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Introducing Julius Caesar



Block war games. The kid inside nearly every wargamer loves them. It must be something about blocks and our inner child! And with good reason - they have shown themselves to be one of the best introductions to wargames, and even been enjoyed by many a non-wargamer. So if you're not a wargamer, don't stop reading just yet. Columbia Games has a solid pedigree of success with some excellent introductory block war games, beginning with the classics of the genre, Quebec 1759 and War of 1812, a system that was honed into the highly popular Hammer of the Scots and the more recent title Richard III: The Wars of the Roses. The newest kid on this block, and built on the same system, is Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar is set in the time of the Roman Civil War in the years 49-45 BC. Caesar’s forces are poised to cross the Rubicon and take over control of Rome, while Pompey is determined to oppose Caesar and has control of much of the Roman Empire. Which Roman faction will prevail? That is in your hands to decide with this game.

Another fantastic introductory block war game from Columbia Games, Julius Caesar was designed by Justin Thompson (convention director of PrezCon) along with Grant Dalgliesh. Could this prove to be Columbia's best yet? Read on to find out more.




COMPONENTS

Game box

As is the case with most block war games from Columbia Games, the game is housed in a nondescript black cardboard box, with a colourful box cover sleeve around it. In this case, it features the cover boy himself, Julius Caesar, in combat.



The back of the box shows some of the map, cards and blocks, along with a list of the contents.



Component list

So what are the components you get with the game? When we unpack everything, here's what we find:
● 1 colour map
● 63 wooden blocks (with stickers)
● 27 cards
● 4 dice
● 1 rule book



Rule book

The rulebook is the standard Columbia Games black-and-white issue, clearly enumerated and typical of a Columbia block war game.



Columbia Games offers a nice colour version as a free download from their website here:
http://www.columbiagames.com/resources/3121/Julius-Caesar-Ru...
This is a great way to learn about the game ahead of a purchase, or while you're waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

Map

The map of the Mediterranean has very attractive colours and is pleasant to look at. It's made of thin card, and is of a similar quality as most other maps from Columbia.



The sea regions and roads, as well as the place names are well done.



One minor concern with the map is that it is a bit on the small side, because when blocks are in neighbouring towns it can be difficult to tell who is where. Also the blocks obliterate the name of the place, so often you need to lift up the blocks to see where you are. These problems will diminish with more game play and as the game progresses, since you usually don’t have large groups of blocks in one location due to the wintering rules, but the game would have been well served with a larger map.

Blocks

The main playing components are beautiful blocks: light brown for Caesar’s side and light green for Pompey’s side.



You'll need to apply the stickers to the blocks yourself, with the "Cleopatra" sticker going on the single blue block.



Most people will already be familiar with how blocks work in Columbia Games, including the `Step Reduction' mechanic by which blocks are rotated to reflect diminishing strength.



Each troop type is designated clearly by different pictures: eagles for legions, horse and rider for cavalry, light troop for auxiliary, ship for naval unit and a man’s head for the leaders in the game. The beauty of block war games is the fog-of-war concept, where your blocks remain hidden from your opponent until they are revealed in combat.



Troops that need to be levied in specific areas, which are the legions and the cavalry, have the name of the place where they need to be levied written on the block. The artwork on the blocks is very well done and Roman numerals are used for the step strength of the block, a nice touch of using period convention for the blocks. They look great on the map, and are very attractive.



Cards

The game also comes with a deck of cards. The back of the cards is a nice red colour with a golden eagle as well as the name of Julius Caesar.



Command cards

Most of the cards feature a picture of a Roman legion with a standard that has a banner with a Roman numeral and a set of medallions - both of these values have important game functions for movement and levying.



Event cards

There are also seven cards with the names of Roman gods; these cards allow players to carry out a special event .



Dice

The game also comes with the typical 4 white shiny dice for which Columbia block wargames are well known.



GAME-PLAY

We might as well say it up front: This is a brilliant introductory block wargame. The rule set is exceptionally well done; simple, yet comprehensive and with very few exceptions. The rules are logical and easy to understand, especially if you’ve learned any other block wargame. It is not necessary to give an explanation of the rules here but let's give you some idea of how the game works.



Action cards

At the beginning of the turn, both players are dealt 6 cards, and are allowed to select one card to discard (face down) to improve their hand. They then proceed to play with the 5 cards they’ve chosen to keep. Like in Hammer of the Scots, for example, players select a card secretly and then reveal it simultaneously. The player who selected the card with the higher movement points goes first (if tied, then Caesar goes first). The first player moves and levies, then the second player moves and levies. The amount of movement and levying possible is determined by the numbers on the command card.



