120 minutes (or less)
By Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson
My reviews will not focus on the rules of the game. There are better reviewers on that format than I could ever contribute. The purpose behind my reviews is to highlight one, and only one, overriding aspect of any game: fun. That’s it. As a big kid at heart, I play games in order to have a good time. In the end, all I really care about is if I’m going to want to play the thing again, and will anyone else. Hence, I’ve chosen five areas to highlight that are all aspects of the game’s funness. Examined from this paradigm, these are all aspects that I believe should be enjoyed during the whole experience of playing board games.
All right already, enough philosophizing, on with the review…
1. Out of the Box:
The components are what you’d expect from Columbia Games. It’s a block wargame, so you know it’s going to come with…blocks! They are of decent size and well made, there aren’t any rough edges, paint chips or splintering. There is a single blue block that represents Cleopatra whose function in the game play is very interesting. The stickers are really nice, too. All the information on the stickers can be read clearly, and the artwork is quite evocative.
The board is beautiful, even though it isn’t mounted. The cards are nice; they are perfectly functional and easy to understand, and the artwork is in line with the spirit of the rest of the game. The god cards are interesting, though I have yet to have a situation where the Neptune card helps me out.
– I always wish for a mounted board, but it’s okay
– Otherwise, components are very nice
I’ve scouted high and low for a rules set that was sufficiently lean enough for an introductory block game for a noob such as myself. Julius Caesar ties with another Columbia title, War of 1812, for possibly the shortest set of rules. They are well written and super well laid out. There are examples of various aspects of game play and the sidebar that runs throughout is very helpful. Even though I understand and recognize that the rules are simple enough, it still took me a while to keep all of the smaller subtleties in my head. This isn’t so much a problem with the game itself, it’s just that the rules are SOOOOO well laid out and thorough that it can be difficult (for me, at least) to see the forest through the trees.
– The rules are better than I am
– Very clear and concise and thorough
3. Game Play:
The flow of play is very fluid and natural. Play a card, (resolve god cards first) move groups, levy your points, attack, occasionally winter, and repeat until victorious. I’ve read the concern about cluttering up the board with blocks in cities that aren’t spaced very far apart, but this didn’t seem to be a problem for me. Maybe a little, but it wasn’t like I had to read the locations or anything.
Battles are straightforward. There is a real suspense as blocks are revealed and you see what you’re up against. The fact that dice are rolled shouldn’t be a deterrent for strategists; you can also bluff your way through moments in the game. These possibilities are what give the battles their spice. If there is not enough room on the board to lay all the blocks flat, just take them off the board and line them up.
Incidentally, there are two extra blank blocks that came with my copy (I think each copy comes with them) and I use one to mark the year on the board and the other to mark where a battle is taking place should the blocks need to be moved off map for lack of space.
Despite whatever issues I may have with the comprehension of all the rules and details, actually playing the game is fairly simple in terms of things to remember. The minutia, like the requisites for supporting troops, the fact that Ballista battles differently than defending, and when Navis can battle with troops on port cities – are all tiny subtleties that, if missed, are not game changers. The game can be played readily, and any wrinkles can easily be ironed out by the next game without negatively affecting one’s own enjoyment or opinion of the game.
– Very enjoyable to play cards and move blocks around
– Battles are always nail-biters (in a good way)
4. Weight/Length Ratio:
The first things I noticed when playing the game was how few battles were fought. Well, maybe not few, but fewer than I expected. I discovered that much of the game is centered around buildup and positioning. Battles are simply an end result (albeit a significant one) to all of the preplanning and forethought that goes into the usage of movement cards and levy points.
I think the game is well balanced for an asymmetrical game. Usually in such games it seems that one side is somehow slightly better or worse than the other. I don’t think that’s the case with Julius Caesar. Mind you, I’m still discovering the depths of its strategy and tactics, but I don’t feel like the game drags on unnecessarily. 2 hours is about the longest it ought to take to play a game. I’m sure the time will decrease as I get more familiar and comfortable with it.
The fact that each year is a new hand of cards is also great. It’s fun to try to plan out the whole year in advance just by making the simple decision of which card is going to be discarded. Because certain blocks can only be recruited in certain cities, this game is all about location, location, location. There never seems to be enough levy points for my taste, but I know that’s part of why I like this game so much; these types of agonizing decision are great. But they’re not super agonizing, just “little agonizers.”
– Interesting choices
– Different approaches to take
5: The “F” Factor:
So, is the game fun? Heck yes it is! Of course, I’m easy to impress, and I’m kind of a sucker for periods of antiquity. The game is simple enough to teach to non-gamers, and I dare say even non-wargamers. I have a friend who is sure he wouldn’t like block games because he feels that they are too complicated and long. Now, I don’t fancy myself smarter than him and claim to have an even shorter attention span, but if I can play this game, I believe he most certainly can, too.
Analysis paralysis is only as prevalent as the players’ tendencies, which then dictates downtime. I don’t think either of these should be much of a problem, though.
I really enjoy the heck out of myself when I play this game; worth checking out and definitely fun!
– Fun-o-meter: 5/5