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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Our club Chairman is a block wargame fan, or fanatic for that matter. We come to compromise to play this game after I decline to play his favorite Strike of the Eagle as I am not familiar with the conflict between the Poles and the Soviets. Julius Caesar, on the other hand, happens to be a name of easy recognition.

After 2 plays on 9 Dec, 11, I was soundly beaten by Andzrej's Caesar in both! I should say this is a great game on the Roman Civil War! As Caesar, Andzrej adopted an aggressive strategy in the east and centre, towards Byzantium (Antichos) and Rome. He deployed Caesar to the east, guarding the straits and then wait for the right moment to strike. In the first game, I urged Pompey to attack Rome and across the straits on the east. That proved to be disaster and Pompey was killed. The second game couldn't spare Pompey's life either. Scipio replaced him in both games. Andzrej won both games with 10 VPs. By now, you can imagine how poor I was as Pompey.

The rules are simple to read and absorb with only 8 pages. The labels, as you can pretty much expect the quality from any one of the Columbia Games. The legions, auxilia, equitatus, ballista, navis, these are all types of units, illustrated lavishly with fine details. The leaders are all illustrated with their historical head statues, Caesar, Pompey and their lover Cleopartra! (Note: After a battle, Cleopatra can switch side by joining the winning side! An opportunitist!)

The game begins in 49BC and ends in 45BC, just before Caesar was assasinated in 44BC. Each game has 5 yearly turns. The time scale is perfect for such a strategic look at the Roman Civil War. Basically, the war was fought on 3 fronts - Byzantium in the east, Rome and Sicily in the centre, and Gaul/ Spain in the west. Both sides deployed on the map according to the set up card. The set up is a blast.

Each turn is divided into 3 phases - Card Phase, Command Phase and Battle Phase. In Card Phase, both players play one card onto the table and reveal them simultaneously. If both sides play event cards, they cancel each other out and the game turn ends! (I think we played this wrong as we continued the turn into the year.) Each card bears the name of a God, e.g. Mars the God of War grants a surprise attack to the attacker to attack first in the Battle Phase (normally it is the defender who conducts combat first). The most powerful card I think is Vulcan, which is not a God but reduces all blocks in a designated city by one step, even to the point of eliminating the last step of a unit or leader.

Cities are connected with road, major or minor. Moving a group of 4 blocks is allowed along a major road, 2 blocks if minor. A group can move 2 cities, if not attacking. Otherwise, battle ensues when the group moves into an enemy controlled city. Response movement can be made by friendly group from adjacent cities to reinforce the defending city. Only 2 units are allowed to move across the strait. However, only one is allowed to attack across it. So, don't ever try to attack across the strait unless you are pretty sure why you have to. Navis movement is similar. There are a total of 9 sea zones and numerous ports along the coastline.

Battle system is the standard convention for a block game that, surprisingly though, is well applied to the ancient time as well. Each block can have different number of steps, up to a maximum four (of course....a block can only have so many edges.) A battle hit reduces a block one step by rotating it to the lower one. One thing I questioned about block games is that the strength of a block is always pre-determined abstractly by the number of steps 1 to 4, instead of a strength number. It is hard to believe that combat strength of unit blocks can be utilized the same across different time span in history, from ancient, colonial to WW2. Anyway, Julius Caesar, there are some interesting units like Elephants, which have 2 steps only and thus fragile to be eliminated, and Ballista, attacks more effectively at a higher class when defending.

Levies is an interesting sub-system in block games and in my view, simulates the replacement rate of the ancient armies very well. Each command card has 1 to 3 Levy Points. They can be used to bring the existing units on the map one step up by 1 LP, or bring in a new block onto the map friendly cities or, in case of the legion, in the named city printed on the block.

A Winter Turn occurs when all 5 cards in hand have been played. Cleopatra must move back to Alexandria, where she begins her journey wherever. Navis move back to friendly port on the same sea (I think we played this wrong too as we thought it was not an automatic move but needs to expend MPs, which doesn't.) All cities can supply a maximum 3 blocks plus the value of the city. Each surplus block is disbanded to the Levy Pool. It is hard and requires player's planning skill and long range ability to foresee what would happen in a year's time.

