By Russ Lockwood
Publisher Columbia Games
Phil came down and brought Columbia Games’ board game Julius Caesar. While I had played many of the CG block games, I hadn’t played this one.
For those unfamiliar, a block game is basically an “upgunned” Stratego where the blocks serve as units, standing upright with their backs showing nothing but the color of the army. If you want to find out what’s in a space, you move in for a battle. Movement restrictions limit the number of blocks that can enter a spot, with those coming ‘via alternate routes’ entering battle as a reserve and only available on the second and third rounds of combat. Three rounds maximum for a battle.
Units generally come in A, B, C, or D quality, with the lower letter firing first (defender before attacker in case of ties) and inflicting damage. Units also come with a 1, 2, 3, and 4 designation which tells you what to roll (lower is better) on a d6 to hit. Other designations show the strength of the unit, again, from 1 to 4, which tell you how many dice you’ll toss for that unit and how many losses it can take before being destroyed. As you take losses, you rotate the blocks to show strength at the “top” of the block. Cards can alter the above to add a little uncertainty and many of the games have special cards that do all sorts of things.
As such, it’s a relatively simple system to pick up, the challenge between the games being to figure out the mapboard and victory conditions. Play one, you pretty much play them all. On the downside, they tend to play alike and can in some cases, play like a grinding WWI game.
Julius Caesar is a game of the Roman Civil War in 50-something or another BC, with Julius Caesar against Pompey the Great.
That said, Julius (Phil) started out with lots of troops concentrated in Gaul and starts the game crossing the Rubicon to grab Rome. Pompey (Me) started out with forces scattered across Mediterranean. Rome and Alexandria are 2 VP cities, with 9 more across the Med at 1 VP each. If either player grabs 10 VP worth of cities at the end of a turn, the game ends, otherwise, the most VPs after five turns wins (whoever holds Rome wins a tie). Each turn consists of playing five cards, each player alternating a card.
This is a point-to-point game, with movement generally limited to 2 spaces but attacks can only be launched at an adjacent point.
Anyway, I moved Iberian legions north to attack and played a card that turns a random enemy unit into a traitor, which I then used to bash Phil’s legions.
Phil charged into Italy, grabbing Rome and cornering Pompey in Brundisium, slaughtering ‘the Great’ in the process. The game is not over though, as Brutus shows up to keep the civil war going. Then Phil charged across Yugoslavia and into Greece, grabbing Athens, then into Turkey, grabbing Byzantium. Note that to grab a city, you need to leave a unit atop it. If you subsequently move units away, the city reverts back to neutrality. It is NOT ‘last one through’ retaining control.
Most cards tell you the number of unit groups you can activate and a number of recruitment points to build/rebuild units. Here’s a catch — the legions and cavalry have a home recruitment city printed on the block. If you don’t have a unit on that city, you can’t build those particular units. You can build auxiliaries and some other units, and rebuild units anywhere on the board, but new units or units back from the dead–you need the home town.
I’m looking at my recruitable legions and notice most of their home cities have been captured by Phil. I build the one legion at Crete, an elephant, ballista, and some naval units.
I do notice that Phil’s cards have more recruitment points on them than mine. By the end of Turn 1, he’s rebuilt everything he lost and then some. That’s just the way the cards fell, because all cards are recycled into one deck at the end of the turn, shuffled, and dealt to both players.
The rest of the game gets a little hazy, but in the mid-game, Phil fooled me by sending an expedition into Turkey, which I intercepted, that turned out to be led by Caesar himself. In the battle, Phil risked Julius and lost, so Julius joined Pompey in Hades.
Meanwhile, I learned about something I call the “Termite Tactic“. Phil uses a navy (worst units on map) to grab a VP city (port) and then immediately uses the recruitment points to build a legion unit in the port. The next card, the legion unit grows…and so on.
That’s how I lost Iberia…and then Phil’s units started to shuttle into North Africa.
The Termite tactic also took Antioch (sheesh, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me) while I was reconquering Turkey and Greece. You really have to remember that cities do not have any intrinsic strength and that nothing is safe behind your lines when a navy’s in those waters.
