Monday, 23 February 2015

I'm Spartacus!

Well, actually, I wasn't, and indeed, once he turned up, I was going to give him a wide berth.

What am I jibbering about? The excellent Spartacus board game from Gale Force 9 of course. While my copy of the Firefly game remains firmly in its shrink wrap, I have had the opportunity to play a couple of sessions with Spartacus, which Kelvin has wisely procured, and it is very nice too.

The game draws its inspiration from the television series, but unlike, say, Battlestar Galactica, I don't think you need to have watched it for the game to make sense. Everyone is pretty familiar with the lives and priorities of Roman gladiators, after all.

Each player in the game takes on the role of a domus, a Roman family that has invested in the gladiatorial games as a means of raising their political status. Each domus has a slightly different starting line up of gladiators, slaves, guards and other assets. Your objective is to reach and hold an influence level of 12. Starting influence varies depending on how long a game you want. We found we could finished a game with starting influence of 4 in an evening, which is ideal for us.

During play you intrigue against the other domus (domi?) in an effort to promote your own interests, ideally using your guards to stop other players from shafting you. There is an excellent bidding phase where players bid for slaves, gladiators and equipment, like the deadly trident, as well as the right to host the next games.

The arena phase is a stripped down miniatures combat game, but manages to make a man on man duel exciting and unlikely to be samey, which is essential for a gladiator game IMHO. Two warriors facing off in the rather two dimensional confines of an arena could get boring quite quickly, but Spartacus uses a dice pool mechanic (attack, defence and speed pools) that measures combat effectiveness and damage flawlessly to produce exciting - and sometimes comic - results.



Spartcus is good fun, even when you're losing. There is nothing boring here, and each phase of the game has something to keep your interest, even when other players are taking their turns. Do I have enough guards to protect my domus? Should I bribe the tax officials, or do I need to conserve my financial resources for bidding for slaves? Is my wounded gladiator going to recover in time for the next games?

Gale Force 9 have obviously found an interesting niche here, combining licenses from popular TV series (their Sons of Anarchy game came out last year, IIRC) with solid game mechanics and components. Feedback on the Firefly game has been very positive. Although Spartacus is the first of their games I've actually played, it bodes well for the others.

Caveat emptor - the game does have a 16+ age rating because of some of the cards involved. The original series, I hear, was fairly fruity and some of this has been ported across into the game, so it may not be one for playing with the kids, even if they are studying Roman history at school!

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