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Gladiatores Kickstarter Preview


Quick Look: Gladiatores: Blood for Roses


Designer: Jason Maclean Jones
Artist: Anya Kryczkowska, Rodrigo Gonzalez Toledo
Publisher: BadCat Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes (15 minutes/player)

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Gladiatores. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.



Review:

tl;dr: Fast, card-based battle system with play at two levels of interaction.

Getting to the Game: Laying out all the tokens and cards for this game, you're going to start to think there's a lot here to learn. Rest assured that the main thrust of this game is pretty simple, even if there's a level of abstraction that's a little confusing. Once you've separated all the pieces into their piles, each player will collect a player board (not pictured below - not included for review), a randomly-assigned Ludus marker and its five matching tactics cards, a set of gambling tokens, four wound markers, and five crowd favors. The rest of the tokens and cards are separated and shuffled to the center of the table. It's now time to enter the arena.

  


Learning how to play Gladiatores was a very frustrating experience for me and my group, and I'll have some more thoughts on that later. The idea here is that at the beginning and ends of your turn, you're playing as a master of a Ludi (a school of gladiators), choosing which fighter enters the fray and betting on who will win. In the middle of your turn, you're actually in the pits dueling it out in a grand melee - whether you team up with another fighter to focus down an opponent, or keep your head on a swivel and attack on all fronts, is totally up to you. Your goal is to defend from incoming attacks that threaten to take away your wound markers, while simultaneously protecting your hand of cards; once you're out, you're exhausted and collapse into the sand. Whoever is standing at the end of the melee wins glory and honor for themselves, and perhaps their master.

Playing the Game: My review copy of Gladiatores came with a letter dotted with bullet points about the gameplay. The very first of which said, "The game is fully complete." (emphasis theirs) That statement may have the confidence of Maximus, but I'm less certain. There's some stuff here that really works. The in-ring combat mechanic of playing cards that can be countered and then reacted to is phenomenal. It feels like you're actually fighting against someone - you swing a sword, and it clangs off their shield, maybe they parry back, but your initial attack was just a feint, and now they bought it, so you can hit them where they're vulnerable. There was obvious attention paid to this aspect of the game, and it shows. It's by far the best part of the game.

Where it falters and takes a spear to the ribs, though, is just about everywhere else. By way of example: The rulebook states that at the beginning of a game, you take "a random ludus marker" and then five tactics cards matching the marker you took. What it doesn't say is that all of the tactics cards for each school are exactly the same. Because of this, it seems unnecessary for the marker to be randomly chosen. The rulebook's artwork could also use some work. The first page has a great illustration of each of the game components, but from there on, the illustrations of how a turn works, what the play space looks like, and even an example of combat itself are poorly done or missing completely, leading to a lot of confusion. 



There are various pieces throughout the design of the rulebook that are easy to miss, and if you do, they aren't reinforced anywhere else. For example, the Event cards are supposed to dictate the amount of crowd favor available in that round, but in every other place the rulebook mentions favor, it never says to take it from the available pool. Additionally, the fact that there's a glory pool isn't explained until well after the rules of the game are laid out. There are betting odds on each gladiator (actually a really cool idea) which are based on that gladiator's turn order, the idea here being that the lower in turn order someone is, the harder it will be for them to win. This makes beautiful sense, but it's not properly explained in the rulebook.

Gladiatores has a lot of promise. The aforementioned combat is thematic and tense. The odds on each gladiator based on turn order is a solid rubber-banding mechanic, and I'm a fan. The feeling of placing bets on someone else's gladiator, playing the "Throwing the Fight" tactics card that pays off double when I win a bet on another gladiator, and then ganging up on the third gladiator, felt evil and like every gladiator movie I'd ever seen. What I ended up wanting more of was a reason to invest in the game. Not really understanding how a turn works until I had scoured the rulebook a dozen times felt bad. Not having any difference between my Ludus Messana and my opponent's Ludus Genua was disappointing. Completing the glory wheel just felt like helping the winners win more, even if there's the barely-there strategy of getting larger wedges with fewer points. Even the weird decision of giving each gladiator four wound tokens at the beginning of each round, and then when a card says "do 1 wound," you're supposed to take one away - why not reverse this? Also, why not make each of the gladiator style decks wildly different, and give each a different health pool, with different play styles? There's a fun game in this box, but it needs the steady hand of Tiberius, not the chaotic shove of Florianus.

Artwork and Components: The artwork of Kryczkowska and Toldeo here is serviceable. Its perfectly-fine depictions of armor-clad gladiators, shining golden in the sun, is exactly what you'd expect of a game with this theme. It's just nothing special. There's very little gore, and even some of the card art feels like a flipped version of another (See below art for "Thrust" and "Parry"). 

  


The game's components fit into the same category. They're okay, just not great. I won't harp on these too much, as stretch goals or other plans the developer has might alter these a little, and I might just have prototype parts. 

The Good: Combat is fun, and the idea of betting on a gladiator while playing another is delicious.

The Bad: Not ready for primetime. Art is ho-hum. Rulebook needs work.

Score: Overall, in the spirit of the Colosseum itself, Gladiatores is much better in theory than it is in practice. The Romans ruled over the known world for centuries. I think this game could do with some patience and time, though not that much. I'm giving Gladiatores a score of Thumbs Down.

                   

On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends November 1, 2018.

About the Author:


Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Gladiatores Kickstarter Preview Gladiatores Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on September 27, 2018 Rating: 5

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