The primary currency in my Optimates et Populares design is Political Will (PW), with each action you take or attempt costing some amount of it. Small things cost less PW and big things cost more PW. This is a familiar concept for most gamers, which goes by various names: Operations Points, Action Points, Resource Points, etc. Usually you get these points in games randomly by playing cards, or you earn them by controlling certain areas on a map. It's a necessary abstraction that simulates not so much the actual choices made by leaders and commanders - Lincoln didn't fret over only having a 3-Ops card - but the general push-and-pull of the decision space, translated into game-ese. And while my game uses the abstraction of Political Will in much the same tradition, how these points are generated, and the consequences of spending them, is a little different, and in many ways it's the actual crux of the game.
Optimates et Populares works from the premise that, in a highly polarized political atmosphere, when one side makes gains, it mobilizes and energizes the opposition. Or, to put it more cynically, that anger and outrage at what the other side has done are the primary motivators for political action and popular support. It's one reason why the wheels of government often turn slowly and deliberately, aiming for an inoffensive middle where nothing gets done. And it's the reason why when something substantial does occur, there is dramatic and immediate opposition. Here in the states, for example, once the Affordable Care Act was passed by a Democratic majority congress, it pretty much dictated that the Republicans would take the house in the following mid-term election.
Both of these concepts - the vicious teeter-totter of political power, and the balance between accomplishing nothing and doing too much too quickly - are represented in the game via Political Will. Every action you take costs PW - no surprises there - but every action also earns PW for your opponent. For example, a Consul Action is one of the two ways that players try to enact reforms (or to roll them back). The first such action in a player's phase costs 2 PW, and if it is successful, your opponent gains 1 PW. The second such action costs 3 PW and cedes 2 PW; the third, 5 and 3; the fourth, 8 and 5. If you were to take four of these actions, and managed to pass the law every time, you would have spent a total of 18 PW - a massive amount - and would have given the enemy 11 PW, which is nothing to sneeze at in and of itself.
Consul not console
But really, the cost would be higher than that, because, as you may recall from a previous article in this series, if your opponent controls a Consul and/or a Tribune, they can spend PW to veto legislation. At most, it's going to cost them 3 PW to do so. That veto can be overridden with a cash bribe of 6 or 8 coins (depending on the situation), which is a significant sum in and of itself.
Quaestor on Roman coin. The Q at the bottom on the obverse side signifies the image is of a quaestor. It is believed by some that the image might be that of Lucius Lucullus, quite an important quaestor in his day. The reverse's legend FETIA refers to the fetial ceremony, part of the treaty making process, during which a pig is sacrificed to sanctify the oaths. Still a popular ceremony to this day.
Granted, the opposition isn't always going to veto your legislation, and you're not always going to override it. Maybe they want to get more PW so they can do certain things on their turn. Maybe you want to save the coins for another action, or to force passage of a particular law at a more advantageous time.
Again, this same "spend PW, enemy gets PW" mechanism powers most of the game's eight actions during the normal Sequence of Play (we'll talk more about the Dictatorship Sequence of Play in another article). All of these actions either enable the player to take or exercise power. Both of these aims need to be pursued - that is, after all, what earns you VP and wins you the game - but you need to also pursue them in moderation, managing your PW effectively. To explain why, I need to talk a little bit about player phases and phase order.
Atarius CX, quite an important consul in his day.
Each game turn consists of two player phases, followed by an elections phase. The player who holds two out of the three major offices has the first player phase, and his opponent the second. Because a Consul Action effectively "locks" a law for the turn, preventing your opponent from using it during his phase (though the Tribune can get around this), there is a distinct advantage to going first.
But, if you blow through all your PW in a major push to grab or keep your power, while you might be going first on the next turn, you're not going to have any PW left that would enable you to put that power to good use. In fact, you've probably given your opponent enough PW to effectively stymie your agenda. It's effectively a wasted turn, and that's not something either player can really afford to do. It's a balancing act that requires a deft touch.