This preview is based off a pre-release copy of the game provided by Bad Cat Games. Art is not final but the game is mechanically complete.
We look at each other across the sand of the arena, the last combatants standing after what has seemed like an age. Down to our last vestiges of endurance we choose our next moves carefully. The crowd roars and bays for blood and we both feel the flow and desire of the audience. I make my move, and you react. The cards are revealed. I yell in victory feeling the adoration of the crowd. You fall defeated, at least for now.
Gladiatores is the second game from Scottish outfit Bad Cat Games, coming to Kickstarter on the 27th September. It is a game full of moments of intense battle, sly bets, blood, glory and the clash of steel. It is an interesting take on Colosseum battles that you might have played elsewhere, because the core of the game is that you don’t play the combatants, you play their owners.
Honour and Glory
Donning your sandals and robe you will look across the available stable of Gladiators and choose one to be your fighter for this bout. Taking the cards that represent that particular Gladiator’s weapon and some more from the central pool that come in defence, attack and effect flavours to form your hand. Your hand is not only your strategy but also your endurance: once you are out of cards you are out of the fight and the opportunities to pick up cards are few and far between. The Gladiator himself will provide a special ability that you can use, possibly informing your card choices from the central decks as some are better with one card type over another.
Even before the fight begins you want to start thinking about how you are going to handle the forthcoming conflict, because remember you are not the gladiator, you are their owner. As such you wager money on the forthcoming bout, guessing who will win the fight, hoping for an extra glory reward at the end of the fight. The person with the most glory at the end of the game is the winner! This might mean you don’t want to win the fight to come, an interesting position to be in and something you have to really think about as every exchange happens.
The crowd roars, the sand moves underneath your feet and it comes time to lock weapons with your opponents. You pick out an individual from the combatants and throw down your challenge in front of them, a single attack card. They try and play a card that can respond to that, guided by the information on the hit. Back and forth it goes until someone gives up or is unable to respond and then the final hit is resolved. Maybe you’ll get to draw some cards, do some damage or show off your skills. All the while you are aiming to gain favour by inflicting wounds and showing the crowd what you are made of. The more favour you get the better the rewards at the end of the combat.
As you battle you will see your opponents weaken, you will see chinks in the armour and what can happen a lot is that you get some kingmaking happening as the person with the least cards left gets picked on. Unlike most games, the kingmaking is integrated well into the game and the betting subgame means that even if you aren’t getting crowned you can still be royalty adjacent.
When the dust has settled and only one gladiator is left standing, the rewards roll in. Depending on the event you have been playing the last person and the penultimate person standing will get to fill in some of their glory wheel. On top of that you will get to fill some of the wheel based on the favour you accumulated during the fight. If you bet well you can gain more glory still meaning there are multiple paths to getting the most points.
All the world’s a stage
It would be easy enough to play one round of Gladiatores and put it back in the box, and you can certainly do that and have a fun time. However the game shines brightest when played as a series of events. You can choose how many to play, 3 – 4 is recommended, and at the end you count up all the points in your glory wheel and see who has won. Simple enough it would seem.
However, there is a nuance to the campaign that is missing from the core battles of the game. Over the course of several battles you are forced to try out different fighters and you start to learn who is a good at what and when. The betting odds for each fighter are on their cards, depending on where they sit in a round, giving you some fuzzy information on who is most likely to win.
Tactics cards give you an extra thing to think about in the campaign, with each choice only available to you once. Maybe you will throw the fight or go all out, but each choice will dramatically affect the course of battle. On top of this, how you have done in the previous fight will inform your decisions in the next. For instance in a recent game I won the first round, betting on myself. In the next fight I knew the other players would come after me, so I took a defensive gladiator and bet on one of them to win. It worked out well for me, even though I lost the fight!
Are you not entertained?
I really enjoyed my time with Gladiatores. Even when I wasn’t directly involved in particular exchange I was thinking about what to do next, observing what the others were doing and guessing where they might have weaknesses in their hands. There is a fantastic back and forth to all the systems in the game, leaving you always feeling like you might be able to come back through a cleverly placed bet, well timed tactic or calculated attack.
The art is evocative of the game though we did find the overall layout a little bit washed out, full of muted marble tones, whites and creams. Although the Tactics cards were interesting I would have personally liked to have seen more of the type of the ‘Throw the fight card’ that allows for you to plan a strategy and then try and execute it. These are minor quibbles though.
Gladiatores is a great game, fully realising the excitement of an arena battle whilst also tying in a longer game that gives you a lot more subtle strategy to think about than you may realise at first. Gather your stable of fighters and enter the arena, I am confident that you will give it a thumbs up.
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