It’s AD 54 and Emperor Nero sits on the throne. Barbarians without and schisms within threaten the integrity of his rule. Who will have control over the empire’s soul? The Romans? Or one of the other three factions (Christian, Jewish and Coalition) vying for their own interests and goals in this four player area control game?
Objective and Overview
Soul of the Empire is an ‘asymmetric’ game in that each faction has it’s own win conditions and powers. In fact, this is one of the most asymmetric games I have played.
To win, the Romans must try to capture 25 enemy units, the Christians must convert 18 enemy units and be present in Jerusalem and Rome, the Jews must have sole occupancy of their territories, and the Coalition must have sole occupancy of Rome and Italy. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
There is a common point track that players can pursue as an alternative to their unique win condition – the first to 7 points is the winner. Even then the way that points are scored depends on your faction. Romans, Christians and Jews have to complete mission specified on ‘Object Cards’, while the Coalition has to capture Objective Markers on the Map.
At the end of each turn you’ll roll five dice that determine how many actions you can take in the following turn (like Yahtzee, you’re looking for straights and runs). The most significant actions include moving, recruiting new pieces, and combat with other units, but there are several others as well.
Another notable asymmetry of the game is combat. When Romans, Jews and the Coalition fight each other, or the Coalition fights the Christians, the strongest army wins (using a combination of player pieces and hidden combat cards). But when the Romans or Jews fight the Christians, the weakest army wins. This is important because the Christian faction has the least number of physical pieces available, and has to constantly die in order to be able to win the game! This is part of the thematic magic I love about Soul of the Empire.
How Easy is it to Learn?
Because of the asymmetric nature of the game, the variable action points each turn, and the number of different actions available, this is a more challenging game to learn. It’s certainly not a game you’d introduce to beginning board gamers.
Each player has a player mat that includes a list of their available actions, unique win conditions and other information. There are also a number of different game mechanics involved, all of which will be familiar to experienced gamers, but might overwhelm someone who hasn’t played much before. You’ll be looking up the rules fairly often while you’re learning the game. On that note, the rules are comprehensive, but not always clearly laid out and it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for.
I rate it has a medium heavy game.
How Easy is it to Play?
Once you’ve got the hang of the rules, Soul of the Empire is about what you’d expect for this weight game. You’re managing your pieces and two sets of cards – power cards which you can purchase as an action, and combat cards. The pieces can get a bit fiddly, with large numbers becoming crowded in one location when you are fighting over territory. The cards can get a little messy, but no more so than other, similar games. However, the pieces are all different shapes and colours (and quite charming) and there is no trouble identifying who is who.
Mastering Gameplay and Strategy
Like any great game, the real challenge in Soul of the Empire is the strategy. Each player has a choice of two win conditions (points or special) and needs to decide which they will pursue. Conditions on the board can change quite quickly as other players implement their strategy, so you need to be able to adjust your tactics. And you need to keep track of what everyone else is doing – the times I played I didn’t see the other faction’s victory coming. Whether you consider this a strength or weakness will depend on what kind of gamer you are.
How Easy is it to Win?
The game seems like it should be unbalanced. I’ve been in contact with the publisher who says they’ve had complaints about each of the factions in this regard, which means they’re not unbalanced at all! In the few games I’ve played, different factions have won, so I don’t think it’s an issue in practice, but you do have to learn the best tactics for your faction.
The dice rolls leave a small element to chance, but not significantly so, unless you have particularly bad luck on a given day. And the power cards give the factions an element of the unknown to each other – you’re not sure if or what power card another faction might play. It really comes down to tactics and awareness of the state of the board – if you get too focused on your own faction, you lose track of what others are doing and before you know it, the game’s over.
Is it Fun to Play?
I love Soul of the Empire. However, your enjoyment of the game will really depend on what kind of games you enjoy. If you prefer light casual and family games, this probably isn’t for you. But if you like combat and area control games with a bit of depth, I think you’ll really enjoy it. Soul of the Empire is currently my favourite board game.
- It’s a longer game – typically 1.5 to 2 hours.
- You can’t avoid combat and there’s a lot of tactical decisions to be made.
- I really like the theme. Christians will probably particularly warm to the theme, but it’s implemented well so that anyone should enjoy the game.
- I frequently sit back in wonder at how the game designer has integrated the mechanics of the game with the theme. It’s magic.
- I like the variable action point mechanic with the dice. Dice! So many dice…
- I like the aesthetics of the game. Some people complain about the map, but I like that it’s uncluttered and clear. And those meeples are wonderful.
- On the negative side, the rules book could be clearer and one of the player mats have a typo, but these are minor in the overall scheme of things.