All in all, this is a game that fills with tension and compactness. Block games are not my cup of tea usually but I admit this is the best block game since I played Eastfront and Hellenes. Every ancient zealot should buy and play this excellent game. On the surface, the game seems to be constrained by the areas to move around with. The strategy one can employ is embedded deeply inside the game system, the map, the units, which is not easily seen but to be explored by the players.
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Dan Raspler
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Lawrence, in our play-throughs we finally decided that the event cards were too dominant... that the interesting challenge of maneuver and levying always ended up overwhelmed by the overly powerful god effects. Curious if you had any similar thoughts.
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The Event Cards are there to sway the overall battle. I don't think they are too powerful, but that's subjective opinion. I try not to fret over such trivialities and just enjoy the game.
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mark coomey
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Dan R. wrote:
Lawrence, in our play-throughs we finally decided that the event cards were too dominant... that the interesting challenge of maneuver and levying always ended up overwhelmed by the overly powerful god effects. Curious if you had any similar thoughts.


I've played a number of games now and at first glance too and from what I had read, I thought the Event cards were too strong as well. However, in a way they are offset by not having any levies to bolster the strength of your armies. If you get a hand with 2 or 3 event cards, you'll soon see what I mean! Also There are only a couple of event cards which are particularly handy in my opinion. The others are only handy depending on situational circumstances.

Regardless, this is one of my favourite block games. Right up there with the grand-daddy, Hammer of the Scots.

wiz
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Tim Koppang
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Dan R. wrote:
Lawrence, in our play-throughs we finally decided that the event cards were too dominant... that the interesting challenge of maneuver and levying always ended up overwhelmed by the overly powerful god effects. Curious if you had any similar thoughts.

Not my experience at all. A well-timed god card can of course help sway the war in a player's favor, but certainly doesn't overwhelm the rest of the game. If anything, as previous posters have mentioned, a god card can be a double edged sword. Levy points are invaluable, and a god card can leave you with a shortage. Also, god cards tend to be localized to one front in the war. I can usually recover by maneuvering somewhere else.
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Dan Raspler
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We played a number of times, and found that interesting maneuver and clever play was universally overwhelmed by a constant downpour of god cards.

The basics of the game were terrific... but the folks I played with all agreed that the super powers made everything else inconsequential.

I know folks don't want to consider this when they are enjoying an expensive wargame... but I bet most of the surprises and the drama from most playings of the game arise from sneak attacks, double-moves, defender first-fire, etc., etc., ad nauseum.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Dan R. wrote:
We played a number of times, and found that interesting maneuver and clever play was universally overwhelmed by a constant downpour of god cards.

The basics of the game were terrific... but the folks I played with all agreed that the super powers made everything else inconsequential.

I know folks don't want to consider this when they are enjoying an expensive wargame... but I bet most of the surprises and the drama from most playings of the game arise from sneak attacks, double-moves, defender first-fire, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Interesting (in a "why am I not surprised" way). It was the god cards that kept me from purchasing this game in the first place. I love block games, and I love the subject matter, but my gut instinct was that those cards didn't feel right. Being able to target and zap an army from across the sea just felt wrong in a historical game. I remember that I drew a lot of fire in the thread where I voiced my concerns.
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Niko Ruf
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Dan R. wrote:
We played a number of times, and found that interesting maneuver and clever play was universally overwhelmed by a constant downpour of god cards.


I have played about a dozen games now and never had that impression. In fact, I often discard god cards (and not just Neptune) to keep cards with high move or levy. Movement and levy points are scarce, so my personal impression is that god cards are easily balanced by the fact that they have no levy and at most one move.
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Niko Ruf
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Sphere wrote:
It was the god cards that kept me from purchasing this game in the first place. I love block games, and I love the subject matter, but my gut instinct was that those cards didn't feel right. Being able to target and zap an army from across the sea just felt wrong in a historical game. I remember that I drew a lot of fire in the thread where I voiced my concerns.


