Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Jeffrey D. Allers &
Bernd Eisenstein

ALEA 2009

No. of Players:
2 - 5



10 years ago the well-known German games publisher RAVENSBURGER decided that the time had come to revive some of its origins, and one thing that they had done some years back was that they had published some quite interesting strategic boardgames. Amongst these titles was today's collectors' item Ave Caesar, a game of Roman chariot racing, but in their history RAVENSBURGER also had released some other equally good games outside the core sector of children's and family games. Thus, the idea was born to create ALEA as a sub-label in the house of RAVENSBURGER in order to feature more sophisticated games for hobbyists under this specific label. With Stefan Brück working as ALEA's brand manager, the new label has grown and prospered in the last 10 years, counting many award winners and even more award nominees amongst its choice of board- and cardgames.

In the year 2009 a game has been released to celebrate ALEA's 10th birthday, and once again the game's background is set in the Republic of Rome. However, instead of races in the Circus Maximum the new title focuses on the original Latin meaning of ALEA, and so the dice game named Alea iacta est takes the players into the roles of Roman Senators trying to bring glory to the Empire by collecting valuable provinces and populating them with high-ranking Roman citizens.


The game is set up by first placing a few locations on the gameboard. Thus, the Senate, a Temple and a Castrum (Fort) are placed at the table together with the Forum (size depends on the number of participating players) and the Latrinae. A deck of Provinces is shuffled and a number of provinces corresponding to the number of players is placed next to the Castrum, a deck of shuffled Senate tablets is placed next to the Senate and a stack of shuffled Fortuna tiles with values from "1" to "3" is placed next to the Temple. In addition, a stockpile of Citizen tiles of six colours with values form "1" to "3" is shuffled and a certain amount of them is revealed and placed one each below each column of the Forum, and a pile of Repete! (Repetition) markers is placed close to the Latrinae. Finally, each player receives his own "hand" of eight six-sided dice and a start player is determined.

Depending on the number of participating players the game runs for a duration of five to six rounds, and each of these rounds is subdivided into a varying number of turns. Following the player order a player takes his turn by rolling his hand of dice, evaluating the results and then placing one or more of his dice at one of the locations on the table in the hope to gain a possibility to perform an action there by the end of the round. The round continues with each player rolling his remaining hand of dice and placing some of them at a location until one player has placed his last dice at a location. Now the other players have to place all their remaining dice at the Latrinae and an evaluation of the locations takes place.

However, before we have a closer look at the evaluation, let's stay for a minute longer with the placement of the dice. Dice cannot be placed at a random manner, but instead each of the locations follows a specific rule20for the placement of dice. Senate, Temple and Castrum share the common rule that no two players may have placed the same number of dice showing the same results at any of the three locations. This rule is needed for the evaluation to determine a clear player ranking within each of these locations, but the three locations stand different concerning the question which combinations of dice may be placed there. Thus, the Castrum takes dice showing the same results, so that doublets, triplets or even more of a kind may be placed there. The Senate on the other hand takes a straight of ascending results, and the Temple requires a player to place there more dice with a higher total result than the last player who has placed a dice there.

A somewhat different and more dynamic procedure is applied to the Forum. The total number of dice which may be placed there corresponds to the number of available Citizen tiles, and so any dice placed there needs to be put into a dynamic ranking containing the dice of all player. Dice with low results are most valuable here, whereas dice with high results stand a risk to be pushed out of the Forum by later players adding lower results to the ranking. Thus, a player is allowed either to put a "1" and a "4" OR a "2" and a "3" together into the Forum, or alternatively he may place just one dice of his choice. All placed dice are sorted into the current ranking, taking the best possible position the group featuring the same results, and any higher dice which possibly are pushed out of the Forum now will be moved to the Latrinae.

As indicated, a player only may place dice at one location during his turn, but he is not restricted to placement at new locations. Thus, dice also may be used to enhance a result of a previous turn, so that dice present at a location may receive a boost of additional dice from the current roll. But even if this enhancement option is applied the players still need to observe the general rule that Senate, Temple and Castrum do not allow two players to have an identical combination of dice present there.

Now turning to the evaluation phase of a round, the players who have placed the best results at a location will be allowed to collect certain benefits:

  • The Castrum gives a player access to the new provinces, and the player with the best result placed there (most dice of the highest kind) is allowed to chose a province first before the players with the follow up results get a chance to chose a province from the diminishing choice. Like the citizens the provinces have six different colours, and they also feature a value ranking from "1" to "4". Any taken province is placed openly in front of the player.
  • In order to fill a province with people the players need to collect citizens at the Forum. For each dice present at the Forum the owner of the dice may chose one of the available citizens, the citizens are chosen in order from the lowest to the highest dice. Here it is useful to chose citizens matching the colour of the player's provinces, since at the end of the game the players will try to assign a female and a male citizen of a matching colour to each of their provinces in order to increase their final score.
  • A player's final score may receive an additional boost by the Senate tablets which may be collected at the Senate by the players with the highest ranking straights. Here the best player is allowed to chose one tablet out of three, handing the remaining two to the second best player who choses one of these and hands the last tablet to the third ranking player. These 19 tablets give the players specific conditions which will increase their victory points by the end of the game, and so these agendas will remain hidden until the final scoring. Quite a variety of different tablets is available, ranging from special border provinces which can take citizens of two different colours to bonus points for many citizens, tablets or provinces.
  • Of somewhat less importance is the Temple, since here the placement of dice allows a player to draw Fortuna tiles from the random pile. The most successful player is allowed to keep his two most valuable Fortuna tiles by the end of the round, whereas all other present players may keep one of the Fortuna tiles they have collected this round. The value of each kept Fortuna tile counts as victory points in the final scoring.
  • The somewhat unsavoury place for all remaining dice is the Latrinae, but as the rules tell us the lavatories have been a place of meeting and discussion in ancient Rome. A player receives a Repete! chip for each of his dice present at that location, and these chips either may be used for re-rolling one or more dice or to be traded for victory points on a two-to-one base by the end of the game.

After the final round the players will calculate their scores in the final evaluation, and now they will have to assign their citizens to their provinces. A province can house a maximum of one female an d one male citizens, and citizens only count at all if they can be placed at a matching province. Homeless citizens are worthless, and a province without citizens counts for one point less than its printed-on value. Fortuna tiles and Repete! chips are transferred into victory points in the described manner, and additional points now may be scored by the Senate tablets collected by each player.

Strategic dice games seem to be well in fashion at the moment, and so Alea iacta est joins the line of games like Kingsburg, Giganten der Lüfte or Livingstone. However, a comparison of just these four titles reveals considerable differences in terms of strategic depth and playing fun, a factor which is a bit astonishing considering the fact that all four of these games use the rolling of dice as a playing engine.

In this context Alea iacta est is an optimization game which is based more on short time goals and the current crop of dice than on long-time schemes, variety of decisions or strategy. In order to win it is in most times crucial to gain as many good combinations of provinces, citizens and Senate tablets as possible, but this core engine for victory points already leaves two of the five locations (Temple and Latrinae) with a less important role. These two locations usually only receive dice which the players cannot put to use at any of the other three locations, and to some extend even the Senate looses importance as the game progresses, since a player who gets his Senate tablet(s) early has a better chance to use his later turns to optimize the victory points output created by his tablet(s).

Here especially Kingsburg is positioned on a stronger base of active decision-making, since the players are left with much more freedom concerning the use of the resources they have gained through the roll of the dice. On the other hand, to my understanding Alea iacta est exactly follows the aim to offer entertainment coupled with only short thinking periods, and refreshingly enough the game implements this target well without pretending to be more sophisticated like Livingstone does. Perhaps the usual ALEA-customer will be a bit irritated because he might have expected a more strategic game, but as it seems ALEA is experimenting a bit with entertaining games with a lower strategic impact. Wie verhext! was an example for this kind of ALEA games, and Alea iacta est falls perfectly into this line…

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany