Published by Kosmos, designed by Wolfgang Lüdtke.

This is a two-player card game. I had this game for ages before I ever played it. For me, board and card games are usually social affairs when I have a few friends over for a chat and a game. I play table-top wargames against single opponents, and so an exclusively two-player game is not tremendously appealing. Having tried to design a couple, I know that two-player card games are very difficult to design well. This one is a success.

One player is Caesar, and the other plays Cleo. There is an issue of some sort, to do with the way Egypt is run by the Romans. What the issue is, is irrelevant. What matters is that Caesar and Cleopatra disagree, and each tries to win over the patricians of Rome to support one view. Twenty-one patrician cards are placed down face up on the table at the start of the game. These represent the floating voters, who might be won over to one side of the argument or the other, and so tip the balance to one player. At the end of the game, each patrician is worth one point. However, the patricians are of five types: Aedils, Quaestors, Senators, Censors, and Praetors (or to translate into modern terms, the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury, the Judiciary, the Department of Administration and Works, and the House of Lords). If a player can win over most of one category, he gets an extra point. If he can win over all of one category, he gets another bonus point. It is very useful to have all of the army or treasury on your side.

Players also have secret mission, picked randomly at the start of the game. Achieving a majority in the category on this card gains a player another two points. Since there are two of each secret mission card, it is possible that both players have the same mission, and so competition for one category of patrician will be especially fierce.

The players start with identical hands of cards, and five cards to be placed face down next to each of the stacks of patricians. These are "influence" cards, and vary in strength from one to five. In his turn, a player may place down one influence card face down, or may place two cards down face up. The desire to place cards face down is very great, but so is the desire to place down as many cards as possible, and every turn it is a tricky decision which to go for. This is a very good rule that makes the game both a lot more fun and a lot more skilful.

At the end of his turn, a player turns over the top card on a pile of "vote of confidence" cards. This is the major part that luck plays in the game. The turned-up card sometimes says that there will be no vote, or it may declare a category of patrician that will be contested. If a patrician category comes up, players turn their cards influencing that category up, and the higher total value wins. The winner gains one patrician card, and then another neat and effective game-balancing rule comes into effect: the winner loses his highest card influencing that category, and the loser loses his lowest. This means that after a victory in one category, is it often the case that the influence of the losing player ends up greater.

After his turn, a player replenishes his hand from either of two piles. One is of influence cards, and the other is of "action" cards. These cards when played enable a player to do things like look at one of his opponent's pile of face-down cards, or to assassinate one influence card, or to rearrange the cards he has put down. These are quite powerful cards, and add to the skill of the game, because they must be used effectively.

Another twist is that each pack of influence cards includes two "philosopher" cards. These are often played face down for secrecy, and they have the effect of making the lower total of influence win a contest rather that a higher. They add both fun and skill.

The game doesn't take very long. The box estimates 30-40 minutes. It remains fun to the end. A game can be turned around by good play, and so it does not suffer badly as many games do from "uncatchability", in that a player who is doing well at the start may well run into trouble later. If he had a run of good luck on the cards, then the likelihood is that things will change for him later, as both players have identical packs, and so his opponent will start to pick up good cards before long. Each turn, a player will try to end up winning in as many categories of patrician as possible, so that the random process of turning up a vote of confidence card will probably lead to a victory.

An interesting variant of this game, which I have never tried, is to allow a player to decide in advance on the order of the cards in his action card pack. I imagine that it might even be possible to play the game with a "stacked" influence card pack.

This is a German game, and English translations of the rules are available on the internet from Boardgame Geek.


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