Vulcan is the only "god card" that can't be explained as a force march/stratagem which is only attributed to a god for period flavor. And it is often not a strong card - you can't immediately attack the weakened stack, so all you do is buy time while your opponent moves in reinforcements and builds the damaged blocks back up. I frequently discard Vulcan from my hand for that reason. Vulcan is only really powerfull when you know the location of a 1 strength leader, which you can then eliminate permanently. If you are really worried about that, I would recommned you remove that one card from the deck. It won't affect the game much (there is a good chance it won't be played in any given game anyway). But keep the other god cards and think "force march" or whatever when you play them.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Niko Ruf wrote:
Vulcan is the only "god card" that can't be explained as a force march/stratagem which is only attributed to a god for period flavor. And it is often not a strong card - you can't immediately attack the weakened stack, so all you do is buy time while your opponent moves in reinforcements and builds the damaged blocks back up. I frequently discard Vulcan from my hand for that reason. Vulcan is only really powerfull when you know the location of a 1 strength leader, which you can then eliminate permanently. If you are really worried about that, I would recommned you remove that one card from the deck. It won't affect the game much (there is a good chance it won't be played in any given game anyway). But keep the other god cards and think "force march" or whatever when you play them.

Thanks, Niko. You are one of my GeekBuddies, and I always appreciate hearing your views. I have to tell you, though, that I have enormous respect for Dan and the crew he games with (JR Tracy et al). When their verdict after playing lines up so well with my original misgivings, I don't think I could possibly be persuaded to buy. I'd try it of course if one of the guys in my local circle bought it, but that's unlikely.
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Ron Draker
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I think the god cards make each game fresh and exciting and with a little experience each card by itself is not overly powerful. You have to think carefully about how to set yourself up for the optimal use of the cards but then many times you telegraph that you have a god card and your opponent cancels it with their own god card.

Without them I think Caesar would be hard pressed to win a game.

The cards certainly add more chaos to the game and I understand that's not to everyone's taste.
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Josh Malbon
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My friend was stuck with all the 'god cards' in Hammer of the Scots during one year, it totally lost him the game.

In JC, they have to be used at the most opportune moments to be truly godlike. Most of the time I find the levies will cure any godlessness.


Really don't understand this wrath for these cards.soblue
Go play Cyclades!
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Lawrence Hung
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Dan R. wrote:
Lawrence, in our play-throughs we finally decided that the event cards were too dominant... that the interesting challenge of maneuver and levying always ended up overwhelmed by the overly powerful god effects. Curious if you had any similar thoughts.


Dan, I don't have the similar thoughts. In fact, the only cards that are truly serious are Vulcan and Mars. I have yet to develop a good strategy around other cards, like Neptune.

The cards add many spices to an otherwise, in my view, mechanical, move-fight-replace system. Interestingly, I don't discard the God cards at all lest blasphemous to do so. I find that Pompey could not possibly win without them. Perhaps just me, Pompey didn't have options as many as Caesar except appeal to God.laugh

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sixthecat wrote:
Really don't understand this wrath for these cards.soblue
Go play Cyclades!

Wrath? Why do people so often escalate and re-characterize what was actually said when responding?

I have played Cyclades, and think it's excellent. The extremely powerful god cards in it are entirely appropriate for the type of game it is. I would find them highly inappropriate in a more serious study of ancient greek warfare, though, for instance in a game like Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War.

Lawrence Hung wrote:
Perhaps just me, Pompey didn't have options as many as Caesar except appeal to God.

I don't begrudge him appealing to the gods - generals in every era have done that. It's another thing entirely to know in advance that your appeal will be answered, and that you can target the god's wrath with the accuracy of a cruise missle. That would bug me.
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BrentS
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Dan R. wrote:
We played a number of times, and found that interesting maneuver and clever play was universally overwhelmed by a constant downpour of god cards.



We have played over a dozen times and in no case found this to be so. Any play of an event card, however dramatic its result, is easily offset by a loss of tempo while the other player is making multiple group moves and levies (with the obvious exception of the Apollo card).

IMHO, if there is any mechanism that allows for game-swinging surprise moves and strategically opens up the map, it's amphibious movement.....which I think is the key feature that makes this game such a pleasure to play. The most exciting games of JC I have played have been determined by thoughtful, creative, unexpected uses of amphibious movement, not god cards.

Brent.



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BrentS
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Sphere wrote:

I don't begrudge him appealing to the gods - generals in every era have done that. It's another thing entirely to know in advance that your appeal will be answered, and that you can target the god's wrath with the accuracy of a cruise missle. That would bug me.


I think I said this in another review but with the exception of Vulcan, all of the event cards plausibly depict the actions of very human agencies.....forced marches, surprise attacks, countermoves, defections.....possibly retrospectively attributed to divine intervention. The major protagonists in this war, Caesar in particular, had no hesitation in manipulating portents and events to give their actions the apparent seal of divine sanction in the eyes of their troops and Rome.

