Roman Bowl Review

You don't often see casual games based on sports that play as well as Roman Bowl.
But... did they really play football in the coliseum?

Main screen

Casual games based on sports are rare so, when I find one, I almost feel obligated to write a casual game review on it. The sport in question is football which has long been a subject for PC games. No other sport has the amount of strategy and action involved in each play which gives it almost a chess style quality run in hard hitting real time. Video football games, like the one named after John Madden, have evolved into a very complex state where you can control all aspects of the game including team building and management as well as playing the game. Going through an entire season can be a rewarding but time consuming experience for the avid football game junkie and is undoubtedly the reason behind the success of these games.

What about those of us who aren't so dedicated?

Roman Bowl is the perfect answer to the football junkie looking for a satisfying quick fix that won't require months of time.

Let's review some details.

Roman Bowl is a simple football game that pits various Roman Legions against the Visigoths. The options page allow you to set the number of periods in the game to 1, 2, or 4 and also allows you to set the period length to 3, 4 or 5 minutes. This combination allow for total game times between 3 and 20 minutes. The home team always starts the game with the ball while the visiting team starts the second half with the ball. Since there is no second half in a one period game, it's a distinct advantage to be the home team. You can also set the difficulty level, choose to be home team or visiting team, and set how fast or slow the players move.

Roman Bowl's rules are also a bit different from regular football. There are only five players per side, you have only five downs total to score, and you kick field goals with a catapult. The players are very large when compared to the size of the field so scoring in five downs is easy to do with some practice. There are no punts. If you don't score after the fifth down, the other team takes control at a point halfway from the goal line to your last point of possession. That means if you get stuffed at the opponent's ten yard line without scoring, the other team will take over at their own five yard line. Points are scored the same as regular football with a touchdown scoring 6, the extra point 1, and a field goal 3. You can play in one of two modes, exhibition game or playoff game. The exhibition game is a single game where you can set all of the game parameters. The playoff game mode gives you a series of games to complete that keep increasing in difficulty. There are also trophies you are awarded for winning playoff games or for reaching certain statistics such as 300 yards passing or 200 yards rushing.

Now the important part; how you actually play the game.

Clicking on the "How To Play" option opens an interactive tutorial that shows you how to move the players. The moves are very basic and I'll go over them here.

The home team always gets the ball first and 5 players on each side get into a huddle. A choice of three plays is shown for both teams and you choose the one you want to play. You can only choose the play that your team will run; red plays are for the offense and blue for the defense. The three plays displayed are chosen randomly from a group of about 15 total plays. Left click will hike the ball and the ball carrier will move towards your mouse cursor. Press the left SHIFT button and you can aim a pass at one of your receivers. Pressing left CLICK will pass the ball. After a completed pass, control is shifted to the ball carrier. The team with the ball has red shapes around them while the defensive team has blue shapes around them. Blockers are shown with red squares around them and will automatically try to protect the quarterback. Receivers have red circles around them and run the routes you give them.

Below are some images from a successful pass play.

Pass Play start
My team is the Visigoths with the red shapes around the players. The Roman defense has chosen to send four rushers after my quarterback and hope that their middle linebacker can stop any pass plays.

Pass play ball snapped
The ball has been snapped and his blockers are after my quarterback! I have only one blocker but one of my backfield men is running a route that goes towards the bottom of the screen. I'll run my quarterback towards the lower right side of the screen and hope the blocker and receiver can slow the Romans down.

Pass play completion
It's away! The Romans were delayed long enough for me to get the pass off. The ball is still in the air but his middle linebacker is too far out of position to block the receiver who is located in the upper left side of the screen. After the reception, my ball carrier was able to make it to the five yard line before being tackled.

Block pass start
The 4 Visigoth blockers will stop the run
but the lone receiver must be guarded
Defense is similar. You choose one of three defensive plays to run and you control the middle linebacker. The middle linebacker will run towards the mouse cursor and a left mouse click will cause him to attempt a tackle in the direction that he is running. Your players with squares around them are blockers and will pursue the ball carrier. Those with circles around them act as corner backs and will follow the wide receivers as they run their pass routes. The defense can knock down passes by getting in front of the quarterback when he throws or by being in front of the pass receiver as he tries to catch the ball. There are no interceptions.

Blocked pass
I moved the Visigoth middle linebacker
to cover his receiver & block the pass
Field goals can be kicked once the offensive side is close enough to the goal line. The "kick" button will appear as an option along with the choice of three other plays. Choosing "Kick" will cause all of the players to run off of the field and the catapult to appear on the line of scrimmage and a tower to appear in the end zone. Three sliders adjust the power, angle and bearing of the ball. Wind effects increase with a higher angle of the ball trajectory. A properly aimed shot will destroy the tower and score a field goal. Extra points are scored in the same way. There is no chance for the defense to block a field goal or extra point.

All games are played in the same manner but you can choose from Exhibition games or Playoff games. Exhibition games are a single game where you can set all of the parameters. Playoff games are a series of games that increase in difficulty as you progress. Each game is named after the section of the playoffs that it represents.

