Review: Alea Iacta Est

Posted by James (admin) on January 8th, 2010

Alea Iacta Est is a dice rolling and allocation game.  For any gamer who rejects games where dice are central, please read on as you may miss a really enjoyable game.

The game consists of several rounds where players are trying to score as many points as possible.  Players start each round with 8 dice of their colour and provinces.  Players take turns rolling their remaining dice and allocating some (or all) of them to one of the areas on the table for which they may get a reward at the end of the round depending upon what other players place in the areas too.At the start of each round, a number of province and patrician tiles are placed face-up next to the Castrum and Roman Forum respectively.  When any player has allocated all of their dice, all other players get one more roll/allocation and the round ends.  At the end of a round, each area is assessed, rewards given and all the dice are returned to the players ready for the next round.

There are five areas where dice can be allocated:

The Temple
The 1st player places any one dice; the 2nd player to place dice here places 2 dice so long as their total is greater than the existing dice.  The 3rd player placing dice here must have 3 dice in total with a greater total than the existing 2 dice, and so on.  (A player can add dice to existing their dice.) For each dice placed, the player takes a fortuna tile which are worth 1 to 3 points each and kept hidden.
Reward: The player with the most dice here keeps 2 of the fortuna tiles gained this round.  All other players can keep one.

The Senate
Players place dice that make up a straight (sequence of numbers) and can add more dice to an existing straight.
Reward: Three senate cards are drawn – the player with the best straight picks one, the other player picks one from the remaining cards.  Each senate card is unique and gives the player extra points for various different things like having pairs of patricians.  (Dice placed that do not earn rewards go to the Latrine.)

The Castrum
Players place dice that make up a set (same value).  Players can add more dice to an existing set, or have multiple sets.
Reward: In order, the players with the best sets each take one of the remaining Province cards.  (Dice placed that do not earn rewards go to the Latrine.)

The Roman Forum
Depending on the number of players, there are 4 to 7 columns in the Forum.  A player can place any single dice, or a pair of dice that add up to 5.  Dice are placed one on each column in rising numerical order.  Dice already on columns of the same or higher value are moved across to make room for the new dice and any dice that get bumped off the end of the columns go into the Latrine.
Reward: In order, the players with the lowest value dice on columns each take one of the remaining Patricians.

Dice may end up here from other buildings.  Also, players can place one dice here if they can not legally place dice anywhere else.
Reward: One ‘repeat’ token for each dice which are worth 1/2 point or can be spent to re-roll dice.

Whilst there are several ways to score points, the core method is to collect provinces and patricians.  There are multiple tiles of each of the 6 different provinces (worth between 1 and 4 points).  The patrician tiles are male or female and each shows which province to which they belong.  At the end of the game, patrician tiles are only worth points if they are allocated to their matching province, also only one male and one female may be allocated to each province.  Also, provinces without any patricians are worth 1 point fewer than usual.  So, it is important to collect a mixture of provinces and patricians which compliment each other so they combine well for a good score.

Players score points for:

Provinces – Worth 1 to 4 points (-1 if no patricians are allocated)
Patricians – Worth 1 to 3 points (only if allocated to a matching province)
Senate cards – Scored if conditions on the card are met
Fortuna tiles – 1 to 3 points each
Repeat tiles – 1/2 point each 

After writing the description above, I realise that the game may sound complicated but it really isn’t.  I found it was nice that the ways that the dice are compared at each building and the ways to score  were different to most games and not too simple because this added depth to the game rather than just be Roman Yahtzee.  Plus, there is good player interaction as people outbid each other as well as players trying to deny opponents the rewards they want.

Whilst it has dice-rolling at its heart, which can automatically repel some gamers, the decisions to make are tactical and very interesting.  Not only do you need to judge the best placement to get rewards but also need to chase particular rewards based on what rewards you have already gained.  It results in some really fun and difficult choices.  The scoring system is relatively simple but the various combinations of patricians, provinces and senate card requirements mean that its not obvious what the best choices will be and each player may have slightly different goals.  I like that sort of logic – understandable building blocks but not an immediately obvious winning mixture.  Plus, the provinces and patricians to be earned each round are random.  I find these factors usually deliver good replayability.

I first read about this game on the co-designer’s (Jeffrey D Allers) blog.  The dice-rolling with tactical allocation sounded really good so it was already on my list to check out before Spiel 09.  However, as it was some time before it was available and I had gained a couple of other dice rolling/allocation games to play by the time I got to Essen, I didn’t play it there.  Fortunately, I finally got to play it recently and I’m really glad that I did.


[Played with 5 players]

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