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Introducing Triumvirate

There aren't that many trick taking games that work well for two players, so when one comes along that does, it's worth pricking up your ears. Triumvirate is a self-published game designed by Travis Worthington. Travis runs Indie Boards and Cards, a project aimed at marketing games for small and self-publishers, and in some respects the two-player Triumvirate is the flag-ship for his product. I was fortunate enough to get signed copy #4 of the first edition.



Travis has certainly been using every means possible here on BGG to actively promote his game, including give-aways, competitions, and just about everything else you can think of! If the game doesn't succeed, it sure won't be for lack of trying on his part! Good for him!

So why should you learn more about a self-published game that you may never have heard of previously? First of all, it's been very well received - there are nearly half a dozen reviews up now, and they all speak about Triumvirate very positively. Secondly, there's no reason that a self-published game can't be high quality - one just has to consider the raves that the self-published Biblios received, and its subsequent success is a case example. Thirdly, this game may well end up being picked up by a large publisher in the future. Fourthly, it's an innovative two-player game, and most of us are always on the lookout for good two-player games that play reasonably quickly - Triumvirate qualifies. Fifthly, it has some trick taking elements that will make it appeal to people familiar with more traditional card games, but it features an indirect form of play and incorporates a theme that makes it sufficiently noteworthy, and is geared to two players, which is very rare for a trick taking game. So now that we've justified taking a closer look, let's get to the game!



COMPONENTS

Game box

The box is fairly low key, but it's made of solid plastic, and houses all the components reasonably well:



The shrink-wrapped deck of cards comes separately, but can be stored inside the box.

The reverse side of the box introduces the theme:



There we read: "On the banks of the Rubicon a legionnaire’s footstep brings Civil War and sets upon a course of events from which an emperor will emerge. How will you master the tribulations that are to come on the field, in the senate and through the streets of Rome? Triumvirate is an indirect, trick taking game for two. Players represent the leaders of Roman noble houses, who through the course of the game will be maneuvering the political struggles that determine which of the triumvirs will be crowned as Emperor." The three suits correspond to Caesar (red), Pompey (yellow), and Crassus (black), and the idea is to set aside ("Pledge") the most points in Legion cards for the leader who ends up being declared Emperor. So you don't necessarily need to win tricks to win the game - as long as you can pledge high point scoring Legion cards for the Roman leader who ends up being Emperor, you'll win! This makes for very interesting game play!

The artwork on the box and the cards corresponds to a standard roman shield (or scutum) design, and is typical of how soldiers of that period were depicted, as seen in this re-enactment picture:



Component list

So what do you get inside the box? The complete list of components:
● 27 Cards (red, yellow & black suits)
● 9 Consulates (red, yellow & black figures)
● 6 Campaign Markers (red, yellow & black discs)
● 1 Curia Hostilia Tableau
● 1 Europa Tableau
● 2 Roma Tableaus
● 3 Round Scoring Markers (purple discs)
● 1 Dealer Marker (green disc)
● Reference card
● Rules



The main components are the cards, but there's also an array of wooden bits in soft muted colours:



It's not easy to fit everything in the box, but there is a way to do it. As the designer explains, put three of the tableaus in the top lid, and rest the heads of the consulates on the cards:



Let's just say that the box is functional, and I'm glad that there is a way to fit everything inside!

Rule book

The rules fit on a single sheet of letter-sized player, in two columns. They're mostly text, and explain the game well enough. My copy of the game came with rules in English, German, French, and... Latin! Yes Latin!



Really, which other game do you know has rules that come in Latin? This novelty aspect gives the game a bonus point already!

The rules also introduce the theme of the game: "The Roman Republic is breaking under its own successes. Rome is crowded with plebeians who have tasted military victory yet are unable to feed their families. Three great leaders emerge in Rome’s time of need; Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gaius Julius Caesar. Drawn together in their opposition to Senate policies, these three form the First Triumvirate to rule Rome in partnership. Yet ultimate corruption lies in ultimate power and as Rome wrecks with revolt, the Triumvirate is unable to maintain the bonds between them." For a trick taking game, the theme actually works quite well, since there is a real contest between the three leaders (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus), and you're trying to pledge the most Legions to the one that you think is most likely to win and be crowned emperor. I can't think of too many trick taking games where the theme works as well as this one - sure it's pasted on in the sense that this is really a card game with numbers, but it certainly is much more meaningful than it is in games like Lost Cities for example!

