My girlfriend and I like playing 2-player card games like Casino, Spades, and Cribbage. Last winter I noticed that Kosmos had a line of two player card games and two in particular seemed marketed towards couples, as their themes were classic battles of the sexes: Hera & Zeus, and Caesar & Cleopatra. After some hemming and hawing, I decided on the latter, and bought it for us for Valentine’s Day. We then got down to some downright feuding over the future of Egypt. The game did not disappoint, and we come back to it again and again.
The theme is only loosely connected to the mechanics. Caesar and Cleopatra vie with one another for control of the Roman patricians -- 21 named officials in five groups. Three of the groups (Senators, Praetors, and Quaestors) have five members each, while the other two groups (Aedilus and Censors) have only two members each. These cards are arranged in their five respective stacks at the center of the table. It doesn’t say in the rules whether these should be face up or face down, and whether they should be arranged so that you can see how many are left or not. It turns out none of this matters, so after a few goes we’ve decided that they should be laid out overlapping so that the number left is clearly visible, and face down, so that when you win one you can turn it over and say, “Ah, Myopis Oculis!” (or whomever yours turns out to be).
The way you win these patricians over to your side is by playing “Influence Cards” from your hand – really just cards numbered from 1 to 5, although they too have character names in keeping with the theme – Consul and Centurian, for example, for Caesar, and Astrologer and High Priestess for Cleopatra. You start the game with one influence card on your side of each stack, all face down. On your turn, you may play two cards face up, or one card face down, on your side of any of the five stacks. When a “vote of confidence” on that stack is called (more on this later), all influence cards in that column are turned face up, whoever has the highest total wins the top patrician off of that stack, and both players remove an influence card from their side of the stack. You may have no more than five influence cards on any one stack, and the total number of influence cards you and your opponent have played on any one stack may never be more than eight. In addition to the 1 thru 5 cards, there is also a Philosopher, which, if played on a stack, typically makes the smaller total win. Unfortunately, the rules covering how a Philosopher works in all possible situations take up almost a page in the 8-page rulebook, and even after 10 plays we still have to refer to this section.
In addition to playing influence cards, each player may play up to one “action card” per turn – either before or after playing the influence cards. These actions typically mess up your opponents’ plans in less straightforward ways than simply outinfluencing her. For example, you may Assassinate a critical influence card (ideally a Philosopher or a 5), Scout on one of your opponent’s stacks to turn them all face up, Castle to redistribute two of your stacks and turn all those cards face down, Spy on your opponent’s hand and remove one card of your choice, or Wrath of God an entire column (your stack and hers). Finally, there is a Veto, which can be used to “Counterspell” one of your opponent’s action cards, to use some Magic: The Gathering terminology.
After you have played your one or two influence cards, and played up to one action card, you are ready for the vote of confidence. You now turn over the top card of the “vote of confidence” pile (did I mention those?) to see which group of patricians are voting today. This pile has only eight cards in it – one for each group of patricians and three “orgy” cards, which mean no vote is taken that turn. Many times have I had all five piles covered only to turn over an orgy card – and groan! It is a running joke in this game that imperial domination (involving slavery, assassination, and who knows what else) is good (since that’s the goal of the game), but orgies (purely pleasurable pasttimes) are bad (since they interfere with your pursuit of the aforementioned goal). Anyone turned off by the mere presence of orgy cards will have to grapple with this irony. At the end of your turn you replenish your hand to five cards, which may be drawn from either your influence or action card decks. Thus you decide what ratio of influence to action cards to keep in your hand.
The game ends when either all the patricians have been won or both players cannot play – which can happen if they have both run out of influence cards. In practice, I’ve never seen both players run out but I have seen one player run out before the other. Since each player has the option to play either one face up or two face down, they can go through their influence card reserves at different rates. Running out first will leave you at a major disadvantage at game’s end, though, as your opponent can make the most of her limited resources knowing full well you have none left. At any rate, each patrician won is worth one point towards victory. Additional points are awarded for having captured a majority of patricians in a group, all the patricians in a group, and a majority of patricians in a particular 5-group secretly selected at the beginning of the game.
A few tactics are worth mentioning before moving onto broader strategy. In the games I have played, playing a card face down is a tactic rarely used, since the loss of tempo doesn’t seem worth the gain in surprise. The card will be turned face up anyway the next time that group of patricians is voted on, which could be the next vote. The only other reason for playing a card face down is that it makes it immune to Assassination. Philosophers, then, tend to get played face down, as well as one or two other cards throughout the game as decoy philosophers. These cards must be Scouted to be turned face up, or destroyed blind with a Wrath of God – if that Wrath is not Vetoed.
You only get two Vetoes, so use them wisely. Probably the most powerful card that might be Vetoed is the Wrath of God. However, you may not get the chance, since if your opponent Spies on your hand while you are holding a Veto, she will probably choose to discard the Veto. You should therefore Veto the Spy – since you will lose the card anyway, better to not let her see the rest of your hand. Either way, you now have one less chance to Veto that Wrath! Therefore, try to Spy when you suspect your opponent is holding a Veto. You can see that there is a significant metagame component creeping into the tactics – much of the fun is in the mindgames you play on your opponent, which make it perfect for couples who know each other well and love trying to thwart each other.
