Fall of Rome
Since I first became aware of a new game called "Fall of Rome
," back in October of 2004, I have spent what seems countless hours looking at and analyzing various aspects of the game, as well as the Fall of Rome website. Now, over four months later, I feel that I am ready to render a verdict on the game. The purpose of this review is to detail, explain, and justify my verdict of Fall of Rome.
Over the course of the last twenty years or so, I have played in a number of Play-By-Mail (PBM) games. Some of the games that I have played in during that time include, but are not limited to, Hyborian War, Middle-earth PBM, Alamaze, Duelmasters, and Galaxy Alpha.
It is from this perspective, then, that I approach and scrutinize Fall of Rome. I can state, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that Fall of Rome is a very sound and well thought out design. Fall of Rome doesn't just pass the test, it passes the test with flying colors.
Fall of Rome is not a game that is possessing of only one or two good points. Rather, it is a game that is exceedingly well blessed in a number of ways. Far from being an exercise in simplistic game design, Fall of Rome provides the player with an abundance of depth. It is, truly, a multi-faceted beauty of a game, and the icing on the cake is that this game product is further blessed by a modern method of delivery, one which caters to today's Internet generation. It accomplishes this, even as it also manages to capture the core essence of traditional PBM games.
The game is played via a Java applet. One of the most obvious benefits to this approach, where the methodology of game delivery to the player is concerned, is that Fall of Rome enjoys cross-platform compatibility. In layman's terms, what this translates into is that, regardless of whether you are running a PC with Windows 98, Windows XP, Linux, or even a Macintosh, you can still play Fall of Rome.
One of the core problems with traditional PBM games is that, in order to play them, postage, paper, and envelope costs must be incurred. PBM companies, naturally and understandably, pass these basic operating costs on to their players. These costs have been, thus, a "necessary evil," so to speak. Enlightened Age Entertainment has, however, managed to cross the great Internet divide, and is able to offer players a greater gaming value for the dollar spent, by offering a pricing structure that many traditional paper-enslaved PBM games simply cannot compete with. Rather than pass those traditional costs on to the players, what Enlightened Age Entertainment has chosen to pass on to its players, instead, are cost savings.
On a per-turn basis, Fall of Rome is vastly more cost effective than many traditional PBM games that have been in existence for many years. While it's not free, Fall of Rome does, in fact, now offer interested gamers a 30-day free trial. Traditionally and historically, most PBM companies never rose to the occasion by offering prospective players of their respective games a 30-day free trial. If you try it, but then find out that it is not your cup of tea, it doesn't have to end up costing you anything.
This is a refreshing change of pace from paying start-up fees, and from purchasing rule books. The rules for Fall of Rome, in fact, are posted online, and are available for reading by anyone with an Internet connection and a web browser. The end result of this type of pricing structure, one designed to save players money rather than pass on cost after cost after cost to players, is that the player ultimately is paying for the actual value that they are receiving, rather than for a lot of ancillary and secondary things, which are distinct from the game, itself.
The Fall of Rome website has enjoyed a major revamping, since I first visited the site, and this has been an ongoing process of continual improvement. I have witnessed more improvement to the Fall of Rome website over the last several months than I have seen at the websites of a number of PBM companies that have been online for years. Thus, in a day and an age when many PBM companies tend to neglect or to trivialize their websites, Enlightened Age Entertainment has embraced a practice of continual improvement, where the Fall of Rome website is concerned.
The game interface, itself, a GUI (Graphical User Interface), I would characterize as clean, crisp, and user-friendly. I rate the interface for Fall of Rome as excellent, and for intuitiveness, the interface is, unquestionably, one of the very best that I have ever encountered in a game. Being new to the game is not an obstacle, as far as the game interface is concerned. Familiarization by the new player with the game interface occurs rapidly, and the intuitiveness of the design and layout of the interface reduces the learning curve for new players to Fall of Rome. The player does not have to fight the interface, just to play the game. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes, from my perspective.