Component Overview

Before we look at the individual components, here's an overview glance of all components set-up for a game, to help you remember what is what:



An easy way to remember how the components come together is this:
● tricks won: Campaign marks on Europa board
● hands won: Consulate figures on Curia Hostilia board
● game won: Legion cards on Roma board
We'll explain this in more detail as we look at the individual components more closely.

Curia Hostilia Tableau and Consulate figures

The game comes with four tableau, the first of which is the Curia Hostilia Tableau.



The Curia Hostilia is the original Senate House of the Roman Republic. In the game it is used to keep track of the hands won by each of the three competing leaders. It takes three tricks to win a hand, and when any of the leaders has won three tricks, their matching Consulate figure is placed on the Curia Hostilia Tableau. Here's what the Consulates look like:



When the third Consulate figure is placed on the Curia Hostilia Tableau, the military leader matching that colour is crowned as Emperor, and the game ends - that's when players reveal the Legions they have pledged to that leader. Note that players are not colours! As the game progresses, you'll have to decide which leader you think will win and be crowned as emperor, and pledge Legion cards for that leader.

Europa Tableau and Campaign markers

Players keep track of the tricks won in a hand using the Europa Tableau.



There are matching Campaign markers for each leader (Caesar = red, Pompey = yellow, Crassus = black).



Since the third trick ends the hand and results in a Consulate of that colour being placed on the Curia Hostilia Tableau, there's no need for a third Campaign marker (although arguably for the same reason there's no need for a third Consulate figure either, since the placing of a third Consulate figure ends the game!).

Roma Tableau and Pledges

Each player gets their own Roma Tableau, which is the place that they will store their "pledged" cards.



During the game, you can pledge a maximum of three cards on your Roma Tableau. In most cases, you will try to pledge high valued Legion cards, since these are what will win you the game - if you're able to play the cards in support of the right leader! You can only pledge one card per hand, and since most games take several hands to be concluded (as little as three, or as many as seven), you don't want to start pledging too early!

Cards

Now for the most important part of the game - the 27 cards themselves.

The deck



The artwork on the reverse of the cards features the design common on Roman shields:



Three suits

There are three suits, corresponding to the three leaders: red (Caesar), yellow (Pompey), and black (Crassus). Each suit consists of nine cards numbered 0 through 8. Here's the complete suit for yellow (Pompey):



Three card types

All three suits are identical, and the distribution of cards in each suit is the same. Cards in each suit are one of three types:
● Mob card: 0
● Legion card: 3, 5, 7
● Senator card: 1,2,4,6,8



1. Senator cards

These are the "bread-and-butter" cards of a deck, with five in each suit, numbered 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8.



Each suit has the same number of Senator cards, with the same values.



2. Legion cards

Each suit has only three Legion cards, numbered 3, 5, and 7.



You can use these for regular tricks, but these are also the cards that you'll need to win the game. At the end of the hand, when you get the opportunity to "pledge" a card, it's especially these cards that you'll try to pledge. If the black leader (Crassus) ends up becoming emperor for example, both players reveal their pledged cards and add up the points for their black Legion cards. Since there are only three, someone will have to win! There can be no ties, because even if you pledge the 7, your opponent could pledge the 5 and the 3 to make 8, and still beat you! So pledging a 7 doesn't guarantee a win, and this is a neat mechanic! At times you also will have to make tough decisions about whether to try to save Legions for pledging, or play them as tricks. If you do pledge several cards of the same colour, you're also reducing the number of cards in that colour that are in play, making it harder to win further hands with that colour - creating tense and delicious dilemmas about what to do!



3. Mob cards

Each suit has only one Mob card, and with the number 0, it's the lowest of the suit. However, the Mob card automatically trumps a card from any other suit! So this means that if you lead a Mob card, you're guaranteed that this particular colour will win the trick (even if your opponent plays a higher card of that colour to win the trick - remember that what's important to you in the game is the colour that wins the trick, not who played the winning card!). Or if you are short-suited in the suit led by your opponent, you can play a Mob card of a different colour in order to win the trick.



The artwork

You don't have to be a professional art critic to notice that the artwork here is somewhat mediocre. To be honest, when I first saw the game I was somewhat disappointed at the artwork, because it looks like it was the work of a high school student playing around with MS Paint. But to be fair, it did grow on me for a while. After all, you could theoretically play this game using cards only featuring numbers and colours, and I appreciate that the designer has gone some lengths to include artwork that matches the game's theme. In that regard it serves it's purpose well. When I'm "pledging" Legion cards, I can see the soldiers on the card, and I appreciate having these pictures rather than just colours and numbers. Could it be improved? Sure, and maybe in a later production we'll see higher quality images. Really we only need three images, one for each type of card, and three colours for each. But for now, I think it works satisfactorily, and I'm glad to have these pictures rather than none at all. The artwork on the Legion cards is actually quite nice, and these are really the most important cards in gameplay.

By now you just about know how to play the game, but there are a few more components still to come, although they're less essential.

Markers

The game is played in three rounds, with the winner being the player who wins the best of three. Purple scoring markers are used to keep track of the winner of each round. A green Dealer marker is used to keep track of which player is the Dealer, since the Dealer alternates from hand to hand.



Reference card

A small reference card is also included, with a handy overview of the chief points of gameplay. Note that where it says "deal out 5 cards" it means that you set aside 5 cards that are not in play that hand, and deal out the remaining cards to both players.



The reverse side of the card has an Advanced Scoring Variant.



GAMEPLAY

We are ready to play! So how does it all come together?

Pledging

The basic flow of the game represents political maneuvering, as the three triumvirs seek to be crowned as Emperor, and players try to show their support by pledging Legion cards for the leader they think will become Emperor. The political struggles are represented through standard trick taking (with a few small differences), with each trick consisting of a card played by each player. Each hand consists of a series of two-card tricks until a suit has won three tricks (represented by Campaign markers on the Europa Tableau). Each round consists of a series of hands until a suit has won three hands (represented by three Consulates on the Curia Hostilia Tableau). It's at the end of each hand that you get the chance to pledge a single card face down onto your Roma tableau, and since Pledging is the key to winning the game, we'll start by explaining that first.



The winner of a round is determined by the player who has pledged the most points in Legion to the leader (suit) that ends up being Emperor (i.e. is first to win three hands). At the end of each hand, you may (but do not have to) pledge one card, which means that you take a card from your hand and place it face-down on your Roma tableau. It then remains out of play until the round ends. Since you can only pledge a maximum of three cards per round, and a round can consist of up to seven hands, there are often times where you'll strategically not want to pledge a card, until you get a better card to pledge or have a better idea which of the three leaders will become emperor! You might also want to pledge a Senator or Mob in order to short suit yourself or deprive your opponent of a key card, but in most cases you'll be trying to pledge Legion cards, in anticipation of which leader you think will become emperor. At the end of a round when one of the three leaders is crowned emperor, both players reveal their secretly pledged cards, and the player who has the highest score in Legions for that leader, wins the game. Since there are only three point-scoring Legion cards for each leader (3,5,7), you could win with as little as 3 points, and even pledging any two Legion cards (3+5=8) for the right suit would guarantee a win.

The overall winner is determined by a best-out-of-three rounds format.

Set-up

The Curia Hostilia and Europa Tableaus are placed in the center of the table, along with the Consulates and Campaign markers.



Shuffle the deck. Yes, I know, doesn't shuffling look awesome?



Five cards are set aside at the start of the game, and the remaining cards dealt out between the players (11 cards each). Each player also gets their own Roma tableau.



You're ready to roll! Complete setup should look something like this:



Flow of play

A hand

In turns (non-dealer leads the hand), players each play a card, each trick consisting of just two cards. Trick-taking works just like it does in most games, but with a few special features:
● You must follow suit if possible.
● Highest card wins the trick, even if it is a different colour from what is led! Ties are won by the first card.
● The Mob is a trump card, and beats any card of a different suit, while losing to a card of its own suit.
● Winner of the trick leads the next trick.
● A Campaign marker of the matching colour is placed on the Europa tableau for each trick won.
Cards remain face up and on the center of the table throughout the hand.



A hand ends when a third trick is won by the same colour. Two things now happen:

1. Election as consul: that colored Triumvirate member has been elected as consul, so one of the matching Consulate markers is placed on the Curia Hostilia Tableau.
2. Pledging: At the end of a hand, you can select one of your cards (usually a Legion) to pledge, by placing it face down on your Roma tableau, where it will stay until the end of the round. Pledging is optional, and only one card can be pledged each hand, up to a maximum of three cards per round.