The sticking point here seems to always be the Vulcan card.....and I'd agree it feels contrived and out of place. That one card doesn't ruin an otherwise fine game for me.....but if it did I'd just remove it from the deck.

Brent.
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Tim Koppang
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goshublue wrote:
We have played over a dozen times and in no case found this to be so. Any play of an event card, however dramatic its result, is easily offset by a loss of tempo while the other player is making multiple group moves and levies (with the obvious exception of the Apollo card).

IMHO, if there is any mechanism that allows for game-swinging surprise moves and strategically opens up the map, it's amphibious movement.....which I think is the key feature that makes this game such a pleasure to play. The most exciting games of JC I have played have been determined by thoughtful, creative, unexpected uses of amphibious movement, not god cards.

Brent nailed it here. Completely agree.
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Control of the seas is so important in JC and to ignore that would be at your own peril.
 
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I think the power of the god cards are way over stated. If they were so important why am I disappointed if I get more than one of them and why do I usually end up discarding one of them?

The game is less chaotic than Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage and the Vulcan card is no worse than playing the Pestilence card in Hannibal. The worst it usually gives is 3 or 4 step losses to an enemy stack while you are giving up the ability to move and losing 1-3 replacements. Doesn't seem like a game changer to me...

The other cards are even more situational. As stated before the cards just give a little chaos to a game that might become a little too chess-like for my tastes otherwise.

For me they add a little bit of the unexpected - and what general fought a war and didn't have to adjust to unexpected events? The cards just add to the immersion.

This game is probably the best purchase I have made all year. It fits the role of a fun, light wargame perfectly.
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Dan Raspler
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Ron D wrote:
I think the god cards make each game fresh and exciting and with a little experience each card by itself is not overly powerful. You have to think carefully about how to set yourself up for the optimal use of the cards but then many times you telegraph that you have a god card and your opponent cancels it with their own god card.

Without them I think Caesar would be hard pressed to win a game.


I find it pretty funny that in the span of a dozen posts, we have two different players saying that the two different sides can't win without the god cards. Obviously, you two guys should play each other without god cards in the deck and may the strongest player win.

Either way, I think that explains precisely why I think the god/event cards diminish what could be an outstanding game. It's tricky and challenging to bring superior forces against a prepared enemy using the standard movement rules... but with a god card it's easy and automatic. Generally, it's so risky to make "low odds" attacks in JC that folks avoid it until they get a super-power card that gives them an advantage. And once they get the right god card, their enemy is overwhelmed (via double-move or sneak attack or whatever) and forced back. Infinitely more interesting, in my opinion, to do that strictly with maneuver and levy.

Either way, I'm glad folks are into the game.

sixthecat wrote:
Really don't understand this wrath for these cards.


Yes, I am seething with blinding wrath. I can barely control myself, so wrathful am I.

Seriously, Josh, I only replied to Lawrence to begin with because he tends to be a pretty traditional wargamer and I was curious to hear his opinion on the event/god cards.
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BrentS
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Dan R. wrote:


I find it pretty funny that in the span of a dozen posts, we have two different players saying that the two different sides can't win without the god cards. Obviously, you two guys should play each other without god cards in the deck and may the strongest player win.


While I don't agree with the observations that either side needs event cards to win, I find that when there is strongly divided opinion about which side has the upper hand in an asymmetrical game, it usually means that the design has been successful in delivering balanced asymmetry....and I've found that to be very much true of this game.

Quote:
Either way, I think that explains precisely why I think the god/event cards diminish what could be an outstanding game. It's tricky and challenging to bring superior forces against a prepared enemy using the standard movement rules... but with a god card it's easy and automatic. Generally, it's so risky to make "low odds" attacks in JC that folks avoid it until they get a super-power card that gives them an advantage. And once they get the right god card, their enemy is overwhelmed (via double-move or sneak attack or whatever) and forced back. Infinitely more interesting, in my opinion, to do that strictly with maneuver and levy.


As I've said above, I don't think it's primarily the event cards that open up strategic opportunity in this game and prevent it from being chess-like....I think that there are appropriate maneuvering opportunities built into the map and the amphibious movement rules which determine the outcome of games.

