Julius Caesar Review

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Julius Caesar is a game by Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson, published by Columbia Games. It is for 2 players. In this game, players will portray either the forces of Caesar or Pompey as they vi for control of the Roman Empire. The game is played over 5 years divided into 5 turns that is fought through a series of battles. The player that is able to amass the most victory points or the first one to have 10 victory points will be declared the winner.

To start, one player will take the tan blocks for Caesar and the other will take the green ones for Pompey. The blue Cleopatra block is placed on Alexandria on Pompey’s side unti it is killed. It will then be available for Caesar to get. Caesar starts only controlling Masillia for 1 victory point while Pompey holds all the rest for 7 victory points, except for Rome, Athens, Byzantium and Ephesus. Those 4 are left vacant. During the game, each city is worth a certain number of victory points as shown on the board. All the cards are shuffled together and each player is dealt six cards of which them must discard one. This is done at the start of each turn as well. Play now begins.

The start of the game is marked by both players playing one card face down. The cards are then revealed and the player with the highest move value starts that turn. If an event card is played, then the event is dealt with first and that player is the first player. If both players play an event card, both event cards are discarded and that turn is over. Remember, there are 5 turns in a year. Play now moves into the Command phase.

In the Command phase, a player will move and levy blocks (armies) determined by the card they played. Moving allows the player to move blocks from one city to one or two cities. The number of blocks that can be moved is determined by the class of road between the cities. Some roads allow 4 while others only allow 2. Sea units called Navis begin in a port and can move one or two seas. If a block enters a city or sea that has enemy units, it must stop and prepare for war. When Levying, one of two actions can be taken. Either an already placed block can be bumped up one level or a new block can be chosen to be deployed onto the map. After Moving and Levying are over, the Battle phase takes place between any opposing blocks (armies) in the same city/sea.

Battle is done by checking the strength and combat ratings of units against each other and then rolling dice. Strength determines how many dice are rolled while combat ratings determines which units attack first and the number that must be rolled less than to attack with. Strength is shown in Roman Numerals on each block. If the block is ever reduced to less than I, it is removed. Combat Rating is shown by a letter and number in the upper right corner of the block. Initiative is determined by that letter, defender first. If any hits are rolled, the other player must reduce their highest unit by the amount of hits taken. If it’s a tie, the attacker chooses which one takes the hits. After battle, any destroyed units must be removed and then players may retreat to a friendly city if they chose to do so. If neither players retreat, combat continues.

After the 5 turns in a phase have taken place, by playing cards, moving, levying and attacking, Winter happens. Cleopatra (blue block) returns to Alexandria. All ships at sea must return to port. Troops must return to a city. Only 3 blocks are allowed in a city unless the city has a victory point value. It may then hold that many more troops. Victory points are checked to see if any player has 10 or more points. If they do, the game is over and that person wins. If not, then another year of 5 turns begins. At the end of 5 years, the player with the most points will be declared the winner.

 

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COMPONENTS
There are lots of different pieces to this game. Let me start with the board. The board is made of thin cardboard just like the one for Slapshot. Normally to me that would be a bad thing. However that wasn’t the case here. The beautiful design of the map takes my attention from the board being so thin. Besides, it lays flat on the table really easily so there isn’t a problem here. The cards are nice and sturdy. They have really nice artwork on them. I wish that the event cards had pictures of the gods on them instead of just a static background. Don’t get me wrong, the essence of each god is conveyed through the art, I just would have liked a better piece of art. Not a big deal though as I said. The dice are just normal dice and they roll and feel like normal dice. What more is there to say about that. The final and most important pieces are the blocks. Let me tell you, there’s a LOT of blocks. These things are thick and colorful. You will not get your pieces mistaken for the other players. I LOVE how AWESOME these things are. The only bad thing about the blocks is that you have to put the stickers on each one. Believe me, there are TONS of stickers to place. I actually had fun sticking each one on though. I would have expected little Risk like miniatures to play this with but I’m glad they chose blocks. To me, the blocks are the best part.
9 out of 10

RULEBOOK
First the good things, the rulebook has lots of great historical stories and references all over the place. I loved reading through it for that reason. The picture references for blocks and cards are nice and helpful. The rules are clearly explained and there’s nothing difficult to understand about them at all. There are lots of examples on how to play throughout the book. Now to the bad part, I couldn’t really figure out how to set up everything from the rules themselves. Maybe I missed it while reading through the history of Caesar, but it would have been nice to have a more clearly defined setup at the beginning of the book. I completely understood how to play so I’m fine with that. Maybe I’ve just been too spoiled with other rule books. In any case, even with the minor glitch, it’s not bad.
8 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
Let me start by saying that I am not now, nor have I ever been a war gamer. Public service announcement over. That said, I LOVE the design of this game. It has completely made me rethink war games. I’ve never really liked or wanted to play them, but this game may have changed my mind. I LOVE the block mechanic. It’s easy to use and understand the combat system. The game is very smooth and easy to get into. It’s not that difficult to play at all. It was told to me by the designer that this is an entry level game into their series of block war games. That makes me want to try others now, especially if they are this good. The battle system is easy to understand and play out. Compare the blocks and roll the dice. EASY! I didn’t know that war games could be this easy. The game does take awhile to play though, about an hour and a half to two hours. That’s probably the worst part of the whole thing. I usually don’t have quite that long to play so finding about 2 hours for a game is difficult. Still, when you have the time, it’s well worth playing.
10 out of 10

OVERALL
Julius Caesar is a medium weight war game of Roman battles. The game looks very nice. It plays smoothly and is easy to learn. Even with the ease of play there are lots of decisions and strategies to be had. The pieces are great and truly innovative, at least to me. The theme is fully integrated as well as the history. That can be seen in every aspect of the game. Anyone that likes history or enjoys war games will DEFINITELY love this game. The mechanics are so solid that it might even turn a non war gamer into a war gamer. It has definitely wet my appetite for more. That’s something I never thought I’d say. I highly recommend that you give this game a try. Put your preconceived notions about war games aside and play it. You just might find that there’s a little war gamer hiding inside you too. This is truly a great game.
9 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out Columbia Games at their site.

http://columbiagames.com

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About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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