Julius Caesar Review

Julius Caesar is a 2 player war game from Columbia Games and designers Grant Dalgliesh and Justin Thompson. As a gamer, I have an appetite for all kinds of games - except that I have not played very many war games. The closest I've played to war games are a couple of the C&C games and (my favorite game of all time) War of the Ring. So after doing some searching on BGG for good intro wargames, I was excited to hear that Columbia Games was willing to send me a copy of one of the most recommended titles - Julius Caesar.

The starting position for the Pompey army. 

Julius Caesar is what is known as a "block wargame." In these types of wargames, player's units are represented by wooden blocks, with information on only one side. This means that players are unable to see exactly what enemy units are in each location - just where the other player has units.

The only VPs outside of Rome (worth 2) that start the game up for grabs.

The game will end either after 5 rounds, or immediately after a round where 1 player controls cities worth 10 or more victory points.

The number in the red banner is the card's movement value. The number of silver medallions is the number of levy points the card is worth.

A round begins with each player being dealt 6 cards from the 27 card deck. There are two kinds of cards - command cards and event cards. Each player has to discard 1 card from their hand. Then both players select 1 card to play. determines both who moves first, as well as how many movement points and levies the player receives. 

Some of the event cards in the deck. If 1 player plays an event card, that player goes first. If both players play event cards, they are discarded with no effect.

Unless one of the players plays an event card, whoever plays the card with the most movement goes first. This player will first move any blocks he wishes to move and then can either "heal" a block on the board for a levy point or deploy a block from her levy pool for a levy point. Then, if any cities contain units from both armies, battles are resolved. 

Each unit has a strength value and a combat value. A unit's strength value corresponds to how many dice it will roll when it attacks. It also represents each unit's "hit points." Each time a unit suffers a hit, a unit's block is rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise - thus decreasing its strength. 

In this example, Antonius would roll his 2 dice first, causing hits on 2's or lower (which would be assigned to the Roman legion, because it is the strongest opposing unit). Then Pompey would attack, and so on.

Battles are fought in phases, with all defending A units rolling attacks first, then attacking A units, then B units, then C, and so on. As mentioned above, units roll a number of d6's - each die that is the unit's combat value or lower is a hit. Hits are immediately assigned to the strongest opposing unit. Battles are fought until one side is eliminated, one side retreats, or until the end of the 4th round of combat (when the attacking force needs to retreat). 

Play continues in this way until the players have played all five of their cards. Then a winter phase takes place, where each side needs to check stacking limits - each city on the board can only hold 3 units during this phase (more if the city is worth any VPs) and any surplus units are removed from the board. 

The game will end during the winter phase when 1 of the armies has at least 10 VPs or after 5 winters.

One of the things I didn't care for about Julius Caesar was the number of exceptions to rules. There may not be many for a wargame, but for someone fairly new to the genre, I found myself checking the rule book pretty regularly even after having played the game a few times.

Another nit I would pick with the game is the size of the map and the size of the blocks. The map looks very good, but on a few occasions it became unclear which units were in which city. Stacking the blocks helps a little, but they fall down and remembering how strong the units that fell were was a hassle.

I wasn't sure what to expect before playing Julius Caesar. I had never played any of the Ancients C&C games - so I had never played a block wargame, or really any game where not knowing what or where your opponent's units are is a feature of the game. This part of the game - not being sure of what you are marching towards, or thinking you remember what units are in that city, and being totally wrong - is very enjoyable. I also really liked the balance of having to go get 10 VPs but also knowing that defending armies have a pretty big advantage in combat (attacking first) is really interesting. I found myself moving my armies close to my opponent's, hoping she would attack so that I could (hopefully) wipe out her force while I had the defensive advantage and then march towards the points she was holding.

I also really enjoyed the combat itself. I liked the almost puzzly feeling of trying to assemble an army that have a good balance of early attackers (As or Bs), likely hitters (high combat value), and strong units (lots of dice), and then taking those armies out and seeing how they do in the field.

On the whole, I really enjoy Julius Caesar. I would give it an 8.0 out of 10. I really like the combat, the hidden units, and while I don't know much about the historical context, I like the theme as well. I think I would rather play this over something simpler than Memoir, and would also gladly play it if I wanted to play War of the Ring and the other player wasn't in the mood for something so long. I think Julius Caesar is a great game to look into if you haven't played many wargames, but are interested in dipping your toes into the water. After having enjoyed my time with Julius Caesar so much, I'm now looking into getting copies of games like Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex.

Jim would like to thank Columbia Games for providing him a review copy of Julius Caesar.

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