Overview: It it 367AD, and Britannia is still occupied by the Romans … but not for long. Hibernian warriors are sailing across the sea to attack the Roman network of forts and roads. Cambria (named after the Roman name for what is now Wales) is a quick-playing board game that puts you in the role of Hibernian warriors, capturing as many Roman forts as possible.
Players: 2 to 5 (Box says “3 to 5” but there are variant rules included for 2 players)
Ages: 8 and up
Playing Time: 15 – 20 minutes
Rating: Excellent! Easily learned game with good depth of strategy yet plays quickly.
Who Will Like It? If you’re a fan of Reiner Knizia’s games, which often have interesting mathematical underpinnings beneath the gameplay, you’ll enjoy this one. Interesting Euro-style feel but still allows for some good ol’ American head-to-head conflict.
The game incorporates a few details that help set the mood: the forts have Roman numerals on them and there’s an SPQR Legion Eagle standard on the board (where the Legion sits until it is placed on the board). The two sides of the board show Cambria (Wales) and Cumbria (the land north of Wales). Other than that, though, the gameplay is more abstract strategy; you won’t necessarily feel like a tough warrior while playing the game.
- 1 double-sided game board
- 2 wooden dice
- 16 fort tokens
- 7 victory point tokens
- 25 warrior markers (colored wooden cubes, 5 per player)
- 1 Legion pawn
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that the tri-fold board is quite small. It’s a very compact game, and I applaud Closet Nerd Games and Sandstorm LLC for not going for the big box route. The box is about the size of a thick paperback book, and you could easily stash it in a backpack to take your gaming on the go.
The two sides of the board have a different configuration of the forts and roads, which just allows for a change of scenery, with subtle shifts in strategy. All of the components are pretty nice, with wooden chips for forts and victory points. The wooden cubes and dice are pretty standard Eurogame style.
My only complaint after playing several times is that maybe the board is a little too small. Well, not exactly: there’s a section of the board that’s devoted to the sea, which displays the name of the region, the Legion space and five ships, and a player’s aid. In practice, you don’t really need all that space and the player aid probably could have been just printed on a little card, allowing more room for the map itself. The reason this matters is that in some areas the forts are so close together that it’s hard to squeeze a wooden cube in between them (let alone the Legion pawn), making it hard sometimes to see where the roads actually are.
But it hasn’t been a huge problem in playing the game, and I still like the idea that the game is pretty compact overall.
To set up the game, all of the wooden fort tokens are placed on the matching Roman numerals on the map. The number of the fort also corresponds to the number of roads leading to that location — so a II fort has two roads leading to it, and a VI fort has 6 roads leading to it. (That’s the aspect of the game that reminds me a little of Ilium, which also had this sort of correspondence between number of paths and value of a location.) Below the IV, V, and VI forts, you place the II, III, and IV victory points tokens, respectively. The Legion pawn is placed on the SPQR spot off to the side. Each player gets 5 wooden warrior cubes, and you roll to determine starting player. Each player rolls one die and places one of their warriors on an empty road leading to a fort matching the number they rolled. (Re-roll 1, since there are no I forts.) Now the regular game begins.
On each turn, the player rolls both dice.
On a regular roll (no doubles, no 1s), the player chooses one of the two numbers, and places a warrior on an empty road leading to a matching fort.
If doubles other than 1s are rolled, the player may place a warrior on that number on an empty road, or they may place it on an occupied road, replacing an opponent’s warrior or the Legion pawn.
If you roll a 1 and another number, you may place your warrior on an empty road matching the non-1 number, or you can move the Legion pawn onto a road matching that number, displacing a warrior.
Finally, if you roll double 1s, you must move the Legion pawn. It can go anywhere on the board, replacing a warrior. Then, after moving the Legion pawn, you may put a warrior on an open boat (on the side of the board). These are numbered 2 through 6. If you start your turn with a warrior on a boat, you may substitute one die rolled with the number of the boat your warrior is in, and then remove the warrior from the boat. Basically this means you get to pick what you roll.
At the end of your turn, if all the roads leading to a fort are occupied by warriors, the player who has the most warriors surrounding it captures the fort and takes the fort token. If two or more players are tied, then the fort can’t be claimed yet until the tie is broken.
Whenever a IV, V, or VI fort is captured, the victory point token underneath the fort goes to the player with the second-most warriors. If there is a tie for second place or if a single player surrounds the fort, the victory point token is discarded and nobody claims it. Note that the Legion pawn does not help to capture a fort.
The game ends if there are 6 or fewer forts left on the board at the end of a player’s turn. The legion is then removed, and any player who holds more roads than everyone else on a remaining fort may capture it, even if it is not totally surrounded. Tied forts are not claimed.
Fort tokens and victory point tokens are worth the number printed on them.
2 Player Variant
For two players, there is a dummy player. Each turn, before the beginning of your turn, you roll one die and place a dummy warrior on an empty road matching the number rolled. If there aren’t any unoccupied roads that match the number rolled (or you roll a 1), then the dummy warrior can go on any empty road. The dummy player never moves the Legion or displaces anyone. However, the dummy player can capture forts and victory tokens.
I like this last sentence:
In the unlikely event that the “dummy” player wins the game, the human players should feel shame; however, the highest scoring human player is technically the winner of the game.
Cambria was described to me as “Euro-lite,” and I think that’s an apt description. It’s the sort of game that has the feel of a Eurogame, but is much quicker to play than most without watering down the gameplay. It plays as quickly as most “filler” games but feels meatier.
Each road goes between two forts, which means that even if you roll a 3 and a 4, you could still try to capture a VI fort, as long as you can find a road that leads from it to a III or IV. Since each player only has 5 warriors, you have to be careful not to spread yourself too thin. If you’re working on multiple high-value forts at once, then you’ll be stuck waiting for somebody else to fill in the other roads. There’s a tricky balance between getting to the high-point forts and taking the easy two-pointers quickly.
The bonus victory points on the high-point forts also lead to some good strategic options. Sometimes you might help a player capture a fort, simply to prevent another player from getting the secondary points. Or you might use the Legion to delay a fort’s capture, freeing up your warriors to fight elsewhere on the board.
Since getting the game out, I’ve tried it with several different groups of players, and it’s gotten great reception. Although it’s a bit tricky at first remembering when you can move the Legion and when you can bump another player’s warrior from a road, everyone picked it up pretty quickly and I’ve always ended up playing more than one game at a time — usually flipping the board over to try the other layout. The Cumbria side has a lot of II forts grouped together, which means that if you go after one of those you may have to dedicate a warrior to it, rather than being able to also get in on a more valuable fort on the other end of the road.
The rulebook is straightforward and it’s easy to pick up the game and start playing, plus there’s the player aid printed on the board itself.
As I mentioned before, I do think the board is a little crowded in spots, particularly when there are forts close to each other — sometimes you can’t always tell if there is a road between two locations or not. Also, although the Roman numerals make sense for the theme, they can be a bit confusing, too. If you happen to be looking at the board upside-down, it can be quite easy to get your IV and VI mixed up. Probably some pips or just plain Arabic numerals might have made for better legibility.
Still, it’s a fantastic game and one that I highly recommend. It’s a good combination of luck and strategy, indirect and direct competition. Cambria just hit store shelves this week, and might not be widely available online yet, but I found a few people selling it on Amazon. Probably your best bet is to ask about it at your friendly neighborhood game store.
Wired: Quick-playing game with nice strategy; compact packaging.
Tired: Board can be a little crowded; Roman numerals easy to misread.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.