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Posted on Nov 15, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Great Battles of Rome Review

By Jim Cobb

“Vae Victis!”

With troops equipped, play goes to the battlefield.  A narrated video from The History Channel’s archives often describes the historical situation in Rome at the time and provides broad but well-done context that holds the campaign together. Cutscenes then deliver more details about the battle to be fought. Both the video and the cutscenes can be clicked through if players are re-fighting the scenario.

The subsequent deployment screen could be the most important part of many scenarios. Thumbnails of the troops at player’s disposal appear in the upper right.  Some thumbnails may be grayed out, indicating a limit on the number of squads allowed. Clicking on a thumbnail present will send that squad back to camp and allow the player to bring along the one left behind with a click.  A panel in the left not only gives data on selected units but also the victory conditions. These conditions underline the point that players don’t command a legion or cohort but rather a mixed ad hoc unit similar to a German Kampfgruppe from World War II.  Victory conditions include not leaving a formed enemy unit on the field, holding out for a certain length of time, not losing more than a given number of men, killing a given number of enemies, killing the opposing general or any combination of the preceding conditions.  Historical battles are thus not fought in their entirety but just certain aspects. For instance, the player wins the Cannae scenario by not losing too many men in four minutes.


All this information literally frames the 2D deployment map.  The player’s squads and any visible enemy units and their figures’ bases are shown. Key is the mouse tooltip. Cursoring over the map shows the type and number of troops and explains terrain. Terrain can be open, scrub, rocky, marsh or river. Forests can be used to hide units for ambushes. Using this knowledge is vital. Broken terrain hampers the movement of heavy units while a lane of open ground can allow lightening strikes of light infantry and cavalry. Rises can protect otherwise vulnerable missile units. Ignore terrain and ignore half of a force’s opportunities. 

Knowledge of the enemy, objectives, and terrain is put to use in deployment. Units are moved around the bottom half of the map by click and drag; multiple units are selected with click-and-drag or the old cursor lasso. Slightly frustrating is the fact that units can only be forward facing. If the objective is to simply hold out, units are best placed to the rear, making the enemy spend time marching. Quick victories demand forward dispositions. As enemy troops usually advance straight down from their starting positions, matching type versus type should be done early.

Units learn formations as the campaign wears on. All start with undisciplined balanced, offensive, and defensive with the discipline coming with experience. Wedge and square come late in the game. Frontage is the most important aspect of formations. Defensive formations take up more space so, since bases cannot overlap, a defensive line is spread out. Lines bring up an ahistorical element. Roman formations had tiered lines with light troops starting forward, disrupting the enemy with missiles and then falling back through the main body. Great Battles of Rome seems to encourage a linear formation with most troops in one line and a small reserve. However, players who want to use historic formations can do so if they are quick enough during play.

Ancient generals usually lost control of their force after battle was joined, making pre-battle plans and instructions critical. The game reflects this by providing eight different commands for groups or individual units. Commands can address how units advance, if they will wait in place, hold fire, or attack anything they see. Two interesting maneuvers are “envelop” and “double envelop” that send fast units long to hit flanks and rears. Way points can be placed for intricate movements with CTRL-click. Conservative orders will cut down on in-battle changes but a clever plan is beautiful when it works.

A click sends the player into a fly-over of the battlefield and ends with a 3D battle map. An immediate pause is a good idea if simply to admire the 3D graphics. The zoom function will show fantastic details including facial features. Arrow keys rotate the field to give different perspectives. The mini-map is not so pretty in a couple of ways.  The yellow fan outline is the present view, red dots are friendly men and blue dots are the bad guys. Also immediately apparent is the ugly fact that more blue is on the field than was shown during deployment; reconnaissance is never complete. Players can expect to be outnumbered in most battles. Restarting play sees one or both sides moving forward to the sounds of tramping feet and clanking weapons. If everything is going to plan, the leader just needs to keep up with engaged units to provide the leadership bonus.  Missile units should be slightly behind the hand-to-hand fighting, firing or throwing their weapons. The cries of the wounded and cheers of the victorious are heard in detail. Tracking casualties can be done by watching unit thumbnails turn red, seeing casualty numbers float from the fighting and putting the mouse tip over units to see how many men are left, their cohesion and efficiency.  Victorious armies should see blue dots begin to trickle and then stream for the rear.

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  1. I am very disappointed ,there are no patches or fixes for this game.I am running an amd 5000 with 4 gigs of ram two sli 512 meg Nvidia video cards and I cannot get this game to play. I was really looking forward to it.

  2. yup this game dont work, if u have newer good drivers and stuff u cant play it, my friend can on his old pos comp though.

  3. Names of the leaders of all the ROME battles ( won)
    Date of birth
    What battle(s) they won
    Were tthey successful?