In Solitaire Caesar the player will attempt to replicate the rise and fall of the Roman Empire from 350BC to 1453AD. The game is fairly simple in its rules overhead as well as the different pieces that the player can control but was designed as an introductory wargame covering one of the greatest Empires in the World’s history. Players will lead Legions around the map, taking Cities, conquering Provinces to build up additional Cities and protecting against the continual onslaught of Barbarian tribes from all directions of the compass. Each turn the player will score Victory Points from controlling cities and will track those throughout the various scenarios or full play campaign attempting to replicate or even do better than the historical result.
In Action Point 1, we took a tour of the map and examined the differences between Civilized, Wild and Wilderness Provinces. In Action Point 2, we took a look at the Turn Track and the set number of Talents the player will receive each round and then looked at the Roman Phase and the various actions the player can take including Raise Legions, Move those Legions to invade Provinces and conduct Roman Combat and Build Cities. In Action Point 3, we examined the Barbarian Phase and the differences between Civilized and Uncivilized Barbarians and how they move and attack. In this Action Point, which is the final one in this series, we will cover the Optional Rules, including things like the Emperor, Bribery, Skilled General and Roman Income Variant, which is like easy mode, and finish up with some simple strategies to keep in mind that will improve your chances of winning.
The designer included several Optional Rules into the game which were designed to either simplify certain aspects of the game, such as the dice rolling for combats or dice rolls for determining the number and locations of Barbarian armies, or to add some flavor, such as The Emperor, Skilled General, Donatives and Bribery. Let’s take a look at some of these options.
The Emperor – Hail Caesar!
As I have discussed in the previous posts, the combat really boils down to a 50/50 die roll. On a roll of 1-3, the Legions win and a Barbarian Army counter is removed while on a roll of 4-6, the Barbarians are victorious and the Legion is destroyed. In the time, it was fairly common for the Emperor to carry a sword and lead their armies in battle. This is an option in the game as the player can add in the Emperor Legion Counter. On Turn 1, the player will place the Emperor Counter in Rome and will reduce their Income that Turn by 1 to pay for the Legion (1 Talent is the cost of a normal Legion).
The real power in the Emperor Legion is that when they lose a combat the Legion isn’t necessarily immediately destroyed. The Legion will lose combat as normal, on a roll of 4+ but unless the roll is a 6 the Legion will simply be retreated to the nearest Roman controlled City on the map. The really bad part about using the Emperor Legion though is if it is destroyed it causes a Civil War among the remaining forces of the Empire. Let me explain what I mean by that.
If the Emperor Legion ever rolls a 6 in combat it will be destroyed. If this happens, half of all Legions on the map are eliminated rounding down. You might ask why is this the case? Well, it is a very subtle thematic element from the Roman Empire. If an Emperor was killed, in combat, through poisoning or assassination, it created a furor for the right to claim the throne and don the purple. Everyone would try to consolidate their power, get their supporters riled up and convinced that they were the legitimate successor. This Civil War was fought out on the battlefield and would leave to thousands being killed. Therefore in the game, the player will lose half of their Legions. A very well integrated and interesting optional rule for sure and more often than not I play with this rule.
One of the options that I also really like is the Skilled General. You have heard me state that the combat is pretty simple and is basically a 50/50 die roll. With the addition of the Skilled General though the player has some more options and ability in combat.
After the Random City roll at the beginning of the round, the player will roll another D6 when using the Skilled General Optional Rule. On a roll of 5 or 6, the player will be gifted the presence of a Skilled General for that turn only. This Skilled General can only be used once during the turn though so it is not a huge advantage but definitely nice to have.
The ability is pretty good as it can be used to change the result of a single die from unfavorable to favorable. This can be used in a combat or a Barbarian movement random roll. The ability cannot be used to change the roll that generates the number of Barbarian Armies that will appear that round. The Skilled General marker does not act as a Legion like the Emperor Legion did and is placed on the Turn Track to remind the player that they have the advantage this round.
