Fowl Play – A Kickstarter Quick-Look at Chicken Caesar
In December of 2010, a strange image appeared on the front page of BoardGameGeek – a stone facade, covered in spattered blood, with the looming shadow of what could only be a rooster. Words, etched into the stone, read “Chicken Caesar.” I knew immediately that, regardless of the content, it was imperative that I experience what this game had to offer.
I followed the progress of Chicken Caesar for well over a year of its development, patiently waiting for a possible release date or at least a chance to get in the game. That opportunity finally presented itself at PrezCon 2012 in Charlottesville, Virginia. And, so, I adjusted my toga and laurel, gathered my bucket of fried fowl for intimidation factor, and settled in for a rousing good time of birds and backstabbery.
Before I get too embroiled in the particulars of gameplay, I’ll spoil the ending: I loved Chicken Caesar, and not just because I won the demo game. There are many types of gamers in this wonderful hobby. Some prefer to slap cards in rapid succession on the way to victory in games like Dominion, while others enjoy lovingly crafting a resource engine out of cardboard parts and wooden bits, like in London or Puerto Rico. Being an omni-gamer, I enjoy almost all types of games. But what I really love to do in every game I play is what I’m really good at: Ratchet up the social aspect. While everyone else is busy tinkering inside their own heads, I’m busy whispering discord into their ears. Someone’s an immediate threat to my game? Gently point out to the table that they appear to be in the lead. The game doesn’t allow open trading? Work around that and offer a trade for favors. Someone just got robbed by another player? Help one of them while feeding the flames with subtle table talk. It’s important to note that these tactics are not only encouraged in Chicken Caesar, they are absolutely necessary in order to win.
Describing some of the tactics for victory in Chicken Caesar is the easy part; describing how the game works is another story, entirely. Basically, the players all take on the roles of rooster families in a coop that has decided to govern itself in the manner of ancient Rome. Each player receives five roosters with which to place around the board (with cunning diplomacy and dirty dealings) and a few frumentum (corn currency) that they can use for bribes – and victory points at the game’s end. During the course of the game, there are a few offices that player’s roosters can occupy, and various powers/duties that each will afford.
First off, there is the requisite role of Caesar, but it is largely the office of figurehead. Caesar doesn’t hold much power in regards to the goings-on within the coop, but he does hold a very useful power – the ability to veto a vote. There are various votes that will occur over the course of the game such as setting the tax rate, deciding which rooster gets fed to the foxes that prowl about the coop waiting for a chicken dinner, etc. Once per round, Caesar can use his veto token to declare the results of a vote null and void – provided he remembers that he even has the token. On top of this somewhat-useful ability, Caesar also gets a lot of frumentum and a much-coveted Caesar token that will equal a fair amount of victory points at the end of the game.
The two offices below Caesar are directly tied to the head office; all roosters in those locations will inevitably jockey for the role of Caesar during the course of the game (provided they don’t become fox food). The office directly below Caesar – the office of the Consul – holds a lot of subtle power; when a rooster dies, there is a monument erected in their honor. The family (player) of that dead rooster may place an extra token from a specific office (tokens that are used for VPs which cannot be taken more than once by any rooster in that family) along with a bribe next to the rooster statue in the vain hopes that the roosters of the Consul will accept the bribe and honor their memory. Of course, those roosters may also reject the bribe and send the rooster – and any valuable tokens waiting to be nabbed for VPs – into feathered obscurity.
The office on the bottom of the path to Caesarhood holds the Praetors – the guards of the coop. Each round, they take a certain mix of Vigil and Traitor cards and take turns assigning them to the other four offices on the board. If there are more Traitors than Vigils in any office at the end of the turn, then the guards turn their backs long enough for a rooster (or three) to become a fox’s dinner. Basically, having a rooster in the Praetorship is a very powerful thing, indeed, and much frumentum can be extorted from players trying to keep their other roosters safe.
The final two offices are not directly connected to the office of Caesar and are, theoretically, independent of those particular politics. However, this being a dastardly, cutthroat coop, no one is safe from political dealings. The first office holds the Aedile – the tax office. They set the tax rate, which equates to fatter roosters and, therefore, more foxes prowling about. The higher the tax rate in the coop, the more Traitors show up in the Praetor’s office, and it’s basically bedlam, with roosters dying left and right. If the Aedile keep the tax rate low, then everyone is relaxed and happy and luxurious, boring peace breaks out – and who wants that now, really?
The final office above the Aedile is the Censor, and it is only held by one rooster at a time. The Censor has one ability, but it is a powerful one – during the game, before everyone collects their tributes (frumentum and office tokens), the Censor can exile one rooster in any office, even themselves. This excludes them from votes and collecting tributes – quite often a bad thing – but it also keeps them safe from the foxes when that rough beast has come round again. Naturally, the Censor attracts a lot of attention, and not a fair amount of frumentum as bribes to do a rooster’s bidding.
At the end of each round, there will be a few dead roosters and, therefore, vacancies in certain offices. Players may pay frumentum to nominate their own roosters (provided they have any left) for a certain vacancy, or they may nominate another player’s rooster for free. Of course, in Chicken Caesar, nothing is free, so that payment may come in the form of return favors or frumentum. One important thing to note is the jockeying for the title of Caesar; if no rooster dies during the course of a round, the current Caesar remains in power and receives even more accolades and money. This is very difficult, indeed, but for a player with the right political machinations in place, it can be a very lucrative strategy.
Overall, Chicken Caesar’s system of checks and balances with the various offices helps to maintain a nice balance for a social atmosphere that could turn to complete anarchy without some tight ropes. Although I won my demo game through a fair mix of wise bribery, typical domination of the Praetorship, a very healthy extortion of T.C. Petty III’s constant occupation of the Censor’s office, and a general atmosphere of death and fear, T.C. managed to make a close run to my final point tally by going the opposite route - never really making a play for Caesar, sticking close to the Aedile and Censor’s office, and promoting an atmosphere of peace and harmony. However, even the most peaceful senator must result to backstabbery from time to time, and T.C.’s final move to exile me from the lead Aedile’s position almost cost me the game – and lead me to posit the inevitable “et tu, Brute?” with respectful spite.
So, to sum up my first impressions, Chicken Caesar delivered far more social depth and enriching gameplay than its title and premise might belie. And although the theme is certainly eccentric, it adds a flavorful quirk that keeps the treachery and upheaval from becoming oppressive. After all, what better way to douse the flames of revenge by looking at your opponent as he pulls the dagger from his back, then simply shrugging and offering up a perplexed “bock bock?”
Chicken Caesar is a game for 3 to 6 feathered freethinkers, by Bryan Fischer and John Sizemore for Nevermore Games.
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