I read Chris Norwood's recent post on Triumvirate, and it intrigued me enough to learn about the game. I'm always on the look-out for new two-player games to try out with my wife. On boardgamegeek.com, I found Ender Wiggin's review, which was sufficiently descriptive that I was able to reproduce the game play with a modified deck of regular playing cards (in true cheapskate fashion).
The premise of Triumvirate is that the players are playing cards to represent political machinations to place Caesar, Pompey, or Crassus on the throne as Emperor of Rome. When one of the three nobles becomes Emperor, the game ends, and the player who has secretly pledged greater support to that noble house wins the game.
To assemble a knock-off for Triumvirate, I removed all the clubs, all the tens, and the two jokers from a normal deck of playing cards. The three remaining suits - spades, hearts, diamonds - represent the three Roman noble houses of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. The face cards in each suit are used to track the progress of each faction, so that when spades (or hearts or diamonds) wins a hand, the Jack of spades (or hearts or diamonds) is turned face up. When spades wins a second hand, the Queen of spades is turned face up, and when spades wins a third hand, the King of spades is turned face up to indicate that the "leader of the house of spades" has won ascendancy as Emperor of Rome.
The Ace through nine of spades, hearts, and diamonds are used to win tricks on behalf of the three suits. When three tricks are won in a single suit, that hand is over, that suit wins the hand, and that suit's next face card is turned face up to represent progress in that suit toward becoming Emperor. The four, six, and eight of each suit are also eligible to use as "pledges" for the players each to secretly support one of the three factions. At the end of the game, players reveal the cards they have pledged in each suit, and the player with the greater total in the "winning suit" wins the game.
The details of how to play each hand and how to win tricks are well described in Ender Wiggins review on boardgamegeek, so I won't belabor the mechanics here.
Kathy and I tried two games on Tuesday evening. The first game was a learning game as we got familiar with the mechanics. The second game gave us a little more appreciation for the tactics of vying for ascendancy and throwing support behind the faction you think will win while undermining your opponent's efforts to advance the faction to which you think he or she has pledged the most support. In the end, we both agreed that it is an interesting game, but we didn't get as excited about it as we have about other games. We'll probably try it again some time, but it won't be on our short list, at least not right away.