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SPARTACUS: GAME OF BLOOD AND TREACHERY

Reviewed by Chris Kovac

(Gale Force 9, 3 to 4 players, ages 17 and up, 150 minutes; $39.99)

 

Living in ancient Rome meant living in a time when death, danger and intrigue was a way of life. The Starz TV series Spartacus brought this world back to life and, in turn, Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill have brought that life to the gaming table with a new design based on that TV series with Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery.spartacusboxTo start, you lay out the arena game board and then decide on which house (dominus) you wish to play. Each dominus board has a varying starting amount of Gladiators (drawn from a starting deck of gladiators), Slaves (drawn from a starting deck of slaves), guards (drawn from the intrigue deck), a gladiator miniature, some betting markers and an influence marker. As well, each dominus has two special powers which can be used in the intrigue phase (more on this later). You set up your slaves, gladiators, guards beside your dominus board and put your starting gold on your treasury. Next you decide how long the game will go on by deciding how much influence you start with which ranges from seven for a short game, four for a regular game or one for the advanced game. (I found starting at four and ending at ten rather than twelve influence works well.) Finally, shuffle the intrigue and market deck well, decide who will be start player (giving him the host marker) and you are ready to start.

The game has four phases per turn, each with a number of sub phases.

The first phase is Upkeep. During this phase, cards which have been flipped over (used) in the previous turn are flipped back. Injured slaves or gladiators roll a six sided die to check for healing (1 dies, 2-3 remains injured and 4-6 heals). Finally, every “ready” slave (non-flipped) you have gives you one gold while every “ready” gladiator costs one gold. If you cannot pay one or more of your gladiators, you must discard them.

The second phase is Intrigue. In this phase, each player gets three intrigue cards. Starting with the host player and going clockwise, each player can play as many intrigue cards as he wishes. You can either trade in the card for gold (as shown on the bottom left of the card) or play the card. You have to have equal to or higher influence than shown on the card’s top left corner in order to play it. If you do not have enough influence, you can get other players’ influence by negotiating deals with them. Intrigue cards are either blue “scheme” cards which give you benefits (influence or gold) or allow you to attack your opponents, reaction cards which let you defeat intrigues played against you or guard cards which can be played to try and stop intriguecards (requiring a dice roll of 3-6 to be successful). Also during this phase, you can use your dominus’ special power to discard certain resources to get either gold or influence. It should be mentioned some slaves have special powers which can be used during this phase as well. Your influence, apart from counting towards winning the game, also tells you how many intrigue cards you can keep between rounds. After all players have had an intrigue turn, you go to market.spartacuspcs

There are two parts to the Market phase. First you have an open market. At this point, you can sell any asset (gladiators, slaves, equipment and guards) played out in front of you either to the bank or to other players. After a player has finished his open market “deals” he takes his treasury in hand to indicate he is done. Once all players have taken their money, you have the auction for new resources. Market cards equal to the number of players are dealt out face down. Market cards are slave, gladiators and equipment. One at a time, each market card is turned up and sold by an “in your fist” auction. If two players bid the same amount, they leave their bids on the table and bid again with their remaining gold. Any unsold assets are discarded. Finally, you bid for the host marker, again using an “in your fist” auction. Winner of this auction receives the host marker which allows him to go first in the intrigue phase and allows him to decide who will fight in the Arena phase. Having won the host auction also gives the winner an influence point.

The Arena is the final phase of a turn. This is when two of the players fight for influence in the arena using either slaves or gladiators. The host invites up to two players to fight in the arena including himself. A player can offer incentives to the host to be invited or not! If a player declines an invitation, he loses an influence. The first player who accepts puts his gladiator figurine on the I spot in the arena and chooses a gladiator/slave card to represent his fighter plus any equipment cards (a maximum of one weapon, armor and special). The second player does the same except puts his figurine on the II space. It should be noted that if any gladiator has a favored or champion marker on him showing he has won previous fights in the arena, the host must pay the owner two gold per favor token or six gold if he is a champion. Now each player can bet on the outcome of the fight (up to a maximum of three bets of three gold each). The players can bet for a fighter to win with 1:1 payout, for a match to have an injury with a 2:1 payout or decapitation (killed) with a 2:1 payout. You mark your bets by placing your betting markers. Finally, the two gladiators battle it out in the arena.spartacus4

Each fighter has three health statistics represented by the number of dice shown on his card (blue – movement, red – attack and black – defense). Each fighter takes the appropriate number of dice. Then they roll their blue dice with the player with the highest roll deciding who gets to move/fight or fight/move first. A fighter can move as many spaces as the number of blue dice he has. In order to attack a gladiator, you have to be adjacent unless you have a distance weapon. In an attack, the attacker rolls all his red attack dice and the defender all his black defense dice. Each player thenputs them in descending order matching the attacking with the defense dice. Whoever has the higher number scores or deflects a hit. Any excess attack dice which roll more than three also score a hit. For each hit a player must lose a die. The only special rule is that no dice pool (attack, defense or movement) can be reduced to below one until all the dice pools only have one die.spartacuscards

If a player runs out of dice in one or more dice pools, that player loses the match. If a player only runs out of dice in one dice pool he yields, in two pools he is injured and in all three he is decapitated. Decapitated gladiators are discarded though any equipment returns to the owning player. Yielded or injured players must be judged by the player with the host token. If the host gives thumbs up, they are returned to the owning player. Thumbs down, they are executed. However champions cannot be executed and for any gladiators with favors the host must lose one influence per favor. Winning gladiators get an influence and a favor token (three favor tokens make a champion). Finally all bets are paid out and another turn begins with an upkeep phase. This continues until a player equals or exceeds the winning influence number at the end of a phase. If there are ties, the game is settled by a match in the arena.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery is, at its core, a four player resource management game with gaining influence the key goal. The pieces are okay and the rule book, while a little vague in some places and lacking graphic examples (all examples are explained by text) is fairly well written. Overall, the winning strategy in Spartacus seems to be either make influence in the intrigue phase (through skillful card play) or in the arena phase (by either hosting a gladiatorial match or winning in the arena). Negotiation, along with a little backstabbing, helps in the intrigue phase while managing both your money and assets help in the arena.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery is a solid moderate level gamers’ game which will work best with gamers who like negotiation and backstabbing and do not mind some downtime as the arena duels are fought. A good 7.5 out of ten. – – – – – – – – – – – Chris Kovac

 

 


 

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