It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I like historical turn-based strategy games, particularly after I drooled all over Tiny Token Empires. I’m always on the lookout for new stuff in that genre, so I’ve been keeping a close eye on Singapore-based indie developers Witching Hour Studios. In between Ravenmark installments, Witching Hour has also created a lighter, funnier tactical game running on the same engine. Romans in My Carpet! pits imperial dust mite legions against barbarian bedbug hordes as they fight for dominance for a dorm room. It’s a concept that should work perfectly, and to some extent it does, but several big problems prevent Romans from living up to its full potential.
Things got off to a rocky start before I even began playing. It took me ages to convince the title screen to let me create an account and name myself (that is, my Commander). See, Romans requires a persistent network connection to play, which is a huge hassle if you want to play on the train, a subway, or anywhere that doesn’t provide a good data signal. Even more of a hassle was the account creation; the “submit” button stubbornly refused to function until I accidentally let Auto Correct change my name to “Fiduciary.” Naturally, there is no way to change one’s name after account creation, so I was stuck playing as some company’s military trustee or something.
When I finally broke on through to the other side of the start screen, I was greeted by a wonderful mix of painted backgrounds full of detail and retro pixelated character design. Witching Hour obviously wanted to make something that was less complex than Ravenmark, but their definition of “simple” packs a lot more nuance than most indie studios. The sense of scale is perfectly captured, and it’s easy to immerse yourself in this absurd, miniaturized world. Battling around nacho crumbs and gigantic four-sided dice, using blobs of Nutella as a tactical advantage—it all makes sense, and winds up being way more fun than the boulders and trees of traditional wargames.
You start off on the side of the Romites, leading their disciplined forces in a campaign to crush the Breetle uprising. You command five types of units—infantry, ranged, cavalry, polearm, and support. Each unit has a weakness to and strength against another type except for the support type, which is exempt and gets no special bonuses or penalties. Each unit also has a set of unique statistics and abilities. Romite infantry can use a spear attack to deal damage from behind cover, while Breetle infantry use a war cry to boost their stats. There isn’t a huge array of units to choose from, but even the limited selection currently available is fairly complex for players who weren’t weaned on Warhammer 40k miniatures.
Once the Breetle revolution has been quashed, you can play from the other side in a Breetle version of the same campaign. You can also play individual skirmishes on each map with different troop configurations. It’s not the most imaginative campaign design ever, but this approach does force you to consider each side’s weaknesses and strengths, and play to them. Romans might be inspired by European history, but there are some lessons here that are straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. When I finished up campaign mode, there was no trustee more formidable in all of the Accounting Department.
Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to do in Romans. Both campaigns combined take a total of 10 hours at most to complete, and that’s if you’re utterly new to wargaming or tactical RPGs. The fights are tough, but not so much that you need more than two tries to beat each one. Skirmishes are neat, but provide only limited replay value. The real value in Romans lies in multiplayer, where you can challenge someone at random or from your Facebook friends. But as of this writing, there’s no guarantee you can find anyone looking for a game when you want one. It’ll take time to build up an online community of players to make multiplayer viable.
The lack of substantial content wouldn’t be as much of a problem if not for Romans‘ price. It sells for $3 on Google Play, which is a fair bit more than your average mobile game. What’s really missing is content, whether in the form of additional units, new factions, or different scenarios. I’m sure something along those lines might come in a future update, but as it is, Romans just feels empty. But once the game gets some more meat on its bones, Witching Hour might just build themselves a new gaming empire.
Is it Hardcore?
It’s not the best mobile wargame or the cheapest, but Romans is still fun while it lasts.