With regard to the game, itself, as distinguished from the game interface, in the area of challenge factor, I would rate Fall of Rome as being superb. Whatever else may be truthfully said about this game, I have, without a single, solitary exception, found the game to be challenging, in every last game of Fall of Rome that I have played, thus far. In some PBM games that I have tried, over the years, the challenge factor has either been greatly diminished, or even wholly absent, at times. Fortunately, Fall of Rome has not been slighted by its developers, where the game's challenge factor for the player is concerned.
For players who are on broadband Internet connections, load times for the Java applet that the game runs in are virtually non-existent. This, of course, says more about the nature of broadband Internet connections, than it does about Fall of Rome, though. Of notable interest, however, is that continued refinement and substantial improvement of the Java applet has resulted in a reduction of the load time for the game, on my slow dial-up Internet connection (which is normally 26.4K rather than a typical 56K connection rate), from somewhere in the neighbor of 15 to 20 minutes down to about 3 ½ minutes. The significance of this reduction in load time for dial-up users should not be understated. It is, from the dial-up player's perspective, like Manna from Heaven.
Thus, rather than dread a long load time for the game, the dial-up player of Fall of Rome enjoys a monumental transformation. No longer are Fall of Rome dial-up players at a disadvantage, in terms of the game loading quickly. This greatly facilitates player-to-player communications, via a built in messaging system, and it also simply makes things a lot more convenient for dial-up players, who just want to check back in on their kingdoms between turns, in order to tweak and fine tune their orders for the next turn.
Often times, a game will be a lot of fun to play through, the first or second time around, but after that, the replayability value begins to plummet. Not so with Fall of Rome. Another of the game's many positive attributes is that it retains a high degree of replayability, from game to game. This bodes well not just for Fall of Rome, however, but also, for any follow-on games that follow the same basic recipe for success. Old school PBM veterans will appreciate what it means for a game to have high replayability value. PBM games, in fact, often enjoy a higher replayability value, compared to games of other genres, including card games, board games, and even many computer games.
A lot of the rage on the Internet, these days, revolves around the concept of Massively Multiplayer games. Enlightened Age Entertainment, however, incorporates more of a Focused Multiplayer approach. The end result of this approach is beneficial to the player community, first, because one of the prevailing problems with Massively Multiplayer games, that of lag, is effectively rendered a moot issue, with Fall of Rome, and, second, the minimum system requirements for Fall of Rome is substantially less than the minimum system requirements are for many Massively Multiplayer games. Fall of Rome simply does not tax your computer's available system resources to death, just in order to enjoy a rousing Multiplayer game.
The sheer maximum number of players in a game at any one time is not conclusive of what constitutes a quality Multiplayer game. Rather, what seems to escape so many game design companies, these days, is that the overall gaming experience is of vastly greater consequence than simply how many players that you can cram like sardines into the latest multiplayer game. This is why that many games which tout themselves as Massively Multiplayer do not leave the player with the feeling that the game experience, itself, was massive. Fall of Rome presents the unsuspecting player with an opportunity to have their cake and eat it, too, where a game is simultaneously both multiplayer and massively challenging.
Fall of Rome's hex-based mapping system will be very familiar with gamers who love war games. But, the Fall of Rome mapping system does not gravitate solely around hexes. It also incorporates another level of mapping complexity, by injecting regional considerations into the equation. Gaining control of regions, in fact, is of critical importance to players, in terms of winning games of Fall of Rome. It is not enough, thus, simply to control a lot of population centers. Instead, Fall of Rome challenges the gamer with broader strategic considerations.
Terrain also plays a big part in the tactical element of the game's design. Both veteran PBM gamers and veteran war gamers will appreciate the role that terrain plays in adding depth to in-game decisions. Terrain impacts more than merely just movement of military forces, within the game. Terrain impacts combat results, also, when legions of opposing players engage in fierce and decisive battles.
The role that population centers play in Fall of Rome is critical, also. Pop centers, as they are often referred to in-game by players, are at the crux of economic considerations by players. Players are able to build both fortifications and a variety of structures, which, in turn, directly impact a player's position, and which are relevant in many combat situations. Population centers also impact the accumulation of victory points by players of Fall of Rome.
