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Updated: Dec 27, 2019

Here’s a new sword and sandals game that’s coming to Kickstarter in a few days' time. Like Gale Force 9’s TV tie-in game Spartacus, Gladiatores represents combat in the arena. While Spartacus uses dice, Gladiatores is essentially a card game. Players each have a hand of cards representing their attack and defence moves. The hands are asymmetric and each core hand is enhanced by drawing further cards from a pool. Once equipped, gladiators go head to head (or maybe sword to shield). Attacks do damage and score glory if they are not successfully parried, and gladiators each start with only 4 wound tokens: lose them all and you are dead.

The skill in Gladiatores is in judging when best to play your attack cards and, ideally, how to use them in combination so that you quickly fell an opponent. That will rack up your glory. If you go all-in gung ho, however, then there’s a risk that you’ll burn through your cards and be ill-equipped to counter any blows directed at you. This will be so if you play Gladiatores with two but it is even more the case in a multi-player game (Gladiatores can cater for up to five players). You need to watch out for players that hang back and only go in for the kill when rival gladiators have already been weakened in combat. Watch out too for cards that force you to make involuntary discards from your hand. These can prove devastating if timed to best advantage.

Gladiatores is a hand management game and its fast and often furious play injects the adrenaline needed to appropriately match the theme. It can be played as a single combat conflict (in effect, as a filler game) or it can be played as a campaign game over several rounds of combat, with players competing to complete the glory wheels on their individual player boards. Because each of the gladiators has their own particular strengths and weaknesses, this is a game where you will be at a very distinct advantage once you’ve learnt how each gladiator ‘works’ and what cards are needed to parry its strengths. That’s not a bad thing but it does make it difficult for a newbie being introduced to the game by an experienced player.

The rules for Gladiatores come with some in-built expansions allowing, for example, players to bet on the outcome of combat. Playing with these rules means that you can sometimes do best by helping an opponent to win. It’s a pity that betting on opponent feels so underhand or counterintuitive; it might otherwise be a way of levelling the arena for novices pitted against seasoned players. The game also incorporates the option of playing with ‘Sponsor’ cards that give their gladiator a single-use special power.

Gladiatores is designed by Jason Maclean-Jones with art by Brolken, Ania Kryczkowska and Laureline Morgan-Davies. It is being published by Bad Cat Games Studio. Shown here on Board’s Eye View is a preview prototype. There are going to be changes to some of the components and to the game box (which will be larger) but the game play of the finished game is expected to be the same as it is here. One change we hope to see is for Bad Cat to have separate 1 glory and 3 glory tokens. The prototype has 3 glory on the reverse of 1 glory tokens; we’ve seen this used in some other games and it is almost always a recipe for confusion and even argument as tokens get accidentally flipped. We'd also like to see card racks considered as stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign. The cards carry text and cannot easily be read when fanned. Even with the aid of card racks, it isn't easy to control a hand of 14 cards.

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