Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club: Blood and treachery make 'Spartacus' a game worth getting
The excellent new board game "Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery" from Battlefront Miniatures/Gale Force Nine allows you to re-live the famous line from 1960 Kirk Douglas film.
Iconic film aside, the game is actually based on the television show on the Starz network and was first released in limited quantities at the GenCon gaming convention in August. The game went into full release last month and it was worth the wait.
The game is for three to four players with each one taking control of a Dominus, the head of a political house in the Roman city of Capua. Each Dominus has a different special ability that comes into play during the game, but they are balanced well and none has a clear edge over the others.
The goal of the game is to reach an influence level of 12. The game has variable lengths, where you can start the game at influence level five or seven to vary just how long it takes to reach victory conditions.
Players increase their influence levels through various means, including trading in assets and completing "scheme" cards. And this being ancient Rome, there is also gladiator combat.
The first phase of each turn is the intrigue phase where players reveal their schemes. More difficult schemes require a higher level of influence and players are allowed to work together to combine influence to get a scheme to go off.
But asking for help comes with a price, often paid in gold but sometimes in other deals. But the devious nature of the game states that no agreement is binding and there is no rule saying you have to honor your word. That's where the more interesting player interactions come in.
The next phase is the market phase, where cards are dealt out and players bid their gold for them. These could be weapons gladiators can use in combat, gladiators themselves (including the title hero), slaves or guards for your house.
Finally comes the arena phase where the "host" player (the first player each turn, this is something you bid gold for) chooses two players who must each send a gladiator into the arena. Wagers are then made on which will win and even if warriors might be seriously injured or even decapitated.
The combat system in the arena is smooth and flows well. Each gladiator has a rating of dice for movement, offense and defense. When gladiators sustain wounds, they must choose to lose dice from these pools. The last one standing wins.
Since all players can wager on the outcome of the gladiator battle, it keeps everyone invested in the action and creates those great gaming moments where the whole table reacts to the action in the arena.
The game retails for $40, a great price considering the quality of the components. Most games like this from bigger companies would cost $60 or more. Be warned that due to the content of the game it is not for kids. Also, it is three-player minimum and plays best with four.
But all of that said, the game is a gem. Each time out it plays differently and the devious interactions with the other players coupled with the unpredictable nature of the gladiator events make it a winner.
Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club appears every week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Check out his "Nerdherders" podcast on iTunes or www.3nerds.us. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.