Movement points are used to activate that number of locations for movement (except for amphibious movement). Movement is along a network of roads; major roads allow 4 blocks to travel, whereas minor roads only allow 2 blocks. Amphibious movement has to be done as the first action of a player’s turn and costs 1 movement point per block but then a block can travel from friendly port to friendly or vacant port across any number of seas that are connected and friendly controlled.

Levy points are used to recruit new blocks (at lowest strength) or to strengthen blocks that have become weakened in the course of play.



Combat

Battles are only resolved after all movement and levying. Combat is resolved over the course of 4 rounds maximum. It is not possible to retreat until at least one round has been fought. Like with Hammer of the Scots, an A, B, C priority system is used. Normally the defender fires first and losses are taken immediately. But if the attacker has an A block whereas the defender only has B blocks, then the attacker can attack with the A block before the B blocks of the defender. After the first round, a player has the opportunity to retreat his blocks when it is their turn to fire.



Wintering

After 5 rounds have been completed, there is a brief winter phase when Cleopatra needs to return to Alexandria, ships return to port and blocks need to be within wintering limits of the towns. Then another year begins. There are a total of five years in the game.



Winning the game

Victory is checked at the end of each year as well. If a player has 10 VPs, then he is the winner; if neither player has this, then the game continues. The VPs come from control of certain cities (VPs can also be scored by killing enemy leaders who become a trophy VP for your side). Most of these cities are worth 1 VP, except Rome and Alexandria are worth 2. Caesar starts the game with 1 VP, whereas Pompey starts with 7 VPs.



CONCLUSIONS

What do we think?

Overall, Julius Caesar is very enjoyable to play. It is a very good introductory block wargame, and is well suited to help get people into the wargaming hobby. The reasons for this are the straight forward rule set and the fairly quick playtime (barring excessive analysis paralysis). If there are nits to pick, one criticism would be that the setup time seems a bit too long for a game of this weight, because it takes a while to sort out all the blocks and put them on their proper space and organize them in front of you so you can see your recruiting options. But aside from that, there is much about the game that makes it very appealing. It's that good that you'll find yourself pulling out your flashlight to play at night if necessary, as seen in this camping shot!



But there are other ways to play when the lights are out - as long as your computer has power and you have internet access. Those who enjoy playing online will be pleased to know that a VASSAL module for the game is already available.

Theme

A real strength of Julius Caesar is that the game’s mechanics match the theme very well. The fact that this is a civil war comes out in a variety of ways:
1. In order to recruit a new unit, you need to have control of that town with a least one unit. The weak auxiliaries can be useful for this if you can find the time to recruit them.
2. Related to this is the fact that each side has some units that can be recruited in the same town. As the fortunes of war unfold, the same town will be on different sides.
3. The special event “Jupiter” allows you to take a piece from the opposing side and force it to fight on your side – another nice touch showing that this is a civil war.
4. Both sides have very similar units, with the legions being the core of your army for both sides.
Those who know more about the Roman civil war may be able to draw even more links. Overall this game makes a very good impression of doing the theme well.



Strategy

The map on which the war is fought allows for a lot of room for strategic innovation and lots of replay value in the game. Caesar clearly needs to go on the attack as he starts with only 1 VP. Pompey is probably well advised to execute a strategic withdrawal from Italy and try to take over Asia Minor and Greece as quickly as possible, netting him the needed 10 points. Sea power is important in the game; if one player dominates the seas, he will have a lot more flexibility of movement than his opponent. Combat is likely to go awry given the heavy luck element in the combat, so always have a plan B if your attacks fail.



Cards

For the most part, the cards that drive the game forward are good. Unlike other block wargames such as War of 1812, in Julius Caesar you can regularly strengthen your weakened troops. This is a real plus, and it also allows for interesting decision points in the game: "Do I strengthen in this unit here? Or do I bring a new unit in there?"

We have mixed feelings about the event cards. Apart from not being overly thrilled about cards representing false gods (we're coming from a conservative Christian perspective), there's also a concern relating to gameplay with the event cards: a real problem arises when you end up with too many in your hand. In our playtesting, it happened a number of times that an initial hand contained 4 or 5 event cards – generally a bad situation because your movement options will be quite limited and you will get no levy points from them. To be fair, the odds of this happening as often as it did are statistically unlikely, but it may prove to be an issue from time to time.

