This is the seventh in a series of reviews of Paradox’s empire management games. See the earlier reviews here:
Europa Universalis II: A Tale of Two Europas
Hearts of Iron: Europa of Iron
Victoria: Nineteenth Century Essay
Crusader Kings: A Dynastic Adventure
Hearts of Iron II: Return Engagement
Europa Universalis III: A Whole New World

In mid-2008, Paradox Interactive released their second Clausewitz Engine game for PC and Mac. It was unusual, in that not only did it tackle a far earlier time period than they had before, but it did not have a proper name for itself. Europa Universalis: Rome is an empire-management game of the middle to late Roman Republic, 280 BC–27 BC (the in-game calendar uses Roman ab urbe condita for the years, with modern BC dates on hoverover). It shared about as much of the engine and feel of EU as do all of Paradox’s games, and one would expect a completely separate name for the game, as with Hearts of Iron, Victoria, et al. (one wonders if they were looking at the highly successful 2004 Rome: Total War when developing this title).

An expansion, Vae Victis, was released near the end of 2008, with a Gold combined version following in mid-2009. I have only played EU: Rome Gold, so this review will only be about that.

The graphics got a major overhaul from EU III, and the map lost much of the artificial look. This was the start of a long series of graphical upgrades for the engine. The terrain mode got a very good looking texture map, and the map in general got a bump map that made everything much more natural looking in any mode.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

As usual with Paradox, you play as a particular country in a pausable real-time format; but this time there is also a large cast of characters who act on their own, occupy positions of government, etc. This is largely the same as the character system in Crusader Kings, but while you technically play as the current head of government, you aren’t actually any one person, so there are no concerns about continuing a dynasty and the like.

Characters are slightly simpler than in CK, with only three major attributes (Martial, Charisma and Finesse), and an extensive trait system with fewer special statuses than CK. Some of the traits have an effect on combat, making certain combat events possible, or more likely to happen, but mostly performance in any activity is based on the three major attributes. They also still have personal wealth and the like, but you often don’t see the direct effects of it in the game, especially while playing in a republic.

One addition to the CK system is that most characters will have an ambition. This could be to become rich, or get married, or it could be to become the governor of a particular province. Not only does this give the character a direction to go in, but if he (or she) achieves that ambition, he gets a bonus related to it. This could be as simple as a bonus to the character’s loyalty to the religious party after getting married, or it could be a one-point boost to Finesse after becoming governor.

The Senate and People of Rome

As in EU III, there are a number of different forms of government, with new ones becoming available as the game goes on. There are three main types of governments: monarchies, republics, and tribal, with there being four variations of tribal governments, and five each of the other two. Each one has its own particular bonus, and has a set of desired national idea slots. National ideas are taken from EU III: In Nomine, and are general bonuses that can give a nation a particular ‘feel’. Tribal governments only get one slot, while dictatorships (one of the four types of monarchy) get four, and everything else gets three.

There are four general types of ideas (military, economic, civic and religious), with two of each type available for use at the beginning of the game, going up to ten each as technology advances. You can use any ideas you want, but the overall government bonus only applies when they match the correct categories of ideas.

A republic will always have a senate, whose seats belong to different factions. These, in turn, will support or oppose many decisions you can make in the game (such as accepting a peace offer). If too much of the senate opposes an action, you cannot take it; if too little supports it, it will cause the current leader to lose popularity, which can cause governors and military commanders to lose loyalty.

The odd part with this is that the seats in the senate aren’t tied to particular characters. The factions have leaders, and their abilities have an influence on which factions have the greatest pull in the senate, but the current leanings of particular people are not reflected in the senate, or vice versa. However, the higher offices (Censor, et al.) do go to particular characters.

Monarchies, in addition to the head of state, depend on a council. These four people provide bonuses based on their abilities, and have a say in the succession when the monarch dies.

Tribal governments are the ‘primitive’ government, and can trade over to the other two types if they gain enough civilization in their capital. They have a chief, and a number of tribal chiefs, the most popular of which will become the new chief of the main government when he passes away.


There are a number of offices in the government, with each army and navy potentially having its own leader (and a poor one is certainly preferable to no leader at all). A set of five offices (common to all government types, but with different cultural names) control the pace of technological innovation, which follows in part the Victoria model, in that each new technological advancement opens up the possibility of events firing that cause actual bonuses.

The idea of groups of territories returns from Victoria in this game, with all areas grouped into provinces, which generally consist of 3-5 territories. These must all be assigned governors (except the home province, which is automatically governed by the leader of the nation), and his statistics determine things like taxation rates. Armies can be attached directly to a governor, making the province less likely to get in trouble, and providing local defense in a war.

There is a map mode that very clearly shows these provinces, but it only works with provinces that you already have a part of. This is better than the presentation in Victoria, but it could still use some work. (Especially as you have to look for the thin red border lines to see what you do and do not currently hold in a province when those territories are all the exact same color in the province map mode.)

The territories themselves have a new statistic, civilization. This measures how prosperous and settled the area is, and slowly goes up over time from the influence of higher-civilization neighboring areas, and trade routes from higher-civilization areas. Also, it is possible to get events in the capital that offer to improve the city with expensive monuments and public buildings, which will raise the civilization value, which is where civilization comes from in the first place….

Once a border area reaches 50% civilization, it can be used to colonize adjoining empty areas, but the population also needs to have hit 10 people. Population is handled more abstractly than in other Paradox games, being given in ‘units’ rather than solid numbers. These are also broken down into three classes of people: slaves, freemen, and citizens. The amount of each class is subject to adjustment through passing laws, and taking ideas that will shift them over time. However, citizens are needed for research, slaves for taxation, and freemen for the army, so a balance is needed.


