Julius Caesar is a reenactment of the Roman Civil War between Caesar and Pompey, Co-triumvirs of the Republic, during 49–45 BC (the third of the triumvirate, Crassus, had already died in an ill-advised invasion of Parthia). Caesar broke the peace by marching on Rome to seize sole power. The war was waged around the Mediterranean, centering on the Italian peninsula. Historically Caesar won, marking the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire (hmm, sounds like a movie about wars across the stars...) but since Julius Caesar is a finely balanced game, the more skillful player will win either as Pompey or Caesar.
Players may choose to play as Caesar or Pompey. Caesar commands the Rhine legions, and starts on the board with strong veteran units. Pompey has weaker units and is scattered; however he controls more cities, and has more maneuverability because, as the victor over the pirates, he commands the loyalty of the Roman fleet, allowing naval troop transportation. Caesar must act quickly and aggressively and take many cities. Pompey must delay Caesar and prolong the war. Pompey must look for opportunities to strike Caesar's forces if they get stretched thinly and quickly start recruiting reinforcements to protect key cities. Having played both sides, I can say that Julius Caesar is finely balanced and challenging and engaging to play from both sides.
Julius Caesar uses my two favorite wargame mechanics: card-driven play and blocks. Card-driven play means that the player must manage a hand of cards that have events and movement points printed on them; it is up to the player to set up creative and powerful combos. One card must be played to start each turn.
Block games use wooden blocks affixed with stickers printed with stats; the player views the stats of his own units, while the blank opposite face of the block is displayed to the opposing player. Blocks provide two major virtues: fog of war and hit points. Here's what you might face: There are four blocks, coming toward your city. You wonder, are they paper tigers, weak militia, or are they veteran infantry units? If these four approaching blocks are veteran infantry, your city will be taken. You should bring reinforcements, but this distracts you from your offensive campaign and perhaps that is the real goal of your opponent.
Blocks are also used to record hit points. Each time a unit takes a hit, it is rotated 90 degrees, so the uppermost side of the sticker tells the owning player how many hits it retains.
Card play-wise, there are 27 cards: 20 Command cards and 7 Event cards. Command cards are for moving troops and reinforcing/recruiting units, while Event cards are special power cards that allow actions like inflicting extra damage, moving farther, and converting enemy unit to your side.
Most historical wargames that involve blocks or cards are typically too difficult for Eurogamers not familiar with the complexity of wargames. Julius Caesar is an exception, and accessible to most anyone, because the rules are streamlined, logical, and easy to understand. Yet the game offers tense, deep, strategic gameplay. Julius Caesar is a perfect war boardgame.
Summary for the prefect war boardgame:
- Short playtime -- yes, 90 minutes
- Short rules -- yes, 8 pages
- Easy to understand/teach -- yes
- Wargamers consider it a wargame -- yes
- Gateway to other wargames -- yes, uses two popular systems, blocks and card-driven