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Subject: Julius Caesar - Impressions from our first game rss

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BrentS
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Despite being a regular poster on a few game forums on BGG, this is my first review. It's not intended as a complete overview of the game as these can be found elsewhere, but I wanted to post some initial impressions and particularly address some of the criticisms I've seen of this game in other reviews.

I play a bit of everything but favour light to medium weight historical wargames and am particularly interested in ancients gaming. A significant proportion of my game collection is GMT titles. I've always been interested in exploring block games and own GMT's Hellenes, which I really enjoy, but was looking to complement it with something simpler and faster playing. If I discuss Hellenes or GMT games in this review it's not to compare them in any way (favourably or unfavourably) with JC and Columbia, but because they're the only point of reference I have from personal experience.

Of the Columbia block games, the only one I'd previously tried was Richard III but was disappointed....there was a fair bit of nostalgic expectation from my childhood memories of playing Kingmaker, and RIII just didn't do it for me.....I think the map and similarity of the shield symbols confused us and slowed down play, which is a problem for what is meant to be one of the smoothest and quickest playing of the block games.

Julius Caesar was set in a period of interest to me, fit my complexity and time criteria and so I took the plunge, bought it and played my first game yesterday.

Five minute setup and two hour play time, which for a first game with rules explanation is pretty slick.....I expect that to drop with repeat plays.

We had a quite exciting first game. I played Caesar and was down and out all game. My opponent had killed both Caesar and Antony early and ended turns 3 and 4 (of 5) on 9 VP (10 VP are required for the win). 5th turn I established sea control, survived a sea battle against the odds to maintain my continuous chain of fleets, and with my last two card plays of the game amphibious moved my last leader Octavian with one legion all the way across the map from Rome to North Africa to defeat Cleopatra and conquer Alexandria, claiming a last ditch, skin of my teeth win. Great stuff.

We made a pretty big rules mistake which admittedly may have changed the way the game played out and skewed my perception of it, but as we were both guilty of it I think it balanced out. We played the Mars card wrongly. It basically allows all the attacking blocks to get a free first attack on the defenders and I thought it was incredibly broken.....it was solely responsible for my leader deaths, but in our beginner excitement we overlooked road movement limitations and were attacking with excessively enormous armies. With smaller armies attacking I'm sure it would be far less devastating and more balanced.

It doesn't have as much historical flavour as a CDG, where specific historical events can be built into the cards, but I think it still gave me a good feeling of theme (interestingly, Hellenes seems to sit half way between the two genres, where the cards all have an historical Event/OPs option).

There aren't a lot of criticisms of the game but I was aware of the ones I have read about and I'm pleased to say they didn't bother me at all:

1. Map and cities too small and get overcrowded with blocks so that you can't read the location names.
Even though the blocks are thicker than the Hellenes ones, and therefoe take up more map space, I never found this a problem. From my ancients interest I'm pretty clear on where things were around the ancient Mediterranean and it's easy enough to lift the blocks and read. With repeat plays I'm sure it would all become second nature anyway and if it were a problem it would be easy to adopt the trick from Hellenes of removing an overly large block group from the map and replacing it with a marker.

2. Poor quality components.
There is a definite disparity in what you get for your buck between this and a GMT game. No comparison between what you find opening this box and, say, C&C:Napoleonics (paying AUS $75 and $50 for them respectively). It's not a complaint because I knew this going in and I'm a firm believer that part of what you pay for is rules, design and playtesting (if you've ever played a CCG, you get used to the idea of paying big bucks for the design and development process that has gone into a few pieces of coloured cardboard). I have no complaints in that respect from my initial experience of JC.....although it is one reason I wouldn't invest in a lot of Columbia games.

3. On the point of cheap components.....the map.
I was very pleasantly surprised. When I heard paper I thought something along the lines of the CC:Europe maps but it's actually thin card. It lies flat, unlike the "premium" GMT cardboard maps and can be played without perspex. I'd still use perspex at home but it's portable (which I can't say for Hellenes)....very important because a fair amount of my gaming is done in a board game cafe.

4. The Event cards.
A lot of complaints that the event cards depict acts of the gods from the Roman pantheon and that this isn't historical. I don't get this. Ancient people, the Romans included, believed in the gods' influence on their lives and used them to explain natural events or to justify their own actions. Using acts of the gods to portray events that circumvent the normal mechanics of play seems perfectly justified to me in a game about pre-Christian Romans. Hellenes uses a similar device in its sacrifices to the Olympians. This doesn't jar with me at all and seems perfectly thematic and historically appropriate.

