So, a few folks have asked, in various corners of the internet, why Optimates et Populares is a two-player game, instead of something that sits four or five, as you might typically see in other political games. I never really seriously considered designing it as a multiplayer game, and there are in retrospect a few reasons for that, so I thought I'd dig into 'em a bit here.
From the start, the game was about poisonous, hyper-partisan deadlock. You have two well-defined sides in direct conflict with diametrically-opposed and mutually-exclusive goals, unwilling and unable to give an inch. Scoring points (both literally and figuratively) is more important than stewardship of a functioning, healthy republic, and preventing "the other side" from accomplishing anything on their agenda is more important than accomplishing anything on your own docket. The game's focus is squarely on these elements.
Other Roman Politics games, such as The Republic of Rome and Chicken Caesar, are less about this kind of brinksmanship and obstructionism, and more about personal ambition. Each player takes on the role of a prominent family, furthering their own wealth, prestige, and status at the expense of all other considerations. And, you know, that's a perfectly valid thing to explore, and an equally valid model of the late Republic. It's just not what this game was focused on.
The thing with a multiplayer approach is that it inherently allows for compromise and deal-making. If Bob, Claudia, and I are all playing a game, I might help Claudia if it means pushing Bob down, and I might later help Bob if it gives me a leg up over Claudia.
And certainly this kind of thing was going on during the late Republic. Senators shifted support from one faction to another as it suited their own needs and their own personal interests. Some Populares agitators were true believers, some were cynically exploiting unrest to advance their own careers - and of course in many cases, why can't it be both? And that's actually in Optimates et Populares, in the way that Senators shift allegiance when pressure is exerted from their peers (Influence action), by the mob (Intimidate action), or by a generous donation (Bribe/Persuade action). While many other games represent this at that personal level, with each player taking on the role of a given Senator or family, this game approaches it from an ideological/factional level.
In a comment on one of these blogposts, Gordon mentioned Mark Herman's Pericles as a potential model for a two-sided, four-factioned conflict. So, in that game, you have two players on the Athens side, and two players on the Spartan side. While I'm sure it works like gangbusters in that game - I haven't had the pleasure, but it's a Mark Herman design, after all - his game and mine are modeling two very different kinds of conflict. Pericles has two distinct city-states, each with its own two-sided factional dispute. (In fact, the Athenian dispute between the Demagogues and the Aristocrats mirrors in some ways the Roman Populares/Optimates divide.) That approach is more akin to doing a game on the War of 1812 with two American Players (Republicans and Federalist) and two British (Whigs and Tories).
Whereas Opt-Pop is more like doing a game just on the conflict between the Republican and Federalist parties. And while there was in-fighting and personal jockeying within each of those parties, I'm not sure if that conflict would be as compelling if each party was in turn bifurcated to produce a four-hander.
So that, in a nutshell, is why Optimates et Populares was always intended to be a two-player game.