Alea Iacta Est and Dominion crossed my gaming table for the first time this weekend and I thought a short report was in order. Alea Iacta Est, (the die is cast) from Rio Grande Games is a fun, relatively simple game using dice and several game mechanics to earn victory points. Each player receives eight d6 and rolls them in turn. The player reads the dice and determines how to use whatever numbers in his dice pool. Alea Iacta Est gives you five options; templum, senatus, castrum, forum or latrine. It is clearer in the picture below how the game is setup.
Each location uses a different mechanic for victory determination. The Templum mechanic states the first player places a single die, the second two dice combining to exceed the first in face value and so on. Victory here earns victory points. The Senatus uses “straights” to determine who wins SPQR cards which give bonuses or break the rules. The Castrum uses multiples of the same number, with the most dice of the same type winning. Players win pick-order of the province cards, which are victory points. The Forum allows players to “push” played dice off the end of the board into the latrine. Forum dice are read left to right to determine which player picks first from the available Roman leadership tiles. The tiles are color coded to the provinces and provide bonus scoring on the provinces. The latrine is a dumping ground for leftover dice and dice pushed out of the forum location. You earn re-roll tokens for each die in the latrine, so it is not an entirely pointless place to put dice. There is one round for each player and highest victory point score wins.
Fun game that took about 45 minutes to play and no major issues, save one. The SPQR cards break the game rules and give bonuses to scoring. Sadly, there is no description what each card does, just some vague symbols on the cards. This results in the players referring to the single explanation sheet for these cards. Since the Senatus part of the game happens every round, this really slowed down the game as each player carefully considered their options. I get they wanted to make the game language neutral, but no descriptions on the cards was very annoying.
Dominion, also from Rio Grande is a non-collectible (not entirely true, I will explain later) card game with hints of Magic: The Gathering in its design. Here is a shot of the setup.
Game mechanics consist of buying cards from a common pool and building a deck. Some cards score victory points at the end of the game, other allow extra actions, boost your spending power or impede other players. Each round players draw five cards from their deck and use those cards to play and build their deck. Victory point cards are necessary to win the game, but the have no benefit in your hand. They just get in the way until the final scoring. Each round you add cards to your deck. When you need to draw back up to five cards and exhaust your deck, you reshuffle with all of your new acquisitions included. So goes the game until you run out of victory point cards and score what is in your deck.
I enjoyed the game and especially liked the non-collectible aspect. I say non-collectible, but there are supplements out for the game to increase the number of available cards in the game. They come in large board game format boxes, not foil packs and there is no randomness in the purchase. The only issue I could see was the cards get shuffled A LOT. My friend with the game used plastic sleeves from Mayday Games to protect his cards and it was a wise decision. Also, the various booster boxes are big and my buddy just moved all the cards to standard baseball card boxes to keep them together. Carrying all of the original boxes was just too bulky. I had a good time and will play again.
A final item regarding “Witch of Salem.” I played it again this weekend with three players and we died, but I wish there were more event cards. The deck is so short that there is not much surprise with the cards after a couple of rounds. Am I missing some game mechanic reason for the shallow deck. Drop me a line if you have any ideas.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer