(Image courtesy CafegamesRon @ BGG)
It’s not easy to find quick six player games. I’ve talked about Category 5 at great length, but sometimes you need something else to help fill the gap, something with just a little bit more meat on. Ave Caesar is that game.
Ave Caesar is a chariot racing game where players compete to be the first across the finish line. Asmodee did a fantastic job with the box art, board and components. The player pieces are really cool plastic chariots that look like Roman reliefs; they are very striking and look great when set up on the board. I also really like the board itself. It’s very bright and colorful, particularly the crowd. Anyone taking a glance at the game is bound to be immediately interested.
Seeing as how you’ll probably end up with a lot of people oohing and aahing over the game once it is set up, it’s good that Ave Caesar is incredibly easy to play and teach. Each player picks a chariot and receives a deck of cards numbered one through six. Players will always have a hand of three cards. On your turn you play a card, move your chariot and draw a new card. First to complete three laps wins. It’s that simple.
Well, almost that simple. There are a few things that really make the game interesting. First, the track is generally only two spaces wide representing the inside and outside of the track. Only a single chariot may occupy a space and you may not pass directly through an opponent so it’s quite possible for players to block both lanes, preventing others from getting through. There are also a handful of spaces on the board that take up both lanes, meaning a single player can block off the track in those spaces. Navigating yourself into these blocking areas is one very key aspect of the game. Second, you may never play a “six” card when you are in the lead (or tied for the lead). Third, when you play a card you must move exactly the number of spaces listed on the card. If you have no valid card to play then you must pass. Finally, sometime on the first or second lap you must stop in front of Caesar and pay tribute. This is represented by the player tossing in their plastic coin and proclaiming, “Hail, Caesar!
Positioning and timing are everything in Ave Caesar. At first you may wonder why you wouldn’t always play your highest card every time. It seems reasonable at first but once you see how tight the board gets you’ll understand how important timing your movement really is. Just because you can blow past someone doesn’t mean you should; often you are better off using a little less movement if it means you get prime positioning in a blocking spot or on the inside of the track. Forcing your opponents to waste their good cards traveling on the outside of the track can really be devastating. You also will need to relinquish the lead at some point to use your sixes, so timing when to fall back and push forward again can be very tricky.
(Image courtesy gamephotos @ BGG)
The beauty of Ave Caesar is how incredibly simple it is. If people just want to toss down cards that’s fine and the game works. At the same time more skilled players will always be thinking two or three moves ahead and will generally be rewarded for it. There certainly is a luck component to Ave Caesar and there may very well be times where you suffer because you didn’t have the ideal movement cards in your hand. At the same time you always have three cards so you should always be planning your next couple of moves. Decisions are usually quite simple but it’s important to time your key movements as best you can.
Starting position is important, and while the early players seem to have an advantage the leader has to work much harder and take more risks to get their sixes used up. Being in the lead and having two sixes in your hand really hurts. You also have to be careful when you pass the leader as you are now giving them the opportunity to play one of their sixes. The rules recommend you do a few races in a row to try and even out the luck factor a bit and I do think that’s a good idea. At first I think players are going to feel that the game is extremely luck-based. After a race or two, though, they should start to see how even a little bit of planning will go a long way.
I do have a few minor complaints. First, there are many spaces on the board that are not large enough for the chariots! You end up sticking them in there sideways so it looks like your chariots are drifting around corners and sliding through pit row. Second, the board seams are in some very inconvenient spots and I’ve had several first time players think a crease was actually marking a new track segment. Finally, while the game does come with two tracks I do it had come with a few more. There is an expansion in the works and there’s plenty of fun to be had with the two included tracks but one or two others would’ve been nice.
These are very minor faults, though, and really don’t bring the game down at all. It’s a fantastic gateway game and people really seem to get in the spirit of the race. The real beauty of Ave Caesar is that it’s best with six and it’s possible to get a couple of races in under an hour. Add in the great art and components and you have yourself a real winner.