Some of the event cards are quite weak, though others are quite good. Here’s a rundown of the event cards and some thoughts about each of them:
Mars allows you to move one group and then fire all attacking blocks before any defending blocks for round 1. This can be very powerful but on the other hand, if you whiff on your initial round, you could be in real trouble as now the defender gets two complete rounds before you can do any damage.
Vulcan allows you to pick any enemy group and reduce all the blocks in that group one step. This can be very good, either for eliminating a weak group or for weakening a strong group before a critical battle next turn. The drawback of the latter use is that your opponent has the opportunity to repair Vulcan’s damage during his card play before the next round.
Apollo allows you to copy the previous card your opponent played. This is a very flexible card which allows you to copy Jupiter or a really good movement/levy card and can be used effectively depending on the situation.
Mercury allows you to move a group one spot further than normal. This is quite useful.
Jupiter allows you to choose an enemy block in an adjacent town and cause it to defect to your side. Clearly this is very useful and thematic.
Pluto allows you to increase the road limit for one group. This might be useful in certain specific situations but because of the strict wintering rules, you would rarely get large numbers of blocks together in one town anyway. Because there are so many fronts and angles to defend and attack on, large concentrations of troops is not the norm.
Neptune allows you to move only the ships in one group and fight with them before the defender during round 1. In our experience, our ships were spread out over the various seas and it was rare for groups of ships to be together, so this card was not very helpful. But perhaps in certain very specific situations Neptune would be useful.



What do others think?

Julius Caesar has been out long enough to have attracted many positive comments, and few criticisms have been voiced about it. Here are some of the kudos it has received thus far:
"Julius Caesar is an extremely good choice for hobbyists new to block wargaming. Movement and combat are straightforward, emotions run high, and there are no sieges, odd hex control rules, supply lines, or finicky rules exceptions and details to clutter things up." - C Sandifer
"What a fun, fast-moving and keenly balanced game this is! Great fun for veteran and novice block-game players!" - BradyLS
"Rules are similar to Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex, or Richard III, with fewer exceptions or "wrinkles". That makes it a bit easier to learn or teach the game. On the other hand, the game appears as deep as the aforementioned titles." - Niko Ruf
"Nice introductory block game with gorgeous components. Has been stripped down and streamlined to the most basic Columbia block game standards with nearly no chrome added. Seems to be really well balanced." - Michael Klein
"Classic Columbia blocks gameplay. Another hit. " - Sylvain Martel
"The game is balanced and supported by a rules system that at this point is tried and true." - Sean Chick
"Good historical flavour, huge number of options, lots of tension, good fun." - Mike Szarka
"Fast gameplay and setup; maps and blocks are very appealing; highly balanced; Pompey and Caesar play very differently and have several strategical options - a real winner!" - Andreas Ludwig
"JC is a terrific block game. The command and levy card system works very well, and the beginning set up creates lots of options for variable play. Can't wait to play again." - Patrick Hussey
"I think this game is a little gem! Very well done indeed from a new designer. This is a very good game and an excellent one for tournament play." - Gilbert Collins
"Impressions are solidifying that this is winner, and a welcome return to quality for Columbia. Blends flavors from Hammer and Columbia's earlier classic games, 1812 and Quebec. Meatier and more interesting than the classics, and more open and strategic than Hammer. Definitely seems like a keeper." - Chris Farrell
"Simple rules, great flavor, fun game. One of the best Columbia block games in my opinion. A winner!" - Tom Volpe




Recommendation

Is Julius Caesar for you? It is worthy of a hearty recommendation as an excellent introductory wargame. These blocks are not just for grownup war-gamers! It plays quickly, has good strategic depth and has a set of rules that can be easily taught to non-wargamers. Some will prefer Washington's War or For the People as being closer to the “ideal” wargame, but if you want something lighter and something that plays quick, you can’t go wrong at all with Columbia's newest kid on the block, Julius Caesar - these are blocks for kids and gamers of all ages to enjoy. All in all, a solid rating of 8. Recommended.



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between Enders Game and Scurvodsky.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Great review.
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Rob Francis
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“"To Aetius, now consul for the third time: the groans of the Britons ... The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus two modes of death await us, we are either slain or drowned".” ―Gildas
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A veritable TRIUMPH of a review!
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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
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Thanks for a great review and insight in components!
I was on the fence but it will definately be part of my columbia 3 game bundle!
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micah qs
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I saw all the pictures popping up from EndersGame and I was hoping we might get another pictorial review. Thanks!

Compared to Richard III, would you say that the map plays a bigger role in deciding strategies in Julius Caesar?

