Posted by: gschloesser | July 15, 2011

Caesar and Cleopatra

Designed by:  Wolfgang Lüdtke
Published by:  Rio Grande Games / Kosmos
2 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Caesar and Cleopatra battle for the loyalties of the Roman patriarchs in this entertaining card game from Kosmos.

Let me first say that I am undergoing a conversion in regards to card games.  I grew up, as I guess most did, thinking card games were nothing more than games played with a standard deck of fifty-two playing cards using the all-to-familiar four suits of hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.  Poker, Blackjack and the like held no interest for me then and still none today.  Thus, my mind was always biased against card games of any type.

Slowly, however, I began to be exposed to the European style of card games.  First came Bohnanza, followed by Take 6, Reibach & Company, For Sale and their like.  Slowly but surely, my opinion of card games has undergone an evolution and now I am much more open to the cleverness and strategy options present in many of today’s intriguing card games.

Caesar & Cleopatra by Wolfgang Ludtke and published by Kosmos and Rio Grande Games is an unusual addition to the wave of card games – it is designed as a two player game.  That fact initially made me skeptical of the merits of the game.  And, frankly, upon my first try of the game, I remained unimpressed.  However, after several playings, the intricacies and strategies come to the surface and the game becomes much more intriguing.

The basic idea of the game is for each player, representing Rome and Egypt, respectively, to sway as many of the Roman Senate Patricians to their side. This is accomplished by the playing of ‘Influence’ cards, either face-up or face-down, on the five Patrician groups. Most rounds, a ‘Vote of Confidence’ is held and the player having the most influence placed upon the group being voted upon wins the top Patrician of that group. At the end of the game, players receive victory points for the number of Patricians they have swayed to their side, as well as points for having swayed a majority of each of the five houses and for having captured an entire house’s loyalty. In addition, a player receives a secret ‘Victory Bonus’ card at the beginning of the game which rewards the player with bonus victory points if a certain task is completed (obtaining a majority of Patricians from a certain house).

Each player receives an identical set of cards consisting of  37 Influence cards, which range in value from 1 – 5 and includes two special ‘Philosopher’ cards (which reverse the outcome of a ‘Vote of Confidence’) and an ’Action’ deck containing six different types of actions, allowing players to perform such dirty and sundry deeds as forcing a player to remove a face-up card; enabling one to re-organize his already placed influence cards; stealing a card from an opponent’s hand and discarding it; etc. Players also occasionally have a veto card which can halt an opponent’s action..

Each turn, a player must decide if he will be ’Active’ or ‘Passive’.  If ‘Active’, a player may perform a number of actions.  He may play an action card at any point during his turn to perform one of the deeds discussed above.  In addition, he may also place one ‘Influence’ card face-down beside one of the Patrician groups, or two ‘Influence’ cards face-up by one or two of the Patrician groups.  Of course, a face-down card, although limiting a player’s placement to one card, has the benefit of being hidden, forcing the opponent to guess at its value and your total strength committed to the Patrician group in question.  Playing ‘Influence’ cards face-up allows a player to place one more card per round, but the strength of your ‘force’ committed is known. 

(*NOTE:  Please see the section for a suggested variant to this procedure.)

If a player opts to be ‘Passive’, he can exchange any or all of his cards in his hand for new ones from either his ‘Influence’ and/or ‘Action’ decks.  In this manner, if a player is not satisfied with his hand, he can re-load, but at the expense of forfeiting a turn in which to add ‘Influence’ cards to the Patrician houses or taking any actions.

Following a player’s action and placement of cards, he is allowed to re-fill his hand to the five card limit.  He must decide whether to re-fill his hand with cards from the face-down action and/or  influence decks. It becomes a balancing act between selecting action cards versus influence cards in order to keep one’s options on subsequent turns open.

At the conclusion of a player’s turn, a ‘Vote of Confidence’ card is revealed, which may call for a vote in one of the five Patrician houses.  If this occurs, players total the value of the ‘Influence’ cards they had committed to that particular house.  The player with the highest total wins and captures the top Patrician card from that house.  However, the winning player is forced to discard his highest value Influence card which was committed to that house, while the losing player only loses his lowest value card.  This has a balancing effect on the houses in regards to strength and keeps the game close.  The one exception to this ‘vote’ procedure is if a player had committed one of his ‘Philosopher’ cards to the house.  In this case, the vote totals are reversed and the player with the lowest point value in Influence cards wins the vote and takes the top Patrician card!  Very sneaky.

Votes can also be forced once eight cards have been committed to a particular house.  This forces a vote, which follows the above procedure.  However, this rule allows players to force votes at key times, enabling them to capture a needed Patrician card or prevent a player from capturing a majority.  This concept, used in conjunction with some special action cards which allow a player to reveal an opponent’s face-down cards or remove his high valued card from the house before the vote, can prove critical and devastating.

The game continues in this fashion until all Patrician members are taken or both players run out of Influence cards.  At this point, points are totalled and the victor is determined.  Players receive 1 Victory Point for each Patrician they have swayed to their side, as well as 1 VP for having captured a majority of members in a particular house.  An additional 1 VP is awarded if a player managed to sway an entire house to his side.  Further,  2 VP are awarded if a player met his ‘secret’ objective.

With repeated playings, more of the subtleties and strategies become evident. When to play the two card option face-up as opposed to the hidden one card face down became a key element. Also, how to fill one’s hand at the end of the turn, whether from the Action Deck or the Influence Deck, plays a major role in what options are available to you during the turn.  Also critical were the use of action cards coupled with the tactic of forcing a vote – this proves critical.  With this better understanding of the game and its finer points, the game becomes much more enjoyable with more experience.

The game sort of had the feel of Banana Republic by Doris & Frank, which I did not like. However, Caesar & Cleopatra is a better game than Banana Republic, with much nicer artwork, and you do have a great deal more control and knowledge of opponent’s actions than what is present in Banana Republic.

The game is easy to learn and plays within an hour. It makes an excellent filler for when you have the ‘odd’ two players who have been ousted from a game or remain later after the early-birds elect to depart.  Further, it is a game which can be played over the lunch table or with a friend or spouse.  Recommended.

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Responses

  1. Decent 2 player game. I just don’t care for it. (5/10)


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