Once again another very nice thematic addition that will save your bacon once during that turn but doesn’t provide you with a continual benefit. Remember, this game is not a tactical combat simulation of the Roman Empire but more an exercise in survival and planning. In the pictures above you will notice that the Legion attacking across the Turkish Straits doesn’t roll very well and loses their combat. They needed to roll a 2 to win, which is less than the normal required 3 because they are attacking across a Sea Line of Communication. But, remember, the player has access to the advantage from teh Skilled General and they call in reinforcements that were held in reserve and changes the die result from unfavorable (5) to favorable (2). The 2 was needed because the Legion is attacking across a Sea Line of Communication.
Donativum (plural donativa) was the name given to the gifts of money dispersed to the soldiers of the Roman Legions or to the Praetorian Guard by Roman Emperors. This gift of money was the price of unruly or disgruntled troops to fight. Talents available in a turn may be spent to “encourage” your Legions. In combat, one Talent may be used to reduce a D6 roll by two, but the Talent must be spent before the roll is made. For example, a combat roll of 5, which is normally a loss resulting in the Legion being destroyed, can be changed to a 3. Only 1 Talent may be spent in a turn this way.
I really like the Donatives Optional Rule as it gives you the ability to hedge your bets when you need to in a key battle. Let’s say you only have one spare Legion left and really need to win this last combat to conquer a Barbarian Army. You have one Talent left, and could spend it buying a new Legion but then you still have a 50/50 roll to win. Rather than risking the whole farm, you can spend that one Talent to roll and then change your result down by 2. All of a sudden, with the use of Donatives, you have a 5 in 6 chance of succeeding in this key attack. That is pretty solid and is not overpowered as you have to spend it before you roll. If it was spend after you roll, it would be too much. But this one feels just right. If you are lucky and have a surplus of funds, you can really push your luck and make up some ground. I like this rule and am glad to see it included.
If you know your Roman history, sometimes it was easier for the Emperor to keep their enemies under control if they paid them off. Bribes were a commonly used tool to keep things in check, both from internal and external threats and I love that this Optional Rule was included in the game. Talents may be spent to remove Barbarian Armies and to capture Cities. Two Talents may be spent to remove a Barbarian Army and place a Control Marker in the Province. But this ability doesn’t just work on external enemies.
One Talent may be spent to place a Control Marker in a Province that contains only a City. Bribing that Governor to join the Empire and not break away is a very smart and potentially cost effective strategy as normally you must roll a die with a Legion to quell the Province. Three Talents may be spent to remove a Barbarian Army and place a Control Marker in a Province containing a City. This is a big expenditure but as mentioned earlier trying to attack and dominate the area through combat can cost more if you lose a few Legions. I really like this option and it provides the player with some key decision points and in my opinion decisions are the best part of any game.
Pestilence, Famine and Revolt
If you are looking for a very challenging experience, you can use the Pestilence, Famine and Revolt Optional Rule to really ratchet up the difficulty. If using this Optional Rule, immediately before the Random City Roll, the player will roll on the Random City Table. All of the counters and markers in the affected Province, including Cities, Barbarian Armies, Legions and Control Markers, are removed as the City is hit with various difficulties including pestilence, famine and unrest. That is really bad but the pain is not over yet. Then the player will make another roll for each Province connected to the affected Province by a Line of Communication.
In these connected Provinces, a roll of 5 or 6 remove half of any Legions, rounding down, and any Barbarian Army or lone Roman Control Marker. City Markers will be unaffected. Remember, they didn’t have PPE and these diseases could wreak havoc in these ancient cities.
I have only used this Optional Rule once and it just seemed to murder my game as I rolled Cities where I had a stack of Legions every time. I should have spread out at the end of turns but I was learning.
Roman Income Variant
As much as the Pestilence, Famine and Revolt Optional Rule adds a challenge to the game, I feel that the Roman Income Variant gets you into easy mode. Income is very important to the Empire and can be used to build new Cities, add Legions and also used to encourage your Legions through Donatives or buy your way out of trouble through Bribery.