I think almost every comment I've read about Julius Caesar has complained about the map being too small. It seems like an odd shape, too long and narrow. I wonder why they didn't expand it a bit so that the cities didn't overlap when there were blocks there? That seems like a big problem to me when such a critical element of the game appears not very well thought out.
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David Brown
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Is this game balanced!

I've played it twice FtF and a few time solo to try and get the meaure of it. Yet everytime Caesar gets slaughtered. I msu be doing something wrong but I can't figure out what.

As you pointed out Caesar must go on the attack, but going on the attack, and winning the battle, appears very hard. I've tried to analyse the situation solo, but keep coming up with the same answer...Ceasar is screwed.

What do others do when playing Caesar?
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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Pompey has more flexibility but Caesar has the heavier armies. Anything that cramps Pompey's maneuverability will help Caesar. So

1. Stay in the game. Take Rome and drive Pompey out of Italy or drive Pompey out of Hispania.

2. Build up your navies and look for a place to challenge Pompey for supremacy in the Med' or cut reinforcing moves to the continent or Galatia.

3. Get into Galatia ahead of Pompey if you can. There are several good units Caesar can build that will swing the balance of power away from Pompey.

4. Keep an eye out for a chance to take Carthage. If you can take that, control of the western half of the board is almost assured. Pompey's player morale may also take a big hit.
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Bob
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Awesome review Enders! Well done. thumbsupthumbsupthumbsup

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Paul Kemp
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What can I say?? Another great review from the best in the business.

Skipped this one...theme is not strong with me.
 
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As always -- your image review is top notch. Thanks for posting it.
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An excellent review as always

Quote:
Apart from not being overly thrilled about cards representing false gods (we're coming from a conservative Christian perspective),


I mean seriously though does the false Gods bit really bother you or are you being overly PC ? (speaking from the point of view of an atheist).

Please do not take this as some kind of comment on your beliefs to which you are entitled. Would playing Chaos in the Old World offend you ?


I dont wish to start a religous flame war , Im just suprised that someone may be upset by references to a dead religon. And in any case surely the cards are just a way to bring in random events and have only a token thematic relationship to the Roman pantheon.
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Leonardo Martino
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EndersGame wrote:

Normally the defender fires first and losses are taken immediately.


I'm studying Julius Caesar rules and as far as I know battle sequence is decided by player 1 (he that played the card with highest MP or Caesar in case of a draw). Where is written in the rules that defender fires first???
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Michael Klein
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kalevi1999 wrote:
I'm studying Julius Caesar rules and as far as I know battle sequence is decided by player 1 (he that played the card with highest MP or Caesar in case of a draw). Where is written in the rules that defender fires first???


Chapter 7.2 (Battle Turns):

Quote:
"A" blocks go before "B" blocks, then "C" blocks, then "D" blocks. Defending "A" blocks go before Attacking "A" blocks, and so on.


The battle sequence rule you cited means that if there is more than one battle, player 1 will decide on the order of these battles.
 
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C Sandifer
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kalevi1999 wrote:
[q="EndersGame"]Where is written in the rules that defender fires first???


Along with other rules details, the battle sequence is more fully described in the Julius Caesar rules clarifications document.
 
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So any thoughts on how this compares to all the other "blocks plus cards" games Columbia has put out? (Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex, Richard III, et cetera)
 
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C Sandifer
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edosan wrote:
So any thoughts on how this compares to all the other "blocks plus cards" games Columbia has put out? (Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex, Richard III, et cetera)


Julius Caesar is a great introductory block+cards game, along with Hammer of the Scots and Richard III. The others in the Columbia line are more complex, so I wouldn't start with those.
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Ed Sherman
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wkover wrote:
edosan wrote:
So any thoughts on how this compares to all the other "blocks plus cards" games Columbia has put out? (Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex, Richard III, et cetera)


Julius Caesar is a great introductory block+cards game, along with Hammer of the Scots and Richard III.


Yeah, I figured that. I was just wondering if someone that's played all three (like the reviewer) could compare and contrast them.
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thirtybrowns wrote:
Is this game balanced!

I've played it twice FtF and a few time solo to try and get the meaure of it. Yet everytime Caesar gets slaughtered. I msu be doing something wrong but I can't figure out what.

As you pointed out Caesar must go on the attack, but going on the attack, and winning the battle, appears very hard. I've tried to analyse the situation solo, but keep coming up with the same answer...Ceasar is screwed.

What do others do when playing Caesar?


