THE OPT-POP DIARIES, PART 5 (by Tom Russell)

So, over the last four entries in this series, I looked at some of the core ideas behind Optimates et Populares, as well as how I approached some of the design problems inherent in the topic. This time around, I'm going to look at each of the game's ten actions and how they work together. These actions are divided into three categories: Senate Actions, People of Rome Actions, and Law Actions.

Curia Julia

Restored Curia Julia, meeting house of the Roman senate

Senate Actions

Half of the game's Actions allow you to gain support for your ideology within the Senate. Support of the Senate matters for two reasons. Firstly, having even a small majority in the Senate makes it slightly harder for an opposing Consul to Veto your legislation. Secondly, it is support within the Senate that determines if you have one, two, or none of the Consuls at your disposal.

The simplest, most cost-effective, and most reliable way to "flip" Senators is through the Influence Action. This Action activates one of your Senators and will flip enemy Senators adjacent to it in the Senate Display. Each Senator's Rank determines how many can be flipped, what ranks they can flip, and how much Political Will it costs to take the action. Your opponent gains PW equal to the number of counters flipped. So, for example, if you activate a four to flip 2 threes and 1 two, you're spending 4 PW and your opponent gains 3 PW.

Of course, your Senators can only Influence the Senators adjacent to them. And so you need a way to move them about. The Nudge Action, which costs 1 PW but yields none to your opponent, accomplishes this. The idea behind both of these is that prominent (high-rank) Senators can influence their colleagues, with adjacency representing tangled but fluid social networks and overlapping personal interests. All the Senators in the game are influential to some degree, with their less illustrious colleagues abstracted away.

There are less "clean" ways to get them to change their minds, however. The Bribe Persuade Action simply buys a Senator's vote by paying Coins equal to twice their Rank. While it costs no PW and yields no PW for your opponent, it's actually pretty costly! Each Turn, six Coins enter the game and are split in some way between the two players. Spending four Coins to flip a "2" is usually a pretty bad deal (there might be cases where it's not), while six for a "3" is a little better. Eight for a "4" is going to be a better deal as the "4" Rank Senators can't be flipped via an Influence action, but those eight Coins might be better used to build support among the People of Rome and to override your opponent's Veto.

Really, this action's usefulness is more situational. Do you have the Tribune, and flipping this one Senator will give you both Consuls, allowing you to lock down all three Major Offices while still keeping a reserve of PW so you can actually do something with your sweep? Go for it. Do you need to flip a Senator to get you the support you need to pass your bill, but spending PW to Influence him won't leave you with enough PW to take the Law action in the first place? If that Law is that important, the price might be right.

For a couple of reasons, the Optimates tend to have better support in the Senate than the Populares, while the Populares have better luck with the People of Rome, particularly the Poor Block. The Populares Player can leverage that via the Intimidate Action, which uses mob violence (or the threat thereof) to try and flip a Senator via a die roll, modified by the number of friendly counters in the Poor Block. (Interestingly, the only die rolling in the game is for this Action.) This costs 3 PW, and the other player actually has the option of opposing it with his own street gang, applying a negative modifier to your die roll, should he have support in the Poor Block, but at a cost of 2 of his PW. Whether or not the die roll is successful, your opponent earns PW equal to the Senator's Rank.

4 senator

This is the only other way to flip a "4" Rank Senator, and it can be effective if you have strong support in the Poor Block. Generally the Populares Player will use this when he's been locked out of all three Major Offices to gain a new foothold in the Senate, which he can then use to rebuild support.

Speaking of all three Major Offices - when someone holds both Consuls and the Tribune, he has the option of taking a Proscription Action. The targeted Senator is murdered (put back into the box) and replaced with a compliant nobody (Rank "1" Senator). The Player taking the action needs to spend PW equal to the Senator's Rank, which makes it expensive, but gains Coins equal to twice that Rank. It also flips some Poor Block pieces, who love a good execution. He could then use that cash to buy off some of the lesser Senators to ensure he continues to hold absolute power.

