Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: End of the Triumvirate

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, while not a huge Roman history buff, I still am cringing at the thought of Titus Pullo sinking down to play Frank Castle.


The Overview:

End of the Triumvirate is a three-player quick, light war game set during the late Principate era of the Roman Republic where Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) and Marcus Licinius Crassus had formed an unofficial triumvirate of power. The game plays out the break down of the alliances in the first Roman Triumvirate and represents a three-way civil war between these figures (a historical "what if").

The players represent one of the members of the Triumvirate, either Caesar, Pompey or Crassus. Each of the players is trying to obtain one of three possible victory conditions:

1. Political Victory: A player is elected Consul twice (elections are held at the end of every "year" or 8 turns. Or a player has been elected Consul prior AND has 6 citizens supporting him in his Forum section.
2. Military Victory: A player controls 9 Provinces.
3. Competence Victory: A player has his Military and Political competences each up to Level VII.

The map is laid out to represent 15 provinces of the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean and at the start, each leader controls 5 of the provinces. The provinces are broken down into three types Political, Military and Competence. The type dictates what resources will be gained there. Resources are generally gained every other turn of the controlling player (based on the governor's position) and the resources are placed in the province it is gained in. A large flat wooden square represents the position of each character on the board.

There is also a "Battle Bag" which is seeded with 2 weapons from each player. Weapons are represented by little colored cubes and really only signify a battle advantage. During the game more weapons can be seeded into the bag from a player, giving them more of a chance of drawing their cubes in battle, giving them more of an advantage.

Each player's turn is broken into three phases:

The first phase is Supply. Each territory that a player controls has a governor marker in it the same color as the player. If the governor is inside the supply box, it is moved out of it. If the governor is outside of the box, it is moved into it. If there is a Civil Servant chit in the province, the governor does not move and remains outside of the supply box. A Civil Servant essentially ensures that the province will be supplied every round instead of every other round. Then, any province that has their governor outside of the box (so that the supply icon is visible) receives supplies to that territory. Political provinces give 2 gold, Military provinces give 2 legions and Competence provinces give 1 gold and 1 legion. Afterwards, the player gets supplies from Rome in the form of either two gold, two legions or one of each.

The second phase is Movement. Each player gets 4 movements. Legions and Civil Servants cannot move on their own, but can be taken along for free with the character's movement. Each movement into an adjacent province or sea zone costs one movement point. If a character moves across a sea zone without legions, it costs a total of one movement point less. If you have a Civil Servant with you, you can leave it in the province, and the governor immediately is placed on top of it. If you enter a territory that you control that has gold in it, you pick up the gold and place it in your reserves in front of you. You can only enter a province controlled by another player if you have at least one legion with your character and you initiate an attack.

Attacks are resolved by the following: Weapons are drawn from the battle bag. You draw a number of cubes equal to the number of legions that the weaker side has, to a maximum of three cubes. For each color of the attacker drawn, a defending legion is eliminated. For each color of the defender, an attacker is eliminated. If a neutral color is drawn it counts towards the number pulled, but is placed back in the bag. If the defender's character is in the province, then the attacker loses 2 legions. Then, finally, an equal number of legions are removed from both sides until at least one side is reduced to zero legions. If there are any attacking legions left, the attacker controls the province and replaced the governor with one of his own.

Compensation is given to the defender if he lost a province (seeding the bag with more of his weapons, or, if multiple provinces are lost, adding to their military or political competence track). This actually strengthens a character in some ways, so it makes choosing your attacks a much more strategic decision since you could be pushing your enemy towards victory.

Because each player gets four movements, they can attack up to four times each round.

The third phase is Actions. A player can take up to three actions. The first one costs 1 gold to execute, the second costs 2 gold and a third costs 3 gold. So it would cost 6 gold to execute 3 actions.

The actions you can take are dependant upon which kind of territory you end up in (adding to the strategy of your movements and possible conquests). If you are in a Political Province, you can either move your Political Competence up the track by one or you may EITHER move one Citizen into your support area in the Forum or move Citizen out of the support area of another player (moving Citizens costs two extra gold if you do not lead in the Political Competence track). If you are in a Military Province, you can either move your Military Competence up the track by one or seed the battle bag with two weapons of your color (this option costs 2 extra gold if you do not lead in Military Competence). If you are in a Competence Province, you may either move your Political or Military Competence up one on their respective track.

Finally, when the calendar marker reaches Elegio (after 8 turns), a Consul is elected. Whoever has the most Citizens supporting them in the Forum wins. If it is a tie, then the player who had their turn least recently is elected Consul. Since being elected Consul twice is a victory condition, the game will never continue past 4 years. After the Consul is elected, they give a short speech to herald in the new year, remove three Citizens from their support area and the calendar marker is returned to the beginning and play continues.


