At Wednesday night gaming with the DREGS (Durham-Raleigh EuroGaming Society) the opportunity came up for a six-player game of Ave Caesar. I’ll just say at the outset that this is a game where the more, the merrier.
To summarize the game, you run four races, awarding victory points for placing. There are two tracks, one on each side of the board, and you run them in opposite directions in different races, for variety. Each race is three laps around the track. At the end of the first or second lap, you must stop in front of Caesar’s podium and toss him your coin.
You have a three card hand from which to play; the cards are numbered 1-6, that being the number of spaces you must travel. But you can’t move through other players’ chariots, and you have to move the full number of spaces based on the card you play, so if you’re stuck without a play, you skip your turn. With six players (the maximum) this happens frequently.
From where I was sitting, LuAann followed me, then Adam, Kevin, Si and Mike. Si was randomly determined to start the first race. Normally, if you’re in the lead, or tied for lead, you can’t play a 6, but the exception is on the first turn, and that’s how Si started, blazing ahead. But soon we were all jostling for position on the narrow track.
A combination of luck and optimal use of your numbers can let you work your way to the front of the race, even if you start late. Since players are always playing to block those who are behind them, the game gets raucous. Every blocking move and player pass is an opportunity for catcalls and laughter all around.
As it happened, I won the first race, for six victory points. The other placers were awarded between one and four points, and Adam finished last for no points. Since Adam was last in the first race, he started the next one on the new track. That meant I was going fifth – no fun. I ended up placing fourth for two points. Adam was the winner, which kept the game competitive.
The third race was the most fun. During the second lap, Kevin got stuck behind everyone else for turn after turn. This can happen to you if you have only high-numbered cards and other players keep playing cards that place them right in front of you. He was stuck for so long that Adam nearly lapped him. From then on, getting stuck and having to pass became known as “pulling a Kevin.”
Another source of amusement came from the requirement to hail Caesar. You’re supposed to stop in front of his podium and call out “Ave Caesar!” as you turn in your coin. But people preferred to be inventive and usually sarcastic, using some other phrase. Like “#*&$ you, Caesar”, since having to stop in front of him really cramps your style. LuAnn got the most laughs when she turned in her coin and said, “Pizza, Pizza!”
In the third race, Adam won again and I placed fourth, again. That meant Adam had twelve points to my ten. It was on.
At the end of the first lap of the fourth race, because of crowding in front of the podium, Adam, Kevin and I all skipped hailing Caesar. This is risky, since you will then have to hail Caesar on the second lap, and if your position isn’t ideal when that time comes, you could lose turns. But, with the others busy paying homage, the three of us were able to move to the head of the track.
Adam, Kevin and I were now in a group well ahead of the other three. Everything hinged on getting to Caesar first. I managed to take the lead. In my hand I had 1, 2 and 5. The 5 took me into the area in front of the podium, and I drew a 6 to replace it. Adam and Kevin were effectively trapped behind me now. A clever plan formed in my mind.
If I placed first and Adam placed second, the game would be tied sixteen to sixteen. I had to insure that Adam got bogged down among the other players before I raced ahead. So I played the 2, inching forward in front of Caesar and keeping Adam and Kevin trapped behind me. My draw was a 1.
Next I played a 1. Kevin and Adam were getting extremely annoyed with me. The other players had caught up. I was accused of giving up the race. But now I could unleash my master plan. Since Si was one space ahead of me, I was no longer in the lead. I could play the 6, and it was my turn to blaze ahead.
Luckily, I kept drawing high numbers and was able to maintain my lead. As I had hoped, Adam became trapped among the morass of other players, and could no longer challenge me. No one else could beat my total points by coming in second. Victory was mine!
So a combination of luck and clever play won me the game. And with so many players, there was no end to the fun and excitement for all.