With the Roman Income Variant, during the 1st Turn the player will receive 5 Talents, which is the same as the normal game. Thereafter, the player will receive 2 Talents for controlling Rome plus 1 Talent for each City in a Province that Rome controls except for the capital and 1 Talent for each Province controlled. This means that Income can increase significantly if the player is aggressive and expands their Empire. At setup, the player will control 12 Cities and this is a potential 2nd Turn income of 12 Talents plus the 2 Talents for Rome for a total 2nd Turn Income of 14 Talents.
If the player can take 4-6 new Provinces and then build a few Cities, unlikely that they will build more than one or two but your 2nd Turn Income could be 17-20 Talents. With that much money, and with using some of the Optional Rules discussed above, the player can easily establish an Empire reaching from Hispania in the west to Babylon and Mesopatamia in the east. When you compare that potential 2nd Turn Income of 17-20 Talents to what the Turn Track identifies as normal Income of 9 Talents, you see why I say it is easy mode!
All in all, the Optional Rules are thematic inclusions to add flavor and a bit of assistance to the player as they try to manage the Empire for nearly 1,800 years. They can make an already interesting game that much better and I definitely have my favorites. I typically play with Emperor Legion, Skilled General, Donatives, Bribery and occasionally Pestilence, Famine and Revolt. They make for a very interesting 90 minute game that gives me plenty of choices and options for accomplishing what I need to.
Now that we have covered these additional Optional Rules and their effect on the game, let’s talk about a few points of strategy that I have learned through my multiple plays.
Points of Strategy
Any game experience can be improved with the use of a bit of strategy that will assist in guiding the player toward doing what the game is trying to have you accomplish. This game is light enough though that you can play without much thought toward strategy and have a good time, but you will not necessarily do well. You can survive and that is about it. But in order to excel and get results that were better than historical you will have to follow some guiding strategies to help you along the way.
Look at the Turn Track Table
The Turn Track Table is a tool for the player to use to divine what is upcoming, both in the amount of Income they will receive and in where Barbarian invasions will possibly come from. This precognition is very thematic in my opinion as intel and scouts would have reported to Rome the movements of the Barbarians on the frontiers and where they were amassing, allowing the Romans to adjust their forces and redeploy more men and material in that general area. This insight gives the player a chance to prepare for the inevitable attacks and will allow for more Legions to be placed in the Cities in the path of those invasions.
Plan Ahead for Income
If you simply look at the Turn Track Table you will see what Income you will receive each round. This information is important to know as you can then plan for how you approach each turn. During turns when you are only going to get a few Talents, you might want to plan on trying to build up your Legions and trying to prepare for the inevitable Barbarian Armies that will sweep through your hard earned Empire. You can buy a few Legions and set them up where you believe those invasions might come through. On Turns you know you will be gaining a lot Talents, it is recommended that you get after it and expand.
Create a Ring of Protection
At the end of your turn, and before you stop taking actions and move to the Barbarian Phase, you should focus on creating a ring of protection around you Imperial Capital. This is one of the Optional Rules that we didn’t discuss above but if you ever lose the Imperial Capital at Rome to Barbarian invaders, it will then be moved to Thrace if and only if there is an established City there under Roman control, where it will be re-established. If the Imperial Capital is then ever lost, you will automatically lose the game. I recommend that you protect Rome by setting up a passable Ring of Protection around the Italian Peninsula.
With that in mind, I like to establish three strongholds in Cities that have to be passed through by the Barbarian Armies. To the east, is Illyria that must be conquered in order to get at Rome. I like to make sure I have a City built their and at least 1 Legion stationed there. This single Legion will not necessarily break the Barbarian Army but you simply want them to have pay by losing 1 or 2 Army counters in order to take a City. Next, I like to set up a more staunch defense in Cisalpine at the top of the boot. I like to have a City there with at least 2 Legions stationed at the end of the turn. This will be able to handle any Barbarians that come from the north and at least make them pay a price for getting into Italy and past the Rubicon. Finally, in the south, I like to have at least 2 Legions stationed in a City at Carthage. There are never as many invasions from the south but when they do come it is nice to be able to stop them cold in North Africa before they cross the Mediterranean and set foot on Sicily at the gates of the Imperial Capital.
