In Provincia Romana, two to six players use cards to build a Roman city, trying to gain more prestige than their opponents, and thus be named proconsul of Gaul. The game is designed by Pierluigi Frumusa, with art by Giorgio de Michele and Kurt Miller. It’s published by Passport Game Studios and Stratelibri.
Two to six players ages 13 and up can play, and it takes about 90 minutes.
Before I get to the overview, I have to point out the obvious. On the surface, this game sounds a bit like Antoine Bauza’s huge hit, 7 Wonders. The design of the building cards, which show the resources needed for construction down the side, don’t help that image.
But this game is no wannabe.
How it works:
The game has three main stacks of cards. One deck gives resources: stone, wood, brick, and money. A second deck allows players to construct buildings provided they have the resources needed to do so. A third deck gives favors from the Senate in the form of trade, not paying taxes, and tattling on your corrupt opponents, among many others.
The first player chooses one of the three decks, then draw draws six cards, placing four face up and two face down. The first player takes one of the cards. Each player then takes one of the remaining cards.
The next player chooses a deck, and does the same. Each deck can only be chosen twice per round.
Players play as many cards as they wish from their hand, paying for the cost of any cards and receiving the points for them, but not the benefits from their buildings. At the end of the turn, they must discard down to five cards.
On most turns, the Gauls attack. Players affect how many attack points they or their opponents have with a token that is played anonymously. Then a card with the number of attack points the Gauls have is revealed. If players have enough attack, defense, and morale, they win. If not, they can lose points, buildings, and more.
Players then pay taxes and lower their defense and morale. Only then can they collect the benefits from the buildings they have built.
Why you might buy Provincia Romana:
This game is fun.
It’s innovative and challenging, and it’s a different spin on building a city. Everything about the design is well thought out and well crafted.
The way players draw cards is fascinating. They can take a sure bet, but everyone will know what they have, or they can gamble, taking a face down card. They conceal their strategy, but they might not get what they want.
The variety of cards — although there are a lot of repeats — keeps the game fresh.
The game builds in intensity as the Gauls become harder and harder to beat.
This game plays just as well with two as it does with six. In fact, it plays much better with two than the aforementioned 7 Wonders does.
The art is quite nice, particularly on the cards.
The rulebook does a good job of explaining what each card does, which is a good thing since the names of the cards are all in Latin.
Why you might not buy Provincia Romana:
If you are not a fan of Eurogames or playing with resource cubes, you probably won’t like this one, although the way players get their cards may draw you in.
If you want a Eurogame without any interaction between players, this game may not be for you. While players don’t attack each other, they do thwart each other’s efforts.
This is not a great game for beginners. It’s not especially hard, but some of the icons aren’t easy to understand (and occasionally feel contradictory until you catch on).
You have to prepare ahead, since you won’t get a building’s benefits — including attack or defense — until the end of a round, after you’ve already faced the Gauls.
This is not an epic, full-blown civilization building game (but it doesn’t take three hours to play, either).
I love this game. After three days of games with different numbers of players, my husband and I were still ready to play more. The need to adjust your strategy based on the cards means you can’t play the same strategy every time.
There are some obvious things you must do — like defending yourself from the Gauls — but deciding whether to go for lots of buildings that give few points or a few that give you a lot may depend on the luck of the draw.
The ground shifts just enough to keep you thinking, but not so much that you feel lost. I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Provincia Romana from Passport Game Studios. I was not required to write a positive review. This is my honest opinion.