There were only three of us this week so it was the perfect opportunity to try out The End of the Triumvirate, which has been waiting for ages to get to the table. This is an interesting light war game, where there are three routes to victory: military, where you manage to gain control of 9 areas; political, if you get elected to the senate twice; and competence, when both your military and political standing have reached a certain level. Each player represents one of the major Roman figures of the time: Julius Caesar, Pompeiius or Crassus.
A player’s turn is made up of three phases. Firstly, the areas you control generate supplies of troops and/or gold, plus you get a couple of bonus supplies from Rome. Then you get to move troops around the board and battle for control of the areas. Finally, you get to spend gold to perform up to three actions, depending on the type of area in which your character piece ends its movement. These will be to improve your military or political standing, to buy weapons to help in future conflicts, or to rally support from the citizens for the next election.
The starting positions and initial supplies push each of the characters down different strategies. Julius Caesar (Mark G) is slanted towards the military option and he took full effect on the first turn by blitzing one of Pompeiius’s (my) regions. This seems the obvious first turn and immediately put me on the back foot. As supplies are dictated by the areas you control, losing one before you begin seems harsh and I felt forced to retaliate despite Mark G’s military superiority. Going for Crassus (Mark K) instead might have been an option but that would have just left Mark G even stronger for his next turn. Crassus is suited to the political track and Mark K followed that route very successfully while I was the whipping boy in the middle. Mark K won the first year election and I knew he looked strong to continue his political domination. However, my pleas to warmonger Mark G, that he should turn his attention to cutting down the other guy, fell on deaf ears and Mark K ran out an easy winner at the end of the second year.
I enjoyed Triumvirate but am struggling to see how Pompeiius gets a decent foothold. I’d very much like to try again as the game plays really nicely with some good ideas but, taking only three players means its opportunities are going to be limited.
We followed up with a short game of Flaschenteufel, the Bottle Imp. This is a very good trick taking game where you want to take tricks with high cards but not with low cards. One card represents the Imp’s number (starting at 19). Providing all cards played are above that number, the winner simply takes the cards into their score pile. However, if any card in the trick is below the Imp’s number then the trick winner is the player who laid the highest card below that Imp number. They take the cards into their score pile but also take the Imp’s bottle and the card they won with becomes the new Imp number. Whoever has the Imp’s bottle at the end of the hand scores negative points rather than positive so you want to avoid that if possible. But, getting rid of low cards without taking the Bottle is tricky and calls for good judgement.
After an aborted first round where I had completely misunderstood the Imp rule, we played three rounds, each becoming more interesting as we got to grips with the slightly twisted trick winning rules. You certainly have different things to think about when evaluating your hand, compared with most trick-taking games. I managed to avoid taking the Bottle each time and ran out a reasonably comfortable winner. I love these clever little card games and Flaschenteufel is certainly one of the better ones. Excellent stuff.