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Review of The End of the Triumvirate
It is the year 56 B.C. The Roman Republic is torn by civil war. The historical three-man council (the first Triumverate between Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus), could not be renewed at the Conference of Luca, and a bitter struggle broke out between the three rivals.
Now they are trying to eliminate one another to gain supremacy over the Roman Empire. They draw supplies from their provinces, move about with their legions, and try to persuade the people and Senate of Rome to lend support to their claims. But in order to gain power, they also have to exhibit skill in politics as well as military strategy - or preferably, both!
Different paths lead to the ultimate goal of the individual ascendancy. Because even when there is occasionally pragmatic cooperation to cut a successful rival down to size, in the end, only one can win.
May Jupiter smile on you!

Designers: Johannes Ackva & Max Gabrian
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-3
Time: 60 minutes
Price: $49.95


J.M. likes for me to do his work for him.

Okay, that's not true, but it was a fun way to start. He does tend to suggest games for me to review, and for some odd reason, he likes to pick the difficult ones. I enjoy reviewing games that I can write about and be done with the project in an hour or so. He seems to like the ones he knows will take me several days (or weeks), to finish. When he asked me to do a review on this game, I really couldn't refuse. It just happens to be one that I like.
Oh well. Let's get on with it...

I admit it. I'm a big fan of just about any game with a theme based upon ancient Rome, or the Mediterranean area during that time. So it was natural for me to want this game when I saw the first pictures of it after Essen 2005. The game looked pretty good (although the first pics I saw seemed a little bland in regards to color), and it was appealing that the game maxed out with three players. There have been many sessions where we had three guys looking for a game and debated for a while over which one to play minus 1. My first investigations into the game revealed that this might be a good selection. The right number of players, a one-hour playtime, and a decent theme. So when Compleat finally got a copy, I decided it was time to add it to the library.

IN THE BOX:
    Rulebook
    Game board.
    60 brown Legion cubes
    11 yellow citizen markers
    15 gold pieces (cardboard)
    6 civil servants (cardboard)
    1 Calendar Stone (cardboard)
    1 Compensation card (I & II, front and back, cardboard)
    1 Escape card (cardboard)
    3 Consul Cards (cardboard)
    1 battle bag (black cloth)
    3 player boards (Caesar, Pompeius, Crassus)
    3 Character pieces
    6 Competence counters
    24 weapons markers (this and above represented by colored cubes)
    27 Governors

Z-Man Games has come a long way from the early days of games like Brain Robbers from Outer Space. Their foray into the realm of boardgames has been moderately successful, since they do tend to put a lot of work into any production. To give them credit, this is a well-made game.
All of the cardboard pieces (and there are a lot of them), are sturdy and thick, so they'll stand up to a lot of repeat play. The other markers used are your basic wooden bits. The character marker is actually referred to in the rules as the 'plank,' and that word certainly does it justice. It's a big hunk of wood. Probably the largest game piece I've seen yet, matched in size only by the governor pieces, which are wooden cylinders.

Governors & weapons (in player colors), legion cubes (brown), and Senator markers (yellow).

The player cards (or aids), are as thick as the board, printed in each player color (Red - Caesar, Blue - Pompeius, Black - Crassus), with a depiction of each historic individual. They all contain the same information, so doing them this was nothing more than artistic choice, which I applaud.


The board is, well... okay. It's a nice map of the Mediterranean area, but the colors are bland. I suppose it fits, as it depicts the time after the decline of Roman power when everything was in some state of chaos. I think it could have been done better, but I'm nitpicking again. The different provinces are printed in three colors, which will factor in the game. In the upper right is a round icon divided into three segments; one for each of the aspiring emperors. The Senate pieces are placed here.


I'll give Z-Man a B+ for a quality production. It's a nice-looking game.

SETTING UP:
Board on the table, and each player selects a character and takes all the pieces in that color. Your player pieces have specific starting points on the board, and are placed on the board according to the diagram on page 4 of the rules. I’m not going to go into great detail about the positioning of the pieces, but suffice it to say that each player controls 5 provinces of the Roman Republic. Caesar (red), starts in Gallia Narbonensis, Pompieus (blue), begins play in Hispania Citerior, and Crassus (black), starts in Syria. I really got a kick out of the fact that all regions use the actual period names for those countries. It’s a nice touch.
Each player also gets five governors (columns), one for each province. Here’s where it gets tricky. In each province there are boxes that represent the available supplies from that area, and some governors are placed in the box, some are placed outside of it. Yes, it does matter. Each province also receives two Legion markers (brown cubes). Each leader also receives a Civil Servant (silver cardboard square), in one region.

This is the actual setup for the game, shown larger for better detail.

Players place two cubes of their color into the weapons bag, and one on each of the Competence Tracks in the lower left of the board.
In the upper right of the board is the Senate. The small yellow cylinders represent senators, and each player gets two of them on their names in the forum. These are also the votes you’ll need to be elected Consul.
The counter stone is marked Tempus Fugit, (Time Flies), and is placed in the VIII space of the turn track next to the Senate. (Yes, the phrase, “Ah, just fugit,” is used often in our games.)
That’s the set up. The rules have a nice color photo showing exactly how to do it, so that’s a big plus. Now, you’re ready to play.

GAME PLAY:
While combat does play a part in the game, it’s really more about area control and resource management than anything else. There are three paths to victory, and I never know for sure which one I’m going to go for when the game begins. I kind of have to watch and see how the first few turns play out before I make a decision in that regard. For me, having a set strategy at the get-go never works out.
1. Political Victory – A player is elected Consul twice, or has been Consul one time and is able to get six citizens into his section of the Senate Forum.
2. Military Victory – A player controls nine provinces and has used all of his governors.
3. Competence Victory – A character reaches VII on each of the Competence tracks.

Caesar begins the game, and things start to get interesting. There’s a unique mechanic here that I really admire. The first thing each player does is position his or her governors. Those outside of the boxes in a region are moved into the box, while those in are moved out. Get that? Once that is done, the now empty boxes are filled with whatever that region provides resource-wise. Some give you gold, some give Legions, some provide a little of each. You then collect tribute from Rome, which can be 2 gold, 2 Legions, or one of each. However, you don’t get to pick up the resources, not yet anyway. Your character has to go get them! Leave them unclaimed and/or unprotected and you could lose them altogether if another player captures your region!
Next comes movement, and each character can move up to 4 spaces on the board. A space is defined as one region. A move into a water space costs 0 if the character is moving alone and not carrying Legions, otherwise it’s a counted maneuver.
If you move into a region that you control and there are resources there, you pick them up. If the region belongs to another player, combat begins immediately! Once resolved, the player completes their movement phase. (More on battles later).
After movement, the player takes actions based on what area their plank currently occupies. The regions are colored tan, brown, and rust. Each action costs gold in increasing amounts. The first action costs 1, the second 2, and so on. You cannot take more than three actions. Also, you may face penalties depending on your competence level is. More on that in a bit.
    Tan Region – Political actions. Pay gold to move ahead on the Competence Track, or bribe citizens into your section of the Senate Forum. You can also bribe them out of another player’s area, and that’s always fun.
    Brown Region - Military action. Pay gold to move ahead on the Competence Track, or pay to add two weapons to the weapons bag.
    Rust Region - You can take any actions you wish, or combine them. Gold must still be paid for each action.

The kicker here is that the amount you pay for actions depends on your level of competence. If you’re leading (ahead of all players, or tied for the lead), you pay the aforementioned amounts. If you are not leading, each action costs an additional 2 gold. Competence is vital to getting (and staying), ahead in the game! If two players are ahead of the third, they both lead in competence, but if they catch up, then all players share competence, and must pay the higher cost for actions.
Of course, you may decide to focus on a political strategy, and not worry so much about gaining military competence, or vice-versa. Either way, unless you’re going for a control victory (nine regions conquered), you’ll quickly realize you may need to stay ahead on one or both tracks.

Battles are interesting, and honestly; not all that exciting, but necessary. If your plank is carrying legions around and you enter another player’s region, combat begins immediately. First, if the opposing player’s plank is in the region, you automatically lose two of your legions. Then, depending on how many legions are defending the region, weapons are drawn from the weapons bag. Each cube of your color that is pulled eliminates a legion. Of course, if your opponent’s color is pulled, you lose one as well. No more than three are ever pulled from the bag. Next, any leftover legions fight it out, removing one for one until only one player has legions remaining. That player is the victor.
If the attacker wins, he replaces the loser’s governor column with one of his own (it is placed in the same position as the removed governor, either in or out of the supply box), and continues his turn, completing movement or taking actions. The defender gets a Compensation card, which lets them put weapon cubes back in the bag. If a civil servant was in the conquered region, it falls under the control of the attacker, and the defender gets an additional weapon cube in the bag. If the defender wins, the attacker must retreat to the nearest region he owns.
Now, if a player loses two regions (attacked twice), they get the Compensation II card, which allows for additional bonuses. So by attacking someone, you may be making them stronger and possibly face a retaliatory attack on their turn.

After each player finishes a turn, the Calendar stone moves down a space until it reaches Elegio. The player with the most influence in the Senate is immediately elected Consul. They must make a short speech (Friends, Romans, Countrymen…), and take a Consul card. They also get another civil servant to be placed into any region they control. A player who does this twice wins the game. Or, if you’ve won Consul once and manage to get six citizens into your forum, you win immediately.
On Civil Servants. These guys don’t do much, but what they do, they do well. Basically, any region you control with a civil servant always provides resources. Your governor doesn’t jump into and out of the box. This can be a great way to stay well supplied.
Resources in the game are limited. If you run out of gold from players hoarding it, then there’s none available. Same with legions. Of course, having cash and not spending it has yet to be used effectively. You have to spend it to win.

CONS - While Triumverate is an interesting game, it is definitely not designed for those that like a quick filler. Nor is this a wargame by any stretch of the imagination, although combat is a part of it. You can start the game with a clear strategy in mind, then suddenly have to change your tactics mid-way through. This is a thinking-man’s game, and it’s a brain-burner at times.
The board is rather drab, but on the plus side it’s not cluttered either. If I was going to complain, I don’t really like the player pieces. They don’t detract from the game, but I think molded figurines would have enhanced play a bit more. However, that’s just me nitpicking again.
Value for dollar is okay. It’s not a bad game for the price, but I kind of expected more.

PROS - When everyone knows what they’re doing, the game plays in about an hour. With a new player add maybe 20 minutes or so. I have seen games finish in under 60 minutes, but that was when all three players were seasoned veterans.
I like the game for the fact that it leaves little room for error. Make a mistake early on and it may cost you the victory. It requires a lot of strategic thinking and planning, and that’s always a plus in my book.
Aside from my nitpicking, it’s a good-looking game. Certainly an eye-catcher, and another of those that if played in a public location, will attract attention. It’s also fairly compact, unlike others games of its ilk that take up an entire table.
This game does have one really nice quality, and that’s replayability. It’s easy and quick, and as it is designed for a maximum of three players, it is scaled perfectly for those times when you need something smart and entertaining that will satisfy your gaming itch without killing an entire afternoon.

CONCLUSION: This will probably never enter my top ten favorite games, but it’s not too far below. The listed pros say pretty much everything I like about the game, and my few complaints are minor and shouldn’t influence anyone interested in it from buying it.
Do I recommend Triumverate? The answer is a resounding YES! It’s one of the better-designed games out there, and very unique in that it’s only for 2 or 3 players. (I have never played with just 2, but I understand that it’s very different).
So if you want to look smart to your friends, pull this one out and start talking about the three great men it is based on. Show your superior intellectual skills by becoming Consul and leading an empire.

The End of the Triumverate could very well be the beginning of your boardgaming habit.
 
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