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Caesar's War: The Conquest of Gaul, 58-52 BC» Forums » Reviews

Subject: More game than meets the eye rss

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Steve Shockley
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Seffner
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* * * WHAT IS IT ? * * *

Caesar's War is a two player game published in 2012 by Decision Games. The designer is Joseph Miranda, who must be one of tabletop gaming's most prolific designers. This is a "mini-game"; that is, it has a very small 11 by 17 inch map, 18 micro-cards, and 40 half inch counters. That's it! You can play this game on a TV dinner tray. The rules are only a few pages, and the game can be played in 1-2 hours (perhaps less if the Romans achieve a quick victory; more on that later.)

The subject matter is Julius Caesar's attempt to bring Gaul (modern day France) under the control of the Roman Republic. I am no expert on the history, but my limited understanding is that the war was a prolonged affair, matching the superior equipment and discipline of the Roman soldiers against the recalcitrance and persistence of the various gallic tribes, who refused to "stay conquered". The game simulates this well, as the Roman player has stronger armies, as well as a greater degree of command flexibility. The barbarian player will likely lose more battles and find it difficult to hold onto his fortresses, however he has a variety of cards that allow him to spawn armies behind Roman lines and engage in constant harrassment of the Roman army. This has the result of making it easy for the Romans to take the fortresses, but slightly harder to hold onto them (the Roman player must hold all 4 fortresses through the subsequent barbarian player turn to win.)


* * * G A M E P L A Y * * *


One player controls the Romans, the other the barbarians, a loosely knit group of warriors attempting to challenge Caesar's invasion.

The game is played over 13 game turns, with victory defaulting to the barbarians should Rome fail to obtain its victory conditions by game end. The Romans win by seizing and holding 4 of the 6 barbarian fortresses, and by killing the barbarian leader Vercingetorix. The barbarians win by either preventing this, or by killing Caesar and seizing 2 of the 3 Roman fortresses (an unlikely outcome in my experience.)

Players will alternate drawing cards from their individual decks, resolving the turn sequence one at a time. The turn sequence is basically: recruit units, move units, resolve battles. The units are moved around a point to point map; no hexes here. Battles happen when enemy units occupy the same space.

Caesar's war uses an elegant system whereby the card drawn dictates which units may be moved, and how far. For example, a Roman card might say something like "legions 3", meaning that all legion units may move three spaces.

Barbarian cards generally break down activations by tribe. A card might say something like "Celts 3" meaning the celt units (if any) can move three spaces.

The game does feature naval units, which enter play via card draw. These won't often play a large role in the game, although a clever Roman player can use them to sneak units across the sea in an effort to seize that lone fortress waaaaaay over in Brittania.

Combat is resolved by the time honored buckets of dice tradition. Each unit has a number on it, and this is the number of dice it rolls in combat. Generally, barbarians hit on a 5 or 6 and Romans hit on a 4, 5, or 6 - see aforementioned Roman superiority. Hits can be either retreats or eliminations, with certain elite units rolling on an advantageous combat table.

Recruiting - also handled by cards - adds an interesting twist. The barbarian player will draw cards that allow him to add units from particular tribes, with the restriction that the units must appear in areas associated with that tribe (each space on the map is color-coded by tribe type; most are celtic, and one tribe - the helvetians - have only one space!) The Romans must always recruit either in a Roman fortress (their starting spaces, often far from the action), with Caesar (only one unit may be placed with him per turn), or in a Roman camp. The Romans have 2 camps, which allow them to recruit there and draw supply, as well as functioning as fortresses (enemies must roll sixes to have any combat effect; barbarian fortresses do this too, with the caveat that an adjacent Roman camp negates this power -- very powerful for Rome!) These camps can be moved around, but the Romans can only ever have 2 on the map at any given time.


* * * T H O U G H T S * * *


I really like this game. Disclaimer: I enjoy quick games with healthy doses of randomness. One reviewer described the game as "perfunctory". Perhaps a fair criticism, as it is very simple and quick to play. But! There is more here than meets the eye. Hidden within this tiny package is a pretty neat game that has, on more than one occasion, had me hollering, pumping my fist, and issuing bellicose declarations/threats in a Caesar-like voice (I'm not sure what a Caesar-like voice is exactly.) This is buckets of dice, beer and pretzels type stuff. There is just enough historical flavor to evoke the theme, but don't go in expecting a great deal of simulative capacity.

As published, the game favors the Romans. Because Vercingetorix is required for the barbarians to exercise full command (your supreme leader lets you search through the discard pile twice a game instead of randomly drawing your card), and because his appearance is predicated on drawing a certain card, the barbarian player is more likely than his opponent to be hamstrung by unlucky draws.

My solution: do not tie the twice-a-game-pull-from-the-discard ability to the presence of a supreme leader. I just give each player two "command tokens" at the beginning of the game, which can be spent on any turn to pull from the discards. This evens things up, and makes the game just a little more deterministic - not a bad thing, as there is much randomness otherwise.

So my conclusion: you should get this game. The MSRP is like 12.95 or something. Totally worth it, man. The Roman player will cavort about the map, kicking butt and taking fortresses. He will say ha, ha, I am so kicking your Gallic butt! But then the barbarians will draw that pesky "Celtic Tribe Rises" card and BLAMMO, his unsuspecting legions chilling in Alesia will get jumped by three very angry Celtic units. What happened? the Roman player will think. I thought I had this thing wrapped up! Stuff like this happens a lot in Caesar's War, and it's part of what makes the game so much fun.

So there it is. Caesar's War, by Decision Games. Indulge your inner tough guy and have a fun time to boot.


RATING : 9/10




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Rick Thomas
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Thanks for the review!
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Julian Donohoe
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Great review for a game I love. Short and simple with the Celts enjoying an outside chance of victory. Even if they don't win outright, we count any battlefield success as a moral victory.

Have also used it as a base campaign game for De Bellis Antiquitatus (DBA) miniatures rules with great success - although Caesar was still victorious.
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