Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chicken Caesar

I have a weakness for puns and bad jokes.  I'm sure you all know this by now. I also spend waaaay too much time on Kickstarter, looking for games I might want to back (or things to snark about).

But somehow, I missed the Kickstarter for Chicken Caesar. Maybe the game description just didn't grab me.  Maybe the description clashed too much with the punny name.  I don't know.  Either way, I didn't back this one - and I regret that.  I picked it up a few months ago, and have been trying to get it to the table for a while.  When it finally hit the table, it did so with three players - and I didn't like it.  But I saw potential, so wanted to try it with more.  And I'm very glad I did.

Chicken Caesar is one of the purest political/negotiation games I've played in a while - and it doesn't have to be played that way, either.

Let me get this out of the way:  While the game is playable with three, I do not recommend it with three.  Looking at the poll at the top of the game's page on BGG, it looks like most of the folks there agree with me on that front.

The goal of the game is the acquisition of money.  You collect money via taxation, and, at the end of the game, by cashing in the rank insignia that your chickens have collected.

Each player has a family of six chickens to work through the political structure.  If someone loses all six chickens, the game is over.

The board represents the political structure of the chickens.  At the top is Caesar, followed by the Censor, three Consuls, three Praetorians, and three Aediles.  Beneath them are the Quaestors.

I've probably misspelled at least one of those roles.

The Caesar is chosen from amonth the Consuls.  The Consuls are selected from among the Praetorians. The Censor is elected from among the Aediles.

Each role also has an assigned task.  The Aediles set the tax rate, which determines how many of the guards are traitors.  The Praetorians get to assign the guards to the various offices, which will determine how many chickens will get eaten on a given turn.  The Consuls get to approve monument upgrades for dead chickens (they really don't do anything for the first two turns), and the Censor must exile one chicken per turn.  Caesar has a veto that he can use once per turn.

Each role also has an insignia - and every chicken gets their badge of office every turn. But each chicken can only wear one of each insignia, so extras go to a family pool, which can later be dedicated to dead chickens.

The game sets up a tricky balancing act - Caesar dies if any chickens die during his first term as Caesar.  He also dies automatically at the end of his second term as Caesar.  And the Caesar rank badges are worth a ton of points at the end. So Caesar wants a fairly low tax rate so that he can stay alive.  But a higher tax rate means more money in Caesar's pockets.  Aediles are more likely to get eaten than other roles, but they also get money based on the tax rate.

And you want a dead chicken or two - the extra insignia are not worth a ton of points, but if you can get those extra insignia onto your dead chickens, they are added to sets which are worth dramatically more points. But too many dead chickens and you won't get enough points.

The Praetorians get to decide where chickens are going to be eaten - and they often want some chickens eaten (unless they are allied with Caesar - or are from the same family as Caesar).

We've found that - with four players - the game is almost more of an economic game than a political game.  Almost. I hope to try it with six sometime soon.

It's not a perfect game - two allied players have the potential to slow the game to a halt if they are careful.  The only thing Consuls can do the first few turns is try to be elected Caesar.  If any player manages to get two chickens in one rank, they wield a disproportionate amount of power, regardless of the role.  And you can't let anyone

The game ends when there aren't enough Quaestors to fill the open roles, when one of the stacks of rank insignia runs out, or when one player is out of chickens.  At that point, "extra" insignia are turned into small amounts of money.  Insignia which are on chickens (living or dead) are assembled into sets, which are cashed in for money.  Most money wins.

Rules-wise, it's pretty simple.  There are a few rules which are easily overlooked, but the rulebook makes a point of highlighting many of these at several points.

There is no random element in this game.  None. The game is 100% about negotiating with other players for what you want. And knowing when and how much to offer as a bribe.

I like it better than Diplomacy, and it takes only a fraction of the time, making this game a clear winner in my book.

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