I enjoyed Julius Caesar and expect to enjoy it even more as I get to explore its strategies with repeat plays, which will be possible because of its quick play time. The few criticisms you might read are not unjustified, because everybody wants something different out of a game, but for most I don't think they would be an issue and are certainly not deal breakers for what looks to be a great game. I'm very happy with it as my choice for the Columbia light block game slot in my collection.


Brent.


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Tobias Sölvefjord
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Nice review Brent!
This is currently one of my faves and I take every chance I get to play it.

Now, I somewhat disagree in that there is little historical flavour, espescially in the first opening moves. In all my games history has repeated itself in that Julius has massed a force with which he has quickly secured Rome. Since the Julian player is pressed for points early in the game I feel the setup hints that he should cross the Rubicon as soon as possible. With that, Pompey has little choice as to march south or be destroyed, eventually being isolated and thus sailing to Greece to live to fight another day. This could certainly turn out in other ways but I for one, love that the game encourages the historical line of play.


goshublue wrote:

3. On the point of cheap components.....the map.
I was very pleasantly surprised.
Me too. I also use plexiglass but would LOVE a mounted map. This game is that good it deserves it.


goshublue wrote:

4. The Event cards.
A lot of complaints that the event cards depict acts of the gods from the Roman pantheon and that this isn't historical. I don't get this.
I always interpreted the event cards as actual situations or events that the Romans in turn understood to be that critically important, chance had to have a hand in them. They were pretty pragmatic people but still very superstitious.
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BrentS
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supersiamesisk wrote:
Nice review Brent!


Now, I somewhat disagree in that there is little historical flavour,
Thanks Tobias.

I wasn't suggesting that the game has little historical flavour and I hope it didn't come across that way. As I suggested, I felt the theme quite strongly. I understand that the game conveys history in the strategic options available to the players and their potential outcome. CDG's like Hannibal, however, which I mentioned because they are an equivalent gaming experience in terms of strategic scale and scope, convey their historical context in a much more direct way than a game like this ever could. When you play your cards in JC you're not playing specific events from history......there's no Hannibal Charming Italy or Kruschev threatening to Bury You here.

That's not to say it's any better or worse as an historical simulation...it just doesn't portray historical events as overtly as a CDG.

Brent.
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Tobias Sölvefjord
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goshublue wrote:
CDG's like Hannibal, however, which I mentioned because they are an equivalent gaming experience in terms of strategic scale and scope, convey their historical context in a much more direct way than a game like this ever could.
Having never played Hannibal, I assume it is very closely related to Twilight Struggle and thereby I now see your point.

Mayby we'll battle it out once I get the hang of Vassal. Until then;
Vae Victis.


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Thiago Souza Lopes
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I'm glad we got to hear another speak of this great game. I never played some of the other games you speal of, but consider myself a Julius Caesar"s fan.

The game is simply superb (And would be a BEAST with an mounted board) and gives the felling of epicness from spending half a year to manouver your troops so a big battle can occur.

This is how a wargame should feel. Battles are costly and the tension builds troughout the game round.

Way to go, dude!
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R Larsen
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I for one love these CG block games that at first glance look simple, but never fail to provide a tense and complex game experince. And that in only a few hours. I am particularly thinking of this and RIII.

I also have no problem with lifting the blocks to see the city underneath - in almost any hex-n-counter game, this is a far bigger issue.

Also the devine interference from the card events are nice. Would it be better to have a card saying 'surprise attack' or 'storm at sea' - makes no difference to the game or the decisions, whatsoever.

Thanks for the review.
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goshublue wrote:
A lot of complaints that the event cards depict acts of the gods from the Roman pantheon and that this isn't historical.
The complaint is not that the divine events are depicted, but that they are controlled by the players. Many ancient games depict divine events occurring randomly, and draw no such criticism.
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Oftentimes they get played at the same time and cancel each other out. It happens more frequently than you'd think.
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markgravitygood wrote:
Oftentimes they get played at the same time and cancel each other out. It happens more frequently than you'd think.
Being familiar with event cards in Hammer of the Scots, I may have a better idea of how frequently it happens than you think I'd think. I don't think it serves anyone's purpose to hash out the whole argument again in detail, and I won't do so. Masochists those interested can read the earlier thread. I just wanted to point out the O.P.'s apparent misunderstanding of the complaint.
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Sphere wrote:
goshublue wrote:
A lot of complaints that the event cards depict acts of the gods from the Roman pantheon and that this isn't historical.
The complaint is not that the divine events are depicted, but that they are controlled by the players. Many ancient games depict divine events occurring randomly, and draw no such criticism.
Truth.