Those Rank "1" Senators make the Senate a lot less fluid - they can't be Influenced or bought off (not worth it, really) - and they themselves can't Influence anyone. There's eight provided in the game, though with competent play on both sides, you're not going to see more than one or two of them on the board.

People of Rome Action

There were originally two People of Rome Actions - actions that directly influenced the three voting Blocks that determine who gets the Tribunate, the Quaestor, and the Aedile. (As I covered in some of the earlier articles in this series, this doesn't represent those blocks actually "voting" for those offices, but rather the general support of a given type of citizen necessary for a consensus to form around a given candidate and platform.)

One of these Actions made it into the final game, and that's the Public Games Action. At a cost of 2 PW, the acting player initiates a bidding war with his opponent for the affections of the masses. The high bidder gets to flip some of the counters, but both players spend the Coins that they bid. To up your bid, you must bid equal to or higher than your opponent's total, which means it's safest to take this action when you can open up your bid at an amount higher than what he has on hand.

The other Action didn't go the distance, though it wasn't cut until quite late in the development cycle. It was a mechanism by which a Consul could turn military victory into a political one, flipping counters in each of the three People of Rome blocks with a good die roll. It became clear late in development that there was a way to guarantee success by spamming certain other actions in tandem with this one, and the results could be very swingy.

Rather than apply special rules and special cases, bending over backward trying to fix it, I cut it completely. It had mostly been utilized by the Optimates side. Much like the Intimidate Action, this Campaign Action had largely been intended to allow them to counter the Populares' natural advantages with the common people and to gain a foothold he could capitalize on via Law Actions and Public Games. The addition of a Conservative Lean in the Merchants Block more than made up for the lack of this action, without breaking the game.

Law Actions

The above two groups of Actions are all about winning Offices, and about building support for your legislative efforts. The latter is represented by the Law Actions. At base, there are two types of Law Actions.

The Consul's Law Action uses Consular authority to pass a law, and is generally the cheapest and easiest way to do so, costing 2 PW for the first Law, 3 PW for the second, 5 PW for the third, and 8 PW for a fourth (earning your opponent 1, 2, 3, and 5 PW, respectively). This has the added benefit of preventing the Law from being targeted with another Consul Action during the same Game Turn. If you want to prevent your opponent from passing a Law in his direction, it might be worth it to "try" passing it in yours, even if your Action is sure to be Vetoed.

So, while we're on the subject, let's talk about the two Veto Actions - a sort of Reaction made by your opponent on your Turn. A Consul's Law Action can be Vetoed by another Consul, or by the Tribune. A Consular Veto requires spending between zero and three PW, depending on the current space the Law occupies and majorities in the Senate and among the People. If you have no majorities, and the Law is on your opponent's space, your opponent can Veto the Law for free. Any PW he spends to Veto your Law you receive in equal measure, so it's not all bad. The Tribune's Veto costs your opponent 2 PW, but you gain no PW in return. Instead, you get to flip a Senator to its friendly side. Both of these Vetoes can be overridden (though the PW is still spent/earned), allowing the Law to pass, if you have enough cash on hand: 6 Coins if your opponent has only one Major Office, and 8 Coins if he has two. (That money goes to the bank, not to your opponent.)

Finally, there is the Tribune's Law Action. It differs from the Consul's Law Action in that it can't be vetoed, ever, and costs a flat 3 PW (earning a flat 2 PW for your opponent). It can also target Law Actions that were previously targeted by a Consul during that same Game Turn - it just can't advance them to a "3" VP space. Generally, this is costlier on average than the Consul's Law Action, and less robust, but it certainly gets the job done.

See Part 1 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 2 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 3 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 4 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

See Part 6 of The Opt-Pop Diaries

1 comment

  • Tom,
    Thanks for the interesting game diary entries. I’m excited. It’s an exciting era and I’m always up for a game of ancient Rome. Certainly looks a lot easier and quicker than “Republic of Rome”, for example. By the way, did you consider a multi-player option, rather than just two player? Or did I miss that discussion earlier?

    george atkins

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