All done; IT systems investigated, policy chats had, catch-ups coffee’d out and I’m on the train on my way back to London. I think the 8.30 train would have been a better choice after all as this one is utterly packed out. Also, the power point isn’t working so I’m relying on laptop battery which gives around three hours at current power consumption rates. I could turn off my music but it pumps out tunes so much better than my other devices.

So, we’ve been playing Spartacus the board game a fair amount – time for a review I think.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery.

A Review by Handsome Joe.

First, an admission that I’ve not watched any Spartacus beyond the television series adverts. I like Republican Rome and all that but it just seemed like WWE, the early years. There were way, way too many oiled, tanned bodies in a pseudo gay-porn epic. So had Jad not purchased the game, I’d have probably let this slip by.

The aim of the game is to garner the most influence in ancient Capua through sponsorship of gladiatorial combat but also through scheming and backstabbing behind the scenes. It’s a game for up to four players (best played with four) seeing four of the major Patrician families vie for domination.

Spartacus progresses in turns – first the houses plot amongst themselves, making and breaking alliances with each other in order to gain an advantage, building up and depleting their treasuries. Next comes the market round where slaves, gladiators and weapons are available followed by combat itself between two gladiators. There are as many turns as need be but the first to twelve influence points will win the game.

There are four families as mentioned, each of which has two special powers allowing different actions to occur during the Intrigue phase whilst they all have differing starting values in terms of gladiators, slaves, guards and cash. There are no clear advantages to choosing a particular family although the advantages and disadvantages of each will cater for a slightly differing play style.

In the “Influence Round”, players are dealt with cards which come in two types – schemes and reactions. A scheme will allow the player or players to advance a plot, with or without help against or for the benefit of an opponent. Schemes can be interrupted by Reaction cards or foiled by Guard cards twisting the intended direction of the plot. And players can agree to help a plot and then fail to hold up their end of the bargain leading to a lot of ill feeling around the board. Deals can be as convoluted as much as the player wants and can be wrecked at any time.

This is followed by the Market round where a set number of cards are drawn allowing players to bid on better gladiators, slaves, weapons during combat and trade amongst each other. The Market round also allows players to bid on the right to host the next Gladiator Match and therefore be first in the next turn. This can confer significant advantages to that player as they can not only gain in influence but rig a really unfair match up.

The bouts themselves are two-player affairs resolved though dice rolls. But before combat begins, players are allowed to bet on the victor of the match-ups as well as the manner of defeat, through injury or decapitation. Each gladiator and slave has an attack strength of up to five, a defensive strength of up to five and a movement of up to four. Weapons, armour and special items can add modifiers to these three attributes. As gladiators duel, successful dice roll deplete the opponents ability to land successful blows, move or parry attacks. When there are fewer than three dice remaining, combat is over (through yielding, injury or decapitation) and bets are claimed. Finally the host has the right to decide whether the defeated gladiator dies or not, assuming they’re not already decapitated.

The next turn begins the game anew once injured gladiators/slaves have the chance to heal and ledgers are balanced. Once the first person is able to end a phase with 12 Influence Points, he or she is declared the winner whilst the losers skulk off and plot revenge.

Spartacus is a decent enough game but it doesn’t feel quite complete – the scheming is largely confined to one round and the rules don’t encourage backstabbing enough to really make the game end in tears. But that depends on how vicious the players want to be with each other. It’ll be interesting to see how the expansion pack will enhance the current rule set, possibly allowing for multiple gladiators to do battle at once. It’s simple enough to learn and is best enjoyed with four players. It’ll take about three hours to get through a proper game, assuming enough Jesus Juice is poured and the pizza keeps on coming.

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