) office.
    The player whose candidate is holding the Legatus office now addresses any one current war (Persians, Goths or Palmyra) by discarding one or two cards applicable to the war. These cards can come from those played on the Legatus or from the player's hand or both. These are used to cancel out cards belonging to that war crisis.

    If the Legatus did not remove all of the crisis cards for the war, then the player receives 1 point for each card of the crisis that was discarded.

    If the Legatus succeeded in removing all of the crisis cards for the war, the player scores points as follows (this information is duplicated on the Legatus card):
    Rank of Crisis Points Received

    If there now any Gold cards formerly part of a Crisis, but now unattached, they are treated as above.

    Unlike an Emperor, the Legatus does not die after this activity.

    5. Emperor Dies.
    Emperor leaves play.

    The Emperor automatically dies. If his A side was being used, the card is flipped over and placed on the discard pile; if the B side was in use, the card is removed from the game.

    All of the influence cards that were associated with the Emperor go to the discard pile.

  5. Dealer Changes.
    The player with the most points becomes the last player.
    Note: Making the player with the most points the dealer helps others to catch up.

    The deck is taken up by the player having the most victory points. If there is a tie, the deck is passed to the tied player of the current dealer's choice other than himself.

End of the Game
The second time that an Emperor is removed from the game (removed, not flipped over), the game immediately ends. The last player to have been Emperor receives a 3 victory point bonus. Whoever has the most victory points wins. If there is a tie, the tied player having the most total value in influence cards in hand and on candidates wins. If still tied, all such players are considered to have won.

Examples of Play
Artorius, Brutus and Caesar sit down for a three-player game. After drafting candidates and offices, each player's public holdings are as shown. The dealer, Caesar, has chosen Military to be the method of Emperor selection for turn 1. For this reason, only candidates with Military ability will be eligible, i.e for Artorius, Claudius II, for Brutus, both leaders, and for Caesar, Aurelian. Aurelian and Valerian will have +3 and +2 for this competition, respectively, because of the military offices they have drafted.

Reveal Cards and Draft
Later in the game it is time for players to draft cards. The cards shown are on offer. Artorius drafts first and chooses the Persia 7 card, putting it in hand. Brutus is next and takes the SPQR 7 card. Now Caesar is to choose two cards and takes Palmyra 8 and Goths 5. Going back around in the anti-clockwise direction, Brutus is next and chooses Goths 3. Artorius has no choice but to pick up the Gold 2 card.

Select Emperor and Legatus
The method for selecting the Emperor this turn is Military. Beginning with Artorius, each player puts forward a candidate. Artorius chooses Claudius II; Brutus chooses Valerian; Caesar chooses Aurelian. Each candidate adds his rating, in this case Military, to his office, if any, plus any appropriate cards (Military and Gold) to determine his initial rating. Thus, Artorius' candidate has a total of 1, Brutus has 9 (2+2+5) and Caesar 11 (3+4+2+2).

Now the bidding begins with Artorius as the player left of the player having the highest total. Not liking his chances, Artorius decides to withdraw. Because he is the first to withdraw, he earns the right to later decide the method of the next selection. Because he has a strong Praetorian candidate, he plans to rotate the selection card to display that method.

Now it is Brutus' turn. To stay in the race, he must play cards to exceed Caesar's 11. Thus he adds a Palmyra 3 card to reach a total of 12. Caesar responds by playing a Goths 5 card to reach 16. Artorius has already withdrawn and so takes no more part in the bidding. Brutus decides to also withdraw. Thus, Caesar's candidate resigns the Legatus office and becomes Emperor. Now Brutus' candidate has more military power than any other candidate in play (apart from the Emperor). This means that now he takes the Legatus office. Another leader having Military ability will become Cavalry Commander.

The current crises left over from previous turns are as shown. The top crisis, because it has the highest number (9), is domestic, i.e. SPQR. Then in decreasing order come wars with Persia, the Goths and Palmyra.

Crises Mount
Now players simultaneously decide which cards to add to the crises, including Caesar. In his hand he holds a Gold 2, a Palmyra 8, an SPQR 4 and a Persia 5. Wanting to ensure he can solve the top crisis, he decides on the Gold. Artorius is holding two Gold 2 cards, plus an SPQR 3 and a Persia 7. He wants to save his Gold for next turn since it is the only card that works for the Praetorian method and decides to play the SPQR card to potentially make it more difficult to solve the top crisis. Brutus is holding an SPQR 7, a Goths 3, a Persia 6 and a Palmyra 3. He is torn. He would like to save all three of the military cards because he is holding Legatus and he would be able to use them against one of the crises. On the other hand, making a crisis too difficult for the emperor to solve would also be good. Since the emperor is especially good against the Goths, that is probably not a useful direction to go. On the other hand, the SPQR 7, although as a non-military card not useful to the Legatus, is rare and powerful making it unwise to give up. Finally he decides to use the Palmyra 3. These plays re-order the crises as shown. The Gold is allocated last, going to the strongest crisis, in this case SPQR.
Emperor acts.
Now the Emperor is to act. To maximize points he would like to solve the top crisis. Unfortunately, this crisis has now reached a total difficulty of 14, but the cards played to the emperor only total 11. Accidentally, the crisis has become too difficult. He would need to spend an SPQR card from hand to solve it. This would also be the case for the Persia and Palmyra crises. The Goths crisis would not require any extra cards at all, but yields the fewest points. Another consideration is that if he does not solve the SPQR crisis, it cannot be solved by the Legatus either since it is not a military one. Ultimately, however, the points are too much resist. He spends the SPQR 4 card from hand to exceed the difficulty of 14 and thus scores 21 points for solving the top crisis. He then dies so all of the influence cards belonging to him and the crisis are discarded. The office becomes vacant and the candidate card flipped over and also discarded.
Legatus acts.
The Legatus would like to solve the Persia or Palmyra crisis, but does not have the requisite cards. Thus he spends the Goths 5 card to solve the third crisis, earning 6 points. With that the round ends, the player having the most points becomes the new dealer and another turn begins.

Playtesters in alphabetical order: David Andrews, Ric Brettschneider, Eric Chang, Jeff DiCorpo, Doug Garrett, Gordon Hua, Joseph Huber, Andrew Martin, Enrico Viglino, Eveleen Tang, Ken Tidwell, Michael Tsuk, Bernard Yeh.

Special Abilities
Aemilius Aemilianus Transfers the Goths card from a rival's display to himself.
Florianus Takes back the Cavalry Command, Praetorian Prefect and Senate Leader cards and then re-assigns them to factions in any order, but following the usual restrictions for office assignments.
Trebonianus Gallus In solving a Goths crisis, makes things easier by first cancelling 1 Goths card for each Gold card he uses.

Showing which candidates are on each card:
front side (A) back side (B)
A Aemilius Aemilianus B Tacitus
A Aurelian B Probus
A Claudius II B Quintillus
A Decius B Trebonianus Gallus
A Gordian I B Gordian II
A Maximinus Thrax B Carus
A Numerian B Carinus
A Philip the Arab B Florianus
A Pupienus & Balbinus B Gordian III
A Valerian B Gallienus

Note: this print and play edition includes three extra cards which can be used as alternates to the Emperor selection card. When employing these cards, keep the cards in a stack with the current selection card method on top.

Frequently Asked Questions

Game by Rick Heli, October 9, 2014