Friends! Gamers! Countrymen! Lend me your… uh… eyes. I have not come to bury anybody. And we’ll see if I praise anybody (spoilers, I will). SoulJar Games has been busy working on a new board game that captures all the intrigue and subterfuge of the ancient Roman Senate. What they’ve came up with is 100AD. They’ve sent me a prototype copy to look over and give you my thoughts on (note: Since it's a prototype, the look of cards and wordings may change before the final version).
So grab your toga and sandals, it’s time for another TGN Review. This time it’s 100AD by SoulJar Games.
100AD takes place in the year 100 AD (seems appropriate) during the reign of Trajan, arguably one of the greatest emperors that the Roman Empire ever had. And while, with such a powerful ruler in charge, the Senate may not have had that much to do, relatively, they still wanted to be in good graces with the Emperor. Players take on the role of secret power brokers behind the scenes of the Senate. Each one is working to gain the most favor with Trajan. There’s many ways to go about gaining that, though, as there are many different strategies that can be utilized during the game.
In essence, 100AD is a worker placement game. At the start of the game, players get 30 influence tokens. These are your “workers”. Using them, players will show their favor to the various factions in Rome, the seats of the Senate, on the Bill that the Senate is going to be voting on, or the Emperor himself. Each place a player puts their influence gives them some sort of bonus and a different way to gain Victory Points (VPs).
Favor Among the Factions
There are six factions in 100AD that you can court the favor of. They are the: Artifex (the working class of Rome), the Augurs (the priests), the Mercator (the merchants), the Plebians (the slave class), the Scolaris (the scholars and philosophers), and the Sceleratus (the criminals around Rome). All of these, except the Sceleratus, have a track that shows how much support that group has in and around Rome. If you are the player with the most influence on the group, you get VPs equal to that group’s total (yes, this can be a negative number) during the Recess rounds (there are 3 during the game, each coming after 5 rounds). If a certain group of people isn’t looked upon favorably, obviously being in charge of them isn’t going to be good for your political career. As for the Sceleratus, either they’re for you or against you. So here, the person with the most favor gets VPs, while everyone else loses them.
The six factions each have a deck of 30 cards associated with them. These cards have a variety of symbols on them and various text that is sort of the “nerve center” of 100AD. You gain cards by placing Influence on the faction, getting one card per Influence spent. You can then play the cards in subsequent turns.
There is a lot of variety in what the cards can do, from moving faction support up or down, you can gain or lose influence on Senate seats, gain Support Tokens (which can allow you to take extra Actions during your turn), and many other things. The cards are also how your Influence tokens can end up on other spots on the board besides the Factions.
The cards are also how you mostly gain and lose Corruption (more on that in a bit). The cards can also be used to purchase Senators (again, more on those in a bit). As I mentioned, the card decks are the main movers and shakers in 100AD. Each deck has its own theme associated with it, as one would expect with the different factions having different goals in mind. Where you decide to put your Influence can radically change how the game plays from one session to another, and I feel that this is where most of the “re-play-ability” comes from with the game. Anyway, I could spend a whole book’s worth of time just talking about the decks. Suffice to say: They do a lot and are the majority of where most players will end up placing their Influence (but certainly not to say you have to do that).
Let the Games Begin!
But what of playing the game, itself? How does that work?
At the start of the game, separate out each Faction deck and shuffle them. Place them face-down on the board in the section for that faction. Shuffle the Bill deck and place it below the Emperor’s spot on the board. Same goes for the Rider section. Also shuffle the Senators deck and place it to the side. Draw both a Bill and a Rider card and place them on the board. Also draw three Senators and place them face-up where everyone can see them. The Bill and Rider will be what players will be voting on. The Senators are the three currently available to purchase. Place a tracker token at +5 on each of the Faction Tracks (besides Scelaratus, obviously, since they don’t have a Faction Track). Everyone places a Scoring Token at 0 on the edge of the board. Place a token on the Round track on Round 1. Shuffle the Will of the Senate deck and place it off to the side. Also shuffle the Hidden Agenda deck and deal out 3 to each player. Players pick one of those cards to keep and discards the others. Make sure everyone has their Influence tokens and you’re ready for “Round 0.”
Yes, “Round 0.” The set up above seems intricate, but it’s mostly just shuffling decks of cards and placing them on the board. “Round 0” sort of sets up a “base line” for where players want to focus their attention during the game, and it plays a little different than subsequent rounds. While during the rest of the game players can only place their Influence on one of the various Factions, in Round 0, they are able to place that Influence directly on the Emperor, or one of the empty Senate Seats (or a Senate Seat they already have placed Influence), or it can be placed on a Faction as usual. Determine a player at Random to place 1 Influence first, then go clockwise around the table, everyone placing 1 Influence at a time on the board, until everyone has placed a total of 5. The player who placed the most Influence on the Emperor becomes the Orator for Round 1. They also gain 1 Support Token and moves one Faction’s track marker +2 or -2. Players then draw cards from the Faction Decks equal to the number of Influence they’ve placed on those Factions. You’re now ready to start the game.
