Updated: Oct 24, 2020
'Vae Victis' ('Woe to the vanquished!') - the words reputedly said by the Gaulish leader Brennus after the sack of Rome in the 4th century BCE. Like GMT’s absorbing Time of Crisis, Vae Victis eschews the more common theme of games set in the Roman Empire, namely building and trading, to concentrate instead on intrigue, barbarian invasion and treachery.
Vae Victis is a semi co-operative game where 2–6 players take the role of Patricians seeking to win fame through wars and senatorial ranking. Central to the game are three tracks of wealth, pollution or pillage. Players are looking to avoid these descending, as they have nothing but negative consequences and if one does reach the bottom, everyone loses. There is also a board that depicts four wars against Barbarian opponents, of which two will need to be won by a player to achieve victory. If any Barbarian invader advances far enough along their track to sack Rome, then, again, everybody loses. Finally the third play area depicts intrigue and scheming in Rome itself, with players vying for control of the Senate, being able to hire individuals in the Forum and speculating on intrigue, which may lead to a player being a traitor and thus having different victory conditions for themselves; as you'd expect, a traitor wins by sabotaging Rome.
A player’s turn is divided into three phases. First, they roll three 'fate dice' to determine which particular disasters will befall Rome that turn. The way you respond to your fate dice rolls may give other players a clue as to your individual secret victory objectives, so this phase can involve a degree of bluff.
In the support phase, you can take one or two actions: choosing to fight in the Barbarian conflicts, take money from the treasury or call on the Emperor to move one of the tracks back one section. In the influence phase, again players can choose up to two actions, taking intrigue cards, placing a favourable senator or hiring an individual from a deck of cards.
Vae Victis manages to condense a lot of meaningful decision making into a relatively short filler-length game. Designer Enrique Duenas Gonzalez has suggested a playtime of 15-30 minutes, but with six participating it might play a little longer. The fate dice can be cruel, and, like all good games, there’s a sense that you can’t do enough on your turn and that overreaching and taking risks is necessary.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a very early prototype of Vae Victis from last year's Essen Spiel. Publishers 2Tomatoes have now launched the game through Kickstarter and you can expect many improvements in the published version, particularly as the art is by Gaetano Leonardi, who is best known for his work on AEG's The Captain is Dead. Vae Victis has a strong theme and nuanced gameplay so you should certainly check out the KS campaign by clicking here.
(Review by Toby Frith)