The character system in place in Fall of Rome is advanced over the character systems in place in traditional PBM games, such as Hyborian War and Middle-earth PBM. Both of those games provide mechanisms whereby players may acquire new characters over the course of the game. So, to, does Fall of Rome, which allows the player to hire new characters on any given turn, similar to how Middle-earth PBM allows players to do, with that game's character system. Yet, in Fall of Rome, players may acquire new characters that are created as a result of battles, which emulates new leaders rising to the occasion and gaining notoriety during the course of a battle.
Middle-earth PBM, one of the better PBM games on the market, in my considered opinion, sets the standard whereby many of its competitors' game products should rightfully be judged against. Though a tad dated, and not without shortcomings of its own, Middle-earth is still one of the best PBM games ever created, as far as I am concerned.
How well, then, does Fall of Rome compare to it? While Tolkien's creation of the Middle-earth setting, which so many of us have grown to love over the years, is arguably Middle-earth PBM's greatest single asset, if one looks past the Tolkien-induced flavor of Middle-earth PBM's setting, to, instead, compare that game's core dynamics against Fall of Rome's core game dynamics, not only does Fall of Rome hold its own, in many ways, it surpasses the standard set by Middle-earth PBM, in my considered opinion.
Fall of Rome's agent system, for example, does not suffer from some of the excesses of Middle-earth PBM's agent system. The emissary system in place in Middle-earth PBM is, unquestionably, one of that game's better features. Fall of Rome, however, enjoys an emissary system no less robust.
One of Middle-earth PBM's best features, its personal challenge system, while not perfect, has no equal peer in Fall of Rome. However, that said and conceded, Fall of Rome enjoys a well designed and well thought out monarch system. The King character in Fall of Rome, in fact, is without peer in Middle-earth PBM, and it utterly dwarfs the hyper-simplistic monarch system that Hyborian War is still saddled with, even after all these many years.
The King, in fact, is the player's single most crucial character, over the course of the game, in Fall of Rome, and the decisions that the player has their King make have tremendous bearing on their kingdom's fate. Kings are exceedingly important individuals in kingdoms, in real life, and Fall of Rome takes that facet into consideration, where its monarch system is concerned.
Aside from the King character, which each kingdom in Fall of Rome has one, at any given time, Fall of Rome also provides the player a multi-level system of nobility, one which allows the player to bestow additional titles upon nobles, up to the level of prince. Since a kingdom can only have a single King at a time, nobles cannot advance beyond the rank of prince, except on the occasion of the King character's death. Compared to the static, non-changing system of nobles that RSI incorporated into Hyborian War, Fall of Rome's nobility system for characters has more depth and variety in it, and is the winner, hands down.
Fall of Rome does not enjoy a magic system on par with either Hyborian War or Middle-earth PBM. However, the genre which Fall of Rome uses as its setting is ill-suited to a highly developed system of magic. Magic, in Fall of Rome, manifests itself primarily in one of two ways – via the High Priestess or via artifacts.
The High Priestess character, if properly understood against the context in which the character was developed for the game, makes perfect sense to me. Thus, the magic of the High Priestess, while there, is very restrained and limited. The High Priestess character is useful for performing several different tasks, the most useful of which include scrying for artifacts, population centers, and enemy legions. Unfettered use by players of High Priestess characters has a limiting mechanism, in the form of the High Priestess becoming weary and exhausted from overexerting herself in the use of her magical powers.
Middle-earth PBM features an encounter system in it. Fall of Rome also features an encounter system of its own, and powerful artifacts from various mythologies are acquired from these encounters, called Unusual Sightings in Fall of Rome. Terrible and powerful guardians, however, guard these artifacts, and these encounters can often result in injury or death to characters participating in the quest to recover them for the player.
The military system of Fall of Rome is a relatively straight-forward matter, and not unduly complicated for the new or prospective Fall of Rome player. Basically, players have brigades and legions. Legions are composed of one or more brigades, and the number of brigades that a legion has determines the legion's size and classification.
