Review – Julius Caesar from Columbia Games
Designers – Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson
Art – Karim Chakroun and Mark Churms
Thanks to Columbia Games for kindly providing a review copy of this game
As a long-time war gamer, I have been very remiss. I’ve never really played block war games. I guess I just never found them appealing but I couldn’t tell you why to be honest. So its about dang time I discovered whether I’m missing anything don’t you think?
So from what I’ve heard, Columbia Games is the bees knees in the world of Block war games and as they are now a sponsor of Boardgames in Blighty, I better try their games on for size! The awesome Grant Dalgliesh suggested that Julius Caesar would be an ideal place to start so here we go.
This 2-player game for age 12+, depicting the later Roman civil wars (49-45 BC). The forces of Caesar are pitted against those of Pompey. This is an entry level game and at the simple, less detailed end of the scale which should be ideal for beginners. So the main perspective of this review is how it stacks up as an entry level experience.
The first thing that I noticed from the game was the artwork which is very nice indeed, from the cover painting to the lovely map (although the names of the smaller cities are a bit hard to read). The unit information stickers are adequate and functional with nice icons and unit strengths as are the Command cards. The map could have used a location reference system as it took me a bit more time than I would have liked to find some of the locations to place units but this is a minor quibble. And of course, you get a bunch of wooden blocks – Tan for Caesar’s forces and Green for Pompey’s with a Purple one for the wily Cleopatra. I would have preferred the map to be on thicker cardboard stock as well but otherwise, I’m happy with the presentation and components.
The object if the game is to score 10 victory points by controlling cities and or killing leaders. Or after the 5 yearly turns, whoever has the most victory points if 10 isn’t reached. The Pompey player starts controlling 7 points worth of cities so the pressure of the offensive is upon the Caesar player.
I found the rules pretty clear and easy to digest and was up and running in relatively short order. There are useful visuals and written examples of play which are very helpful. The Game Turns are as follows:
There are 5 Years in the game, each divided into 5 game turns. Each turn has three phases.
Card phase – Each player starts with 6 cards in a game turn, discarding one without showing it to the other player. Then each player starts each game turn by playing 1 of the 5 cards left in their hand face down. These cards are turned over and the player with the higher Move value is Player 1 that turn. If a player plays an Event card they go first. If there is a tie, Caesar is first.
Then you must play the card, most of which have differing movement and levy values. There are a small amount of Event cards available as well. You will find yourself thinking about which card to play for best effect and when.
Command phase – Player 1 moves between cities or across the sea and levies (raises extra or replacement troops) and then player 2 does the same. There are rules for Group moves, Roads, Navis, and Amphibious movement. Rules for Levies are simple and important as you will need to replace losses and build up your forces.
The use of blocks with multiple strengths is a very nice and effective mechanism and very clean and efficient. As you lose strength from combat hits you just turn the block to the relevant side and as you gain a levy, you do the same. Simple and elegant.
Battle phase –
Battles are fought between blocks in the same city area. They are only revealed at the moment of combat. require a number of considerations –
Battle sequence – Player 1 determines the order in which battles are fought
Battle turns – Each player has 3 choices in a battle – Fire, Retreat (except in the first round of combat), and Pass. The sequence of turns depends on the combat rating of the blocks beginning with “A” units and having combat firing first, and and so on. Defending blocks fire before attacking blocks. A block has a limit of 1-4 dice you roll as its attack. A hit is scored against the strongest enemy block in the same area for each die roll equal or less to the attackers firepower rating. Very simple again.
Battle reserves – these can be declared and added to a battle
Other rules cover disruption, Battle hits, eliminated blocks, retreats and regrouping.
At the end of each year, when all cards are played, there is a Winter turn where forces are consolidated, Cleopatra returns home, Navis go to a port, and supply is checked.
Finally, victory point levels are checked.
The process works very well and is easily understood, particularly for experienced war gamers. New gamers will take longer to learn the game but overall this is a very comfortable game to get into. There is nothing overly innovative but it all comes together well in a clean, effective and elegant system. The nice thing about not seeing your opponent’s block values until the moment of combat is you are never quite sure what you are facing so this needs to be factored into your own movement and combat choices. All very playable.
Did it work for me?
Taken as an entry-level war game, Julius Caesar works very well. I would happily teach this game to a newbie to whet their appetite for war gaming. It plays fast and cleanly. The system is elegant, rather chess-like, in its simplicity and introduces just enough key war gaming concepts such as concentration of forces, capturing objectives, limited intelligence, reinforcements/replacements, varying combat engagement capability as well as land and naval warfare as to bring a newbie a light feel for the campaign. You won’t find this a treatise on the Civil Wars and with the great depth found in other games which are simulations.
This is a light game to be played in a short space of time first and foremost with enough flavor and theme for the entry level player or those who want a light experience that won’t overload you with details. On that level, I think it absolutely hits the mark very well. The odds really seem stacked with Caesar if you play out the full 5 turns so although the pressure is on for the him to attack, it seems like a bit of early luck could steal a victory for Pompey but it seems like a tough ask. Must keep playing to find out for sure. The combat system is very simplified but works very nicely as does the levy system. The hidden information due to not knowing the actual combat strengths until combat is declared is a very nice feature which adds a good level of suspense. Ok, the Gods event cards seem random but war has a sense of being funny that way and the unexpected does happen, so call it the fortunes of war. The rebellion rule is a nice touch as is the Cleopatra changing sides rule so you can never totally hedge your bets. The small components quibbles mentioned earlier don’t detract from the experience but keep this from being nearer a perfect game.
Overall, Julius Caesar is a lot of fun and a great way to have a war game experience in a short space of time without the work needed to play a more detailed simulation. As my time is at a premium, this fits nicely with what I am able and willing to play often. Definitely recommended as a great introduction and I look forward to playing more block war games.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 7.5 out of 10
Not necessarily designed for the family, this game could be a nice teaching tool for parent and youngster.
For more information go to – http://www.columbiagames.com/