I found this game to be extremely balanced after multiple plays. I've equally played both sides and had as many successes and failures from both fractions. Usually I find that poor tactics are quickly exploited in this game.

Last night, I played (green)Pompey and quickly built up my navy and added my ever so powerful Ballista to protect my Western Flank. After securing the Mediterranean, I advanced my Legions via naval movement to capture key cities to the East. After capture, I the quickly built up units that control of these cities required. My opponent was working on my Western Flank but with little success as I could quickly respond to support my units via sea movements. Turn three, game ended with me controlling 10 VP's! Devastating tactics.

My opponent (nameless to protect the innocent) has experienced the TASTE OF BILE!!!!

He now has the rights of DEE-Mann
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Doug Epperson
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edosan wrote:
So any thoughts on how this compares to all the other "blocks plus cards" games Columbia has put out? (Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex, Richard III, et cetera)


They all have the niche; I have always loved playing The Hammer and found Caesar to be a little more fluent as it introduces Naval Units (Sea Control). You also get to dump one card to reach your 5 card hand limit each turn. This is a tremendous boost to your turn tactic development rather than playing all that are dealt to you. I found this mechanic to be extremely useful most of the time. But, as any CDG, it’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you will ultimately receive.

This is why I rated this game a 10. As a game, it plays out extremely well and is a blast to play. I would recommend playing at least 4 times (1.5 hours each game) to really start to see the vast strategies you can employ. I know that with each game we played has been a different animal each time. This game is packed full of quality goodness and I highly recommend this to anyone (Euro or Ameri-Trash alike).

meeple + 6 = Ameri-Trash!

My only quip is how each unit is numbered. Setup would have been much easier to grasp if all starting units were grouped together (i.e. - “A" = all units starting with Caesar etc...).

I would like to hear from the designers on how they decided to affix the identification number to each unit. If I could wrap my head around this, maybe setup would be much easier on my brain (perhaps...).

If they do a reprint of JC, I would like to see this added:

Mounted Map (sweet!)
Starting unit locations printed on the map
1x Battle Flag for each fraction to mark location of Battle!
And lastly, make the Queen of Egypt hotter than she is now.....
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Rick Weckermann
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SUPER review to say the least.
I have found this game to be well balanced with the Caesar having slightly better quality troops, but has the burden of attacking Pompey, thereby being slightly the underdog here. At first till Caesar strategies are revealed one could add an aux B1 unit during set up in Lugdunum.
As for not enough room on map, i can not count how many times i hear this with many Columbia games, and all i can shout is "YOU PEOPLE LACK IMAGINATION" there is plenty of room on this map, come play with me too many pieces and where they belong will not be a problem let me assure you. This game is the best of the Columbia games group, it will appeal to the widest range of gamers.
I do highly recommend buying a few extra blocks, one small block for turn record an extra large black one for Cleopatra. Also 4 blocks of each color to make block ownership less confusing when capturing opposing players units also to keep the fog of war intact.


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Mr StinkyPants
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This was an awesome review! I really like the pictures!
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Sean Swart
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Nice review, and thank you. This looks like I game I would enjoy.

FYI: As a Christian, I have no problem with the roman gods being mentioned on the cards. After all, today many of the holidays are based on old pagan traditions, our days of the week are based on names of old norse and celtic gods. Some planets are named after them, some people are named after them. There is no getting around it.

FYI: While I'm typing this it happens to be Thor's day. Thursday.
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Chris Bailey
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TonyClifton wrote:



Great review.


MY EYES! MY EYES!!!
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Legionary312AD wrote:
A veritable TRIUMPH of a review!

But always remember: Thou art mortal. meeple
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Michael Collarin
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bluekingzog wrote:
An excellent review as always

Quote:
Apart from not being overly thrilled about cards representing false gods (we're coming from a conservative Christian perspective),


I mean seriously though does the false Gods bit really bother you or are you being overly PC ? (speaking from the point of view of an atheist).

Please do not take this as some kind of comment on your beliefs to which you are entitled. Would playing Chaos in the Old World offend you ?


I dont wish to start a religous flame war , Im just suprised that someone may be upset by references to a dead religon. And in any case surely the cards are just a way to bring in random events and have only a token thematic relationship to the Roman pantheon.


What's funny, is that during a FtF game of Navegador, the person who was hosting the game referred to the churches as bridges. Having played the game before, I was puzzled and interjected that they were churches. He continued to teach the new players and again said bridges. I glanced over at his rule book and he had even gone as far to strikethrough the word church. So, apparently, it goes both ways.

Back on topic, excellent review of an excellent game! thumbsup
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