#899 – Caesar’s Empire

Base price: $50.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 30 – 60 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A review copy of Caesar’s Empire was provided by Luma Imports.

Still kind of hustling along, here. I accidentally fell a bit behind, as I mentioned in other reviews (or will mention). Something about getting distracted for … several weeks. We’re all works in progress. So I’m having a No Social Week while I catch up on reviews, except for the five or ten social things I’ve already agreed to do. Thankfully, I work best under pressure, so I’m excited to talk about the games I have lined up for y’all. One of my favorite games so far this year is coming up later this month, so look forward to that. In the meantime, let’s talk about Caesar’s Empire, from Holy Grail Games!

All roads lead to Rome, and by courtesy, all roads must lead from Rome, as well. You’re pretty sure that’s transposition or something. I’m not a logician. Anyways, you’ve been drafted by Caesar to spread Roman influence far and wide, and you’ll do that by connecting the many cities of the Empire to its capital. Thankfully, there are also plenty of treasures in each city that you can collect to increase your personal wealth, as well. Who ever said there wasn’t money in infrastructure? Your rivals seek to make your roads more efficient by making them their roads, so you’ll have to get crafty and creative if you want to score big. Will you be able to create a grand path back to the Empire’s crown jewel? Or will you end up just roamin’?

Contents

Setup

The game starts with a big board:

Set it on either the 2/3 player side or the 4/5 player side. Next, place the City Tokens on the indicated spaces:

For 2 / 3 player games, you’ll remove two Gold treasure tokens and one of each type. Then, for all player counts, shuffle the treasure tokens and place them face-up on each of the city tokens on the board:

Give each player a player board in their color of choice:

Then, give them the 25 road minis in the matching color:

Shuffle the score tokens, choosing one to be the First Player.

All score tokens are placed on the “0” space of the board. You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

In Caesar’s Empire, you’re in charge of building roads to various cities, collecting points each time that you do. You’ll also collect treasures while doing so, which will score you additional points during the game. The thing to watch out for is that you only ever score the shortest path back to Rome, which may change over the course of the game! Let’s see what that means.

The game takes place over a series of turns until all city tokens are collected. On your turn, you’ll build a road from either an empty city space (one whose token has already been collected) or from Rome. You may build from a city even if you weren’t the one who claimed it. Roads can’t replace other players’ roads, and they must stop at an unclaimed city. You can, however, build through already-claimed cities without stopping, since they’ve already been collected.

Once you connect to a new city, you take the city token and the treasure, placing the city token near your player board and the treasure token on your player board. Make columns of the same treasure and rows of different treasures. If you claim a gold treasure token, place it on the row below the other treasures; it scores differently. After doing so, you’ll score your route back to Rome.

To score your road, you’ll count each road that you placed between your chosen city and Rome. However, if there are multiple paths that connect back to Rome, the path with fewer road minis is used. Each road scores 1 point for the player who placed it, so other players may score points on your turn! If you collected a gold treasure token this turn, the points from the road are doubled. After totaling your score and taking the city and treasure token, your turn ends. Continue on until the last city token is taken, at which point, the game ends.

At the end of the game, players score their city tokens by earning points equal to the highest-value city token they have of each type. The other city tokens do not earn any points. For treasures, collections of different treasures score as well as collections of the same treasure, and a treasure can be part of more than one collection. Gold treasure tokens score differently. Total up your points, and the player with the most points wins!

Two- and Three-Player Variants

At two and three players, you can add in some variants to change up the play style:

  • You can, instead of removing a set of treasure tokens, just shuffle up the treasures and place them normally. Any unplaced treasures are removed from the game instead, which will make some treasures more common than others.
  • When scoring city tokens, if you have all city tokens of a color, you score their combined value, rather than the highest value.

Player Count Differences

This one ended up having a pretty clear tilt. At the core of Caesar’s Empire is a push for players to kind of get in each other’s way as much as possible. That means that the more players you have, the more chaotic it can be, and the more of a mess you can make it. With five players, this is pretty much optimal; there’s no singularly good place for any player to go, so they’ll mostly just keep hopping on each other’s roads and branching out. That’s fun. At two, that … doesn’t really need to happen? There’s no give-and-take because any points I give are going to my only opponent. As a result, we just ended up building our own things and the player who built a better, longer road with more extendable components ended up winning. It wasn’t particularly engaging, and we were frankly a bit disappointed. Honestly, even a dummy player would have spiced it up a bit more. With four, however, there was a lot more player interaction and mixing up happening, which made the game feel significantly more exciting and interesting. So I’d say, try this with more players, rather than fewer; Caesar’s Empire definitely benefits from a larger player count.