Keeping a Legion in Sicily is also recommended as it will be harder to kill by the Barbarians who are invading across a Sea Line of Communication (remember that there to hit number will be reduced from a 4-6 to only a 5-6 if attacking across a waterway). I also always like to have at least 1 Legion in Rome as it will be your last line of defense. I know that you will never have more Legions than you know what to do with but it is important to re-position them at the end of your turn to offer better protection for the heart of the Empire.
Defend at Key Choke Points
Along the same lines as building a Ring of Protection, you have to know where the Invasions are coming from and by what Lines of Communication they are most likely to use. Remember, that invasions will come mostly from the north as there are three possible numbers that place Barbarian Armies there, including Nord (1) and Steppe (2 and 3). That means that 50% of all invasions will come at Rome from the north.
With that in mind, there are three choke points in that north that you have to be aware of and always defend. First is Gaul. Any invasion from Nord will have to come one of two ways, including through Gaul in the west or Illyria in the center of the Empire. 2nd is Illyria, which is the most important as it can potentially be a focus of invasions most of the time. 3rd is Macedonia. Any invasion from the Steppe or from points further to the east will have to come through Macedonia. These are the spots you have to defend first. And keep in mind having only one of the locations defended really defeats the purpose as the invasions take a random routes based on a die roll. The most important lynch pin to your defense of choke points is Illyria, followed by Gaul and then finally Macedonia.
In the east, there are two of these choke points including Asia and Greece. Any invasion from Parthia or Arabia will have to go through Asia to get across the Turkish Straits and into the Balkans or will come from the south through Rhodes and then peel off north to Asia or west to Greece. You must build Cities here and garrison them with Legions at the end of your turn. These are critical paths that must be defended. Also, remember the discussion above about Sea Lines of Communication. I am always happy when the Barbarians decide to come through Rhodes as I will have the advantage defending both Asia and Greece.
One other comment about the eastern Barbarians and their invasion routes. You almost want the invasions to come from Arabia by way of Egypt as they will burn themselves out having to leave behind a single Barbarian Army counter once they move through and will have to take you on across waterways. This is to your advantage. Now, it is very hard to give up the east though as there are a lot of potential victory points in those Cities in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Pontus. Plus the potential in the Remote Provinces in Armenia, Albania and Babylon. But if things are dire, you will have to cut your losses and pull back to ensure your survival. Remember, surviving from one round to the next is the only way you will score VP and this is the only way you can win the game.
Expand as Quickly as Possible
In our final point of strategy, we look at early expansion. At the start of the game you will control 13 Cities and this is a potential end of first Turn 13 VP’s. But you simply need to expand upon this as quickly as possible. You only get 5 Talents on Turn 1 and you will most likely want to purchase at least 3 Legions. That will leave you 2 Talents to spend on a new City to get your total growing. But, you will most likely not be able to build the City and maintain what you have with only 3 Legions. This is a tough choice and I recommend building the City. If you lose a few Cities because you don’t have enough Legions you can rebuild during Turn 2 when you are getting 9 Talents. But you have to get off to a good start. If you for some reason cannot win the battles needed to build in Illyria or Gaul, my two recommended first conquests, you can stop and simply build Legions but this is giving in and will most likely mean that you are on the back foot immediately. I recommend throwing caution to the wind and going for it. You must always be thinking about expanding. Expand, expand, expand!
I hope that you have enjoyed this look at this very interesting yet simple introductory wargame covering the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. The game is simple, with clear rules and easy to understand processes that control the AI, but that doesn’t mean it is simplistic. I like the thought that goes into the Roman actions. I enjoy having to anticipate, plan and prepare for the inevitable Barbarian invasions. I also enjoy the tough decisions required in managing your defenses as the game drags on into the later Turns where you are only getting a few Talents per year and are simply trying to survive until the Empire revives itself and begins providing you with more resources. I also enjoy the challenge that some of the Optional Rules provide and the very thematic elements that attempt to replicate the history of the Empire. This is a solid and interesting game that will appeal to new wargamers, or seasoned Grognards, but also those who have an interest in Roman history.