A Few First Impressions [Time of Crisis from GMT Games]


I have genuinely never played a GMT game that I didn’t like, now I’m not saying that it won’t happen but I’ve been pretty lucky so far and Time of Crisis did not let me down.

Time of Crisis is a game published by GMT games, designed by Wray Ferrell and Brad Johnson and set during the Crisis of the Third Century, the Roman Empire nearly collapsed in the face of calamitous internal and external strife, including continuous civil war and barbarian invasions from all directions. Beginning with the assassination of Emperor Alexander Severus, a period of 50 years saw nearly as many different men seize imperial power over all or part of the Empire, until the reforms of Diocletian in 284 AD ushered in an era of peace.


In Time of Crisis, 2-4 players take the reins of Roman dynasties, gathering influence among the senate, military, and people of Rome to ensure that their legacies are remembered by history instead of being lost to the mists of time. Starting from control of one province and a few low-value cards, players are challenged to establish their base of power during this fragile period of Roman history. Players must build armies, take control of valuable provinces, develop support, and defend themselves against barbarian incursions, inopportune events, and the machinations of their political opponents.

Before forming an opinion, I’ll let you know that I’ve played this game twice, both as a two player game so my point of view is limited to that but I still had a very enjoyable yet different experience both times playing.

The first game I played felt like a walk in the park. I drew a few decent hands of cards at the beginning, I seemed to be managing my hand effectively throughout, I gained control of a lot of provinces early on and became emperor early in the game without too much struggle. This helped me have an early advantage in the game and enabled me to control my position with ease giving me more time to spend on building up armies, fighting off barbarians and so on. 

The second game I played could not have been any more different. A few unfortunate hands early on and few dice rolls that were even more unfortunate made for a game of playing catch up. Each turn felt like I was using my whole hand of cards just to keep my head above water, to fight off those pesky mobs or try to maintain control in the very few provinces I had managed to acquire. 

Both completely different games but I did still enjoy the game when I wasn’t doing so well. I am very interested to play this game at four to see if it evens it out a bit, I can imagine battles feeling more intense and a bit more cut throat and incorporating more player interaction.

Time of Crisis beautifully combines dice rolling, deck building and hand management with a light war-game feel. 


Both games that I played were around 2 hours and I found the rules really simple to pick up. As somebody that plays eurogames and war-games, there are so many familiar elements to this game like the deck building and dice rolling that enabled me to learn the game very quickly and focus on enjoying the experience and developing a strategy.

I’m the kind of person that has to read the rules myself to be able to play a game and understand it, no matter how complex the game may be, you could be the best teacher in the world and I would still have a problem picking up the rules until I had read them or actually played a few turns and found my feet within the game, however I did not have this problem at all with ToC. The mechanics are so familiar yet the game felt unlike anything I’ve played before which is a compliment. 


I often say that I don’t care much for the theme of a game and it’s all about gameplay but I think that may be changing. The more experience I gain playing war-games, historical games and so on, the more clearly I can see the importance of theme and the huge role it plays. I’ll be honest, I’ve played a lot of eurogames with amazing mechanics that could almost just have a theme stuck onto it and it wouldn’t matter but the more my tastes start to change and develop, the more I can recognize this.  

Don’t get me wrong, I still love eurogames and this game definitely has a slight euro feel but I get something very different out of playing wargames and historical games now. 

Time of Crisis definitely interested me when I started to do a bit of research on the game and the history behind the theme. 

Throughout the game, you can feel the desperation as different opportunities to claim the title of Emperor arise. The Crisis years were of course a challenging, difficult period and this comes across tenfold throughout the game, fighting off foreign tribes, managing your political, civil and army cards and maintaining control of provinces. 


As mentioned earlier, Time of Crisis is pretty easy to learn, the gameplay itself is pretty simple and I feel like cards are one of the main mechanisms throughout the game. Let me talk about the deck building element of the game first as it caught me out a few times during the game.

Unlike other deck building games, you are able to select which cards will play a part in your hand that turn which is extremely different to any deck building game I have played. You do still need to work through your entire deck before playing cards again so keeping up with what is in your deck, hand management and filtering out cards that are less likely to help you throughout the game is necessary early on. 

The cards will help you out immensely throughout the game, they all hold so much significance which can be a blessing or a curse when it comes to buying more cards or choosing which to cards to discard if you find it necessary to do so. 


The different type of cards in the game.

Military cards: Placing a castra. Flanking manouvre – allowing you a reroll and the Pretorian Guard – with the necessary military points and a little luck, you can assassinate the emperor and take his place.

Civil cards: Placing a quaestor. Placing a mob in a province controlled by another player. The Pretender – under certain conditions, allows a player to create his own empire.

Political cards: tribute – The barbarian tribes of a province become inactive. Recruitment of a barbarian unit in their own army. Damnatio memoriae – at the price of some riots that will run in the provinces controlled by the player who plays this event, the previous emperor will lose legacy points.

My advice would be to pay very close attention to the cards that you are buying, not only for the value of the cards but the actions on the cards too. There were a couple of times in my first game that I wasn’t paying attention to the actual cards in my hand and I messed up a couple of turns. 


Overall, my final thoughts on Time of Crisis are simple. A really fun, lightweight game that is perfect for introducing somebody to the world of wargaming or if you’re looking for something a little bit different. As mentioned earlier, I love the deck building element to the game and the theme really does shine through. Time of Crisis has that eurogame feel which I’m hoping will appeal to people that may not usually play this type of game, there’s always something to be thinking about and lots of different ways to gain points which is something I enjoy. 

The 2 player game was fun and I did really enjoy it but I imagine a 3 or 4 player game will add a bit more excitement and tension to the game, I’m sure that time will tell.

If you have played the game, I would love to hear your thoughts on it and thank you for reading – Katie. 





9 comments on “A Few First Impressions [Time of Crisis from GMT Games]”

  1. I sooooooooooooooo want this game. I think it will be one of the first games I buy when I lift my moratorium on buying games later this year.

    This post just makes that wait all the harder. So thank you for making my life hard, Katie! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For a similar 2-player game try Hands in the Sea from Knight Works. It is, perhaps, a little more complex than Time of Crisis but it is also more thematic. You play either the Romans or the Carthaginians during the First Punic War. The play time is about 2 hours.


  3. Fantastic overview of this game. I have a hard time selecting wargames because I’m only interested in pre-gunpowder warfare. This one, being a light wargame with deckbuilding aspects, sounds like one I really need to pick up and play. I primarily play with 2, so this would be a good one to introduce my wife to.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think maybe you missed the rule that you actually get to select the cards in every hand, only limited by what is still available (i.e. not yet discarded)? So not really possible to have an “unfortunate” hand I don’t think.

    Great review otherwise!


  5. We played with that rule, sometimes you might still have a bad hand if all your preferred cards are in the discard pile. It happened to me.

    Thank you! 🙂


  6. Interesting overview. This will probably end up in my backlog of games to play sooner rather than later.


  7. Played it for the first time last week and I can’t wait to get it back on the table. There are hints of Imperial 2030 here with the province/senator aspect and the deck building is really tough – early on you really want to be burning those 1 value cards as quickly as you can. The game we played was won by the one least bogged down by the Barbarians, so I’m intrigued to see if this is a recurrent theme in the game.


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