The rule of no more than eight cards per stack means that a vote is “forced” as soon as an eighth card is played on a stack, and this vote is in addition to the vote of confidence normally scheduled for that turn. Keep an eye out for columns with six cards in which you can lay down two more and force the vote when it would be in your favor to do so. Also, make sure you remember which patricians have already voted this time around. One of the orgy cards includes a reshuffle instruction, so there is no guarantee that you will get through all five votes before a reshuffle; nevertheless, if the first card after the reshuffle is, say, “Senators”, then the Senators won’t be voting until the next reshuffle, so allocate your resources elsewhere. Likewise, if there is only one card left in the pile, it must be the orgy/reshuffle card, so this is not the turn to play Assassinates or Wraths of God – since there is no vote, they won’t guarantee you anything, and your opponent will have a full turn to patch up her stacks before the next vote.
A key consideration when it comes to strategy is the rule that allows each player to stack their action deck – that is, at the beginning of the game, they may organize those cards in the order they wish to draw them, although they may not peek during the game. It’s therefore possible for some players to always know what they are about to draw, as there are only 13 action cards to remember the order of. So, what might a good ordering be?
Ideally you would want to draw a Veto early and hold it until you need it. However, if you suspect an early Spy, you may want to duck the Spy and draw the Veto after that occurs (your opponent must always know how many action and influence cards you have in your hand, so she can wait to Spy until you draw your first action cards; therefore, to avoid losing the Veto, order it third, after a sacrificial Scout and Assassination). Assassination cards, which you have 4 of, are best sprinkled through the deck. If you end up playing the way we have settled into – almost always playing two face up cards – then Scouts quickly become worthless. Therefore, you want to draw these early while there are still face down cards on the table. There is nothing worse than getting stuck with a Scout (or two!) in your hand that you cannot play because (as we say in MTG) there is no valid target. Wrath of God is ideal in the midgame after you’ve seen at least one of your opponent’s Vetoes hit the discard pile. Castling cards work well near the end of the game when your opponent’s (and your own) resources may be thin. A castle combined with playing a philosopher can turn two losing columns into winners. But again, keep in mind your own metagame as you stack your deck.
One other strategic consideration is the correct ratio of influence cards to action cards in your hand. Since you have the option of playing two influence cards per turn, stranding yourself with only one influence card slot (because you have drawn four action cards) limits your playing options. However, you may find yourself in that spot if you are digging for a particular action card. It’s probably not worth it to dig too deeply – you should instead make the most of what you’ve got. On the other hand, holding more than 3 influence cards is an embarrassment of options (the cards are only numbered from 1 to 5, for Pete’s sake) that simultaneously limits your actions options. Try to keep 2 or 3 of each type in your hand at all times. Of course, there’s nothing more delicious than being Spied on with nothing to offer except a handful of 3’s, 2’s, and 1’s.
Finally, a word about playing influence cards. The game will test your resource allocation skills, since even when all your opponent’s influence cards are face up, the correct move still isn’t obvious. The problem is that at any moment, the patrician cards to be won are worth different amounts to you and your opponent. If your opponent has won one Censor, and you have won none, then the next Censor to be won is worth two points to her (giving her a majority) but only one point to you. If we think of your current score as a baseline, the difference between these two outcomes is 3 points:
|1 – (-2)| = 3
Meanwhile, your opponent and you have also both won two Senators, so the next one won is worth two points to both of you, as it would give either of you a majority. The difference between these two possibilities is 4 points:
|2 – (-2)| = 4
Therefore, it’s more valuable to you to capture the Senator than the Censor, right? Not necessarily. Because after that fifth Senator is captured, that pile will be empty, but if your opponent captures the second Censor, then after the next reshuffle you will face the same situation: the next Censor captured is worth two points to her (for all of them), but only one point to you...
If you have trouble with math (and even if you don’t), the art on the cards may be slightly distracting. Cleopatra’s cards depict a stunning array of beautiful Egyptian women – there is even one that is nude, although this is not immediately obvious. Caesar’s men are not quite as uniformly attractive, and are bound to get mixed reviews on their aesthetic appeal, but the “Gigolo” is a (local) favorite. Because of the art, the “orgy” cards, and the overall theme, the game may have special appeal for couples, as I indicated at the outset.
All in all, C&C is a game with a fair amount of strategy yet enough chance to keep the game exciting until the end. The game takes about an hour to play, as advertised. It’s one we keep coming back to.
Michael Van Biesbrouck
Philosophy Made Easy
If there isn't a tie and the players have different numbers of philosophers present, then the the patrician goes to the player who would not ordinarily get it. Discard philosophers if there isn't a tie. Do everything else exactly the same as you would normally. (So the person with the higher total loses the highest influence card, for example.)