Game: Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes

Release Year: 2022

Publisher: PSC Games

Designer: Paolo Mori

Player Count: 2 players (with an official solo mode built-in)

Play Time: About 15 to 20 minutes

Rules Complexity: Simple

Jump down to review score

Right off the bat, I should be clear that I'm not one who normally enjoys two-player abstract strategy games. I have trouble thinking several moves ahead, so these types of games often make me feel stupid.

So, the fact that I find Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes enjoyable is pretty remarkable. Designer Paolo Mori incorporated some clever design decisions that actually prevent you from planning too far ahead, making the game feel more like a dueling puzzle than a strategic war game.

Most importantly, I don't feel bad when I lose in this one, which is the number one thing I look for in any competitive two-player board game experience.

Here's my review of Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes (which I'm just going to call Caesar! from here on out), including how it plays, why it stands out, thoughts on the built-in solo mode, and whether you should check it out or not.

This review is based on my own personal copy of Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes, which I bought used from BGG's GeekMarket. Not a free review copy.


Caesar! is a head-to-head area control game where one player is Julius Caesar and the other player is Pompey. Set at the end of the Roman Republic, both players are vying for control of the republic by securing various regions and asserting their influence as much as possible.

Empty game board before setting up.
Game board is now set up and ready to play.

The game is played on a central board that's divided into Provinces, and you'll be placing markers on the borders between Provinces to exert influence. These Influence markers are split down the center with numbers on either side so when you place one on a border, you're exerting different amounts of influence on either Province.

Of course, you can't just place them anywhere. Each Influence marker can only go on borders of its matching type—Swords, Shields, Ships—except for Wild markers, which can go on any border (but are generally weaker).

Each player starts with 16 Influence markers, which are all thrown into their own personal bag. Two are pulled out at the start of the game. Then, every time you place one, you draw another from the bag to replace it.

When all the borders of a Province are filled, the total influences of both players on that Province are compared, and whoever has majority influence wins control of that Province. The winner places a Control marker there. (Note: Control markers and Influence markers are different!)

Each player starts with 12 Control markers and the goal of the game is to be the first to place all your control markers on the board.

Pretty simple, right?

There are a few more things to keep in mind:

When you take control of a Province that's adjacent to another Province already under your control, you get to place an extra Control marker on the border between those two Provinces.

If you place the last Influence marker that closes a Province—even if you don't win the Province—you claim that Province's Bonus token.

These Bonuses are randomly distributed at the start of the game (one in each Province) and they grant special powers like drawing an extra Influence marker, neutralizing an opponent's marker on the board, or taking another turn.

There's also a special type of Bonus token called the Senate token. If you claim one of these and win majority of the Province at the same time, you get to place extra Control markers under that Senate token. The more Senate tokens you claim, the more Control markers you can place under each subsequent one.

In short, Caesar! is a tactical game of area control and limited actions, but it's not about controlling the most area. It's about controlling the right areas at the right time, about giving up some areas if it means getting the ones you need.

Setup and Table Footprint

If you keep the components individually bagged by type—you might have to provide your own small baggies—then Caesar! is relatively quick to set up. But if you just toss everything into the box or a single bag, it will be a nightmare.

For me, Caesar! setup takes about 3 minutes:

  • I store Influence markers in their respective player's draw bags.
  • Control markers get their own baggies, so each player can empty their own and place them on their respective sides of the board.
  • Bonus tokens get their own baggie, so I can empty them into my hand and quickly distribute them randomly across Provinces.

And that's it! The setup-to-gameplay ratio is surprisingly good.

I quite adore the table footprint of Caesar!, which is small enough to play on most reasonable surfaces—even a coffee table—yet also maintains a solid table presence and doesn't feel cluttered or messy.

The game board is reasonably sized at 16 x 12 inches and each player will also need a little bit of space for their player shield of 8 x 3 inches (which is used to hide drawn Influence markers and doubles as a player aid).

All in all, Caesar! is a compact board game that's meatier than its size would suggest. You can play it almost anywhere.

