You'll have heard the proverb 'All roads lead to Rome'. Well, in VIAE, you first have to build those roads. In this game, 2–5 players all start off in a city adjacent to Rome. You'll be building roads to connect to an expanding network of cities, which you'll be trying to conquer to extend your Influence.
It's Influence that you're ultimately trying to maximise because that gives in-game advantages and it's Influence that gets converted into victory points at the end of the game. However, one of the aspects of VIAE that adds spice to your choices is that you may be tempted to sacrifice Influence to take certain extra actions in the game - particularly to play some of the powerful Deceptio cards that you'll be drawing.
Victory points are also scored for completing Mandatum card objectives. You each start with two of these, dealt face down so they are secret from the other players, but there is also a row of Mandatum cards in a face-up display. These can be claimed by any of the players. The game ends when a player achieves three Mandatum objectives (most often this will be your two secret objectives and one of the public cards, but it can actually be any three). This means that the Mandatum cards that come up in the public display will often affect the direction of play - making some provinces especially attractive as objects of everyone's attention. You'll find this is especially the case when playing with two players; less so with the higher player count, when there will be rather more Mandatum objectives on offer.
Tho' you're conquering cities, VIAE is more a euro strategy game than a war game. Players each have a set number of actions available to them each turn (5 actions per turn in a two-player game; 4 with three or four players; just 3 when playing with five). Actions involving road building or conquest require a player to allocate Legio pawns to that activity. Tho' this has the semblance of worker placement, the pawns actually function more as a resource: in effect, one of the currencies of the game, alongside stone and denarii coins. You start with just five Legio but can add more, including officers powered by Castra cards that give them extra powers. Legios can also be deployed as scouts, making it easier to conquer the cities they are spying out.
In a two-player game, denarii aren't in overly short supply because you can always spend one of your five actions to pick up a couple of coins. Cash is tighter with more players, as, with fewer actions, you're less likely to be willing to sacrifice an action. Players are all otherwise dependent on the income generated each turn by their network of roads and cities and you need to keep an eye on your cash because you'll be required each turn to pay for the upkeep of all your Legios and officers.
In VIAE: Roads of Rome, designer Dom Atlas has created a game that starts off gently but which becomes increasingly confrontational as players expand their networks and find themselves in conflict, striving to meet the same Mandatum objectives. You'll also find that judicious use of Deceptio cards can give you a valuable leg up and can help to waylay the careful plans of an opponent. Every play of VIAE turns out to be a tense struggle because you are never entirely certain how well your rivals are doing: a canny player will almost but not quite complete their secret Mandatum objectives so opponents have little advance warning that they plan to end the game once they are confident they have a winning victory point total...