Brigades are the equivalent of troops, in Hyborian War, and legions are the equivalent of imperial armies, in Hyborian War. Movement of troops, however, is more akin to the system utilized in Middle-earth PBM, which is a more flexible and precision movement system than Hyborian War employs. Fans of either of those games would quickly master the military force system used in Fall of Rome.
Also available to players of Fall of Rome are mercenary forces. Kingdoms in Fall of Rome do not, however, enjoy nearly as diverse a selection of troop types to choose from as kingdoms in Hyborian War do. This is not due simply to Fall of Rome being a 12-player game, compared to Hyborian War being a 36-player game. While there does exist some diversity in the military forces between the various kingdoms in Fall of Rome, the level of diversity is not nearly as marked and noticeable as is the case with the military forces of Hyborian War kingdoms. However, there has been some discussion by Enlightened Age Entertainment personnel about possibly increasing troop type diversity in Fall of Rome, via the inclusion of additional brigade types.
One of the other bright points about the military system in place in Fall of Rome is the reinforcement system. Reinforcements arrive automatically at the end of every fourth turn. It is possible for players to supplement the automatic reinforcements that they receive, every fourth turn, via recruitment of new kingdom brigades, and via the hiring of mercenary brigades.
The economic system in Fall of Rome, while more developed and more detailed than the economic system that Hyborian War utilizes, is simultaneously less detailed than the economic system that Middle-earth PBM uses. You do get to count every last gold piece, but Fall of Rome avoids a lot of economic headaches for players, by sticking to a two-tier economic system based upon two basic commodities – gold and supplies. As a general rule, cities tend to produce more gold than villages and towns, whereas villages tend to produce more supplies than cities and towns. Towns, as expected, tend to fall somewhere between cities and villages, on both gold and supplies produced.
Fall of Rome's economic system is simple, straight-forward, and easy to grasp. This is no grand exercise in economic intricacies. Rather, the economic system in Fall of Rome is geared towards providing the player with an economic system that is both functional and easy to comprehend. This formula is not as involved and detailed as some other games provide, but the bottom line is that it does work, and furthermore, because of the overall depth of the game, you don't really dwell on the economic system. You're usually too busy trying to figure out where the next threat is coming from.
The economic system of Fall of Rome does, however, include a market trade facet. This allows players to trade their excess gold for supplies, and their excess supplies for gold. Believe me, this is a game feature that all players will use, at various points over the course of a game of Fall of Rome. Like every other order in the game, the market trade order is functional, and plays a specific and important purpose in the overall scheme of this game's design. It is not irrelevant, nor a mere afterthought to the economic system. Rather, it is in integral component part of the overall economic system of Fall of Rome.
For tracking their gold and supply production throughout all of their population centers, Fall of Rome players utilize the Plan and Ledger features. Basically, the player is provided with a running, updated count of their gold and supplies. Thus, the game, itself, keeps track of your economic resources, and this frees the player up to worry about how to spend those resources. How you choose to spend your gold and supplies will make a crucial difference in how well or how poorly your kingdom fares. In sum, Fall of Rome proves that a simplified approach to economics can be achieved, without sacrificing the importance of economic decision making by players.
Having too much gold or too many supplies is rarely a problem, if ever, for Fall of Rome players. As one's kingdom swells in size and character capabilities, the importance of having a viable economy to support and to sustain a kingdom's progress is underscored by the Rule of Law feature. The more regions that a player gains control of, the more that it costs to administer the growing kingdom. The costs of increasing one's kingdom size is offset, however, by the various perks that gaining control of new regions brings to the player's position.
Gaining control of a new region brings with it immediate new benefits, including an increase in the number of orders that a player can issue per turn, an increase in your King's influence (which, in turn, impacts how well your nobles perform in their missions); the gaining of any remaining neutral population centers in the region gained; a boost to your kingdom's Regional Reaction; a new noble character; and a new legion. An additional benefit of gaining control of a region is that the fog of war is removed from that region for the player gaining control, and this makes a big difference when it comes to the player being able to see and track enemy legions marching through your lands.
Consequently, losing control of regions previously gained is not without impact upon the player, either. Your King's influence is decreased, your kingdom will be able to issue less orders per turn, and your kingdom's Regional Reaction will suffer, accordingly. Thus, you don't lose everything that you previously gained, when you took control of a region, but what you do lose is important, and it impacts your kingdom in a noticeable manner.
Fall of Rome features a political model that is fully functional, though limited in scope. It doesn't overwhelm the new player, and effective use of one's nobles to increase your kingdom's political control of population centers can be vital to winning a game of Fall of Rome.
Enemy nobles usurping control of your population centers is sure to grab any player's eye, even as causing enemy pop centers to rebel against their current masters always renders a very satisfying feeling to the Fall of Rome player. Players of Middle-earth PBM will immediately identify the potential that inheres in such a political model. Furthermore, players can use multiple nobles to "gang up" on specific population centers, with your nobles simultaneously stirring unrest in a pop center at the same time that another noble is trying to usurp control. Unlike the Foment Unrest order featured in Hyborian War, fomenting unrest in Fall of Rome actually works as it is supposed to. There can develop an almost chess-like feeling, as players move and counter-move their respective nobles, with population centers swaying back and forth between kingdoms, in a hotly contested region.
While I would not characterize Fall of Rome as a true RPG (role playing game), the game does, nonetheless, present to the player a very solid character system, in addition to the military, economic, and political components of the game. Nowhere does the character system of Fall of Rome shine more than the agent aspect of its character system.
The fact of the matter is, using agents is a blast! Even fairly low level agents can still be dangerous. Agents can spy, sabotage, steal, poison, and assassinate. You've just got to love those timely assassinations of those meddling enemy nobles! Your agents can even poison and assassinate enemy characters in the same turn, for a one-two punch from your kingdom's cadre of covert figures.
Enemy fortifications can be sabotaged, before sending your military in to seize control, thereby reducing your losses in battle. Gold and supply production can also be sabotaged, and agents can also be dispatched to steal gold and supplies, to pad your own kingdom's coffers in troubled times. Even if you do not need gold or supplies, having agents steal from the enemy can compel the enemy to endure greater economic hardship.
Agents can be used with great effect to spy on the enemy, or to trail enemy legions. While no single agent can match the High Priestess' ability to scry large areas all at once with her magical powers, agents, nonetheless, still form a crucial component of a kingdom's overall intelligence gathering apparatus.
Notably missing from Fall of Rome at game start are agents of very advanced skill levels. There are no equivalents of the Cloud Lord position in Middle-earth PBM, nor of the kingdom of Zamora in Hyborian War, at game start. This approach has both good and bad points about it.
The bad news is that it creates the impression in the player's mind that, while experienced nobles exist at game start (Duke and Prince), the concept of very advanced agents at game start is a muted concept in Fall of Rome.
The good news, however, is that Fall of Rome players who are new or inexperienced do not have to worry about having their entire cast of characters all assassinated by prowling enemy agents within the first few turns.
As agents progress in skill level, it also costs more and more gold to fund their activities and training. Again, the importance of a viable and thriving economy is underscored. If you want to be able to bedevil the enemy with your agent corps, then you are going to have to be able to finance and underwrite their covert activities. Higher level agents, however, tend to demonstrate a much greater degree of competency than their lower level counterparts, and the middle to end game time frames can become grand ordeals in agent activity, as even Kings, nobles, military leaders, and your own agents all become fair game for being snuffed out. Fortunately, the game does provide players with options for guarding characters and for performing counter-espionage against enemy agents. The bottom line? While in some ways subdued, the agent system incorporated into Fall of Rome is still a lot of fun to play with, and it also remedies some of the agent excesses found in other games that feature agents.
The GUI interface for Fall of Rome features an easy-to-use internal message system, so that players may communicate with one another, without having to ever resort to sharing their e-mail address, postal address, or telephone number with other players. The internal message system also retains all messages sent between players over the course of the entire game, unless players choose to delete those message.
One of the additional benefits that the Fall of Rome GUI interface offers to the player is that it also tracks and retains all previous turn results for all players, over the course of the entire game. This takes the record keeping chores away from the player, and these previous turn results for your kingdom are just a button click away. Record keeping just doesn't get more convenient than that.
But, that's just it. One of Fall of Rome's shining bright points is that the game's core design takes away a lot of the drudgery typically associated with traditional PBM games. The interface does the work, freeing up the players to concentrate on plotting strategies and having fun.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one of Fall of Rome's more innovative features – its victory condition system. While victory goals are nothing new to players of Hyborian War or Middle-earth PBM, Fall of Rome provides players a real choice, by allowing players to choose, at game start, from a short list of secret victory conditions. This adds an element of the unknown to each game of Fall of Rome, and enhances the replayability value of the game, compared to the static and unchanging victory condition system employed by RSI's Hyborian War.
I played the PBM game, Alamaze, many, many years ago. Fall of Rome is probably more reminiscent of that game than any other PBM game. Perhaps this is due more to the fact that the same guy who designed Alamaze all those many years ago is the very same individual who is the driving force behind the design and development of Fall of Rome, Rick McDowell.
However, unlike many other Alamaze veterans, the depth that Alamaze provided to players was muted all those many years ago by what I felt was a rather skimpy turn results printout. After a few turns of receiving only 2 or 3 pages of turn results, compared to 20, 30, or even 50 pages for a Hyborian War turn, I decided to opt out of playing Alamaze. While a lot of the turn information found in a Hyborian War turn results printout is simple duplication, the overall feeling that I had those many years ago was that Alamaze's turn result print-outs just did not leave me – the player – with a meaty enough feeling. I simply felt that I was not getting sufficient value for my money spent. A little later, I discovered Middle-earth PBM, and felt that that game struck a good chord with providing a solid balance between having a meaty turn to turn results, while simultaneously cutting down on a lot of the duplication and pointless prose that Hyborian War turn results encumbered the player with.
Fall of Rome, however, in my considered opinion, not only matches the Middle-earth standard, in terms of meaty turn results, it actually surpasses the high standard set by Middle-earth PBM. The GUI interface, sound core game design, and very colorful text narratives combine to render what I feel is a superior overall product to Middle-earth PBM. That is not to say, however, that there are no areas, aspects, or features of Middle-earth PBM which are not better than that found in Fall of Rome, for there are.
The genre and setting of Middle-earth PBM I much prefer over the genre and setting of Fall of Rome. But, that is a very subjective thing, one entirely dependent upon a gamer's personal preference. The flavor of Tolkien's Middle-earth world is, I feel, brought out by Middle-earth PBM. In all fairness, though, Tolkien ranks amongst the very greatest of fantasy writers, whereas the post-Roman Empire era, while popular with many historical buffs, likely doesn't enjoy the same degree of prominence in the minds of modern gamers. I do think that Enlightened Age Entertainment could have picked a better genre and setting to showcase their finely tuned game engine to a public that is always willing to embrace a great game. Again, though, that is a largely subjective thing, but it remains my opinion and position, nonetheless.
To their good credit, those who run Middle-earth PBM have continued to improve upon that game over time, and the reputation for good and reliable service by the folks at Middle-earth Games remains largely intact. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the way that RSI chooses to continue to allow Hyborian War, a great PBM game in its own right, to remain mired in a swamp of no development progress and sub-standard customer service. RSI, to be fair, does have its moments of customer service excellence, but its many numerous failures in this area continue to drive players away from a game that they otherwise love.