Strategy

  • Ideally, you’d like to be a bit everywhere. If you’re even a component of every road, then you’re scoring every turn. Not much, but something is better than nothing, especially if every player is giving you something every turn. The best part is, players can’t even build around you if you’re part of the shortest path to Rome! They have to give you points. You can essentially function as a critical component in their path and make them pay for it every turn.
  • Keep an eye on high-value cities to connect; even if you’re giving up some points, it may be worth it to have a bunch of extra points coming from each city. You really want to be scoring from each type of city, as well, if you can. They’re essentially free points, and you always score the highest-value token you have. This means that once you’ve scored in one color, you really could bounce and try to build elsewhere. The challenge, here, is that doing so means you’re giving up on making a long path in your color, which may cost you points later in the game. You gotta balance that tension.
  • Similarly, try to either go wide or deep on treasures; they can really stack up. Treasures are extremely valuable! Gold, a bit less so, unless you can get it with a pretty long road, but if you get three of the same treasure they’re worth 10 points, and getting one of every distinct treasure type is worth a ton of points, as well. Keep an eye out for how you can add treasure points to your score throughout the game; it can really pay off.
  • Watch out for players building an extremely long road in one direction; it may be worth trying to partially intercept them and cut that off. You don’t want a player going 10-11-12-13 in a series of turns on a road; that’s a lot of points. If you can make a shorter path that connects to the head of their road, then it’ll cut off their longest path and force them to reevaluate (or give you some points). Either way is good! You don’t want a player to start running away with the score.
  • It also may be worth getting involved if you see a player building towards a gold; if they have a long road and manage to grab one, they might be able to put a pretty large score gap between you. If they’ve got a 13-point road, that means that they’ve already been getting a bunch of points each turn for their road and they’re about to add another big score on top of that. Ideally, you’d have prevented the 13-point road, but if you can’t, you really don’t want them scoring a big gold on top of that. Again, make a shorter path that connects to the gold first, if you can.
  • Honestly, if you have a long enough road, it’s worth just continuing to extend it, even if it gives your opponents a few points here and there. There’s a bit of a sunk cost happening here, but if you’re consistently getting more points than your opponent on your turn, it’s probably fine? Just watch out for how much they’re scoring on their turn. It may be that the couple points you give them each turn is helping them slowly outpace you, in which case you may want to reevaluate your options.
  • You do kind of want a road that’s mostly “yours”, though. It’s mostly about having a routine place you can come back to and score a bunch of points. You don’t necessarily need one to win, but it certainly helps more than a mosaic of other players’ minis giving everyone points on your turn. You should be your biggest advocate on your turn, so try to get a road that advances just your score, if you can.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Oh, the minis are fun. They do a really good job of creating directionality, since they’re kind of big and they point in the direction of movement. It’s fun to create big lines of folks marching outward from Rome as you connect cities to the network. I am not sure how easy they’d be to paint, but it would be nice to have some way to better define the shape of the characters on the minis. They’re well-sculpted though, so I appreciate that.
  • Surprisingly easy to set up, given all the pieces. The big challenges are making sure the treasure tokens are appropriately shuffled and getting the city tokens onto the right spots. The symmetrical ones are amusing, since I always end up placing them upside down, but even then it’s not too bad to set up, since you really can just dump the minis into a pile for each player color.
  • It’s a pretty interesting route-building game, given that your goal is often to intercept or entangle other players’ routes. You’re not just trying to build a long route for yourself (though that definitely helps); you also need to make sure that your opponents can’t build long routes without giving you some of their points. Ideally, you’ll score every turn, but figuring out how to do that is an interesting bit of route-building. I like the chaos that this brings to the game, since figuring out how to effectively cut players off is a good strategy.
  • The bright colors are fun. The game pops! It’s got a lot of fun colors on the board, the city tokens, the treasure tokens, and even the minis. I appreciate bright colors, and I think they make the games a bit more engaging, especially lighter games.
  • There are a few interesting and different ways to score points, which I also appreciate. You really can make a good number of points from routes, city tokens, or treasures, and figuring out how to prioritize them and make them work for you is a big chunk of making the game work. You need to find a good balance of all three, and it’s challenging to thread that needle properly.
  • The art on the various treasures is pretty fun; good variety of them, and I like how they score. I liked all of them, and there were a fun mix of different items. I like how they drive player actions that may not always be “increase length of longest road”. Gives players something to do, and the scoring around them is fun (encouraging players to go deep and wide, which is interesting).
  • Individual turns move pretty quickly, too. You’re generally only placing one or two pieces per turn, and trying to size up where you can place to either get high-value cities, high-value treasures, or extend an already-lengthy road. There are a lot of good options, but they don’t take a ton of time to consider, so the game moves at a pretty quick pace, which I appreciate. I’m sure there will still be a few players who get wrapped up in overthinking their turns, but it seems fairly limited.

Mehs

  • The board can get a bit busy as more and more pieces get on there, so it’s sometimes hard to tell where certain paths are. It’s a viewing angle problem more than anything else, since if you’re sitting down, you may miss a path between two cities if the board is cluttered enough. Not much for it beyond making sure you stand up on your turn if your angle isn’t the best.
  • Similarly, it can be difficult to judge the length of paths back to Rome if the paths are sufficiently long. This is just a mildly-irritating counting problem, but hopefully players are able to keep track of their own longest(ish) paths, so making branches or shorter routes or something should be relatively easy to manage.

Cons

  • The two-player game isn’t particularly engaging, to my sadness. Yeah, I think the game just benefits from more chaos than two players can provide. I can imagine players getting in each others’ way to make this a much more involved two-player game than what I’ve played, but that also seems … frustrating. Frustrating to the point that I’d rather play something else.

Overall: 6.75 / 10

Overall, I liked Caesar’s Empire, but I’m definitely more partial to games that play well at lower player counts than higher ones. A consequence of mostly being stuck in my house for the last couple years, I suppose; I think I had one game night with more than six people, and we played two games. Granted, Caesar’s Empire tops out at five, so not really relevant, but still, it’s significantly better with more players than fewer, just because the high chaos and tight map really work in the game’s favor. It’s interesting, because I had originally thought of it as Ticket to Ride-esque, in that you’re building routes across a map, but it’s really not that. It’s more about the route you build sprawling outward from the core, which is intriguing. I like that about this game; it’s a version of route-building that I hadn’t expected. It’s almost building an engine to keep scoring yourself as many points as possible over the course of the game. Your goal is to compound continuously so that you can maximize your score, as well as collecting sets of treasures and specific high-value cities. It’s a neat system, though I would have liked to see more out of the two-player game. I will say that the bright colors and interesting minis work in the game’s favor, as well, so I end up more positive on the game as a whole. If you’ve got a good group of people and enjoy route-building and getting in each other’s way, you might enjoy Caesar’s Empire! I thought it was interesting.


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