I remember exactly where I was the first time I played Glory to Rome. It was the spring of 2011. I was on a Thalys high-speed train leaving Amsterdam, headed for Cologne, not far from where I was living at the time in Bonn, Germany. My friend Joe brought this new game straight from the US that he’d recently acquired—he was eager to teach it to me on the train ride.
Joe, who had a penchant for game nights, roped me into board games by teaching me the classic gateway game Catan. From there, I learned Puerto Rico, Power Grid, and many others. There was a period of time when our circle of friends gathered most Fridays over burritos and beer to play one game or another.
But GTR felt different. First, I noticed the packaging. Unlike the high-quality large-format cardboard boxes with soft colors and thoughtful art, GTR came in a compact, cheap, plastic tub that wasn’t much bigger than a large paperback book. Second, and more jarring, was the game’s art. It had a bright color palette and cartoonish characters that seemed like they belonged in a children’s clip art computer game. But hey, who was I to argue with Joe?
As we settled into our seats and flipped down our tray tables, Joe started unpacking the game and patiently explaining the rules. What immediately struck me was the mechanic allowing the player to choose what type any given card would be—one of a few choices that would automatically exclude the others. GTR appeared to be full of intrigue and strategy, and there were multiple ways to win. Best of all, the game worked very well playing side-by-side on a train ride.
Over the course of three hours, Joe promptly defeated me three times. But I kept wanting to play.
Later that year, I found out from Joe and some other gamer friends (Hi, Jake!) that there was a new edition being funded through Kickstarter. This Glory To Rome 2.0 promised to dramatically improve the game’s design—better art, less plastic tub. But over time, life got in the way and I forgot about it. By 2012, I’d moved back to California and our gaming circle had mostly dispersed.
Even if I wasn’t playing regularly, every so often, the thought would occur to me to get a copy of Glory to Rome for a friend as a gift. But time and again, the game seemed to be utterly unavailable. In 2013, I finally learned why when Quartz ran an ominous piece: “This man lost his house because his Kickstarter was too successful.” It detailed the collapse of Cambridge Games Factory—the team proposing a newly Kickstarted upgrade to Glory To Rome.
More than four years later, in August 2017, Kotaku Australia summed up my feelings, calling GTR “The $360 Board Game You’ll Never Play, But Should.” As reporter Haoran Un wrote:
I have played it maybe a dozen times, and every time I am both delighted by its intricacies, and so frustrated that I need to play it again.
It is also virtually impossible to acquire. The game is long out of print, and may never re-enter print. If a copy is resold, you will almost never find it for less than $300. Some people have certainly considered paying as much as $360 for it. A friend of mine was extremely chuffed to find a French-language copy, and spent several evenings sleeving all the cards and physically cutting and pasting in English text, just so he could have a copy of his very own.
In less than a decade, how could a game whose ranking still remains relatively high (150) on Board Game Geek (BGG)—just a few places above Magic: The Gathering and a few places lower than Carcassonne—have totally disappeared? What happened? And, perhaps most importantly, do interested gamers have any chance to get their hands on a copy today?
The dynamic duo
The best-suited people to answer my questions were the game’s creators themselves: Carl Chudyk and Ed Carter. Chudyk, who is credited with being GTR’s designer, remains active on BGG. He was quick to respond.
“Hi Cyrus, I do not conduct interviews, in any way, shape, or form,” he emailed within 24 hours of my inquiry earlier this year. Accordingly, he didn’t respond to any subsequent messages.
Carter remained more elusive. I tried sending emails, texts, and Facebook messages and got nowhere. He hasn’t logged into BGG since August 2014.
Each turn, you can either draw cards or play a card for its “role” (laborer, merchant, etc.) and do an associated action. Other players can also play that role if they have a matching card, sort of like the role selection in Puerto Rico, San Juan, and Race for the Galaxy. But these same cards can also function as building materials or the foundations of the buildings themselves, and they can be slotted into the four different sides of your player board to enhance future actions. When cards are discarded, they go to a central pool that every player can draw from.
The key to winning is piecing together powerful card combos that make your actions more efficient so you can win the race to one of the game’s end conditions. You also have to make sure to not feed your opponents cards they need through your discards and be careful to choose roles that benefit you more than your opponents.
The game is notoriously difficult to wrap your mind around on a first play, but the fun you’ll get out of it makes the trouble worth it.
Defeated, I went back to poking around on BGG. I quickly realized there are frustrated fans going so far as to reprint their own versions of GTR without the company’s official blessing. This is somewhat similar to fans that have continued to play and produce Star Trek: The Customizable Card Game with the parent company’s tacit approval.
One of the best GTR reprints was done by Jeff Lozito, a Toronto-based fan who made his trove of files available via Dropbox in April 2018, several weeks after I first reached out to him. Lozito had done this once before back in 2014, he explained to Ars. This GTR fan had taken the images that Cambridge Games Factory itself put up and painstakingly spent a whole weekend re-typing all the text in Photoshop. His new version was cleaned up with color correction and everything.
“It’s one of those games, you just recognize the genius of the design of it,” Lozito told Ars. “This is one of the quintessential big games in a small box. Every time you sit down to play it it plays differently, the cards are all crazy. I looked at the game and I have no idea how his brain could come up with such a complex game out of 125 cards or whatever.”
Lozito was quick to underscore that he did not want to profit from the sales of this game. “This is a game that should be back in print and it’s ridiculous that people who want to play it have to pay dumb aftermarket prices,” he said. “Here you go, here’s a solution for anybody who wants it.” His BGG post introducing the remake only reiterated this notion: “I make no money off of this, nor would I ever dream to. And were the publisher or anyone else associated with the game to ask me to remove the files, I would do so without question or hesitation.”
Nearly five months later, no one has.
Listing image by Aaron Zimmerman
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