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[Review] Ave Caesar

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

I’m a big fan of racing games, especially “light” ones, such as Formula De or Um Reifenbreite. When discussing these games on the internet, people often discussed other such games that were good racing games, and one game’s name was mentioned time and time again - Ave Caesar (Ravensburger, 1989 - Wolfgang Riedesser). People talked about how simple and fun it was, with a high interaction factor. Then, when I looked into getting the game, found that it went for fairly high prices. It became one of my “holy grails”, and after quite a while of searching, I was able to acquire it in a trade.

After several plays, I’m exceedingly pleased with the game. Um Reifenbreite is still probably my favorite game of this genre, but for loud yells of annoyance and a good “screwage” factor alone - this game will often hit the table. It takes about one minute to explain, one minute to set up, and only about twenty minutes to play. A quick game for up to six players with good interaction - this is always a useful thing to have in one’s game collection. Ave Caesar is a fun, fun game, and except for its current price (as it is out of print), it makes an excellent addition to any gamer’s collection.

A two-sided board is placed face-up in the middle of the table. One side of the board is for 3-4 players, and the other side 5-6 players. Each side has four different routes - two different tracks, which can be raced in either direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise. Each player takes a chariot token, a coin, and a small deck of cards. This deck of cards is made up of twenty-four cards, with four cards each, numbered “1” through “6”. Each player cuts their deck, and the player with the highest card showing puts their racer in the first position, with the other players following suit. Each player shuffles their deck and draws three cards. The race is ready to go, therefore starting with the first player, play proceeds clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player plays one of the cards from his hand. They must follow these restrictions:
- If the player is in the lead in the race, they cannot play a “6.”
- The player must move the exact amount shown on the card, or they cannot play the card.
- The player MUST play one of their cards, unless they cannot play any of them - in which case they lose their turn, and pass to the next player.
- Movement is either forward or diagonally forward - players cannot move sideways, through other players, or through walls.
- Only one chariot is allowed in each space.
Once during the race, between the first and second lap, or between the second and third - each player must stop in the Imperial Alley. This is very akin to a pit stop, and is a walled off straightway next to the starting line. The straightway is three spaces long on the 3-4 player board, and six spaces long on the 5-6 player board. The player must stop somewhere along this straightway, and toss their coin to Caesar, shouting “Ave Caesar!” If the player cannot get into the straightway on the second pass, they must stop and wait until they can get into the alley.

After the third lap, the first player to cross the finish line is the winner, and scores six points (for multi-race purposes). The other positions score 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0 points respectively. After several races, or just one - whichever the players prefer - the player that scored the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: For a game that is this old - fifteen years! - the components are rather fantastic. The plastic coins, especially, were not necessary; but they certainly added to the flavor and theme of the game. I’ve made everyone I play with shout “Ave Caesar” when tossing their coin (and believe me, the coins have sometimes been hurled), and everyone has had a great time with it. The cards are of great quality, and I like the fact that not only do they have normal numbers on them, but also Roman numerals. The cards, coin, and chariot pieces all match color perfectly: olive green, brown, blue, red, gray, and yellow. Everything fits exactly into a nice plastic insert, one that holds each set of cards individually. The boards are especially nice, with the spaces clearly marked, and the two different tracks on each side of the board are clearly marked in two different colors. Everything fits well in a very thematic Romanized box - a long one, but thin and fairly easy to fit on the shelves.

2.) Rules: The rules for the game are in German, in a beautiful eleven page full-colored booklet. Fortunately, the English translation is available online for downloading, and is very well done - with pictures in the appropriate places for example purposes. As I mentioned in my introduction, the game is absolutely simplistic to teach and learn, and I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t grasp the rules right away. The only rule (one I missed the first game or so) that is different than other race games is that the game order is always clockwise, rather than the player who is in the lead going first. This change is a major one, and really allows a player’s movement to affect other players.

3.) Interaction: One reason that the game is very fun is how much the players can affect each other. There are several points along each track where there are “chokepoints”, places where the track is only one space wide. Stopping your chariot in one of those spots can really mess up the person behind you, causing them to be unable to move. Also, with clever positioning, a player can force another player to go into the outer lane on curves. Each player’s total sum, on all the cards they possess, is only slightly enough to finish each race. If a player is forced to take the outer lane too many times, they can run out of cards to finish the race - causing them to crash, thus losing the race. This, of course, can really affect the way that players race, and people will do their best to foil their opponents with annoying moves.

4.) Strategy: There are other strategy maneuvers in the game. Knowing when to take first position is crucial, because when a player is in the lead, they cannot play any “6” cards, and may be forced to play a card that doesn’t help them at all. Also, when should a player give tribute to Caesar - during which lap? These choices are not brain burning, but they do make for a fun and exciting game.

5.) Fun Factor: The game is a blast to play. Yes, players will often be stabbed by others, but because the favor is returned so quickly - no player is eternally irritated. The game is a real blast - and everyone I’ve played it with has had a blast. Very few people, both here on the internet, and those I play with, truly dislike the game. There are some who are not as fond as the slight randomness and quickly changing scene - but more people enjoy it than not, and the theme certainly helps matters.

6.) Variants: There are twelve variants in the rules, and many more on the internet. Some of them are better than others, but all of them are interesting and can help the replayability of the game. A few of them that I like more than the others include:
- Non-playing chariots that act as neutral players make games with fewer players more fun.
- Missed turns: If a player cannot move, they also must discard a card, drawing a replacement card.
- Different speed decks: Decks can be created for fast chariots, slow chariots, and average chariots. Each deck is built differently, and all seem to have an equal chance of winning.

Overall, the game is quite fun - one of my favorite racing games, and certainly an excellent filler. One of Ave Caesar’s best features is the player interaction. Turns go by rather quickly, and there is very little downtime. The entire race is three laps, yet due to each player having an equal deck, it’s extremely difficult for someone to fall too far behind. This, coupled with how quickly the entire game plays out - makes it one of my top games to bring out when everybody just wants to have a good time. The unfortunate thing about the game currently is the scarcity of it, as it is fairly hard to find, and rather pricey when one does find it. I’m not sure the fun factor of the game justifies this “rarity” factor. However, if you have a chance to pick it up for a decent price, then by all means - do so! You won’t regret it, and even if the game doesn’t have the depth that one is necessarily looking for, its fun is so great that I believe there are many occasions that you’ll be delighted that you snagged it.

Tom Vasel

Scurra
Scurra's picture
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Joined: 09/11/2008
[Review] Ave Caesar

The only thing I don't like about Ave Caesar! is that I have never yet managed to finish a race. Nobody else ever seems to have this problem, but I find myself running out of cards everytime...

(Actually, this isn't entirely true. I did once manage to finish a race, but was executed because I had failed to pay tribute to Caeser on either lap: the first time because the track was full and the second time because I had to shoot past owing to only have 6s in my hand at the time, so it wasn't a case of stopping and waiting....)

I still play it about once a year (because I don't own a copy but go to a convention where there usually is one!) and still enjoy it. And one day I'm going to finish the race, dammit :)

DarkDream
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Joined: 12/31/1969
[Review] Ave Caesar

I overall agree with Tom's assessment of the game. The simplicity and elegance of the rules is quite masterful. The art, components and rule book is beautiful and of the highest quality.

Most importantly the game is definitely fun and light and I think an 8 year old or slightly younger could play it.

Having said all of that, I do have some problems with it. Personally, the game is almost infantile. It lacks any series depth at all and the theme of chariot racing is rather tenuous.

For me who is interested in ancient rome and chariot racing especially, it is sort of a tots game. Chariot racing was about courage, daring, violence and all the romantic spectacular elements that immortalized Ben Hur's chariot racing scene.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good game that is fun. It just lacks any serious depth at all. I would imagine this was the reason it did not win the game of the year award in Germany.

--DarkDream

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