The Theme:

This is a light war game with different victory conditions giving a range of strategies to employ to try to win. It presents a three way civil war with a very interesting dynamic with the different objectives to victory. As a result, each player will most likely have to ally with the other players at least briefly from time to time throughout the game to ensure that another player does not pull ahead and win. At the same time, they have to be sure that their own attempt to stop another player does not aid the other one too much, giving them an advantage or chance for a quick win.


Learning the Game:

The learning curve of this game is very easy. The rules are short and simple. In fact, in my habit of being overly verbose with rules, I pretty much laid out every thing you need to know to play the game in the Overview. There are a couple of little things that can easily be over-looked for a new player, such as remembering your reinforcements from Rome, knowing that at the end of your turn you may only have 6 legions in any province and realizing that attacking does not necessarily end your turn, provided that you still have movement left. The only other thing that may take a little bit of time to fully grasp is looking at how close each player is to fulfilling any of the victory conditions. Sure, there are three ways that you can win, but since it is a three-player game, you need to be fully cognizant at all times that there are six ways for you to lose.


The Components:

There is nothing overly fancy about the components, but they are solid and excellent for what they are. For the most part, you are dealing with colored wooden cubes (legions and weapons), colored wooden cylinders (for the governors and smaller ones for the Citizens) and colored wooden planks (for the characters). There are a few markers which are thick, sturdy cardboard (for the calendar / turn marker and gold coins). And the reference cards for the game are all of a sturdy thick cardboard (character cards, Compensation cards, Consul cards and Escape card).

The board is small, but not too small. It is really an efficient and elegant set up. I like the look and feel of the board a lot. There really isn't the need for a bigger board for this game.


Playing the Game:

The game is a rather interesting strategy game. It is looking for the opportunity to get ahead along one of the victory routes while at the same time, watching both of your opponents to ensure that they do not get ahead as well. The game is designed to avoid bashing too much on one player, since there are some rewards to losing provinces.

I am sure that the game can lend itself to those who would play kingmaker, but with the different paths to victory available, I think it would be a more rare game in which someone felt that they were so far out of it as to not have a chance. It is a very interesting concept to be playing for both balance of your opponents while at the same time moving ahead yourself.

I have not played this game enough to really delve too deeply into differing strategy, but I have already gained enough of a respect for the game that I wanted to talk about (and recommend) it. I think that it fills a niche very nicely as well. It is a three player strategy/light war game that is played in an hour. Plus, it does it well and entertainingly.

I think that the three different victory conditions are all achievable as well, giving the game a lot of variety when it comes to strategy. However, while this opens up a lot of strategy, it still may not be filling if you are really looking for a war game. While at the same time, it may have too much direct conflict and "screw you over" moments to really appeal to someone looking for a strategic Euro game.


Scalability:

The game does have the option to play with just two players, changing the initial set-up and removing Crassus from the game. Don't do it though. The game is easy enough to learn that I would not waste the time to play it with just two-players just to learn the rules. The game is meant for three players and really does not scale well otherwise.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group. Despite being a cunningly deceptive strategist, she tends to not like war games or games with too much overly direct conflict. Alas, this game falls into that category. She does not hate it, per se, but she is by no means a fan of it. Fortunately, the game is short enough that she can be persuaded into playing a game of it, though it means that she has more leverage in whatever we pick to play next. And it isn't like she doesn't "get" the game. She has won and has employed different strategies to try to fulfill different victory conditions. But ultimately, this is a game where you will get directly attacked and screwed over by other players, so I think that turns her off from it, no matter how good she really is at the game.


The Pros:

*How many other three-player light war games that can be played in an hour are there?
*Different victory conditions offer different strategies.
*Quick, but deep enough to be filling for a perfect gaming snack.


The Cons:

*Perhaps not as deep or lengthy for some gamers.
*May be not meaty enough for war gamers, while at the same time, involve too much direct conflict for Euro-gamers, narrowing the selection of those who would really enjoy it.
*Does not scale, so expect to only play it if you have three players.


Overall: I happen to have found End of the Triumvirate to be a perfect little gem in my collection. Being a three-player game, it will only come down off of my shelf in certain situations, but my core group is small. However, since it is short, it is a great game to get going while waiting for others to arrive.

I happen to find End of the Triumvirate to be an elegant game that gives me just enough satisfaction on the conflict / strategy department to hold me over until I have the time and group to sit down and play something a little meatier.


8/10

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