As is the usual method in Paradox’s games, each territory produces a particular good (wine, salt, cloth, iron, etc…). However, each good, in addition to having a market value that earns tax money for the state, has particular in-game effects. A territory has a certain number of trade slots (more are generated through building improvements), and the goods are traded between pairs of particular territories, instead of going to a regional trade center (as in EU) or a world market (as in Victoria or HoI).

Both territories then get the bonuses associated with the goods being traded. This can get strategic in a number of ways, since there are bonuses to such things as population growth (wheat) and revolt risk (wine), and many units require certain commodities available to construct them (heavy infantry requires iron, ships require wood and cloth…). This restricts unit construction in believable ways, and is akin to how I would have preferred the resource model to work in various Civilization games, rather than let every city build the same unit at the same time as soon as you have one node of a resource.

A major problem intrudes here, as the game always starts with all the trade routes (and national ideas) empty for you to work out. With a smaller country, this isn’t too onerous, but if starting as a larger power, you have quite a long session of sorting out internal and external trade ahead of you before you can get going on the game.


Combat in EU:Rome uses the same procedure as in EU III, but has no separate phases for fire and shock (for obvious reasons). Instead, there are six different types of units to recruit (instead of three) that all have different damage modifiers against the other troop types. As mentioned earlier, the available trade items determine what units can be raised where.

Militia (or light infantry) can be recruited anywhere (which is its only redeeming feature). The other line infantry types are heavy infantry and… war elephants (which are very powerful, but expensive and slow to recruit; also they’re confined to the fringes of the map). Technically, there are two types of cavalry, normal and horse archers, but only the former acts as a front-line unit with mobility to work on the flanks. Archers and horse archers both go into the rear line and act as support for front line troops (as long as they last). All of these types have various cultural names, which might take some time to work out (though there are hover overs that give what the actual type is).

There are five of the military traits that I mentioned earlier, and each one allows that leader to trigger a particular combat event. Most of them add to the offensive ability to parts of the line, one (hold fast) improves defense, and rally increases your own troop’s morale (which may just lead to them hanging around longer to get slaughtered, if the battle is going poorly).

Civil War

One of the continual low-level annoyances to deal with in almost any Paradox game are rebellions; localized bands of people who are unhappy and rise up to take control of the territory. EU III expanded the model a bit by giving rebels various goals. While this still exists here, there are also full-fledged civil wars that pit parts of the country against each other.

A civil war breaks a country into two quasi-separate entities. They each have their own governments and leaders, and separate (but related) colors on the political map, and can separately go to war with other powers. But, the main faction and the rebel faction are automatically at war with each other and territories instantly trade from one to the other with a successful siege.

Various political troubles can lead to a civil war. In a republic, the senate has one faction for each of the major ideologies in the game (military, mercantile, civic, religious) and the Populist faction. This last is generally where characters who feel like they’ve been passed over for high office end up. The country generally gets a bonus depending on which faction is in charge, but for the Populists its a penalty. If the Populists become a dominate force in the senate without getting many offices, they will generally split off and cause a civil war. Similarly, tribal governments can split along tribal lines, and monarchies can have disputes over the succession.

Its a very nice mechanism, but sadly, once a human player is aware of what’s happening, it’s a little too easy to steer the game away from these events, especially the Populist civil war.

Barbarian Hordes

A little-understood feature of the ancient world are the occasional mass-migrations of entire peoples, or collections of peoples, or… well, we just don’t know much about them.

But they terrified the heck out of more settled populations that found them wanting to move in. Rome was sacked by a Gallic tribe about a hundred years before the period of the game, and had trouble fighting off a migration around 105 BC.

Like in the Europa Universalis series, much of the map is ‘unsettled’, empty provinces that are claimed by no government recognized in the game. However, instead of static ‘natives’ in these territories, there is a fourth type of population unit, barbarians. Barbarian power slowly grows in these territories, until it spills over and most of the power turns into a large army that starts wandering around the map, looking for civilized lands to loot, and possibly settle.

Defeating one of these armies generates loot and slaves for the area they were defeated in (at least, once the army is eliminated, they’re likely to retreat the first few times). Some of these armies can be very large and difficult to deal with.

Barbarian power also keeps an area from being colonized, if it’s above about 2 or so. Colonizing a territory that does still have some barbarian power, can lead to some trouble, but as the civilization level of the territory rises, there will be an event that will convert them over to freemen, which gives the area a nice boost.


While in many ways EU:Rome depicts the Roman world well, and has some very interesting game systems, it does not make for a great game. Part of the attraction of any of Paradox’s games is the sheer number of independent actors (countries) makes the world take life. Instead, there are a few bright lights (Rome, Carthage and the Hellenistic world), a few lesser lights, and a large sea of gray territory. The internal actions of the characters is not enough to make up the lack, and EU:Rome feels bland. It is currently Paradox’s oldest title without a sequel, though fans (myself included) hope that it might still be revisited.

I had been away from computer gaming for a while by the time this one came out, and so had not actually played any of the titles after EU II when my dad introduced me to EU:Rome. I was, naturally, surprised by the number of differences in games that shared a title and a large number of stylistic similarities. As I started moving back into computer gaming, Paradox gave out copies of Crusader Kings for free to help promote the upcoming release of CK II. I had been intrigued by what I had heard on the forums when it first came out, and was very happy with the game now that I got to play it. And I quickly realized that the entire character system I had been surprised by effectively came straight from CK. It was while pondering the different threads of ideas weaving their way through Paradox’s games that I thought of doing a series of reviews to trace these threads.

So this, then, has been the starting point of this review series.