With the blood pounding through my ears and my vision dazed and confused, I check my bearings once again, ready to strike my hands down and make my mark. With one question burning in my head, I look towards the sun, sweat dripping slightly from my brow.
And that question is a simple one..
When you are asked to give your first thoughts on a game about Gladiatorial combat, is it against the law to not start the piece without some kind of combat reference?
Should I be asking if you are entertained? Should you clap after reading this? Should I be getting on with piece? Probably yes.
So let’s start with something that might get a thumbs down and the crowd baying. The combat mechanics in most of the games I’ve played are rather slow and long. This is down to you normally having to deal with the consequences of that one attack and that one attack only. Tension gives way to rounds and everyone being polite and taking their turn. It’s almost civilised in its nature. You backup your character with allies and shields and minions to do your bidding and it’s only at the end, when all is spent that you sometimes get to go toe to toe. But it is long and sometimes arduous and also once you have a tactic that works, it’s easy to go all out every time, doing what works and claiming victory. Gladiatores is not that game and has no intention of being that game either.
Gladiatores by Bad Cat Games is all about defence and counter strikes and blocking and parrying and all in real time, as you go head to head with your opponent. You play the role of the Gladiator owner as well as the combatant, so this leads into some tactical planning around the fighting outside of the arena. You get the choice of having a simple one off skirmish between a group of fighters, or the chance to go into a longer career mode, where the idea is to fill up and complete the ‘Glory Wheel’ which is like a combat version of the cake pieces on Trivial Pursuit, but ultimately filling this up does indeed declare you to be the winner of the career mode. During the battles themselves a certain amount of crowd favour can be claimed by the victor, which is represented by rose petals and in turn they can be traded in for more slices at the end of the round. Favour is limited based on the Arena rules drawn for that round and once it is handed out there is no more to gain, and so it is imperative that you use the right moves or special moves awarded to you as this can sometimes be a decider in who wins the career mode in the long run. Although mentioned in the additional information provided by Bad Cat Games, the favour was double sided with a 1 and 3 petals on either side of the chip and so sometimes you need to make sure that additional favour wasn’t accidentally introduced into the mix. It lead to a bit of confusion a couple of times and I’m glad that Bad Cat is aware of it.
In a game which revolves entirely about blood on the sand, and visceral combat at its purest, Gladiatores is not about going all out in a berserker rage, which I must admit took me by surprise the more I played. Cleverly your stamina is decided by the size of your deck. Spend your deck and spend your chance at victory as you come crashing down into the sand.
In any other combat game, you would be encouraged to unleash hell at any given opportunity, to spend all of the verbs at your disposal. In Gladiatores, discretion is sometimes the better part of valour, and sometimes when there are more than two players playing, you’ll find yourself holding back on that ultimate continual slog of sword on shield.
Yes, I did say more than two, because Gladiatores can be played in a group, but just because you are on the sidelines, doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. When you have four or more players competing, then resource management extends further than what you have in your hand, but what the opponents have in theirs. As keeping an eye on what blocks or parries or dodges everyone else has can pay dividends when you approach the endgame.
Playing is very straightforward in a round. You pick an opponent and then you’ll play cards to try to force the other player to take a hit, or defend well enough to counter strike, with the idea that someone is going to end up with a wound, while the other gains the crowd’s favour.
Combat can be quick or at a slower pace, as the cards you play can’t be played again and pushing someone who wants desperately to win to use up most of their deck while you crawl away only taking one wound is sometimes more rewarding from a strategic sense than what you gain from the contest.
It doesn’t end with the last person standing either, as once the winner is declared, everyone finds out who they bet on as the Gladiator owners in order to accrue potentially more slices of glory for the wheel. Did you wonder why Colinus Maximus seemed to lose too easily at the end? Well it appeared that they were holding a card that gave them rewards for throwing the fight. While others traded in their specials earlier on for additional favour that they then traded for glory so they could win the overall career match. Throw in some sponsors to the mix to add some additional bonuses and career mode looks like the definitive way to play Gladiatores in the long term.
Gladiatores looks the part as well, with extremely strong artwork holding the theme together, the Bad Cat team have resisted an urge to step into fantasy, or jump into a cartoon like representation for the sport. What you’ll hold in your hands is wonderful to look at deck of cards that really draw you in as you play through the rounds and is testament to the large amount of care and attention that Bad Cat have given to Gladiatores.
So are you wondering what I think? Is it a thumbs up of thumbs down?
In the interests of transparency, you should know that I have known Justin from Bad Cat since he released his first game Elemenz on kickstarter a while ago, and that he has appeared a couple of times on the show. It’s been really interesting to see the company’s journey from it’s initial steps into crowdfunding through to confidently bringing Gladiatores to the table. It’s interesting take on combat mechanics, the artwork is stunning and the game designers have built in a lot of subtle additions to keep you coming back into the arena.
So, like all the creators I have met, I hope the campaign funds and then some, and Gladiatores gets the exposure it deserves. I enjoyed my time with the game and can’t wait to see what happens when it launches.
If you are looking for an more opinionated view, I suggest you check out the words from Board Meetings and The Giant Brain, which you can find below.
We received a preview copy for the purposes of this write up and first thoughts piece and a bag of glory and rose petals for our troubles. The copy was returned to the designer once the piece was written. The photographs are representations of what the final components may look like. Please check the Kickstarter Campaign for More Details.