10 May 2022
More fun than a group assassination
All roads lead to Rome, which could well be why there’s so many war games on the subject of its shifting powers. Here we have Pomey vs Caesar in a classic game of out-manoeuvring one another in the boxing ring of a city. Caesar! is a sequel of sorts to Blitzkrieg, the Paolo Mori hit that claimed you could sort out WWII in 20 minutes, and claims much of the same. This box contains a couple of modular ‘mini-expansions’ and also a solo mode (by David Turczi, who else?) which are excellently implemented.
Rome is divided up into various slices for the players to attempt to take control of using their influence tokens. Each token is split down the middle with a number on each side, meaning that if you pop a 1|4 down on a border, one side will have one point of control added to it, while the other will have four. Closing the borders means the closing player can take the province bonus token in the centre, with the player with the majority of influence taking the control point and placing a control token. The latter is a token that players are given 12 of at the start, and the game is a race to get rid of all of yours first.
There are a few limitations, you can only place tokens on matching spots – ships in the sea spots for example, shields at defensive points, swords at the points of battle. The laurels are your wildcards. What this means is that the hand of tokens you draw from the bag might not quite fit your intended strategy, which is the main wrinkle here – is it better to close off smaller areas with less border points, or go for the bigger payoffs? Luckily we can’t answer that you because the game is fluid enough to be all about your opponent’s moves. It’s a true duel in that respect. You have choices to take areas that will give you an extra turn, increase your hand size or allow you to flip one of your opponent’s tokens – rendering it 0|0 for all influence calculations. When to take them, and not get caught out in the noughts and crosses of closing borders, is the true challenge.
There’s also the cascading effect of taking a neighbouring region to one you already control – adding a control token to the border as well as one to the newly claimed region. This, and the senate tokens, which allows you to stack a control token under it, equal to the number of other senate tokens already taken, make for some clear conflict zones where the game flares up into exciting and desperate moves.
And it is exciting. After the fog of war clears and you start to see the entire board for what it is – a series of dominoes of differing importance and power, which may all change once one is taken. It’s an enticing puzzle that feels a bit like trying to get your opponent to pass you the pepper on the dining room table only by you both tugging at the tablecloth. And they’re after the condiment at the same time. Which is a funny way to say that the game is an enticing and amusing grapple for the board that is in as many parts domesticated and civilised as it is brutal. As such, it’s the perfect Sunday afternoon war.
Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? YES
A diverting abstracted wargame that quickly comes into focus – a struggle within is deep, but with a gentle core set of rules. Brilliant.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED The King is Dead Second Edition…
If this classic does the small war thing well for you, then Caesar! is a good, if slightly less fraught, alternative.
Designer: Paolo Mori
Publisher: PSC Games
Time: 20 minutes
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