Players 3-4
Length 90-120 minutes
Equipment Required 20 small tokens in each of the player colors; print out of the play mat; about $2 in small change for money
Designer Brad Johnson & Phillip Lerche
Version 1.1
Version Date2004-11-1
License Copyright 2003 Phillip Lerche Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License


Each player takes on the role of a political family in the era of the Roman Republic. Families vie for political control of the Republic by gaining influence in the Provinces of the Republic as well as the Offices of Rome itself.

This is a medium to heavy weight game (for a piecepack game) that rewards strategic and diplomatic play. Luck is minimal in this game.


Reviews & Comments

ClarkRodeffer wrote about the game in his summary of contest #6, GroupProjects

The first time I read the rules for Magistratum, I had no idea what was going on. Honestly, I couldn't even finish them in one sitting, but that may also have been because I was tired. But I did know that Magistratum was a massive game. The second time I read the Magistratum ruleset, I still didn't have much of an idea of what was going on. But I knew that it was an economics game set in the political background of old Rome, and that it was even bigger than I thought during the first reading. The third time I read the rules, I first gathered all the required bits, found myself a quiet table, and hunkered down to see just what's going on here. What I found was a very complex game that had clearly been through the ringer to balance things. I was ready to teach it to the group. Then during the first group game, I found out that I didn't really know the game at all, so we all kept referring back to the rules. The constant hunt for interpretations made the game drag on for about five hours, which is well beyond the estimated time. However, once we all finally "got it," things went much more smoothly. So there is something here. A huge something. But the learning curve is extremely steep, and conquering it felt like finally coming to the end of a long political campaign. Oddly enough, that form fits the theme perfectly!

I won't go into the details of how Magistratum is played. You can curl up with this ruleset beside a cozy fire and delve into that yourself. But briefly, the players are patriarchs of influential Roman families vying for political control of the Roman offices (the Magistratum) and newly acquired provinces. Players win victory points by campaigning for control of the provinces and bribing their way to the top of the political pyramid. Rounds happen in phases, and phases happen in turns, usually beginning with the player who bribed his way into the Prefecture for that round. The various political offices provide different powers, such as gaining more income, increasing, shifting or decreasing provincial influence, kicking lower-ranking magistrates or governors out of office, fixing elections, and so on, and so forth. The player with the most victory points after all of the provincial elections have been decided wins.

Despite my initial troubles with actually reading through the ruleset, I believe that the reward (playing a really good game) was well worth the effort. The rules are rather well written (if dense), and had several examples throughout. We did have several questions, which is probably to be expected in a game of this magnitude and complexity. But an e-mail to the authors quickly helped us sort things out. One complaint about this game is that it's nearly impossible to hold all these rules in mind at once, and during the game, it's very hard to refer back to them without disrupting the mood. That's a pity, because the theme is excellent and well-integrated with the mechanics, which are also very good. I would imagine that this game will only get better with practice and repeated play. A summary sheet was provided as a reminder for what to do and when to do it, and we were thankful to have it. But the summary sheet lacked sufficient detail to carry us through, and was really only referred to when we needed to remember the various powers of the officers. This is one ruleset that could really use more diagrams to show how the examples work. The brief appendix was adequate. After playing, we all felt exhausted, but a good time was had by all, nonetheless.

One thing you should be aware of before trying Magistratum is that it plays somewhat differently with three players than it does with four. With four, there are significantly fewer rounds of play because the provincial elections are won more quickly and spread out among more players. This tends to make players want to invest more in provincial influence than in the offices, and makes income harder to come by if everyone is trying to get the same provinces. Lower income means fewer high-ranking magistrates. In fact, in one of our four player games, the Dictator and Censor offices remained vacant the entire game. With three players, there are fewer contested provinces in play at once, and therefore more rounds of play. This increases income somewhat, and the offices become more important. I actually prefer the three player version, because with fewer players the rounds move more quickly, and this increases tension.

Conclusion: Magistratum is a great big game with an excellent theme, lots of flavor and a bit of role-playing thrown in for good measure. Magistratum reminded me somewhat of Quo Vadis, so if you like that game, or other similar political games, you'll probably like Magistratum. But it will take dedication and commitment to learn and play. Magistratum also gets the Best Use of Theme consolation prize. Score: 23.14

Brad and I have submitted an update which addresses some minor concerns the playtesters had. The number of contested provinces is now the same in the 3 and 4 player game. We also added a paragraph about deal-making and bribery for the serious politicians out there. Phillip Lerche

Magistratvm is a great game, and the updates in the finalized ruleset go a long way to making it even more playable, especially with four players. (./) (./) (./) -- ClarkRodeffer


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