Learning Curve

Caesar! looks more complicated than it is. If you can play a game like Ticket to Ride, you can play this one. A single game is all it takes for everything to click.

That's because everything in Caesar! is plainly intuitive. When you see the Influence markers and how they're split down the center with numbers on either side, then see the marker spots on provincial borders, you immediately understand what it means. The idea that "most numbers wins the region" is also straightforward.

The goal of Caesar! is to get rid of all these Control markers by placing them on the board in various ways.

Getting rid of all your Control markers to win? Simple. Capturing adjacent Provinces helps you win faster? Yeah, makes sense. Whoever places the final Influence marker around a given Province claims that Province's Bonus token? Plain to grasp.

The hardest part to explain is how the Senate tokens work, but the overall concept is still intuitive: for each additional Senate token you win, the more Control markers you get to put out. Winning Senate tokens is A Good Thing™.

Caesar! also comes with two "expansions" in the box—Poison and Centurion tokens—but they're more like modules that can be mixed in (or not) on demand. They're mechanically the same as Bonus tokens and don't add much complexity at all.

Game Experience

Decision Space

My favorite thing about Caesar! is how it manages to be full of interesting, meaningful decisions without inducing analysis paralysis. The game mechanisms come together in a clever way that forces you to make tough decisions.

Here's what you need to consider:

Caesar! is all about placing Influence markers to win Provinces. You want to place Influence markers because each one is a net gain for you on the board. While some placements are better than others, it's always good for you in some way.

But you want to avoid placing the second-to-last Influence marker in a Province because that would give your opponent the opportunity to place the final Influence marker, thus claiming that Province's Bonus token. Whenever possible, you want to be the one claiming Bonus tokens.

The problem is, every Influence marker always influences two Provinces. By making a move on a certain Province, you aren't just filling in a border space for that Province—you're filling in that same border space for the adjacent Province, and it might be the second-to-last space for that adjacent Province.

In this example, I'm exerting a lot of influence (6) on Italia but no influence (0) on Achaia. I'm lessening my chance of capturing Achaia in hopes that capturing Italia will be worth the sacrifice.

Furthermore, the two values on an Influence marker are usually lopsided. Exerting strong influence on one Province often means exerting weak influence on the neighboring Province. Going hard on one means giving up the other.

The difference between closing a Province and winning a Province is key. Even when you're losing control of a Province, you can still claim the Bonus token by placing the final Influence marker. Sometimes you'll sacrifice a weak marker just to get a Province's Bonus token, even if it gives control of the Province to your opponent.

All combined, there's so much delicious tension in Caesar! as you teeter between filling spaces or not filling spaces, between exerting influence or sacrificing influence, between what you're willing to give up in order to gain something else. Every choice is good but every choice comes with a cost.

But if all of the above sounds overwhelming, rest assured: Caesar! is far from a brain-burning experience. In fact, the game smartly keeps your options narrow so you never have too much to think about on a turn.

At the start of Caesar!, you begin with two Influence markers. These represent the only two actions you can take on your turn. Once you place an Influence marker, you draw a replacement from the bag—again, back up to two possible actions.

Having only two Influence markers limits what you can do on the board. Ship markers can only go on Ship spaces, Sword markers can only go on Sword spaces, etc. (The one exception is Wild markers, which can go anywhere. But to compensate, they're weaker than the other Influence markers.)

Also, due to the way territory control works in Caesar!, the game board immediately shrinks as soon as the first Influence marker is placed.

With these two Influence markers placed at the start of the game, my focus is drawn to this region and I'm compelled to fight for the border spaces in this immediate area.

This isn't a game where you can let your opponent run wild with one area of the board while you focus on your own area elsewhere. Most Provinces only have two, three, or four border spaces—every placement matters, and you'll want to contest the regions where your opponent is exerting influence.

What this ultimately means is: you only have two markers, each marker can only go on so many spaces, and you're mainly concerned with the immediate areas where all the contesting is happening right now. Despite the game board having 30 spaces, you're often only deciding between 2 to 4 viable placements on a turn.

Luck Factor

There's a tiny bit of luck in Caesar!, but it's there for a good reason: to simulate fog of war. Through two simple design choices that work so well together, Caesar! simultaneously cuts down on analysis paralysis and elevates tension.

The first is the bag-pulling mechanism. Not only do you only have two Influence markers at any given time (unless boosted by one of the Bonus tokens), you don't know which Influence marker you're going to draw next.

This is a departure from most 2p abstract strategy games where you have perfect information about your next turn. In Hive, all the pieces are right there on the board. In Onitama, you know which action card you're swapping into next. You can visualize making a move, then anticipate your next move based on that.

But in Caesar!, you don't know what you're able to do until your hand goes into that bag, which means you have to make gut decisions based on what may or may not be possible next turn. (You can get a better sense of what's left in the bag as the game goes along, but the draw is still down to chance.)

My biggest beef with most 2p abstract strategy games is that winning usually comes down to thinking ahead many turns and trying to trap your opponent. (For example, maneuvering someone into a checkmate.) I just have no interest in computing numerous turn-by-turn iterations in my head. It's frustrating and tiring.

But Caesar! captures that feeling of maneuvering your opponent without needing to think ahead multiple turns. Indeed, the bag-pulling mechanism limits how far ahead you can think and I love that.

The second is the personal player shield. Your drawn Influence markers are hidden from the opponent and their markers are hidden from you, introducing a double-layered sense of ambiguity and uncertainty.

It's not just that you don't know what they have remaining, but you don't know what they've drawn. They only have two Influence markers behind their shield, so they can only do so much on their next turn. You know they could potentially go anywhere, but you also know they can't go everywhere.

Which can put you in an interesting predicament:

Are you going to rush exerting influence on a Province this turn, or are you going to leave it undefended for now because you suspect your opponent doesn't have the right marker to make a move? Are you going to place the second-to-last marker on a Province because you don't think your opponent can close it off yet? War is full of uncertainties. How much risk are you willing to take?

When both of these elements come together, it really feels like fog of war. You can see the state of battle on the board, but you don't know where your reinforcements are and you don't know what plans your opponent might be cooking up. Are they hiding a big move? Or are they actually hamstrung?

So, sure, there's a bit of luck when it comes to pulling Influence markers from the bag. If you don't draw what you need in a crucial moment, it can be devastating.

But it never feels unfair.

No matter what you draw, you always have good moves you can make. Plus, there are ways to mitigate luck (e.g., the Wealth Bonus token increases how many Influence markers you can draw by 1). Most importantly, your opponent is clouded by the same fog of war as you. If they win, you know they deserved to.

Fun Factor

I wouldn't say Caesar! is thrilling or exciting, per se, but it does provide ways for you to make big moves that can turn the tides of a losing battle, and the possibility for these big moves is what ratchets up the tension:

  • Capturing adjacent Provinces accelerates your win.
  • Capturing multiple Senate tokens accelerates your win.
  • Capturing a Tactics Bonus token gives you another turn.
  • Capturing a Might Bonus token can wipe out the opponent's influence over a Province or shut down their momentum.
  • Capturing two or three Poison tokens can outright kill the opponent.

When timed well, these moments can cause significant swings, and these swings can happen multiple times throughout a single game.

Pulling off these big moves makes you feel big-brained, as if you were actually a Five-Star General. For once, a 2p abstract strategy game actually makes me feel smart rather than stupid, which is partly why this one's so enjoyable.


Caesar! has such a great sense of progression.

You start with a blank slate, but conflict strikes right from the second turn. As soon as the first Influence marker goes down, you're already vying for control of the two Provinces touched by that single Influence marker.

From there on out, it's a snowball that builds and accelerates. Every single Influence marker has a big impact on the board state even from the start, but that impact grows larger with every Province that gets captured—because of the growing threat of adjacency bonuses.

There's a real sense of velocity towards the middle of the game, when players are able to place multiple Control markers with a single turn, whether through adjacency bonuses or Senate tokens or even Tactics Bonus tokens (get an extra turn).

By the end, there's enough on the board for huge moves. I've been on the cusp of victory only for my opponent to claim an isolated Senate token that let them put out six Control markers, snatching victory from my hands.

I'm about to make a big move: Putting this 2/2 Wild here lets me claim the Might token in Mauritania and the Wealth token in Sardinia. I'll also win majority in both Provinces plus the adjacency bonuses on the Mauritania-Sardinia border and the Sardinia-Sicilia border, for a total of 4 Control markers.

In other words, it's never quite clear who's going to win. You might think you're well ahead, but the rug can be yanked out from under you at any moment—and this plausible threat is what maintains tension throughout. It also encourages you to play through to the end without giving up!

So much tension packed into 20 minutes. And Caesar! really is a 20-minute game, true to its name. I've had quick games that lasted 15 minutes, but for the most part it often ends right on the dot at 20 minutes (give or take a minute).


Caesar! is surprisingly less fiddly than I expected. There are lots of pieces on the game board, but you aren't really manipulating them.

The Control markers and Bonus tokens are set up at the very beginning of the game, then you barely touch them. When you claim a Bonus token, you just take it off the board. When you capture a Province, you move a Control marker to that Province.

And when you place Influence markers, they're placed for good. You don't touch them again. (Except when someone claims the Might Bonus token, which lets them flip a marker on the board to neutralize it.)


Caesar! is highly replayable, even if you approach it as a "casual player" who's just looking to kill some time. The turn-to-turn puzzle of figuring out which Influence marker to place and where to place it is fun in and of itself. Even when you lose, there's fun to be had in the progression of tension from start to finish.

But if you really want to plumb the depths of Caesar!, there's a lot to discover and the better player will usually—but not always—come out on top.

Both players start with the same bag of the same 16 Influence markers. If you memorize what these 16 Influence markers are, you instantly have an advantage when it comes to anticipating your future turns because you know exactly what's left in your bag and where you can potentially go.

Similarly, you can use this knowledge to know exactly what remains in your opponent's bag, allowing you to narrow down their options as the game progresses and anticipate their capabilities.

The more you play Caesar!, the more familiar you'll become with the Bonus tokens. Familiarity will give you a leg up when it comes to the start of the game, allowing you to scan the initial board layout and plan out a strategy based on how the Bonus tokens are distributed across the Provinces.

These aspects are interesting to explore, but again, I want to emphasize: Caesar! is just plain satisfying to play even if you don't care to think about all of that. Plus, it plays so quickly that you can't help but want to try again.

And again.

And again...

Solo Mode (Official)

Caesar! comes with a built-in solo mode that uses an automa called Auto-Crassus to decide where the virtual opponent will place his markers.

Auto-Crassus uses a deck of six tiles, with each tile consisting of instructions on how many Influence markers to draw, how many to place, and how many to discard. His Influence markers are kept in a face-up line, so you can always see what his options are. (Newly drawn markers are added to the right of the line while discarded markers are taken from the left of the line.)

The crux of Auto-Crassus's behavior rests in the selection and placement of Influence markers, which is where you come in.

Caesar!'s rulebook has two pages of if-this-else-that logic that dictate which Influence marker to select and where to place it on the board. It's your responsibility to adhere to this logic and make sure Auto-Crassus is playing correctly.

For reference, here's the start of those if-else logic statements:

If he can control a Province by placing one of his markers, he places the lowest value marker he can place to win control (oriented with the lowest value facing into the closing Province that allows him to gain control), then claims and uses the Bonus token.

Else, if he can close a Province, even though he would lose that Province's control (and unless you would win the game by Auto-Crassus doing this), he places his lowest value marker there (oriented with the lowest value facing into the closing Province), then claims and uses the Bonus token.

Else, if he is losing any unclaimed Provinces (i.e., you currently have a higher strength in the Province than Auto-Crassus), he picks the Province in which he is losing by the most margin, then places his highest value marker there.


Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes rulebook (p. 10–11)

To be fair, the logic makes sense and Auto-Crassus is a viable opponent. I lost once on Easy difficulty before winning a few times, then moved on to Standard difficulty and haven't won yet. I can only imagine how tough Hard difficulty will be!

But the logic is such a pain to run. Even after so many games, I still need the rulebook open as a reference whenever it's Auto-Crassus's turn.

Not only that, but the fixed sequence of logic means the gameplay feels prescribed. Certain actions always have more priority over other actions and there's no way for Auto-Crassus to deviate from that, so solo games tend to play out the same way with slight variations depending on what you do.

This fixed sequence of logic also means that winning against Auto-Crassus involves exploiting that logic. In knowing the minutiae of Auto-Crassus's decision tree, you're encouraged to make weird moves around the board that you might not normally make, all because you know how he's likely to respond.

Ultimately, the solo mode feels like a different, lesser game. It loses a lot of the nuance and creativity that make Caesar! fun in the first place, and having to internalize two pages of Auto-Crassus logic is too much mental overhead. I'd much prefer if the opponent were a digital AI that handled all of its own overhead and just told me where to place its markers. (Maybe a future companion app?)

Production Quality

The production for Caesar! is passable, maybe slightly disappointing. It's merely functional and good enough to provide an enjoyable experience.

The art and graphic design are nothing to write home about, but they work. Every icon is unique and effectively conveys what it does. The red, blue, and yellow colors used throughout are stark and easy to distinguish.

I like the included drawstring bags, which are somewhat thin but pleasing to the eye. However, I do wish they were a little bigger because reaching into them can get tight—and I say that as someone who doesn't have big hands.

I also like the player shields, which double as player aid references that explain how all of the Bonus tokens work. Very, very helpful! But the player shields are made of thin card stock and prone to warping/bending.

The cardboard tokens are... fine. They aren't super chunky or satisfying to handle, they don't punch out cleanly, but they're thick enough for comfortable play and they're easy enough to pick up off the board.

If I have a complaint here, it's that all of the cardboard tokens are the same size. I wish the Influence markers, Control markers, and Bonus tokens were all of different sizes so that they're easier to distinguish at a glance.

My biggest issue with Caesar! is that the board can get visually busy and hard to parse at a glance, especially towards the end of a game. Part of that is because Control markers and Influence markers are the exact same size and use the exact same colors, so they're hard to tell apart.

I wish the Control markers were 3D flags, but I know that'd drive up the price of the game. Still, it might've been better if the Control markers were black with red/blue accents, which would clearly contrast with the Influence markers.

Lastly, more baggies, please! Keeping everything organized into multiple baggies makes the game a lot easier to set up and put away. (I was able to provide my own baggies from my own personal stash, but I know not everyone can do that!)

The Bottom Line

Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes

Recommended Score Guide
  1. Simple but satisfying area control gameplay
  2. Fantastic pacing and tension from start to finish
  3. Minimal analysis paralysis due to fog of war simulation
  4. Potential for big moves means you can catch up even when you're losing
  5. Small table footprint, easy setup, plays fast
  1. Game board is visually busy and hard to read at a glance
  2. Solo mode has too much overhead and is prone to mistakes

Caesar! is a really great game. Again, I'm personally not into 2p abstract strategy games like this, so I probably won't play it unless someone else suggests it. However! I do recognize that the game's design is phenomenal, and it's my favorite of all the 2p abstract strategy games I've played.

This is the kind of game I think everyone should try at least once. If you don't normally like 2p strategy games, this one might win you over because it does away with the idea of thinking ahead many turns to win. If you do like 2p strategy games, this one offers a fresh design that's quick, tense, and satisfying.

I'm so positively impressed by what Paolo Mori has achieved with Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 Minutes that it makes me want to check out what else he's done.

Leave a Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments