The First Roman Civil War: 50-44 B.C.
Designed by Joseph Miranda
Published by Victory Point Games (2008)
The title is a quote from Ronald Reagan. When looking at this game I was thinking of his response to being told that he was a B-grade actor – he said that he was actually an A-grade actor who performed in B-grade movies. To some extent that sums up my feelings about Caesar XL – it is a good game with lower-than-average production values.
Victory Point Games produce small DTP-quality wargames. In Caesar XL the XL is Roman numerals for the number ‘40’ as there will only ever be a maximum number of counters on the board slightly greater than that at any one time.
What You Get
1 11”x17” map – it is both colourful and functional. Useful player aids are placed around the edge of the map. Personally I think that the march routes look poor and spoil the map – they would have been more visually pleasing had they been straight and had more clearly defined edges.
68 counters – they too are colourful and functional. They clearly have amateurish production values and time will tell how they cope with the wear and tear that accompanies repeated plays of the game. I feel that the ‘money’ tokens are too few and use poker chips in my games.
42 cards – they are well produced but, personally, I would have preferred to see larger cards. Everything is clear and easy to read – I just find that the small size makes them a little fiddly to handle.
Bronze Rules, Silver Rules and Designer Notes – the rules have been well and clearly written. I give full credit for this side of production.
Overall the game seems over-priced when judged solely by the contents of the game.
Playing the Game
The game plays quickly and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand what is going on.
There are 14 turns in the game and Caesar always moves first. During each player turn you can attempt to gain a single Forum card and then see if you have won the game. Next you draw a card from the SPQR deck. Then you purchase new units. The taxation phase follows where you obtain gold from cities that you control. Afterwards come the movement and combat phases. Then it is the next player’s turn. As you don’t have many counters on the board none of this takes very long – you certainly won’t have enough time to go and make a coffee while your opponent is taking their turn.
The Mechanics of the Game
How Do You Win – you can go for one of two different types of victory, a military victory (your leader is in Rome, your opponent’s leader has been vanquished and you control cities with a combined value of at least 25) or a political victory (you have acquired 7 points worth of either Populares or Optimates forum cards).
Forum/Victory Phase – When drawn, Forum cards are placed in the Forum. During the Forum Phase you are allowed to take one from the Forum if you meet the requirements of the card. They are expensive but give ongoing benefits and may contribute to a political victory. What is interesting is that there are only 10 points worth of each type of card (Optimates or Populares) – to win you need a nett 7 points for one side or the other (i.e. if you are trying for a Populares win, every Optimate point in your hand cancels out a Populares point).
SPQR Card Phase – draw a card from the deck. If it is a Forum card place it in the Forum. If it is an event it happens. Anything else (Leader, Tactics, Action) keep it in your hand until you use it. Caesar may hold up to four cards while Pompey may only hold up to three.
Purchase Phase – buy legions or allied troops. Both players have a force pool of 12 legions – Caesar also has 6 allied troops in the force pool while Pompey has 8.
Tax Phase – take gold for all the cities that you currently occupy. The quandary in the game is that to maximise your income your forces must spread out. To concentrate your troops for combat will cause a reduction in your income.
March Phase – all units may move to an adjacent area.
Combat Phase – Troops and leaders have a combat rating between 1 and 5 – the higher the better. Basically troop counters fire alternatively and if they roll equal or less than their rating they score a hit on an opposing piece – all pieces get to fire once before any pieces can fire a second time. After the first round retreat is an option and it is possible that one victorious unit will be promoted to a higher combat value.
How Does It All Fit Together
After having given this game considerable thought I think I am safe in saying, “It’s a game!”
I won’t describe it as a wargame but rather as a military-themed game. It is on an interesting historical subject that is high on my interest list but it fails as a simulation. Subordinate leaders are assigned randomly via SPQR cards so you can have historical incongruities like Cato being on the same faction as Caesar – I don’t like this aspect of the game.
Some thought has been given to the make-up of the cards and the map. Players concentrating on obtaining Populares cards will find it easier to raise troops while those concentrating on Optimates cards will find it easier to raise money.
With the initial deployment of forces the Pompey player starts with more troops and wealthier provinces but has the disadvantage of having his forces split. Caesar has fewer troops but has the advantage of being close to Rome and having a strong force in a position where it can attack a smaller Pompeiian force.
The game is quite random. The combat system, the card draw and the small number of counters can lead to randomness playing a big role in the outcome of the game.
On the positive side the rules are great and the game plays quickly. If you are looking for either an introductory level game with a military theme or something short and quick then this game is the real deal.
Overall, the game plays better than the majority of magazine games I have experienced but doesn’t really represent good value-for-money.
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Thanks for posting your review. (I just acquired the game and have high hopes for it.)
What bronze/silver/gold version of the rules have you played? Any thoughts on the play value of the different versions?
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I have only played the Bronze but in future will play the Silver - the rules aren't much more complex but add some nice features such as access to the barbarian areas and force marching.
I suspect that the gold rules are in the expansion that can be bought separately - I don't have it and would like to know something about it before making the purchase.
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As you know, Silver Rules adds purchase choices (diplomacy for control of cities, forced marching, acquiring more cards on your turn), a bit more to combat and leaders, supply, and more complex barbarian rules (abstracted).
Link to Gold Rules pdf:
Gold Rules adds barbarian counters (10 home and 10 invading, including leaders) and rules for them, more purchasing choices (veteran units, training), and 12 more cards. It also adds a combat Breakthrough bonus for combined forces (Light, Heavy, Leader) against uncombined opposing forces, and an optional "buckets of dice" way of calculating combat.
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- Ciaran McCann(Kihon)United Kingdom
Nice review but you point out what's keeping me from buying this, the component quality.
Been looking at this on vassal and have a quick question. I know that when drawing your starting cards if you draw a forum card you put it in the forum but what happens if you draw an event card, does it happen or is it discarded and/or shuffled back into the deck?
I wish they would sell these as PnP kits as I would have to order this from America and for the quality I can't justify the expense.
With a PnP I could print and mount the map, print the cards on good stock, round the corners, maybe even give them a nice varnish. Print or maybe even redesign the counters etc.
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- Wow, I totally agree about the component quality. These days whenever I see anything from VPG that looks appealing I really agonize over the decision, because I know that when I shell out the $30-ish dollars plus S&H for a ziploc bag with print-and-play quality components, I'm going to feel ripped off, and that gives what's probably a well-designed game a pretty bad first impression. VPG is probably my least-favorite publisher. <sigh>
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