Buzzworthiness: Alea Iacta Est

With Spiel 2014 going on right now, let’s look at a Eurogame from five years ago:

imaqge by BGG user binraix
imaqge by BGG user binraix

Alea Iacta Est was first published in 2009 as #5 in alea’s Medium Box line.  alea is the publisher, with Rio Grande publishing in the US.  The game was designed by Jeffrey D. Allers and Bernd Eisenstein, is for 2-5 players, and takes around an hour to play.  The phrase “Alea Iacta Est” is Latin for “The die is cast”, and it makes sense because this is a dice game set in ancient Rome.  Players are all trying to be Caesar and trying to gain the most fame.

The game comes with 40 colored dice, eight for each player.  You also get five cardboard buildings (Templum, Senatus, Castrum, Forum, and Latrina), 19 Senate tiles, 25 Province tiles, 36 Patrician tiles, 30 Fortune tokens, 30 reroll chips, and a start player marker.  The game is set up differently with different numbers of players.  You’ll always use the Senatus, Castrum, Forum, and Latrina, but you only use the Templum in 4-5 player games.  Also, the Forum consists of up to five puzzle pieces.  With two players, you use the first piece (showing three columns) and the end piece (which has one column and a solid right edge).  For each player above that, you add one puzzle piece.  Each player gets eight dice in their color, and one player gets the start token.

On your turn, you roll all of your dice, then choose some to place in one of the five buildings.  There are different conditions to enter each, and each does something different for you.

  • The first person to place in the Templum adds one die of any value and takes a Fortune token.  The next person adds two dice that add up to more than the original die and takes two Fortune tokens.  The third person adds three dice that add up to more than the two dice and takes three Fortune tokens.  And so on.  On a later turn, you can add on to dice you already placed, but you only gain one Fortune per die you added.  At the end of the round, the player with the most dice in the Templum can keep two of their tokens, and everyone else can keep one.  Fortune tokens are valued 1-3.
  • To place in the Senatus, you add a sequence of dice, such as 2-3-4 or 5-6.  You could even add a single die if you wanted.  The only rule is that you can’t add a sequence that is already there.  You can add to a sequence later, or you can start a new one if you wish.  At the end of the round, the player with the longest/highest valued sequence draws three Senate cards, chooses one, then passes the other two to the player with the second best sequence.  In a five-player game, the final card goes to the third best sequence, and in a two-player game, only the best sequence gets a card.  These provide extra secret scoring opportunities for the people who hold them.
  • To place in the Castrum, you add a set of identical dice, like 3-3-3 or 4-4.  You could even add a single die if you wanted.  As with the Senatus, you can’t add a set that is the same as a present set, and you can add to a set later or start a new set.  At the end of the round, the player with the largest/highest valued set gets first choice of Provinces – there is one per player available.  Then the second best chooses, and so on.  Provinces will score the points printed on them at the end of the game, or one less if no Patrician is allocated there.
  • In the Forum, you can either add a single die or two dice that add up to five (1-4 or 2-3).  The lower dice go to the front of the line.  If there are other dice of that value, the new die goes in front, pushing the others back.  It is entirely possible that dice will get pushed into the Latrina if there’s no space in the Forum.  The owner of the die at the front of the line gets first choice of Patricians, which get allocated to locations.  Patricians not allocated to Provinces at the end of the game score zero points, otherwise they score what is printed.  Each Province can hold one man and one woman of its color.
  • You’ll hardly ever willingly go to the Latrina, unless you’re out of options.  However, every die in the Latrina gets you a reroll token which can be spent to reroll any dice you just rolled that you choose, or can be saved until the end of the game for points.

After rolling, the buildings are resolved in the order I just gave.  The start player marker passes to the left and a new round begins.  After the fifth round, Patricians are allocated to provinces and bonuses are scored.  The player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: The dice in the game (called cubic luck bringers on the box for some reason) are plastic, and measure about half an inch wide.  They are small, which is good because you have to roll eight at once.  The colors are fairly easily discernible to me, but I don’t know how a color blind person would do with them – there’s blue, brown, gray, green, and gold.  In addition to the dice, there are the five cardboard buildings, which are all fairly solid, and a bunch of smaller tokens.  The reroll tokens are pretty small, but the others are a good size for what they are.  The included insert in the game is very generic and does not fit what comes in the box at all.  I threw mine out almost as soon as I first opened the box.  But that means you’re going to have to come up with your own storage solutions.

The art in the game is kind of cartoony.  Not silly, just not overly serious.  There aren’t really any jokes in the art, other than the Latrina is full of people sitting on the toilet.  And even that is fairly tastefully done – if you didn’t know that the Latrina was a toilet, you’d think they were just sitting around.

Overall, the components in this game are very nice.

THEME: There’s not much of a theme here.  They did make an effort to tie the theme to the gameplay – making offerings to the temple and trying to outdo previous offerers; building “roads” for the Senate; putting together armies in the Castrum to conquer provinces; trying to have the most influence in the Forum to attract the wealthiest Patricians; and going to the Latrina to gain knowledge as it was a social time.  However, you don’t think about it too much as you play.  It’s nice to tie everything together with certain concepts, but in the end, you’re placing dice and trying to come up with the most valuable tiles.

MECHANICS: Alea Iacta Est is a dice allocation game.  You roll the dice, then choose where to place them.  The allocation aspects here are similar to Kingsburg, where you are rolling your dice before assigning them in groups rather than one at a time (though you can assign one at a time).  You have eight dice, which initially gives you a lot of choice, but as your dice decrease in quantity, you’ll often find yourself wishing you had done something else.

I’ve been growing to seriously dislike the mechanism where everyone gets the same number of turns.  However, I think it works fairly well here.  You can keep an eye on a person’s dice pile and try to not get caught with too many left over when the round ends.  Hopefully, it’s not unexpected that a round will end.  In my first games, I had everyone just keep going until they had all used their dice, but I think this way works better because it really emphasizes resource management.

There’s some area control here as you’re trying to get the best reward from each building.  There’s also set collection as you try to get the right Patricians for the right Provinces.  But it’s the dice allocation that really drives the game, and it works really well.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Despite the inherent randomness of having a dice game, there really is a lot of strategy to be had here.  It’s often particularly tough to decide what to do from your first roll.  Do you just put a die in the Templum and see what happens from there?  How long of a sequence should you put in the Senatus, or how big of a set in the Castrum?  When should you start trying to get in the Forum, knowing everyone after you is just going to try to push you out?  Should you just accept a trip to the Latrina for the reroll token?  And most importantly, how hard should you push to get first choice?  Is someone going to take what you need if you’re not first?  For a dice rolling game, there is a lot of strategy present.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a tough game to learn, but it’s definitely one that I think is a little beyond new gamers.  There are some foreign concepts here, particularly the dice allocation aspects.  I’d say that it’s a very good choice for a next step game.

REPLAYABILITY: The randomness of the Patrician and Province tiles, as well as the way the dice roll help increase the replayability of the game.  However, games can still tend to feel like each other.  It’s not a game I want to play all the time, but I don’t mind playing every now and then.

SCALABILITY: This game plays with 2-5, but I tend to think that more is better.  I’d rather player with 4 or 5 than 2 or 3 simply because you get to use the Templum.  The five player game can drag if people have serious AP, but the game is generally fairly quick.

FOOTPRINT: This game doesn’t take up a whole lot of space on the table.  The five buildings aren’t huge.  Each player needs some space to put their stuff as they collect it, but you really don’t need to allocate anything until the end of the game.  So I think this game would be OK on a smallish table – not a tiny one, but it doesn’t have to be too big.  Oh, also leave room for rolling dice.  Or roll in the box.

LEGACY: Alea Iacta Est is a pretty good dice allocation game.  It’s very Euro in nature, but has a lot of good and unique ideas that separate if from something like Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers.  So I think it’s worth having even if you have those others in your collection.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a highly strategic dice game that is pretty fun.  It has good interaction as players try to outdo each other, and lots of decisions to be made about how to distribute your dice.  I do recommend it.  Thanks for reading!

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