Updated: Dec 21, 2019
GMT’s games are almost always beautifully boxed and produced but they can be quite complex to play. I have strategy games from their range that I admire and take pleasure in owning but which I doubt I’ll ever actually play because the rules overhead is so great: there’s just too much to take in and remember.
Not so, Time of Crisis. This looks just as good as other GMT games but is at the low end of the complexity range. Of course, these things are always relative: this is still more complicated than the average board game – it’s just notably lighter than most other games by GMT.
In Time of Crisis, 2–4 players each control a dynasty in the Roman Empire during the period of historical turmoil (235–284 CE). Players recruit generals, legions, senators and provincial governors in order to build their dynastic legacies (score legacy points).
Though there are chits to place out on a board, in game play this is actually a deck builder: you will each start with the same low value cards and, at the end of each of your turns, you can spend the points you have earned that turn to buy more powerful cards and/or burn existing cards. You will try to extend your control over individual provinces and take political or military control over other provinces. You may even proclaim yourself emperor.
Once you get to grips with the options offered by each of the three card types, the game plays reasonably briskly. You never have more than five cards available to you, so the game involves a significant element of hand management. You can plan ahead but you may well find external events frustrate your intentions. As the game progresses, other players may stir up mobs in your provinces. These have to be dealt with or you risk losing your governorship.
The empire on the map has barbarian hordes at its northern, southern and eastern edges, and, on every player’s turn, dice are rolled to see which horde becomes active and which, if any, province they will invade. There are cards that can be played and actions that can be taken to mitigate barbarian invasion but there is still much luck involved in the barbarian threat and this can prove decisive in the game. In our play, the nomads to the south got activated a disproportionate number of times and that meant the player who had built his provincial base in Africa had to devote most of his time to dealing with this barbarian incursion. By contrast, my northern provinces suffered very little threat from Frankish barbarians, easing my path to Imperial purple…
Though the settings are similar and both utilise deck building, Time of Crisis contrasts very starkly with Concordia. In Concordia, your options are plentiful: every turn presents each player with a range of positive choices. By contrast, players in Time of Crisis can find their actions forced by other players or external events. And, in yesterday’s game, all four of us found there were turns when we were left with one or more cards in our five-card hand that we were unable to use to our advantage.
If the ‘Decline and Fall’ theme appeals, and you don’t mind seasoning your strategy games with a heavy sprinkling of chance, then Time of Crisis is definitely worth checking out.