The End of the Triumvirate is a fast playing 2-3 player contest published by Lookout Games, designed by Max Gabrian and Johannes Ackva. I was lucky to sit down and play this new offering when Morgan returned with a copy from Essen. Players take on the roles of Caesar, Pompeius, or Crassus in a struggle to control the Republic. There are several paths to victory through both political or military success.
The game accommodates two to three players, but it seems like the optimal number is three for appropriate game flow and player interaction. The game proceeds in turn order from Caesar to Pompeius to Crassus with no change in order. Each player turn consists of three phases, I. Supplies, II. Movement, III. Action. When a player finishes his turn, he moves the ‘Calendar Stone’ one step down the time track towards Elegio, and the next player begins his turn.
There are several paths to victory:
-Military: a player who controls 9 provinces wins
-Political: a player who wins 2 elections to consul OR wins 1 election to consul and then gathers 6 citizens in his region of the forum
-Competence: a player who reaches level VII on both the political and military tracks on the gameboard wins
When the game begins, each player is in control of 5 provinces of the republic on the map board around the Mediterranean. Players begin the game with 2 legions in each of their provinces, a ‘character’ piece (a flat square wood marker) to designate where their leader is, a civil servant who guarantees production in whatever province he resides, and 9 governors (5 in the provinces he begins with, and 4 in reserve). There are three distinct province types and these are color coded, military (brown), political (yellow), and competence (red). Military provinces may yield 2 legions during the supply phase, political provinces yield 2 gold, and competence provinces yield 1 legion and 1 gold.
Beyond the provinces, the game board has 4 tracks which detail game status: the calendar, the forum, and the military and political tracks. When the game begins, each player receives a stack of cubes (red, blue, or black), and these are used to track their status on the military and political tracks, as well as for combat modifiers in the weapons bag draw which I will come to later. The calendar track is updated once after each player turn, and when the Elegio space is reached, the players will elect a consul.
The election of the consul is determined by the player status in the forum. Each player has his own region in the forum, and begins the game with 2 citizens in his region denoting his influence in the forum. The rest of the citizens start the game in the 4th “Alii” region and are considered neutral. When Elegio is reached on the calendar track, the player with the most citizens in his region is elected consul. In the event of a tie, the player who least recently had a turn when the election comes wins the tie.
The beginning of each player turn starts with the SUPPLIES phase. Every province that a player occupies can produce supplies depending on the province type as noted earlier. In each province there is a supply box. The governor of the province is either IN the box, or OUT of the box (this setup is predetermined at the start of the game). When the supply phase comes, you swap the position of the governor for all your provinces (from in to out or vice versa). Any supply boxes that are now empty (the out position), generate supplies for that province. The one exception to this rule is that any province with a civil servant in them always generate supplies. Each player starts with 1 civil servant. In this manner, provinces without a civil servant will generate supplies every other turn. Supplies are placed in the province itself, and must be picked up by the player’s ‘character piece’ on his turn or risk falling into the hands of the enemy. Also in the supply phase, each player receives “supplies from Rome” in the form of 2 gold, 2 legions (placed in any province the player controls), or 1 gold and 1 legion. This gold is place in the player’s reserve (not on the board).
The second phase of every turn is the MOVEMENT phase. All movement flows through the player’s “character piece” or leader. You have 4 movement points to spend every turn. The leader square can bring legions and civil servants with him. Any step from one space to the next is 1 point. If a leader crosses water with no legions he gets an extra step (essentially that first water step costs 0). Any time a leader enters a region with gold it immediately gets picked up by that player and put in reserve to spend in the action phase. In order to enter an enemy province, a leader must bring at least 1 legion with him, which brings us to combat.