As others have pointed out, the event cards are rarely overly powerful and the timing of their play is critical, not just to getting any benefit out of them but also to avoid them backfiring disastrously. The Mars and Neptune cards can go terribly wrong if they don't get the job done as all surviving blocks get two unanswered battlebacks (or battles back), the Mercury and Pluto cards require careful planning and positioning to gain maximum benefit (and are therefore IMHO the best designed of the event cards) and Apollo is inherently balanced and all about opportunistic timing. The much maligned Vulcan is probably the weakest of them all....invariably its play is immediately followed by the opponent levying the lost steps, although timing here is again critical if the card the enemy played has a low levy value and you plan to push for first move on the next card play, or if you can follow up a battle to eliminate one step blocks....so it's not the Enola Gay it's advertised to be. The only card I find to be highly game swinging is Jupiter, but again it requires planning and setup and an army positioning itself adjacent to an enemy target worthy of defection is open to potential attack from that group before it drops the event.

As with CDG's, exercising versatility by planning play from a random card draw is a great challenge and a lot of fun if the cards are well designed. It's clear you haven't found that to be true for JC, but it's also clear from this thread and others that many players find that the event cards don't overwhelm play, are nicely integrated into the deck, require good planning to use effectively, provide excellent opportunity for opening up the game (although they're not the dominant mechanism for doing so), add good flavour and variety to play, and overall are well designed.

Brent.

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Josh Malbon
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Thanks Brent!

I tried to write close to the same thing last night, but The Geek went down for maintenance.

Like what you said, the god cards take a lot of planning, and even still their effects can be just as costly as a loss as their gain.

My friend hit me with Vulcan the other night, but my three levies the same turn practically erased all the damage of Vulcan and allowed me two extra moves.

I think the wording of the cards deceive others into thinking they are more powerful than they really are. Most only allow you to maneuver 1 group compared to being able to move up to 3 or 4 groups from standard cards.

It saddens me that because just a couple cards can sway someone away from what I find to be a quite intense battle of strategy, wit, and wager.


Merry Christmas!
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Grant Dalgliesh
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I think the wording of the cards deceive others into thinking they are more powerful than they really are. Most only allow you to maneuver 1 group compared to being able to move up to 3 or 4 groups from standard cards.


It is definitely true that they sound more powerful than they are. The limitations of the God cards are subtle but very significant.

Many a Mars card attack has gone bad, very bad - and then the reserves show up... The wording doesn't caution you out loud: the defender will be getting 2 shots in a row - watch out...

Experienced players can often predict upcoming god cards and cancel them or hedge bets with positions that limit the effect. In fact its a greater challenge (and achievement) to uncork a surprise god card on your opponent. My favorite card right now is Mercury for its use in surprise.

Vulcan = Decimate = Plague. The effect is easy to rationalize. Playing the card has to be timed well or the enemy can take advantage of your non-move. Cautious players avoid letting leaders get down to 1 step, retreating if they sense that Vulcan might be coming to town next card...

Merry Christmas all!


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Ryan Nip
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If you think that the Vulcan is too strong, you may play it "target one enemy group adjacent to a friendly city"
 
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Justin Thompson
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Just a few comments!

It seems to me that the issue of who wins more is pretty settled. I am pleased to hear folks express their feelings on who has the advantage. If you must know we designed the game to be in favor of Pompey. It is a small percentage toward Pompey but a good player would be willing to play either side. We gave a step or two to the player who played Caesar at the start of the game at the WBC. We did this because the defensive players out number the offensive players 2-1. As you know Caesar must get busy to win or he will be overwhelmed. I have played over 400 games and I find that either side can win. It comes down to the player you are playing.

The God cards! If you see the cards as the only way to get things done you are missing the over all strategy. This game is designed to be about strategic planning like chess. You have to be willing to lose a few pieces to gain ground or to hold it. I tend to make a over all campaign in my head for the entire year after I see my cards.

The main card folks dislike is the Vulcan Card. I love it as I can stop an attack for a card play or two or even longer if I use it correctly. I try to play it and then attack some where else so he has to react to my new offensive play instead of where I used the Vulcan Card. Remember you want your opponent reacting to you not the other way around. A Vulcan card can be used to attack a large stack or kill a leader as you have heard before. Have you ever used it to open a sea zone up? If your opponent has a 1 step ship in a sea zone you can also kill that. There are so many ways that the event cards can be used to change the game. Do you defend or do you attack? It is in the Gods hands!

Justin Thompson
Julius Caesar Designer
kingmaker@prezcon.com
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