As for historically accurate game play, I have two problems with this game. Julius can race across land to Asia faster than pompey can sail. And pompeys naval superiority is what one navis block at start? These aren't very representative of the conflict.
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Sphere wrote:
markgravitygood wrote:
Oftentimes they get played at the same time and cancel each other out. It happens more frequently than you'd think.
Being familiar with event cards in Hammer of the Scots, I may have a better idea of how frequently it happens than you think I'd think. I don't think it serves anyone's purpose to hash out the whole argument again in detail, and I won't do so. Masochists those interested can read the earlier thread. I just wanted to point out the O.P.'s apparent misunderstanding of the complaint.
Good for you, and mine was a general comment about my experiences with Event Cards, and not directed nor a slant to your vast experiences with such a mechanic in HotS. Which, by the way, is why I did not quote you.

I just wanted to point out that the cards generally play a lesser role (IMO) than one may think at first blush.
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oeolycus wrote:
Sphere wrote:
goshublue wrote:
A lot of complaints that the event cards depict acts of the gods from the Roman pantheon and that this isn't historical.
The complaint is not that the divine events are depicted, but that they are controlled by the players. Many ancient games depict divine events occurring randomly, and draw no such criticism.
Truth.

As for historically accurate game play, I have two problems with this game. Julius can race across land to Asia faster than pompey can sail. And pompeys naval superiority is what one navis block at start? These aren't very representative of the conflict.
I don't think it tries to be historically accurate to a fault. For me, the gameplays' the thing here, and it shines.
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Quote:
I don't think it tries to be historically accurate to a fault. For me, the gameplays' the thing here, and it shines.
The OP raises its historicity as a plus for this game. I'm pointing out two examples of where it really breaks from what I think is "allowable" in terms of alternate history.

I don't think it's historical to a fault to ask that a game consider plausibility, which are at the heart of my two examples.

Otherwise, you're playing a game about Caesar and Pompey in name only.
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Sphere wrote:
I just wanted to point out the O.P.'s apparent misunderstanding of the complaint.
I didn't misunderstand your complaint, I jut didn't address it. I did a lot of reading before buying the game.....there most certainly are complaints about the use of divinity to label event cards and I was speaking to that point.

To address your point, the criticism of what should be random events being under player control is quite justified and is actually levelled at many games. I can't deny that JC is guilty of it but it sins far less in this regard than many other games. Of all the events, only the Vulcan card depicts a natural disaster that one player can effectively inflict on the other and I would agree that this is a reach. All the others (surprise attacks, forced marches, massed troop movements, defections, counterattacks) are depictions of superior generalship (attributed to the favour of the gods) and are perfectly justified as actions under the players' control. I can live with that. One card does not a game break.

Brent.
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Quote:
Truth.

As for historically accurate game play, I have two problems with this game. Julius can race across land to Asia faster than pompey can sail. And pompeys naval superiority is what one navis block at start? These aren't very representative of the conflict.
First off Caesar can not race across land to Asia faster than Pompey can sail. It takes at least 3 turns by land and only 2 for Pompey to sail by ship.

As far as navis goes better brush up on your history a bit, yes game could contribute say a block or two more ships to Pompey, but you better make those ships E1's. I know the ballista grapple used by roman ships was a superior weapon used extensively after Caesars death, not much is mentioned in battles during Caesars rein. The smaller ships were more mobile, the grapple would attach to the bigger ship then pull itself towards the larger faster ships and punch a big hole in their side. The battle of Massilia Quote "After the siege had begun, Ahenobarbus arrived in Massilia to defend it against the Caesarian forces. In late June, Caesar's ships, although they were less skillfully built than those of the Massiliots and outnumbered, were victorious in the ensuing naval battle.[2]
Gaius Trebonius, Caesar's legatus, conducted the siege using a variety of siege machines including siege towers, a siege-ramp, and a "testudo-ram".[3]. Gaius Scribonius Curio, careless in adequately guarding the Sicilian Straits, allowed Lucius Nasidius to bring more ships to the aid of Ahenobarbus. He fought a second naval battle with Decimus Brutus in early September, but withdrew defeated and sailed for Spain.[4] So big ships and big numbers did not mean diddly squat in these actual battles. Most other battles were inconclusive. Therefore the ship complement is correct for historical purposes.

