It's hard to believe that three years have passed since we featured Blitzkrieg! (PSC) on Board's Eye View. The game is probably still so fresh in our minds because it's one we've returned to so often, especially in the months of Covid lockdown, as it delivers the competitive challenge of a two-player euro strategy game in a filler-length 20 minutes. We clearly weren't alone in our affection for Paolo Mori's clever design because his Rome-themed 'sequel' was one of the hottest games being demoed at last year's Essen Spiel. Caesar! would've been one of the best sellers at Essen 2021, were it not for the fact that the publisher had to turn away its steady stream of customers because German Customs refused to release any of the stock that PSC had imported for the show.
Whereas Blitzkrieg! offered 'World War Two in 20 minutes', Caesar! invites players to 'Seize Rome in 20 minutes'. There are obvious similarities between the two games in that both are area control games with a bag-building chit-drawing mechanic, but Caesar! is no mere Roman reskin of its predecessor. It has a very different look and feel. Instead of Blitzkrieg!'s tracks representing theatres of war, the action in Caesar! takes place on a map representing the provinces of the Roman Republic. The two players take on the roles of Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) and each have their own bag of 'influence tokens' from which they draw. A token can be placed out on the map in any space that matches its icon. The spaces all border two provinces and the two numbers on each token count towards the influence applied to control of the province on the corresponding side of the border...
When a player fills the last space in a province, they take that province's bonus token and both players count up the total influence points they have in that province. The player with the most influence puts out one of their control markers. If they already control a neighbouring province, they put out two control markers. Bonus tokens can help to swing the game, so victory can sometimes depend on seizing the right bonus token at the right time... The Tactics bonus gives the player an extra turn; Wealth increases the player's hand size; Might allows you to flip one of your opponent's tokens (so reducing an influence token to 0/0, affecting provinces on both sides of the border); and Senate allows you to place out an additional control marker. The rules offer Poison and Centurion bonus tokens as an included 'expansion' (optional rules) designed by David Turczi, but there's no necessity to leave these tokens out even on a first play. If you include the Centurions, each player has a reserve of three influence tokens from which they can choose to play when drawing the Centurion bonus. Poison is played on an opponent and forces them to return an influence token from their hand back to their bag. You can Poison an opponent to death (win the game) if Poison results in a player having no influence tokens left in their hand. Otherwise, the game is won by the player who places out all their control markers.
Genuinely playable within its promised 20-minute frame, Caesar! is an easy-to-play head-to-head two-player abstract war game. Tho' it represents the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Caesar! doesn't feel like a 'take that' game; more a puzzle game as you try to optimise the placement of the influence tokens you draw from your bag. You'll need tho' to watch carefully the ebb and flow of the board; keeping a mental note of the balance of influence in each province. The early game will almost invariably involve players both avoiding placing the penultimate influence token in a province so as to avoid giving your opponent the bonus token; then it can become a push-your-luck gamble over whether or not your opponent has a token with the symbol needed in that all-important last space, and then an optimisation problem over which province to cede in the expectation of being able to pick up a better bonus on your next turn...
And tho' Caesar! is first and foremost a two-player game, as a bonus, PSC have incorporated a solo game designed by David Turczi and Nick Shaw as part of the package. In this solitaire option, you play as either Caesar or Pompey, competing against an automata controlled by command tiles. The automata represents Marcus Licinius Crassus - the third competing member of the Roman Triumverate. The solitaire game can be set at varying levels of difficulty and can played with or without the Centurion and Poison rules.
The tokens in Caesar! are all cardboard chits but what really elevates this game's production quality are the printed bags for each player's tokens with art by Paul Sizer, and the all-important player screens so that your opponent cannot see what influence tokens you have in hand. If you fancy a meaty but very accessible filler-length game, then Caesar! could be just what you're looking for.
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