But, in my approximately 20 years of playing PBM games, I can honestly say, without reservation, that I have never encountered a PBM company that does any better job on the customer service front, than the folks at Enlightened Age Entertainment. Like any game where thousands of different computer combinations may be used by various players to try the game, Fall of Rome has not been without problems at all. Some players have, in fact, experienced technical difficulties, though the majority that try it seem to encounter no problems. Since Fall of Rome does run via a Java applet, though, not all computer users always have an up-to-date version of Java running on their computers, and some may not even have Java on their computers at all, if they are running older computers at home.
Unlike some well known and long running PBM games, such as Hyborian War, Fall of Rome appears to be virtually bereft of bugs in the game program code. In the several months that I have been playing Fall of Rome, I have encountered one single, solitary bug in the code, which, after I reported it, was promptly fixed by Enlightened Age Entertainment technical support. By comparison, Reality Simulations, Inc. (RSI), which runs a play-by-mail game called Hyborian War, has known about certain bugs within that game's program code for years on end, and yet, RSI continually fails to remedy the bugs that it knows to exist within its company's own product. Enlightened Age Entertainment sets a standard which traditional PBM companies, such as RSI, would be well served to emulate.
In the area of being responsive to customers, I rate the Enlightened Age Entertainment technical support folks very highly. If there were a Pantheon for companies that provide technical support, then I think that Enlightened Age Entertainment would be in that Pantheon of customer service excellence. The company gives every appearance of being receptive to suggestions from players, either where the game, itself, is concerned, or where the Fall of Rome website is concerned. Bugs in the game code are a top priority, as evidenced by the company's swift reaction time to the sole bug that I have encountered over the course of a half dozen games that I have participated in, now.
One thing that players of many Play-By-Mail games are familiar with is that of the issue of how to handle player dropouts in games. The designers of Fall of Rome have approached that contingency very nicely, I feel, by offering a dual approach to the problem. First, Enlightened Age Entertainment has incorporated a player credit system, where credits can be redeemed for free games, and second, a standby position requires less credits to obtain than a new full game of Fall of Rome requires. The end result is that positions within games that do become open by players who drop out tend to be filled fairly swiftly. Taking on a standby position can also result in an increased challenge, for the player willing to enter the fray of a game already under way.
I have a lot of praise to offer up for Fall of Rome. Do I think that the game is perfect? No, not at all. But, then again, no game that I have played, yet, is perfect, so just saying that a game is not perfect doesn't really say much, by itself. What Fall of Rome is, however, is a well-rounded and solidly designed game that is quite a lot of fun to play. In summation, there are, to be certain, individual aspects of both Hyborian War and Middle-earth PBM, that I like better than Fall of Rome. But, when these respective games are considered as a whole, Fall of Rome I simply adjudge to be a superior overall product. Hyborian War suffers from far too many bugs in its computer code and massive deficiencies in RSI's lackadaisical and sub-standard approach to customer service, and Middle-earth PBM cannot even begin to touch Fall of Rome, in terms of turn fees, value received on a per-dollar-spent basis, and modernity of methodology of delivery. The character systems used in all 3 games have merit, to be sure, and are not identical to one another. If nothing else, I think that Fall of Rome makes a perfect wake-up call to all of the surviving traditional Play-By-Mail companies that new options for the player are now beginning to reinvent the industry.
In the almost twenty years that I have been a PBM enthusiast, I cannot help but to conclude that the PBM industry is its own worst enemy. Some companies, like always, just don't seem to care, and the state of the industry reflects that. If the PBM industry and PBM companies eventually finish dying off, I cannot help but to think that it has been by their own hand that such will be accomplished. Where stagnancy in the area of pricing structures seems to be deeply entrenched, and where customer service is so thin in some quarters that you can see clear through it, it is truly refreshing to find a company with long and deep PBM roots really beginning to make in-roads into these areas.
I would take this opportunity to challenge other veteran PBM game designers to follow the lead that Rick McDowell and Enlightened Age Entertainment have charted with Fall of Rome. It's the 21st Century, now, and I, for one, want the total package, when it comes to satisfying my gaming urge – best value for my dollar, exceptional customer service without exception, and a challenge that makes a game a classic. Fall of Rome, while not perfect, appears to currently offer me the best of all 3 worlds.