Quote:
claiming a last ditch, skin of my teeth win. Great stuff.
SUPER review Brent. My board i do not take care of and has now over 80 played games on it, Vassal the rest. It is holding up just fine with my less than refined care of board. The game itself we are still are having very exciting varied/different games coming down to last turn bold aggressive moves and last ditched rolls for a needed victory. Game is not a recreation of history, it is what you would have done if you were in charge. Luck of the Gods is different for every individual on every given day here.
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oeolycus wrote:
The OP raises its historicity as a plus for this game.
I most certainly did not. I don't have enough experience yet with the game to argue its historical accuracy and wouldn't presume to do so. I said I could feel the theme.

I'm very interested to see debate about the game from those more experienced with it, but I'd prefer not to have arguments attributed to me just because I started the thread.

Brent.

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Brent not trying to make an argument here just quoting some facts game and historically wise. I apologize if it came across that way to all. Guess i should just have done the following.
http://www.mcgoodwin.net/pages/otherbooks/jc_civilwar.html
http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_massilia.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Massilia
 
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goshublue wrote:
I didn't misunderstand your complaint, I jut didn't address it.
What you said was this:


goshublue wrote:
4. The Event cards.
A lot of complaints that the event cards depict acts of the gods from the Roman pantheon and that this isn't historical.
Having never heard anyone make that complaint, I leapt to the conclusion that you were addressing the closely related complaint about player control of divine acts. Do you have a link to the complaints that you were addressing? I'm curious why anyone would worry about mere depiction of the gods in that era.
 
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Sphere wrote:
Do you have a link to the complaints that you were addressing? I'm curious why anyone would worry about mere depiction of the gods in that era.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5433494#5433494
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5437629#5437629
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Thanks, Justus.

...and here (in the review)

...and here (not the reviewer's observation but commented on in some of the responses)

Sphere wrote:
Do you have a link to the complaints that you were addressing? I'm curious why anyone would worry about mere depiction of the gods in that era.
I don't know why anyone would worry about this either, but it's completely legitimate for them to feel that way if it breaks the mood or suspension of disbelief for them. My original point was that I can see thematic justification for the cards, they don't break mood for me and shouldn't necessarily be a barrier to enjoyment of the game for others who might be looking at it, even if it is reported as a concern for some players.

Brent.
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hoostus wrote:
Sphere wrote:
Do you have a link to the complaints that you were addressing? I'm curious why anyone would worry about mere depiction of the gods in that era.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5433494#5433494
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/5437629#5437629
Thanks, Justus. Two posts by Dan Daly, one of my Geekbuddies. I wonder whether the divine events would bug him if they happened randomly.
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I seem to recall reading a post from someone who didn't like the cards because he was Christian and didn't like that the cards attributed divine power to Pagan Gods. I can't find the post now though and I don't even remember if it was on BGG, CSW, or Columbia's forums. I'm guessing that most people don't care much about that.
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It is nice to see more conversation on the cards. When we came up with these great cards we wanted cards that would be reflective of the period and add some Roman feel. Most if not all of the roman people believed in something greater than them self’s. The leaders including Caesar feared the gods and respected there power. Caesar would not do anything without consulting the Gods. When the god cards are in your hand it reflects the ability of the gods to inflect damage or improve speed and so on. Just remember two things about the god cards. One, they break the rules of the game for a brief moment which can and would have been attributed to the gods in Caesars time. Second, the god cards are exactly what we wanted and without a doubt have been exceptional in reflecting our vision for this game. Enjoy the Game.

I am always up for a vassal game if you can be flexible with your times.

Justin Thompson
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I want to personally thank all of you for making Julius Caesar one of the highest rated games of 2010 on BGG! This is my first effort at designing a game and because you have made this a hit we are looking to capture the same feel in our next game called Antony & Cleopatra. It is at least 2 years away from being finished but it is now being worked on.
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