Imagine yourself a member of the ruling class, scheming and manipulating others around you to suit your ambitions, embroiled in the politics of Rome at the height of its power. Adversaries may get in your way, but you will deal with as you strive to amass wealth and everlasting splendor. This is your time. No one can prevent you from reaching the levels of grandeur you deserve. History will remember you well and, should you fall, your progeny will carry on in your name. For eternal glory! For Rome!
Now imagine you’re doing this as a chicken.
Players find themselves thrown into a game of political intrigue. Here, each player controls a rooster family as it navigates through the coop’s political system. Each family member vies to accumulate as much influence in life (and death) as possible, and at the end of the game the family who controls the most points wins. Players will spend equal time protecting their interests and preventing rival families from doing the same. Meanwhile, all players have to be careful of the Fox, the outside force killing off chickens. It is a Fox-eat-Rooster kind of world, and time is short.
Setup for Chicken Caesar takes a couple of minutes. Each player is handed one of six colored rooster lineages; the number of roosters used per family will vary depending on the number of players. Each member of the family also has a corresponding Roman numeral block that represents that particular rooster.
The board houses five different political offices that your brood can aspire to hold: Caesar (leader of the coop), Consuls (overseers of dead roosters), Censor (head of internal security), Praetors (military leaders), and Aediles (tax collectors). Each office has between one and three available positions and grants special privileges to the office-holders. There’s also a stack of insignias next to each office you will need to collect for fame, fortune and points to win the game. After determining who goes first, the Suffragium token (the big wooden chicken) is handed to the first player. Each player is given 2 coins, and we’re off to the races.
The game starts with players placing members of their clans into the available positions on the board. Any extra units are placed in the Quaestor pool at the bottom of the board until positions open up. Each turn, players promote their units, if possible, and then each political office takes actions that have an impact on the other players. Once this is done, players receive payment for the postions held by their chickens. This payment takes the form of the respective insignia tokens for those units.
Then the Fox attack happens, revealing which roosters are lost.
Lastly, players may attempt to donate extra insignia tokens they possess as contributions to advancing the legacy of their fallen family members. After that, it starts all over again. Once an entire family is killed off, or there aren’t enough roosters to fill vacancies, the game ends. The family with the highest score wins, and their family’s name shall live on forever.
Definitely Not For the Birds
Here at the Cardboard Republic, we are particularly fond of how well a game’s theme plays into its overall viability, and when we initially saw a game based around the political machinations of chickens, we were a bit skeptical.
How glad we were to be wrong!
Indeed, the idea of a Romanesque-ruled chicken coop didn’t originally garner our attention, but once the rules were understood and the game progressed, it became apparent that Chicken Caesar isn’t as preposterous as it may first seem. The game’s five distinct offices all hold sway over the others in some manner or another. For example, Aediles raising the tax rate too high may be good for those
getting money from it (the Aediles themselves and the Caesar), but it also raises the likelihood of more folks being carried off by the Fox. The player(s) controlling the Praetors – the ones who decide which poor birds meet their end –may not enjoy being shut out of lucrative income, and may plan reprisal on the lowly tax collectors.
It is this balance of powers that makes the game so engaging. The level of interplay between players as you navigate your way around the board is on par with other games, like Traders of Genoa, that use wheeling-and-dealing as a mechanic. That said, what elevates a game like this is that you are required to be at least semi-cunning in your decision-making. Not only is bribing a player’s actions (or inactions) common, but it is a pillar of how you are engaging with one another. Normally this level of calculating moves for and against other players could degenerate into some unfortunate game sessions, but the clever minds at Nevermore Games did three things to prevent that from happening:
- It’s explicitly written into the rules that any agreement between players sealed with money is binding, meaning you can’t easily backpedal or renege on an arrangement.
- The game moves along at a decent pace. It has rules and a turn structure that aren’t bogged down in unnecessary complexity.
- Um, the characters are roosters? If this were a typical Roman setting and “Casca II” was a human member of your lineage, you’d probably be more upset over him being screwed over or killed off by other players. Luckily, he’s a bird.
When looking at the base game, it’s hard not to see, dare it be said, Spartan attributes. (We tried really hard not to make that reference, but when in Rome…) The board is designed to seem “plain”, the rooster units are wooden blocks, and all the artwork has a very classical look. Some may feel this is an issue of production quality due to its Kickstarter budget, but it appears that this was all done to reinforce its theme. If anything, its Kickstarter campaign provided an extra little flourish: each currency coin has a name of some of the higher-tiered donors. We won’t spoil any, but there are some gems in there worth checking out.
That’s not to say that a little polish in other areas couldn’t be beneficial. The rulebook could use a few touch-ups, but it still spells out the rules and mechanics pretty well. Additionally, the threat of the Fox feels very ethereal; he is the force killing off the roosters generally, but the only in-game reference is the markings on the tax rate depicting how many traitors cards the Praetors get. On the other hand, as a rooster, once you see the Fox, it’s probably too late for you anyway. So it could all be moot.
Asking for a Quorum
This game drips flavor, albeit in an odd combination. Immersion into being a chicken, immersion into politics, immersion into ancient Rome…Immersionists that can appreciate the combination the game presents will like it, be it as a rooster or a Roman. Or both really. It’s sort of a given. As for everyone else:
Daredevils should enjoy the chaos of seeing feathers fly as a result of player actions, and Strikers will enjoy the moderate aggression against other players, even it if it is more of the courtly scheming style rather than straight up attacking. Most Tacticians will enjoy it if they are flexible. There is a deceptive amount of strategy involved – much like real politics. the situation can change rather quickly, so plans must be able to adapt as well.
Chicken Caesar can be played with as few as three players, but to get the full measure of what it means to be a rooster in this coop, a table of four or more is recommended. This will get you the right mix of table politics and fun to really make it shine. A pure Socializer may not enjoy having to interact with people purely within the scope of the game, but those who shade more towards enjoying games like Settlers of Catan should find this game appealing. Architects, on the other hand, are advised to skip this one: there is nothing to build or expand, and their arch-nemesis play style, haggling, is in full effect.
Contrary to the tongue-in-cheek references, from the game’s title down to the currency actually being corn, it is not a parody or farce of a game. It has real strategy at its core, with an entertaining skin (and feathers) on top. By utilizing poultry, it negates a lot of the potential tension that can arise from games that rely heavily on barter and trade – even if we can’t wholly understand why. In the end, it was the lighthearted elements that made the game noteworthy. Chicken Caesar manages to blend strategy and heavy interaction between players with just the right amount of winking to the absurdity of the situation being presented. Because of that fact, the game succeeds quite well.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 4
Replay Value: 4.5
Physical Quality 4
Overall Score: 4
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