Field goal
Adjust the angle, power, and bearing to
"kick" a field goal with the catapult. Wind
effects increase with higher kick angles &
are shown by the small arrows near the tower.

Winning playoff games will also win you trophies. Other trophies have to do with reaching certain statistics and can be won during either a playoff or exhibition game. These trophies include reaching 300 yards passing in a game, scoring on every possession, and other statistical landmarks. Since you can earn these trophies on any game, you can make it easier on yourself by choosing the type of game. For instance, it's easier to win the trophy for scoring on every possession by setting the difficulty to the lowest level and choosing a shorter game where you have fewer possessions. Other trophies, such as 200 yards rushing would require a much longer game. The trophies give you a reason to improve certain statistics but don't give you extra points or game skills.

Below are some images from a successful running play for a touchdown.

Play choice
I'm on the five yard line and want to keep my options open. The first play choice is out since the goal line is so close that my receivers would never get free if he decides to cover them. The third play has potential but he could stop my run if he chooses four blockers and could easily cover my single receiver with his middle linebacker. The second play overloads the bottom side of the screen which allows at least one free receiver if he rushes and allows an opportunity for a left side run depending on the defense.

Run play setup Run play ball snapped Run play touchdown

The first image shows the setup before the ball is snapped. He's chosen the third defensive play which attempts to block the run with two blockers and cover receivers on both sides. His blockers, however, don't line up with mine and I have two receivers on one side.

The ball is snapped! The second image shows the quarterback running in the direction of the red arrow. My blockers neutralize his blockers while my one receiver keeps his cornerback busy.

Touchdown! If you look at the position of his players on the third image you'll see I probably could have run for another 5 yards if I had to.

The basic controls are simple enough but the game takes a little getting used to. Here's a few tips.

If you're having real trouble getting anything done, turn the speed and game difficulty down to their lowest setting. Now that the competition isn't as tough, you can get used to the plays without getting frustrated.

If you want to see how plays are run, select "spectator" from the Exhibition game options. The PC will play against itself and you can see how it runs both offensive and defensive plays.

You can aim a pass while the quarterback is moving. Point the mouse cursor to a distant point on the field and press left SHIFT. The ball carrier will continue to move in that direction while you aim your pass. Left CLICK and the ball carrier will stop and pass.

Before selecting your play, look at the plays available to your opponent. Choosing your play to counteract your opponents options will help you win.

You only have five men on the field and they tend to rush the ball carrier after awhile. Your opponent has a nasty habit of throwing multiple cross field laterals if you bunch all of your players on one side of the field.

For those not used to football terms, the line of scrimmage is the line the ball is on when the play starts. As in regular football, you can only throw a forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage. Unlike regular football, Roman Bowl allows the ball carrier to go forward across the line of scrimmage, turn back and recross the line, and then throw a forward pass. Don't let up on your pass defense just because the ball carrier crosses the line.

Effectively running the ball takes some practice. Remember that your receivers draw off the defensive cornerbacks as they run their routes and can be used as blockers.

Run your ball carrier in a zig zag motion. This will cause pursuing defenders to miss when they try to tackle.

You can push the ball carrier out of bounds but not any of the other players. At the far end of the end zone, his receivers may look like they're out of bounds but they're not. They will catch the ball for a touchdown if you don't block them.

If you want to keep your opponents from scoring, you must stop them before they reach your 40 yard line. At this point, your opponents have the choice of kicking a field goal and they almost NEVER miss.

You can kick a field goal on any down as soon as you get within range. Keep this in mind if you only have time for one more play before the end of the half or the end of the game.


Roman Bowl is a challenging and fun football game with minimal features and an AI system that works very well. The limited number of plays, only having five total downs, and the simplicity of team controls allow users to quickly start playing football. Frustration or boredom are eliminated by changing the game difficulty and speed to match your skills. Roman Bowl will never be a serious competitor to games like Madden football but it is the perfect game for those who want some video football action without devoting dozens of hours to the game.

This is how I rate Roman Bowl

Cost - A steal at $6.99

Available Platforms - PC only.

Gameplay - Easy to learn the basics but effective scoring takes longer. Reducing the difficulty level and speed makes the game more playable for new users.

Graphics - More than adequate to display little guys on a football field.

Originality - Some of the rules, like five downs, make this less complex and a better casual game.

Strong Points - An AI system that actually works well and is completely adjustable makes this a great minimalist football game. Adjustable game time allow you to play games between 3 and 20 minutes.

Weak Points - Can't block a field goal.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - You can adjust the difficulty and speed levels to match your skills. As your skills improve, increase the difficulty to keep the game challenging.

Overall Rating: 10

Conclusion:Video football junkies looking for a fast uncluttered game will LOVE Roman Bowl. Play games lasting as few as three minutes to as long as 20 minutes at a challenge level that matches your skills. As your skills improve, you'll find this game gets MORE enjoyable since you'll be able to execute highly complicated plays. The satisfaction of completing a multi pass touchdown play with time running out is NOT to be missed. Trying to attain the statistical landmarks needed to win trophies, completing the playoff series, and having a difficulty adjustment that accurately effects game play all conspire to create a game experience that never gets tiresome.

Download Roman Bowl from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $6.99.