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The greatest nation in the world is in decline. A wealthy oligarchy has all the money, land, and power, leaving the masses to starve and struggle under the weight of oppressive debts. A bitter, partisan feud between polar opposites – liberal and conservative – finds no room for compromise. Government, once conducted with dignity and restraint, becomes a dangerous game of brinksmanship and obstructionism. The very foundations of the republic are undermined by demagogues and dictators, using civil unrest to seize power. Opponents are marginalized or made to disappear, with even murder given the veneer of legitimacy retroactively. The result is the collapse of the old order, and the establishment of new, totalitarian regime, with the populace often at the mercy of madmen and idiots, the venal and the vainglorious.
We are talking, of course, about the Roman Republic. Optimates et Populares is a political game for two players, in which players fight for the primacy and dominance of their ideology. The Populares ("populists") pursue a liberal and egalitarian agenda that seeks to better the lives of the poor through measures such as land redistribution, debt relief, and welfare programs. The Optimates (or "best men") aim to thwart this progress, maintaining the traditional rights and privileges of the wealthy elites. Both players seek to win elections and pass laws, and to prevent their opponents from doing the same, using every tool at their disposal - building alliances through influential Senators, buying loyalties, inciting mob violence, and proscription - state-sanctioned murder.
Central to the game is Political Will. Each action you take will cost you some Political Will. The more you accomplish, the more anger it incites in the opposition and its supporters - and so, each action you take also cedes Political Will to your opponent. This creates a dynamic tension in which each player must balance pursuit of his own goals against the backlash that's just around the corner. Each law you pass will also have subtle (and not-so-subtle) effects on the People of Rome and the Senate, building or eroding support for your overall platform. It's a careful balancing act - a vicious teeter-totter - a knife-fight on a tightrope.
Game design: Tom Russell
Map Art: Jose R. Faura
Unit Illustrations: Michael Lemick
Hex Number: 11
Duration: 60 to 90 minutes
Solitaire Suitability: High
Theme: Ancients, Politics