Reviewed by Matt Carlson
Review copy provided by Nevermore Games
I’m not a political game junkie, but I was attracted to the rather lighthearted Roman Chicken theme presented in Chicken Caesar. Players shepherd their flock into the political waters of ancient Rome, acquiring insignias of office for each round they serve in their position. The game focuses on frequent votes among the players to advance chickens up the hierarchy as well as to select those who are killed off along the way. At game end, players score points for sets of similar insignias collected by roosters in their flock, with insignias of more powerful offices worth more points. As a political game, it lives or dies by players opinion of that style of play. I find the theme wonderfully goofy (while complimenting the gameplay) but the game feels more middle of the road. Fans of political maneuvering may find a solid, enjoyable title, but I didn’t find any stand-out features to make it a must-play game.
To set up the game, players take turns placing their chickens onto the 5 different areas of the gameboard until they are all filled up. Once the setup is complete, the game proceeds through a series of rounds. Each round begins by filling up any vacant offices in order of highest to lowest offices, followed by each office performing their duty (action). Chickens are then awarded a badge of office (the insignias used in scoring), some chickens may be killed off by invading foxes, and the round ends with players proposing monuments (a way to add insignia to chickens that are already dead.) A new round is started and the game continues on until one set of insignia is depleted, there aren’t enough living chickens to fill up all the open offices, or a player has all their chickens die off. Players then add up their “sets” of insignia assigned to their chickens (with unassigned insignia worth fewer points) to calculate their score. Insignia from higher offices are innately worth more points, but having large sets of similar insignia can often more than make up the difference.
The core of the game revolves around three main areas: promoting chickens to higher office (through voting), using the actions assigned to each office, and then voting for which chickens are captured by the foxes during the invasion phase. Lets start with the offices and their respective actions. Each office (aside from the Ceasar and the Censor – which are solo) has three office holders – ranked in priority through seniority (how long they’ve been in that office.) Office actions occur in order from the lowest to the highest offices.
Aedile – These chickens are the tax collectors of the group. The senior member proposes a tax rate for the round. The second place member can agree (setting the rate) or modify the proposal slightly, leaving the final decision to the third place member. Note that one player may have both of the senior members in the Aedile, and thus be able to determine a rate to their liking with no dispute. The tax rate determines how much income Ceasar will receive this round, while every surviving Aedile member will receive that amount minus one (kickbacks, if you will.) They can’t just set the tax rates arbitrarily high, however, as the higher the tax rate is set, the more likely the imperium will have guards bribed into letting foxes in to kill the chickens. Aedile office holders are eligible for election to Censor.
Praetor – The Praetors assign guards to each office in order to protect the chickens from invading foxes. This is an extremely important task, as some guards are turncoats and will let a fox through. One honest guard will block an incoming fox, but for every fox that exceeds the number of honest guards at an office location, one chicken will be killed off. To assign guards, the three office holders pass around a hand of cards and secretly assign them to an office, one card at a time. Thus, a player lucky enough to own two spots would place two cards each round, with the only other player present placing 1 in 3 of the cards set out. Caesar, due to his personal guards, is not at risk, but each of the other offices have three open spaces for guards (with the exception of Censor who only has two spots.) Since no one likes the tax collectors, the Aediles have three spots, but one is permanently set as a turncoat. (Thus, the only way all the Aediles survive is if both cards placed there are honest guards.) Note, the foxes do not attack (and aren’t even revealed) yet, that will happen after the rest of the actions occur. Praetor office holders are eligible for election to Consul.
Censor – The single Censor has the ability to exile any one (other than Ceasar, of course) chicken in office. This happens immediately (and thus a Consul will not get its action, an Aedile doesn’t collect its taxes, the chicken doesn’t get its insignia for serving in the role, but exile will protect a chicken from possible elimination from foxes.) After exiling a chicken, the Censor gains a coin. The censor can even exile itself, and may then still collect its insignia of office (on its way out of town) but will not then gain the bonus coin.
Consul – The chickens in Consul have the ability to grant post-mortem awards to chickens. Since players try to collect insignias, and every chicken can have at most one insignia of each office assigned to it, whenever a chicken gains a duplicate insignia, the player puts it into their general supply. At the end of the round, a player can put insignia next to one of their eligible dead chickens (ie. one that does not already have that insignia) along with a cash “bribe”. The insignia proposed are not automatically assigned. In seniority order, office holders in the Consul may accept the “offering” of one of the proposed monuments to allow those bonus insignia to be assigned to that chicken. They can ALSO deny the construction of a monument. In this case, both the “bribe” and the insignia are lost completely to the supply. Since it takes a few rounds for bonus insignia to be collected, as well as some chickens to die off, the Consul action is pretty much non-existent for the first few rounds of the game. Since players must fix their “offering” amount when proposing the monument, this is the one phase of the game where no bribes may be made – you can’t pay a Consul extra to get them to pick your monument. Caesar is always elected from available (surviving) Consuls.
Caesar – There is no action for Caesar. However, when Caesar comes into power they are granted a Veto token. This can be used to veto one vote during the round (note, deciding the tax rate and exiling a chicken by the Censor are not votes). The Caesar position is unique in that it can last for at most two rounds. IF (yes, a big IF) no chicken dies during a round, Ceasar has a successful reign and stays in power for an additional round (after which they die, due to the stress of the job.) If any chicken dies during the round, Ceasar is removed and a new one is chosen during the next round’s election.
After all actions, the invading foxes are resolved. For every fox card that isn’t countered by an honest guard, a chicken in that office must be eliminated. Since there are three cards for each office, that means that no chickens (2 or 3 honest guards), one chicken (1 honest guard), or all three chickens (zero honest guards) will be eliminated. One exception is in the Consul. The consul members may combine resources to spend 3 coins in order to counter-bribe one fox into not attacking. (This could still mean two foxes attack.) The chickens to be eliminated are determined by a vote. (Note, one votes on which to eliminate, never which to save.) This is the same voting process used to promote chickens into Ceasar and the higher offices.
During a vote, the player holding the “voting” token (the Suffragium) begins by nominating an eligible chicken (one to be eliminated or promoted, depending on the phase of the game.) Players then go around the table either seconding (and thus ending the vote) or proposing a new nomination. The first chicken to be both nominated and seconded “wins” the vote. The Suffragium marker is then passed to the left of whichever player seconded the vote. (So voting just picks up where it left off…)
My Overall Thoughts:
Chicken Caesar has some nice things going for it: I LOVE the humorous theme and the voting is somewhat controlled which provides an opportunity for strategy and planning. Some nice tactical maneuvering can be done – especially if one gets two chickens in a single political office (something that the rules typically prevent…) As mentioned, the “meat” of the game lies in three main areas: promoting chickens to higher office, taking actions with office holders, and in the voting for fox invasions.
As is typical with political games of this type, the perceived “leader” can often be severely punished when things come to a vote. This comes to a head particularly in the promotion and invasion voting. This is offset by the various actions available to office holders. A player perceived to be in the lead needs to offset this danger of comeuppance by careful play. There is little that can be done to help a player during the promotion phase beyond outright bribery, but careful use of actions can help swing the tide during the invasion phase. Strategic card play in the Praetors can help protect one’s chickens in office, but playing heavily in the Aediles should allow one to outright bribe other players to avoid elimination. I have seen players have a particularly bad round and be almost wiped off the board. If this happens, a player is nearly out of the game for a round or two, making it quite difficult to get back into the game. A player could still “sell” their vote while most of their chickens are off the board, but many of the voting decisions have a clear best choice and money is pretty tight in the game, so making a living only by accepting bribes is not going to carry the game very far.
Bottom line: While I can enjoy a fast-paced, quick political game (like Bang!, Ca$h N Gun$, or even I’m the Boss) I’m not so much a fan of longer games that are extremely political. If I were a fan of that political games of this type, this would be an “I like it…” ranking. As things stand, I’m merely neutral on the game – I’d play it if asked but would tend to prefer a different game if available.
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson: My one play left me feeling “meh” – in fact, Matt did a very nice job of picking out the parts of the game that bothered me… with one exception. Though I’m known for liking fluffy & oddball themes, I don’t think it works here.
Ratings Review from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it.
Neutral. Matt Carlson, Mark Jackson
Not for me…