THE OPT-POP DIARIES, PART 2 (by Tom Russell)

 Curia Julia

The curia was the meeting house of the Roman senate. The Curia Julia, pictured here, was begun by Julius Caesar and necessitated by the increase of senators from 600 to 900. The old curia, Curia Cornelia, was torn down and officially replaced by Curia Julia. Begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BC, it was completed by Augustus Caesar in 29 BC. In AD 94, Domitian rebuilt the Curia using Julius Caesar's original plan. The building was damaged by fire in AD 283 and later restored by Diocletian. In AD 630, Pope Honorius I transformed the property, presumably no longer used by any governing body, into the church of Sant'Adriano al Foro, which it remained until 1923 when the Italian government purchased both church (Curia Julia) and adjacent convent. During the 1930's the building was restored, removing medieval chrome, to reveal the original Roman building as restored by Diocletian.

There are two interrelated goals in Optimates et Populares: winning elections (taking political power) and passing legislation (using it). You need to do the former to do the latter, and the latter can help (or hinder) your ability to do the former. I'll get into the concept of Political Will (PW) in a later installment, but all you need to know right now is that there's something of a subtle balancing act between these two goals. If you spend too much PW taking power, you won't have enough to effectively use that power, and if you use your political power indiscriminately, it becomes very easy for the opposition to take control and to push their agenda.

In ancient Rome, the Senate was not an elected body, members were appointed by the consuls, and then later by censors (this power was retained by the censors until the end of the Roman Republic).

This time around, I'm going to discuss how laws work and what effects they have on the game state, both in general and the effects of specific laws being passed. Passage of a law requires that you take a Consul or Tribune Action, and as you might expect, said actions are limited to players who control a Consul or the Tribune. Taking the action basically announces your intention to nudge the marker for a specific law one space toward your end of the track - enacting progressive or conservative measures.

If you take a Consul action, it is subject to be Vetoed by your opponent if he controls the other Consul and/or the Tribune. Preventing passage of a law requires the expenditure of a certain amount of your opponent's PW. That amount is tied to three factors: who has a majority in the Senate, who has a majority amongst the People of Rome, and which side of the track the law marker is on currently (i.e., if there exists a "precedent"). The more of these that are in your favor, the more your opponent has to spend in PW (and he might decide it's a better use of his political energy to let the law pass so he can stoke resentment in his base). If none of these apply, he spends nothing, and thus can automatically Veto your actions. Naturally, you'll need to spend time building support for your measures before trying to pass them. That said, your opponent's Veto can itself be overridden if you have sufficient cash on hand to pay off their magistrates. The Tribune action works differently, in that it's not subject to Veto. This is a costly action, however, that results in less support for you in the Senate.


"Les Gracques", 1853, bronze, Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, the elder of the two Gracchus brothers, introduced agrarian reform to the Senate which sought to transfer wealth (land) from the rich to the poor. This caused a great deal of political turmoil since the wealthy Senators, and other patricians, owned all the land, the main source of their great wealth. They were not about to give up any part of their vast fortunes even to prevent starvation, and most certainly not for this foolish notion of giving the land back to the owners (many of whom were veterans) from whom it was "legally" purloined. For his troubles Tiberius was bludgeoned to death. He was succeeded by his like-minded brother, Gaius, who caused a great deal of "mischief" himself, and was dealt a similar end by that less than noble body - the Senate.

When legislation is passed, it builds support among the People of Rome for you or your opponent. How this works is that the People of Rome are split into three demographics, or Blocks - you've got the urban poor, you've got the middle class merchants, and you've got the military. (The upper-classes are represented by the Senate, naturally.) Each of these Blocks feels one way or another about certain issues. For example, all three blocks are in favor of Agrarian Reform (that is, land redistribution), so if the Populares enact progressive legislation on that issue, some pieces within each of those Blocks will "flip" support from the Optimates to the Populares. The number of pieces flipped depends on the VP value of the space; 1 VP means one flip in each Block, 2 VP means two, etc. The same thing happens - Populares gain support and Optimates lose support - if the Optimates manage to move things into a more conservative direction.

Beyond Agrarian Reform, there are three other issues for the players to fight over.

Italic Franchise is kind of the opposite of Agrarian Reform: it's one issue that all three Blocks are more conservative about, and so movement of the law marker in either direction is going to flip markers from blue (Populares) to red (Optimates). So, why would the Populares try to push Italic Franchise in their direction? Beyond the VP, each new space on the Populares side of the track grants citizenship to some Italic peoples. What this means is that new pieces are added to a given block. There's no easier way to turn a 4-4 deadlock in a block than to add two or three extra pieces on your side.