In the example below, red (Caesar) has won a third trick, and thus a red Consulate is added to the Curia Hostilia. Both players pledge a card (in an actual game, these would be face down, so that you don't know what your opponent has pledged).



At the end of a hand, both players keep their cards in hand, and all remaining cards (including the cards played and the cards set aside on the last deal) are shuffled together and dealt out between the players (for the second and all subsequent hands, 3 cards are set aside at the start of each deal). The dealer (marked by the Dealer marker) alternates each hand, with the non-dealer leading the first trick of each new hand.

A round

A round ends when one of the leaders wins three consulates, and thus becomes the Emperor. For example, in the picture below, Pompey has strolled to an easy win as Emperor.



At this point, pledges are revealed, and you total the rank of your Legions (3s, 5s, and 7s) that match the suit of the new Emperor (e.g. the player above has 10 points in pledges for the victorious Pompey). The player with the highest total wins!

In the example below, the game went right to the wire, as Caesar became emperor in the final trick of the final hand, and the player on the left got a narrow win with at total of 8 pledges against 7.



Examples of play

Because it's not a conventional trick taking game, Triumvirate can be somewhat hard to visualize merely by reading a description of how the game works. So what better way to explain some aspects of the game than by giving a pictorial illustration of game-play? With the help of my camera and photo editing software, I've written an article to give some idea about how the game works. For this more complete pictorial illustration of game-play, head here:

Some sample plays from an innovative two-player trick-taking game
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/449031

Two small excerpts from that article:

A sample trick:



A sample round:



Advanced play

The rules also come with a "Drafting" variant, where the shuffle is replaced with card drafting. There's also an Advanced Scoring Variant on the reference card, which changes scoring.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Don't make judgments about Triumvirate after your first play. This is not like Lost Cities, where it can create an instant addiction after one session. It's more like a fine wine, that needs to be savoured, and can take some time to properly understand and appreciate. But there are certainly a lot of good things to say about it!

Strengths

It's a trick taking game for two players. I love trick taking games, and I also love two player games. Sadly, not that many satisfying trick taking games for two players exist (some of the few good examples would include Schnapsen, Écarté, and German Whist). Triumvirate is a welcome addition to these ranks! If you like trick taking games and are looking for something that is suitable for two players, this game is certainly worth exploring further.
The indirect trick taking mechanism. I first grew to enjoy a non-traditional style of trick taking game with Rook, where certain cards are point cards, and thus you don't necessarily have to try to win each trick. Triumvirate takes this a step further, because you can win the game simply by investing in the right leader, even if you lose all the tricks! This makes for very interesting and subtle gameplay! The designer credits König von Siam as the source of some of these ideas: "I also think highly of King of Siam, which was the inspiration for Triumvirate, though King of Siam can bring out the AP in too many players. I prefer to think of Triumvirate as King of Siam's slightly less brainy younger brother." Elsewhere he observes: "My design for Triumvirate was inspired by the indirect mechanisms of Peer Sylvester's King of Siam. I loved how the player determines what faction to support through the course of the game and yet the act of supporting the faction makes it less powerful. Likewise your opponent can reduce the power of the faction you are supporting. Its just a wonderful balancing mechanism, one which I distilled to its very basics in Triumvirate."
An element of bluffing. I love games that involve bluffing, and here the indirect gameplay lends itself to keeping secrets: what are you pledging, and what are you keeping in hand? You can calculate what your opponent has to some extent, and play accordingly, but you don't know the three cards set aside at the start of the hand, or what your opponent has pledged, so there's enough information to draw some conclusions about your opponent's plans, but not too much information so that it merely becomes an exercise in pure logic and deduction.
Tactical and strategic. You need to make tactical choices about what to play in a hand, and in which order to play your cards for best results. But because cards in hand carry over to the next hand, you also need to make long term strategic choices about which cards to keep back, and which cards to pledge. Sometimes you can even concede a hand to a leader you're not supporting, in order try to draw and set up strong cards in hand for the subsequent hand - I liked this aspect a lot! The fact that gameplay consists of several hands also does allow this kind of long-term planning, and results in tough decisions.
Decent theme. In the end, it has to be admitted that the theme is pasted on, since this is an abstract trick taking game after all. Yet the mechanics do fit the gameplay, and there is enough correlation to make it work. The idea of pledging legions to the military leader that is most likely to achieve victory is plausible, and there's much more theme here than in a game like Lost Cities.
Short game time. Games take little more than 20 minutes, and yet offer a good amount of tactical choices and meat within that quick time frame. It's suitable as a filler, or a quick and light game to play as a couple, even multiple times in one sitting if desired.
The portable size. There's a bit of a trick to getting all the components in the box, but once you have it figured out, it is an ideal size for carrying in a bag, or even in a large pocket.



Weaknesses

Mediocre graphics. Yep, the pixilated drawings on the cards are a bit cheesy. But this isn't nearly as irritating as it could be, and there's just enough theme to make it preferable to cards with no artwork at all. This can only improve in later editions.
Excessive components. It's not too often that I complain about there being too many components! But in this case the Campaign markers and Consulate figures start getting a bit much, and make the mechanics somewhat heavier than the gameplay. You can easily streamline gameplay by just using Consulate figures, and using them to keep track of both the tricks and hands won, and moving the figures on a track rather than placing a new one for each trick won - see an explanation of this proposed solution in this thread. This removes the need for Campaign markers, simplifies recording the tricks (by just moving the marker on the board rather than needing to add a new marker for each trick), plus it makes a more logical connection between the two boards. The Roma Tableau and round markers are also less essential, and make the game seem bigger than what it really is - but I'm happy to have them, and these are minor nitpicky criticisms, because it's easier to remove components than add them!
The indirect trick taking mechanism. Yes I know, this is also listed as a positive. But the disadvantage is that it's not that intuitive, and people familiar with standard trick taking may take some time to get used to this. That's not a serious deficiency, but it does mean that the game will shine most with people who are familiar with the game play, and it will usually take several plays for a new player to learn how to make good choices. I taught Triumvirate to two people who have experience with trick-taking games, and in both cases I got the same reaction "That's weird." "That seems quite random." "I don't get it." To be honest, I didn't quite get all the nuances of gameplay decisions the first time I played either, but it began to shine on the second or third sessions. So don't expect this to go over like Lost Cities, where you can begin an addiction the first time you introduce it to new players - this takes several plays to understand and appreciate, and it's not for everyone.
The luck element. The choices feel tight and tense, but sometimes I wonder whether the outcome is really determined more by my decisions or by the cards I'm drawing - especially if your opponent gets all the 7 valued Legions (unless you can find a way to force him to play them in the first hand). Does it even matter which cards I play? The decision that really counts is choosing the right cards to pledge. You can sometimes feel somewhat helpless during the trick-taking phase of the game, because while you can carry over cards to set up your hand somewhat for the next hand, it's always going to be hard to force a particular colour to win, no matter how cleverly you play, if you only have 2 or 3 cards of that colour in hand.

While the trick taking is interesting, it doesn't quite have the logical feel of Whist or Euchre, where you can draw out trumps or other important cards, and set up a guaranteed string of plays - there's a strange feeling that you're somewhat at the mercy of the draw. To some extent you can plan a series of tricks, but the fact that three cards are removed at the start of a round (and hidden cards your opponent has pledged) means you are working with imperfect information, and since there are not that many cards in each suit to begin with, it doesn't take much for your best laid plans to get overturned. Not drawing Legion cards for pledging can also make life difficult. On the other hand, you don't necessarily need to win tricks to win the game, and that's the beauty of the game!

The game does feature some really interesting choices because of the way it all fits together. For example, should I try to win this hand with a colour and pledge the 5 Legion in my hand, or do I need to keep that Legion card for the next hand? Particularly because the Legion cards are used both for pledging and playing tricks, and because each suit is quite small to begin with, it can be hard to know what Legions to pledge. After all, if you pledge two Legion cards from the same suit and that colour wins the game, you are guaranteed to win, since there are only three Legions in each colour to begin with - but if you pledge both Legion cards then there are less cards in that suit and its harder for that colour to win subsequent hands! It seems to be a bit of a Catch-22.

Overall, it's the very thing I love about the game that I'm also not quite sure about: the indirect trick taking mechanism, combined with a small deck, some luck of the draw, and imperfect information. The fact that it plays quickly means that this doesn't really matter either way, because regardless of which side of the fence of opinion you fall, it's still good for a fun 20 minutes. Even critics who think that the game has too much chaos and not enough control and that the outcome is more luck based than a result of tactics and strategy, will concede that given the quick play time, it's still a fun game to play. For myself, the more I play, the more I appreciate the possible decisions and choices I can make in the game. I find that the more I play the game, the more I enjoy it, and the better I get - even my non-gamer and family-gamer opponents had to concede on their second play that there was more to it than they thought, and it was beginning to grow on them. For myself, the more I play, the more I appreciate the gameplay, and the more I want to play again! There's also a lot of tension - sometimes a game might go to seventh hand before a winning leader is determined, as seen in the nail-biter pictured here:



I'd recommend Triumvirate to people who enjoy games like Battle Line, but are looking for something that adds more meat, skill, and theme, and who also enjoy trick-taking.

What do others think?

The gameplay

The biggest talking point about this game is going to be the indirect trick taking mechanism, and to what extent it's a good thing or bad thing. It's hard to explain until you see the game work, but here are some longer quotations that nicely sum up the concept of the gameplay, and hopefully make it clearer to the reader how the game comes together:

"Unusual trick-taking game for two. Capturing (or not-capturing) tricks is not really the point. There are three suits and you're basically trying to invest in the suit that will come out on top by the end of the game. In a nutshell, whenever a suit wins a trick, that suit gets a point. When a suit gets three points, it wins a vote. When a suit gets three votes, it wins and however much you have invested in that suit counts toward your score. You can be flexible and invest in all three. Or you can put all your eggs in one basket -- however, investments are made with cards in that suit which are taken out of the game, making it more difficult for you to steer that suit to victory. Interesting, and another nice two-player to add to my collection. There's always room for good two player games." - Stephen Glenn

"From the perspective of a single hand, the game is essentially highly dependent on who leads and who has which cards, its not highly flexible and the trick play can feel like being led around by the nose (you can't pull away once the person leading starts taking you down a path - if they have the cards they need). It's trick-taking on rails. What saves it, for me, is that the game isn't about a single hand, its about multiple hands, strung together, and the idea is to save cards that will let you be the one to put the Engineers cap on and ride the rails on a future hand. The game becomes one of look ahead, and strategy, with enough luck to keep it from being a dry perfect information game. I think its a game that would reward repeated plays, where the person who had played more would win more often than not. I also think its a game that would be best appreciated if played many times with the same opponent, so that the bluffing and second guessing elements would begin to play a stronger role - you can sense that those elements are there from the beginning, but it would take familiarity to bring them to their potential. It can be easy to suss out which cards the other player has pledged early in the game. I suspect experienced players will make that more difficult for each other." - Sean Ross

"I loved the concept of not playing a single faction vying for victory, but rather manipulating the outcome so that you could choose the winner or take advantage of who seems to be winning. Conceptually this is great! What really makes the game shine is that you are not actually playing to win in a suit directly. Instead you need to both manipulate the tricks to favor the color you want to win (which sometimes means losing some tricks to deplete what you suspect your opponent has in their hand), while at the same time reserve cards that guarantee you are supporting the right color. As you can probably guess, reserving those cards means it's harder for that color to win the tricks. Delicious dilemmas!" - Matt D

"While it has some interesting and subtle decisions, it’s not really a brain burner, or intimidating to newcomers or non-gaming spouses. It bears resemblance to other trick-taking games like Hearts or Spades, but geared for two people, and it feels as though the goals and strategies are unique and different. The game definitely takes a few plays to really start understanding the strategies involved. We play the basic game that allows for some luck, which we actually like - guessing which cards have been hidden or pledged is part of the fun. As an added bonus, the small size of the game makes it perfect for traveling or pulling out for a quick game pretty much anywhere. It should work both as a standalone game for couples, or as a filler or lead-in to longer, meatier games." -
Allison M


The critics

Apparently I'm not alone in thinking that this game is likely to work best with repeated play. But there are some for whom the luck elements dominated a little too much, or who just didn't care for the style of gameplay:

"Play seems to be dominated by the luck of the deal. If you are dealt the high cards/mobs, you will be able to dominate the lead. All that really matters in this game is control of the lead, even if you sometimes intentionally give it away. There are not enough hands in a given game to smooth out the luck curve. The game is short enough that playing it can still be fun despite the luck." - Joe McKinley
"We're not fond of trick-taking games, and found we didn't really take to it. Also, the luck of the opening deal seemed key to winning. On the up side: its very compact and would travel well, and makes a light filler for two." - Alan & Susan Bilbey
"I was not particularly impressed with the game, though I certainly respect the opinions of those who are. I was not in the mood to write any sort of negative review--the two people with whom I tried the game both had reservations about it as well. Very few games will please everybody that tries them. In this regard, Triumvirate is quite conventional." - Joshua Adelson


The praise

But for most people, the unique game-play combined with some traditional trick-taking aspects and a theme was a big hit:

"Really like trick-taking games and this is the first I've seen for 2 players that really works." - Mitch Willis
It is very close to the perfect trick taking game, in my opinion. It's quick, but has strategic depth (due to the multiple hands needed to complete the game). This could be a breakout game for the developer (and would be a very popular game if released by one of the big publishers with more marketing money!).” – DC
"Really good two player game... I highly recommend this game, it's got my wife's approval and that's pretty impressive" – Hank Panethiere
"This is a simple indirect trick taking game that has more strategy than you might think. Unless you just get power hands, you will need to bluff well to win." - Larry Welborn
"This is a very solid two player trick-taking game with a cool over-arching strategy which manipulates your tactical play. It's quick but not shallow as there is enough time to develop your strategy." - Guy Riessen
"Triumvirate is an excellent little game, the perfect filler ... There is strategy there, though it can occasionally feel as though there's no hope due to your card draw. The game is short enough, however, that the weight of luck doesn't really impact my enjoyment." – Patrick McInally
"Fast playing 2 player. Good blend of tactics and strategy. A small deck of cards and small boards for tracking victories. More than just a card game. Can play a best of 3 match in under an hour. I recommend Triumvirate to anyone, especially couples, looking for a fun, quick, 2-player game with a good mix of tactics and strategy." - Futza
"Quick, cunning game, with opportunities for "thinking in reverse" for getting what you want by manipulating your opponent and not always taking the obvious approach. The theme is attractive, being a Rome fan, and surprisingly thematic for a very short card game." – Sothis
"Triumvirate is a unique 2 player trick-taking game of indirect influence and carefully managed card play. Optimal play is by no means obvious and each turn presents some tense decisions. I have the impression that repeated play against the same opponent will be where this game really shines." - William Herbst
"Wow! A two-player trick-taker that works! I love that who takes the trick is often not as important as controlling what color takes the trick. And because of the way the cards recycle while you hold unplayed cards from preceding hands, you can begin to tell what your opponent's possible plays may be." - Steve Hughes
"Overall I was really impressed. It was the type of game I enjoy. Progressive development, simple card counting, bluffing, plus a nifty indirect mechanic - all my cup of tea!" -
Matt D
"A great little card game for two. It's light enough for a "couples" game, but there is plenty of opportunity for strategy and tacticts. Plus, I think it's fun to play." - BoB 3K




The final word

Is Triumvirate for you, and who would like this game? My conclusion is that Triumvirate does live up to its billing, and genuinely is an excellent trick taking game for two players. What's more: it's innovative, thematic, quick, skilful, and fun! But I recognize that it's not for everyone. Is it for the typical non-gamer? Not that likely, because it's not intuitive enough, and too different from standard trick taking games. Is it for the typical gamer? Not that likely, it's too much like standard trick taking games. That may seem contradictory, but it isn't - Triumvirate is an excellent game, but it will primarily appeal to people who enjoy the nuances of trick taking games, and are prepared to try something unconventional. So it's not a game for everyone, and don't expect everyone to like it, or even to "get" it on the first play. But people who enjoy trick taking games, and are prepared to stick out the learning for a couple of games, are likely to find a gem inside.



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The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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Travis Worthington
United States
California
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2010 Releases ........................................ The Resistance, Haggis & Triumvirate ..................................... Now accepting submissions for 2011 releases ........................................ www.IndieBoardsandCards.com
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Thanks for a very excellent review - you really nailed so many ways I personally feel about the game.

It really does grow on you, the bluffing and manipulation aspects take several plays to be uncovered. And even though there is a lot of randomness in the shuffles - its not purely random as you have some control what cards go into the shuffle so there is (or should be) a fair amount of odds calculation going on as well - this is another reason why experience is rewarded by the system.

But as you so eloquently said, the game won't appeal to all and it really takes several go throughs to "get it". Usually I can get people to that level just because they want to beat me. An experienced player can beat a newer player pretty easily the first 2-3 rounds. Once you get to that level the game is fun to see if you can win even (especially?) when you get a bad opening hand - as they say its not always if you win or lose but how you play the game!

I too have found that Triumvirate is most likely to appeal to not only those that like trick taking games, but also those that like a lot of different types of games. If you don't like trick taking then its unlikely to appeal to you, but it might to your significant other! That seems to be a common thread among the reviews to date.

Finally I would say that the included drafting variant is one that appeals more to abstract players - it allows total control after the initial shuffle and can be a bit more of a brainer burner.

Thanks again, the results really show a deep investment for which I am grateful.
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T. Nomad
South Korea
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Wow! If the game is half as good as this review I'm in for a treat!
thumbsup to both of you.
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DC
Canada
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Wow, I'd like to review this review!

Absolutely fantastic use of photos (tons of them!). It's immediately obvious that you put a significant amount of time and effort into this. Great job!
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Mitch Willis
United States
Kathleen
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Very nice review. It's a solid game and I was pleasantly surprised at just how well it plays. I was thinking 'bout doing a review but when I heard you were doing one, I knew there was no need. You really nailed it...
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Guy Riessen
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Sebastopol
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As far as I'm concerned, this is a *must* have card game for two players. It fits the, waiting-for-others-to-arrive-at-gamenight, time-slot, and has the kind of tense, yet quick, decision making to get your gaming-brain working.

I agree that it is a very minor chore for trick-taking game players to understand, as it breaks your standard "this is a trick taking game" concepts. When Travis taught this game to me at KublaCon, my initial reaction was, "what the heck just happened there?" Followed quickly by, "okay let me try that again." During the second game it all clicked into place. Of course, it was 11pm on Sunday, after 2.5 full days of gaming, when he started teaching me, so maybe it wouldn't even take a full game to grok under normal circumstances?

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Tor Sverre Lund
Norway
Trondheim
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Thanks for an awesome review of an awesome game! I recieved my copy today, and have only given the rules a once-over. This review helped a lot in explaining the further details of play. One caveat though:
Quote:
2. Pledging: At the end of a hand, you can select one of your cards (usually a Legion) to pledge, by placing it face down on your Roma tableau, where it will stay until the end of the round. Pledging is optional, and only one card can be pledged each hand, up to a maximum of three cards per round.
Shouldn't that be "a maximum of seven cards per round"?
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Travis Worthington
United States
California
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2010 Releases ........................................ The Resistance, Haggis & Triumvirate ..................................... Now accepting submissions for 2011 releases ........................................ www.IndieBoardsandCards.com
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Gawain wrote:
Shouldn't that be "a maximum of seven cards per round"?


There can be up to 7 hands in a round - but there is a hard pledge limit of 3 cards.
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Tor Sverre Lund
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Aah, right. The pieces are slowly falling together ^^
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Mike Malley
United States
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I just wanted to add a quick note about the cardstock: Travis did well.

It's not going to set the gold standard, but i have games from respected publishers with cardstock i wish was this good. This is the one part i was concerned about and if a review covered it, i glossed over that sentence.
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Jeff Mays
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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Well, another Enders review that left me no choice but to get the game. Can't wait to give it a try. I've been on the fence with this one a while, (finances putting brakes on many purchases this year) but at 20 bucks, I can no longer justify not having this in my humble collection. Enders, you continue to amaze me. Nicely done! thumbsup


P.S.- I'll be curious to see the artwork on the cards themselves as I think they look pretty nice from the images. (And I kinda consider myself overly picky when it comes to artwork. Glory to Rome ? I just can't get past the artwork no matter how many people say it's wonderful). shake
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Lauren Stein
United States
Pittsburgh
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GrrBlarg wrote:
P.S.- I'll be curious to see the artwork on the cards themselves as I think they look pretty nice from the images. (And I kinda consider myself overly picky when it comes to artwork. Glory to Rome ? I just can't get past the artwork no matter how many people say it's wonderful). shake



You should try to get over that, if they ever get around to reprinting it. I enjoy Triumvirate as well, but Glory to Rome is a lot of fun (in that completely absurd, everything-is-broken way).
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Peaceful Gamin'
Canada
Vancouver
BC
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damn hell!

Best review I've ever seen written here.
Thx ender.
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