Combat is resolved simply through a number of easy steps. At the start of the game, every player puts 2 of his colored cubes in the ‘weapons bag’. Whenever there is a fight, depending on the number of combatants, up to 3 cubes are drawn from the weapons bag. Any cubes of your color inflict a loss on your opponent, and vice versa. If a neutral color is drawn, those cubes are returned to the bag. This adds a small random element to any fight, where up to 3 casualties may not be accounted for by the forces on the board. After that, combat is resolved in a 1 to 1 loss manner… Legions are removed 1 for 1 from attacker and defender, whoever has more cubes after losses are removed is the winner. If the defender has his leader piece defending in the province, 2 cubes are removed from the attacker before going 1 to 1 with the legions. The process is simple, but the weapons bag mechanic allows for some chance. You can never have more than 6 legions in a province at the end of your turn, if so, extra legions are removed. Winning players place their governor in the corresponding space of the conquered province. The losing player gets a ‘compensation’ card and gets to place 1 cube in the weapons bag. If the losing player had his leader in the province, the leader may retreat to any of that players other provinces but suffers a 1 step penalty if he is leading on either the political or military tracks. If a player loses 2 fights in a row he gets the 2nd compensation card, which allows him to move 1 step forward on either the military or political tracks.
The third and final phase of a players turn is the ACTION phase. A player can take up to 3 actions per turn. The first action costs 1 gold, the second 2 gold, and the third 3 gold. The actions available to a player depend on what province his leader unit finishes the turn in. If the leader is in a political province, he may advance 1 space on the political gameboard track for an action, or ‘persuade a citizen’ in the forum. The citizen move may be either into his region from the neutral section, or to remove a citizen from another player and place them in the neutral region. Note – the persuade move costs an extra 2 gold if the player is not the leader in the political track. If the leader is in a military province, the player may move 1 space on the military track, or “add weapons” to the weapons bag in the form of 2 more of his cubes. If the player is not the leader on the military track, the ‘add weapons’ options costs an extra 2 gold. Finally if a player is in a competence province, the only actions available are to add to either military or political tracks.
This game plays FAST. Because an election occurs after every 7 or 8 turns (depending on 2 or 3 players), the game will go a maximum of 4 ‘years’ (an election signals a new year) as at that point someone will have been elected consul twice and win the game. Given the close proximity of the players, combat is fast and furious. Players will attempt to grab regions that are set to collect resources next turn (by the position of the governor in the supply box). Poorly defended civil servants will also be prime targets as they produce supplies immediately and hence are quite valuable. At first glance I thought the board looked small for what is essentially a war game, but in reality the movement options are numerous, and an attack in one direction will almost always leave you weak somewhere else. Given that there are several paths to success, what looks like a simple game on the surface has some nice depth of strategy here.
Going for a military victory is no easy task. Holding 9 provinces against two other players is very difficult, and if you fall just short in an attempt to grab those final few regions, you’ll likely be ripe for the plucking somewhere in your area of control as there simply aren’t that many legions in play. The winner of the first election will be tempted to go for political victory, so the other players will compete to weaken his influence in the forum, and limit his access to gold. The mechanic of the ‘weapons bag’ works similarly to the Wallenstein dice tower in a limited fashion, as a maximum of 3 casualties can be affected at random. It adds a definitive element of chance to close battles and forces you to bring extra legions to ensure victory. Since actions grow in cost the game encourages you to spend every turn and not hoard gold. If one player loses a fight, the game mechanic encourages you to attack a different player so as not to give that 2nd compensation card to the original loser…so there are balancing mechanisms at work here.
I found the components of the game to be top notch. Legions are universal brown cubes, governors are tall colored cylinders, leaders are square flat planks you can put your legions on. The game board itself is a nice heavy stock and everything seems well spelled out. We had no movement ambiguities with the map as can be a problem in some war games. A few of our larger conflicts felt a little cramped with all the brown legion cubes, but this is resolved quickly when casualties are removed.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this light war game. It’s nice to have a 3 player option that works and plays relatively quickly. Once you know all the rules and mechanics I’d be surprised if a game lasted much over 2 hours unless you have some extremely deliberate players. There is no elimination factor, if you’re down to 1 province you cannot be attacked, although a player in that position is likely in dire straights as far as winning goes. There could be some downtime between turns (if you have extremely deliberate players involved) but given that a turn is only 3 phases long with a limited number of options per phase, downtime shouldn’t be much of an issue. I would definitely recommend this new title if you like the Roman theme and a fast playing war game with a few interesting twists in victory conditions.