Once upon a time, I wanted to be a legionary. I have always been fascinated with Roman history that the thought of being involved in it consumed many of my childhood fantasies. Then I played a Legionary’s life and decided that I prefer being alive.
A Legionary’s Life is an RPG about you enlisting to fight in the second Punic War against the Carthaginians and trying not to die. At the start of the game you can select to play as a physical, mental or balanced character and must dice-roll your starting stats. Thereafter you have points to spend to either increase those stats or on better starting gear. Afterwards, the game is split into two sections; one where you are in camp and one where you are in battle.
When in camp you can train skills and attributes, take on extra work, play games to raise your morale and purchase gear. For the early game the camp is largely unengaging with only a few events occurring to spice things up, which normally consist of a skill-check and serve as opportunities to earn money or increase your standing within the army among your peers. But the further through the game you get, and the higher in rank you become, the more opportunities you can seize. You’ll eventually be able to teach lower-ranked soldiers, be expected to keep them orderly and be ordered to lead recruits out on patrols to gather supplies, which opens the doors for more events. But you must fit all of this into the allocated time you have. Everything you do makes time pass before your general marches you into battle.
Battle starts with a few events that can give you advantages or disadvantages before combat officially starts. Thereafter you’re forced into turn-based combat. Combat isn’t too deep and can be easily mastered, but until that point it will probably put an end to your first 2-3 characters before the end of the first act. You have to manage your battle stance, which determines how vulnerable you are to attack, stamina which determines how much you can fight at full strength and your health which is… Well, you know what that is. You can feint enemies or attack them with your shield to lower their stance and make it more likely for yourself to land a successful attack, or spend your turn recovering your own stance and stamina. For the first few fights it’s really as simple as just attacking the enemy’s until they die, but the game eventually forces you to fight more thoughtfully against higher-level opponents. Each fight lasts around 20-25 turns before it ends regardless of if you defeated your foe or not, to represent the reserves being pulled into battle while you regain your energy. This is a neat idea because, even if you have built a physically hopeless character, merely surviving engagements is enough to get you through the game if you can afford the right protective gear.
Between camp and battle sections, the game does a lot of work to contextualise the time period and set the scene for what is to come in the future. It’s a lot of reading, but what I assume is the soundtrack from Gladiator (or at least one very similar to it) plays over all the text so it’s pretty great in my book.
And that’s really all there it too it. It’s a very simple game… Perhaps too simple. Everything this game does, it does so very well so my only real critique is that it feels very samey on account of the simplicity. At the end of each act of the game it gives you a prompt to retire which essentially ends the run and makes that character unplayable again, which is contrasted by a second choice to reenlist and fight in another bloody campaign. I retired after the African campaign where we defeated Hannibal, and chose not to go on with any of the business in Greece and Macedonia because I felt as though I had already experienced all the game had to offer. As I said, it’s very samey and feels like a lesser stepping stone to a more realised, in-depth project.
But for what it is, it’s a good way to kill a few hours while listening to some good music as your tear down various barbarian scum. It’s very cheap so I would recommend it if ancient history or this style of RPG is your thing. Afterall, it’s hard for me to be harsh on a game as fun as this that was made by one dude for a small contest. With that context, you can see why he knocked it out of the park.