As the last turn began, I thought I was pretty much beat. The only thing that kept me from obliteration was the large number of Caesar’s units still in Iberia that were not heading my way quickly. I saw very few Pompey units on the board.
I was defending Syracuse in Sicily, defeated a small expedition that came from the toe, but a bigger one (the conquerors of Utica in North Africa) arrived and I stuffed every unit (including the naval units) into Syracuse to await the siege, which never came.
I swept back into Antioch, dropped a legion off to sit on it (OK, so I only have to be hit twice to learn) and pushed two legions towards Jerusalem to chase down the units that took Antioch in the first place. They turned and we battled, losses being about even, but I had the worst of it. I retreated what was left of my two legions back into Antioch to make a stand with the legion left behind.
Phil attacked again. Antioch was the key and there was only the last card of the last turn remaining. He was, I think, a tad surprised that I left a full 4 strength legion as the garrison. Combined with the two damaged legions, and the fact that as defender I fired first, it was enough to hold off his termite force.
Then it was my turn to be surprised that it was a 7-6 victory in my favor!
It is a clever block game that gives you lots of choices and enough movement to try and do something, but not everything.
All in all, a good day for block gaming.
Russ Lockwood has been bouncing around the wargaming world for the last 25 years in one capacity or another. Most know him as creator and CEO of MagWeb.com (on-line archive of 162 military history and related magazines from Coalition Web, Inc. from 1996-2009). He appeared on camera on The History Channel (Modern Marvels), ABC, NBC, Fox, and various cable TV shows. MagWeb was also covered by the NY Times, USA Today, and other newspapers, a variety of trade and consumer magazines, and a multitude of on-line sites. He’s given lectures at various HMGS conventions, Origins War College, and various professional meetings and seminars. Although MagWeb closed in 2009, those white MagWeb rulers still appear on wargaming tabletops across the country.
On the prior professional front, Lockwood was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, Senior Editor at Personal Computing Magazine, Assistant Editor at Creative Computing Magazine, Telecommunications Editor for A+ Magazine (Apple), tech writer at AT&T, Staff Writer (Financial) NY Times Information Service, and freelancer for PC Sources, Windows Sources, PC, MacUser, Byte, Restaurant Business, Hotel Business, Computer Buyer’s Guide and Handbook, and other magazines. He also hosted a radio show, ComputerWise, for five years, and was an on-line editor for ZiffNet on Compuserve and Ziffnet on Prodigy.
He is currently a freelance editor and writer covering financial and defense news, with a concentration on the retail industry. If you are really interested, go to Linked In, where he maintains a profile.
On the miniatures front, you may have seen his byline in various hobby publications in the 1990s and 2000s. Lockwood is also the author of: Snappy Nappy: Simple, Subtle & Ultrafast Miniature Rules for the Napoleonic Era, and, Hyperspace Hack: Ultrafast Spaceship Fleet Battles with Miniatures (both published in 2009 and available from http://www.onmilitarymatters.com and http://www.caliverbooks.com).
Lockwood is also the editor of the Secrets of Wargame Design series, releasing the fifth volume in 2015.
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In a somewhat oblique way, that “Termite Tactic” reminds me of the old Third Reich (very old!) ploy of dropping the German paras in some unprovided British port and then SRing a ground force over – I got hit like that 40 years ago, and the pain has never quite left me.
I like this game, and many other Columbia products. You obviously had a good time, and that with a game with just a handful of rules. Nice looking design as well.
Yes. I enjoy most of the Columbia’s block games we’ve played. Richard III is probably my favorite of the line — literally, never a bad game in all the ones we’ve played and always very close-run wins. Hammer of the Scots is also quite good, as is Quebec and the War of 1812 one. Crusader, not so much, and Athens & Sparta not so much.
Wizard Kings is the 50-50 game (both the historical armies and the fantasy armies) wherein 50% of the group loves the game and 50% does not. We’ve played this a lot in all its guises, from two-player to 10-player monster games. In the games I played, it eventually became WWI trenches because the hex limitation favors the defenders when both sides build up.
Have yet to play the “Front” series, as it looks like it takes a bit more time than the typical Columbia block game to understand and play, but we have been toying with a Victory day.