The Story of Glory To Rome

16 September 2018

Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica:

But [Glory To Rome] (GTR) felt different. First, I noticed the packaging. Unlike the high-quality large-format cardboard boxes with soft colors and thoughtful art, GTR came in a compact, cheap, plastic tub that wasn’t much bigger than a large paperback book. Second, and more jarring, was the game's art. It had a bright color palette and cartoonish characters that seemed like they belonged in a children’s clip art computer game.

[He] started unpacking the game and patiently explaining the rules. What immediately struck me was the mechanic allowing the player to choose what type any given card would be—one of a few choices that would automatically exclude the others. GTR appeared to be full of intrigue and strategy, and there were multiple ways to win. […]

In less than a decade, how could a game whose ranking still remains relatively high (150) on Board Game Geek — just a few places above Magic: The Gathering and a few places lower than Carcassonne — have totally disappeared? What happened? […]

"It’s one of those games, you just recognize the genius of the design of it," Lozito told Ars. "This is one of the quintessential big games in a small box. Every time you sit down to play it it plays differently, the cards are all crazy. I looked at the game and I have no idea how his brain could come up with such a complex game out of 125 cards or whatever." […]

As GTR continued to gather critical and cult-classic steam, word started getting back to [co-creator Carter] that one of the game’s primary problems was its awful production—those nausea-inducing colors and a cheap plastic box. […]

[After the Kickstarter's success], this should have been the moment that Carter seized game-design glory. With a successful production, he could have taken the game from indie cult favorite to something much bigger. But according to Rao, this influx of cash instead represented the beginning of the end.

Here's a description from Ed Carter, one of the "co-creators":

Early on, Glory To Rome was often called "San Juan on Steroids," but it would probably be more accurate to call it "San Juan meets Magic The Gathering." There are 40 different cards in Glory To Rome and each one has a unique ability. Only four of them are sensible "Improve your X by Y" abilities—the rest are ridiculous, convoluted powers like "Incomplete MARBLE structures provide function." That generates 760 different two-card combinations and many thousands of three-card ones. I've played hundreds of games of GTR over the years so I've thought about a lot of these combinations, but certainly not all of them.

Also, while most games are balanced using a stable equilibrium with the aim that no card should be so overpowering that it breaks the game, Glory To Rome is balanced using astable equilibrium—our aim was that in the right combinations, virtually every card would be able to contribute to a runaway victory.

I was never aware that the game was unavailable. I got a copy of the French version (by Filosofia) a few years ago when it was in store almost anywhere in France, in a reprinted and decent version, so this story is all news to me. It's funny to think that the game was "everywhere" here, but unavailable in its home-country.

It's a shame though, since the game is really, really great.

Side note: the work by Heiko Günther is beautiful too. I think that the French version is clearer in an actual game, but wow this is pretty.

This article makes me think that many boardgames disappear each year, going unnoticed and forgotten forever.

I wrote about Quantum before, one of my favorite boardgames, which is out of stock too. I looked for a new copy a few months ago, and to my surprise, wasn't able to find one. I looked today, and the game is not even listed on most sites anymore.

Each year1, an increasing number of new games is released, and each year, an even bigger number is retired. The disturbing thing, however, is that most of these games are, actually, great games.

Only a small and highly-successful portion of all the boardgames will be kept forever (Catan, Race for the Galaxy, Carcassonne, Monopoly, 7 Wonders, etc.). Are those the very best of the best? Or just the most successful ones?

  1. Like videogames, the number of boardgames produced a year keeps getting bigger. I don't have the numbers, but I've read that the production of the last few years alone might be higher than the whole combined number of games created a few decades before.