Debt Relief is a divisive issue. The poor, who are being crushed by debts, are all in favor of debt relief, but the merchants, who are loaning out the money, are less thrilled. Passage of legislation will flip pieces in the poor block blue and pieces in the merchants block red.

Drawing of Barbegal mill, from Scientific American. The ruins of the Barbegal mill, an ambitious and impressive flour mill from the 4th century AD, is located just north of Arles, France. Overshot waterwheels are conjectured to have driven the 16 mills. It is believed their capacity was sufficient to feed the entire nearby present-day city of Arles. Some of its product would have been destined for the Cura Annonae, as the grain dole in ancient Rome was known. Named in honor of their goddess Annona, the grain was distributed from the Temple of Ceres, and the supply itself was maintained by the Aedile as part of his duties.

Finally, the Grain Dole is something of a special case. It's only going to flip one block - the poor - into the blue, but it's the one law that can never be repealed or reversed by the Optimates. It's the sort of thing that once it's out there, it can never really be taken away.

Now, the three blocks aren't just there for flavor. The number of pieces you have in the Poor block, for example, determines the effectiveness of mob violence to threaten and cajole obstinate enemy Senators. Having more pieces in the Legions block allows you to flip pieces within the three blocks (through military glory). The only other way to flip pieces within a block besides that and the passage of laws is to buy their loyalty with a few coins.

Secession of the people

"The Secession of the People to the Mons Sacer", 1849, engraved by B. Barloccini. Crushing debt and clashes with the rich folk (patricians) brought the people to the brink of revolt. Ignoring advice, a large group of them retreated to Mons Sacer, where they eventually met with the senate's envoy, Agrippa Menenius Lanatus. They listened, they agreed to return, they had a condition. Their condition? Special tribunes (Tribunus plebis) should be appointed to represent the people, and to protect them from the power of the consuls. No member of the senatorial class would be eligible for this office (plebeians only, thank you very much), and the tribunes should be sacrosanct; any person who laid hands on one of the tribunes would be outlawed, and any plebeian would be entitled to kill such person without fear of penalty. The senate agreed.

Having a majority across the three blocks determines which player controls the Tribune. This is also used to determine the two "minor" offices, the Quaestor and the Aedile, though Legion and Merchant pieces, respectively, count double. It's a reflection not so much of actual voting mechanisms, but of support and persuasion within and between demographics. Both of the minor offices are each worth one VP, with the Quaestor giving you one Coin and the Aedile two. Nothing to sneeze at in either case, and helpful when trying to buy support and bribe "your" colleagues not to Veto your legislation.

So, let's put this all together. The Populares have one issue where they have universal support, Agrarian Reform. They have the support of the poor for both the Grain Dole and Debt Relief, but they risk alienating the merchants with the latter. Italic Franchise will cost them support with all three blocks, but will increase the number of voters within each block. Their strongest support, then, comes from the urban poor. This means that they're better positioned to use the threat of mob violence.

Their support among the merchants can be more tenuous. Of the three issues the merchants care about, two of them lean toward the Optimates. This makes opposition to Debt Relief and Italic Franchise effective levers to give the Optimates a foothold within that block. If he can maintain a majority there, and flip enough pieces within the other two blocks, he might even be able to take the Tribunate. Of the two blocks, the Legions are more viable targets, as they'll allow him to flip pieces in all three blocks. Optimates majorities within the poor are rare and don't have much staying power, just because there are so many ways for the Populares to flip them back.

So, it's a bit of a nuanced situation, and timing is important; if your support within a block is low, you don't want to pass a law that 's going to eradicate what little you have left. But if you've built up a comfortable level of support, that same law probably won't hurt your overall position as much. In this way, alongside the actual PW points we'll be discussing further on down the road, the vital concept of political capital is represented, as well as the dangers of catering too much to one's base.

It took me a while to get this mix of issues, blocks, and divergent interests just-so. In early versions, there were too many adjustments going on, to the point where I would forget to flip this piece or that one, and in another version, there were too few, resulting in a situation that was too static. I needed something that was appropriately volatile and chaotic, while still respecting tendencies within a block to give the situation some historical flavor. (Much like the cup adjustment system in Agricola, Master of Britain, which models the unpredictability of tribal revolts while having blue tribes default to friendly, and the red tribes always hostile.) I wish I could say there was some kind of "Eureka!" moment where it all fell into place, but really, it was more a matter of "Well, I tried this, and it was too much this thing", and "I tried that, and it's too much this other thing" until I got to "I tried this, and it works".

See Part 1 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 3 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 4 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 5 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 6 of The Opt-Pop Diaries


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