Onward To Victory!
Now that the board is sort of “pre-populated” with some of your Influence and you potentially have some cards in hand, the first actual game round can begin. Starting with the Orator, everyone gets to take 1 Action as their turn. What sort of actions can you perform? Glad you asked. They are:
1. Place up to 2 Influence on a single Faction.
2. Remove Influence from the Board.
3. Play a Faction Card from your hand.
4. Purchase a Senator.
5. Engage in Subterfuge.
Now to go into a bit more detail about those. The first and second are pretty straight-forward and are basically opposites of one-another. The first is that you can place up to 2 Influence on a Faction. After you place them, draw cards from the Faction Deck equal to the number of Influence placed. Note: You can’t place 1 Influence, draw a card, and then decide to place another. You have to decide how much Influence you will place before you draw. As for the second one, Removing Influence, that’s the only real way to get Influence back off the board again. You only have so much Influence in your pool. If you run out of tokens to play, then you can’t place any more out there. When you remove Influence from a Faction, you can also discard cards from your hand.
Next up is Playing a Card from your hand. This action seems simple enough, but considering how many things that can actually entail (depending on the card being played), there’s a lot that can go on. Cards are divided into 3 columns. The left side has various Icons that can do a lot of things. These can force you to draw cards from the Will of the Senate deck, allow you to place Influence on various places on the board, Call for a Vote on the current Bill and Rider, and other things. The middle section tells you specifically what it lets you do. This can cause Factions Tracks to be moved, allow you to gain Support Tokens, and a whole host of other things. At the bottom of the middle column on many cards is it’s Intrigue Icon that we will get to in a moment with the last two Actions you can do. Finally, the right side of the card is how much Corruption this card has. This can be a positive or negative number, so you may gain or lose Corruption when playing it. Simply adjust your Corruption marker accordingly on the board.
In the Senate, there are several vacant seats that you can fill with the various Senators from the Senator deck. However, they won’t just work for anybody. You have to have the right goods they need. This is where that icon in the bottom of the middle section of the Faction cards comes in. Each Senator requires you to play cards with Intrigue Icons matching the ones at the top of their card. Faction Cards played this way do not use up any of the other abilities or Icons on the cards. When you purchase a Senator, they’ll allow you to put a certain number of Influence on an empty seat in the Senate. Purchasing Senators can also possibly have you gain or lose Corruption or place Influence on the vote for the current Bill. After a Senator is purchased, the card is discarded and a new Senator is drawn from the Senator Deck to replace them.
The last Action a player can take during their turn also uses the Intrigue icons on the Faction Cards. Players can play a pair of cards with matching Intrigue Icons in order to gain a certain bonus, depending on the Icons. Two Bribery icons reduce your Corruption by 3. Two Extortion Icons let you adjust a Faction Track +2 or -2. Two Favors Icons let you gain two Support Tokens. Two Nepotism Icons gives you two Influence on an empty Senate Seat. And two Rebellion Icons let you lose up to 2 Corruption while causing another player to gain up to 2 Corruption.
Taking a Break
At the end of five Rounds, there is a Recess round. There are a total of 3 of these in the game (with the 3rd being the end of the game). These Recess rounds are where players gain or lose VPs based on various factors, from how much Corruption they have, to their level of power with the various Factions. A new Orator is also chosen, once again based on who has the most Influence on the Emperor’s spot. During the Recess rounds is also when the Vote resolves on the Bill and Rider in play (voting can also sometimes happen due to certain Faction cards being played, but it’s guaranteed to happen during a Recess round). If there are enough Yes votes, then the Bill and Rider pass. The Orator reads off the effects of the Bill’s passage and adjusts the board accordingly.
100AD is a simple premise with lots of intricate, little details that keep you coming back and discovering more with each play. With so many different decks of cards, including all the Senators and Bills, no two games are ever going to be the same. And I really glazed over a lot of the details of what the various cards can do during the game. Each time you can use a dramatically different style of play and still potentially do well. But even with all the intricacies, the rulebook is still only like 14 pages long and pretty easy to follow along with (and is getting easier all the time, as SoulJar is still making minor adjustments to wordings and so forth to help clear up any misconceptions).
The game is up on Kickstarter now (to get the game is only a $60 pledge). I highly recommend you check it out.