Time of Crisis
The Roman Empire 235-284 AD
Review by David Lent
Time of Crisis is a game where each player represents an important Roman family that is trying to use its influence to manipulate the military, Senate and populace to ensure their family name is remembered for all time. The time period Time of Crisis covers had civil wars, constant leadership changes, barbarian invasions and never ending internal strife.
Unlike a traditional wargame, Time of Crisis is a board game with deck building concepts and card driven events. There is plenty of combat though, so this game will appeal to both wargamers and “regular” board gamers.
Time of Crisis can be played with two to four players. The two and three player games use a different crisis table; there are also less barbarian tribes and some of the provinces cannot be governed, which reduces the amount of provinces players can take over.
The object of the game is to gain the most legacy points. This is determined after the current emperor has gained 60 legacy points or 40 if the players have chosen a short game. There is a legacy bonus for the three players who were emperor the longest. First place gets 10 points; second place gets 6 points and third gets 3 bonus legacy points. During the game, players get legacy points for winning battles, governing provinces and owning improvements. However, if you are emperor you may get less points for governing provinces if there is a pretend emperor on the board controlling provinces.
The components in Time of Crisis are all of good quality. The map is mounted and has its own Ziploc bag for storage and the inside of the box is decorated. In addition, the rulebook is full color and the counters are good quality and are not all just square shaped. Some are rectangles, hexagons or circles. This makes it easier to sort them and find the counter you are looking for.
The player setup for the game starts by randomly choosing a player to go first and each player picking a starting province other than Italy. Italy will get a neutral governor, but the players place their starting governor in their province with a legion, militia and leader. Each player puts together a deck with three red 1, three blue 1 and three yellow 1 cards. Last, each player chooses five cards from their deck to be their starting hand.
The sequence of play is:
3) Take Actions
4) Support Check
5) Expand Pretender Empire
6) Gain Legacy
7) Buy/Trash Cards
8) End of turn step
In the upkeep step you remove Quaestor and Castra markers. Quaestor counters make your opponent’s voting rolls to replace a governor require a 3+ to succeed instead of a 2+. If your army has a Castra marker, the number of hits it receives is reduced by one.
During the crisis phase, the phasing players rolls two dice and consults the crisis table. If the result is a barbarian activation, one of the barbarian tribes’ units is flipped to its activated side. Next, two more dice are rolled and if the black dice is less than or equal to the number of currently activated barbarians from that tribe an invasion occurs. The white dice is used to determine what province is invaded. Some of the other results from the crisis table are every player draw a card, inactivate one barbarian in each tribal homeland or draw an event card. Events can bring barbarian leaders on the board, help all players, end the game, increase or decrease the chances of barbarian invasions, etc.
The take actions phase is the meat and potatoes of this game. You can take military, Senate or populace actions. These actions are taken by playing the appropriately colored cards with the desired point value. If a card has an event, you can play the event anytime during your turn and still use the action points also.
TOC’s military actions are recruit general, add legion to army, create army, train legions, move army, initiate battle and disperse mob. Please note that each leader, just like each governor has a different point cost printed on the bottom of it. You play the lowest cost leader you have.
The Senate actions consist of recruit governor, place governor and recall governor. The base number of votes require to place a governor is double the provinces support level. However, each military unit allied with the governor adds one to the votes needed and each one of your units in the capital subtracts one from the required number of votes needed to install your governor. You can use your Army to influence the Senate’s votes. I love it!
Populace actions can be used to increase a province’s support level, place militia, hold games or build an improvement. Holding games allows you to remove one mob counter from your province. Building an improvement has many positive events, depending on the improvement. Limes flip invading barbarians to inactive. Amphitheaters prevent mobs from growing and basilicas give you one additional dice when you are trying to overthrow the governor in Italy by placing one of your own.
The support check phase is very important. You reduce the support level in any of your provinces that has an active barbarian, rival emperor or enemy army in its capital. If the support level in any of your provinces drops to zero or the mobs in a province equal or exceed the support level, your governor is removed from office. If you are Emperor and there are any pretend or rival Emperors on the map, you must reduce the support level of Italy by one. In addition, if any of the Emperor’s governors were removed from office, the support level of Italy also drops.
If you are a pretender Emperor, you can take the expand pretender empire phase. You place breakaway markers in each of your provinces with a support level of three that doesn’t have one and is adjacent to any province that was in your pretender empire at the beginning of the turn.
In the gain legacy phase, you gain one legacy for each province you govern and one legacy for each improvement you control. If you are the pretender, you also gain one legacy for each of your provinces with a seat of power or breakaway marker. Otherwise, if you’re the Emperor you remove breakaway and seat of power markers from provinces you control and gain additional legacy equal to the support level of Italy minus the number of pretender provinces. Last, you advance the emperor turn marker.
The Buy/Trash phase is used to discard any cards you don’t want in your hand, trash cards from the discard pile you no longer want in the game, such as low value cards and also to buy event cards. To buy or trash cards you use political points. Your total political points are equal to the total support level of all your provinces minus any mob counters present. There is an excellent selection of event cards you can purchase this phase. They have 2 to 4 points and a useful event. One of the events is Praetorian Guard, which lets you attempt a place governor in Rome using military influence points instead of Senate ones. Whatever cards you buy DO NOT go into your hand. They go into your discard pile, so you’re not always sure what turn you will have them in your hand. This makes for some interesting planning. If you need military cards and buy two of them, you may no longer need them when they make it to your available pile. It may be better to buy both a military and a populace card in case you end up needing the populace first.
In the end of turn phase, you flip inactive barbarians in your provinces to their active side and add one mob counter to any of your provinces with a mob. You may now pick cards from your available pile to refill your hand to 5 cards. This is very important; since these are the cards you will have available to play next turn.
I found this game to be utterly fantastic, but the more players you have the better. Sometimes, when you play a game you find that it is missing a mechanic or a feature that really could have helped you. This was not the case with Time of Crisis. Everything I wanted to do in this game, it had a mechanic for. I could bully the Senate into voting my way by invading an enemy province’s capital, try to overthrow the Emperor or become a pretend Emperor myself.
The barbarian forces made the game very interesting. They can be almost as dangerous to you as other players. A player can have a really high support level in their province, but if the province keeps getting invaded and they can’t dispatch the barbarians, they lose support points each turn. If they get mobs in their province, they are in even more trouble. Often, the barbarians can do your dirty work for you by dropping a province’s support level to zero and forcing the governor out of office. When I played Time of Crisis, it really felt like I was playing a game about this time period, due to the constant barbarian invasions, voting out weak governors and the short time some of the emperors ruled.
I highly recommend Time of Crisis to anyone who wants to play a fantastic Roman era game that is easy to learn and has all the politics, violence and treachery of this chaotic period in Rome’s history. Best of all, this game would be great for conventions, since it can handle up to 4 players and resolves in a few hours.
Buy your own copy here.
View the components in the unboxing video below: