Updated: Oct 24, 2020
The title and the illustration on the box pull no punches. Blood and gore is central to the theme of this game. Think the TV series version of Spartacus but with jokey cartoon images (by artist Kwanchai Moriya) instead of ultraviolent photorealistic depictions of decapitations. It’s a game themed around gladiatorial combat in the Roman arena, so if you are put off by the bloody images, this is probably not going to be the game for you.
That’s a pity, however, because Conor McGoey’s Gorus Maximus is a very good game that’d be a useful addition to anyone’s collection because it caters well for such a wide player count: 2–8, played either as individuals or in teams, and with a solitaire mode to boot. It’s also a shame that anyone should be deterred by the graphics or the theme because the theme for this game is a very thin veneer. Gorus Maximus is actually a trick-taking card game. It could doubtless have been skinned with any one of a hundred alternative themes.
Cards (in this case representing gladiators) are numbered 0–15 in five different ‘schools’ of gladiatorial combat (ie: suits). If playing with fewer than 8 players, certain numbered cards are removed from each suit; and if you play with fewer than 5 players, the number of suits is also reduced (down to just three suits when there are 1–3 players). Players must follow the suit (‘school’) of the lead card for each trick, except that if they play a card that matches the numerical value of the previous card played then they change the ‘preferred’ school, establishing, in effect a new trump suit. This remains the trump suit for subsequent tricks until it is changed in the same way. The highest card in the ‘preferred’ school (trump suit) always wins the trick.
If you can’t follow the lead suit but you have a ‘preferred’ suit card, you don’t have to trump; you can just slough off any card. You could find, however, that another player changes the ‘preferred’ suit so that the card you thought you had sloughed ends up being the highest trump for the trick. Such shenanigans are more likely than you might expect because, in addition to their strength and suit, several of the cards also have a ‘crowd favour’ value, and some of these are negative. At the end of the day, it's not the number of tricks but the 'crowd favour' that really matters. Ultimately, you want to end up with tricks where the cards tot up a higher crowd favour value than those won by the other players, but that means there are some negative value tricks that you will be trying not to win.
You’ll find Gorus Maximus easy to learn but if you’re used to conventional trick-taking card games then you may find you need a switch of mind-set to do well.
Publishers Inside Up are known for the high quality of their production and Gorus Maximus is no exception. Aside from the cards themselves, the game comes with chunky poker chip sized round scoring markers and, as a rather thoughtful addition, the larger box incorporates a much smaller tuck box that takes just the cards needed for a four player game. That means you can just slip the game into your pocket if you're looking for something to take with you on your travels.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)