Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Michele Quondam


No. of Players:
1 - 4



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Michele Quondam is one of my favourite game authors of the last years since his games are always perfectly elaborated. Sometimes they are complex like Rio de la Plata, sometimes they are reduced to the minimum like The Forgotten Planet. The new game Gladiatori is one of the complex ones and is about - who could not guess it - gladiator fights.

However, before playing started I first I learned something new about gladiator fights: on some of the cards of the game female fighters are displayed, and and one of the miniatures is a female, too. At the SPIEL 2012 I asked the author whether this was right, and I was confirmed that there were indeed some woman fighters acting as gladiators in ancient Rome. So the stronger sex was not so dominate in the Roman times as it sometimes seems to be.


Unlike some other games about gladiators in the last years Gladiatori is purely focussed on the fights. So we take the roles of gladiators and crowd the arena with our miniatures to see which gladiator will be victorious. For the most part Gladiatori is a card game and the miniatures of the gladiators move, attack and defend by playing a set of cards. To see who is in attacking range the gladiator miniatures are moved on hexagonal fields on the arena board. This does not only look nice, but it has also an important function, because you always know in which direction your gladiator looks, who is front of you and who could attack from behind (those mean cowards). Players may move their miniatures freely around and so it is possible and normal that a round passes with the players only warily watching each other, before one of the players has the nerve to attack.

A "full" game starts with the creation of our gladiators. Similar to the creation of a hero in a role play game, you can distribute a given number of points between your character's various skills and abilities, and you can also use these points to influence the amount of energy cards, special moves, weapons and armours which will be given to the gladiator at the beginning of the game. This process is quite easy, but if you do not know the game it will be hard to decide whether, for example, it is better to have a high endurance skill or many blood points. That's why you also can start with pre-designed characters, something which is always wise if someone is unfamiliar with the game.


Next to the cards we "bought" or were assigned we get a hand of four standard action cards. These cards are our main means for attacking and defending: With the strength action a player can attack a target and he gains a bonus to the attack for each energy card spent. In contrast, the dexterity action also can be used for attacking, but here the character gains a bonus of half the number of his hand cards. The movement action can be used for a free movement of up to three hexes and for the berserk action a player gains bonus for Blood points spent of his character's abilities.

All in all, there are action, energy, special movement and feint cards in the game. At the beginning of each round, we have to choose which of these cards we want to hold in our hands. A player can choose as many cards as he wants, but on the other hand all cards that were not chosen for the hand are added to our available hit points for that round. Dare-devils might choose all cards for their hands to have a big brunch of cards for their actions, but I learned that is much wiser to have a good balance between hand cards and hit points, because without enough hit points life might be quite short indeed. A good advice is always to think about what could happen in the following combat round. If movement is not in demand, because you expect all your enemies to be in a good distance, you can put all cards that are important for the movement phase aside to bolster your hit points. But of course this is easier said than done, because all action cards are multifunctional and can be used for moving/attacking and for defending...

The following combat rounds are the core of the game. In each turn there are two of these combat rounds. In player order, the gladiators first can spend some of their speed points to make an additional movement. After that the player in turn can play an action card and add cards to this action for providing damage points to an attack or to do a special move. If an attack and not only a movement is declared, the defending player now can play defending cards from his hand. As all of these cards are played face-down, the defender does not know for sure what action card the attacker has played and what his attacking value will be. Bluffing (or feinting if you have this special card) is an important element in the game, because if the defender plays the same card type as the attacker he gains an additional bonus of 5 for his defending value. So it can be wise to put some additional cards to a dexterity attack, even if the attacking bonus would be higher with more cards in the attacker's hand (as said, the attacking bonus is equal to half the number of the cards left in the player's hand), only to let the defender think that you played a strength action...


Next to the bonus of the cards themselves the attacking and defending value is influenced by the weapons and armours the gladiators possess. Last but not least a player may spend some points of his offensive or guard skill. If a player decides to add this skill, the current value of the skill is added to the attacking or defending value and after the action the skill's value is reduced by one. If the final attacking value is higher than the defending value, the defender is injured. Then again the damage points are determined by the number of cards the attacker has played. Damage is always taken from the cards that were taken away from the hand at the beginning of the round. These cards are permanently lost. In contrast, the cards played for an action are put in front of the player and can be used once more by spending blood points, and at the end of the round they are taken away to the discard pile where they can be recovered.

Some special moves or items can also alter the status of a gladiator, so that you can fall down or be trapped by the famous gladiator net. These special abilities are limited, but they can enormously influence the game play if they are used at the right moment.

After the combat phase it is time to rest. In this phase the players can fully or partially restore their powers (skills, abilities and cards on his discard pile) by spending points of their endurance skill. Like the offensive and the guard skill the current value is taken and can be used for recovering cards form the discard pile and skills, but again the value of the endurance skill is reduced by one if it is used. But unlike the other skills this cannot be restored again, so the ability to recover reduces as the gladiator fight goes on (thus simulating the gladiators becoming more and more tired). The blood points and speed points also cannot be recovered by this way - only if a player does a standby action (plays a card with no effect in the combat round), he is able to do a recovery of these two abilities. As you can see, the whole combat procedure is very complex, but that is exactly what makes the game so very realistic.

The aim of the game is to entertain the crowd. And the crowd wants to see a hard but fair fight. So victory points are given for each attack, but if you cowardly attack from behind the crow gives a testy reply and you even loose victory points. The same applies to gladiators who run away. In the end it is possible to win the game even if your gladiator was killed in the fight, but for those gladiators who are lucky to survive Gladiatori provides an opportunity to play a campaign with the surviving gladiators getting experience points that they can spend for additional creation points in the next game.

As already said, the game seems to be quite complex at the beginning. I had to learn that it is no good advice to introduce it to new gamers late in the evening since some of my friends just gave up after the first round due to the game's complexity. Also, I have to say that you need at least one try-out to learn how the game works, and I would not recommend the creation of your own gladiators until three or four games have been played. So, the game more suitable for hobbyist gamers and can definitely not be recommended for casual players. But if you let yourself in for the learning process, Gladiatori can wake a wonderful passion! There is also a way to play solo, so that you can hone your skills and test new gladiators.

For me, Gladiatori is a very realistic and interesting game adaption of the gladiatorial fights. This is especially true since the game offers many ways of alteration. For example, there is the option to put additional animals into the arena, thus spicing up the fight. Once again Michele Quondam has proven his skills as a game designer, something which sadly cannot be said about the company which was hired to produce the miniatures which were intended to be included. They failed to produce enough of the coloured plastic miniatures you see on the first picture above (a picture from the fair in Essen), so a lot of players like me only got a box without minis. But all is well that ends well, because now there will be metal miniatures that you see on the picture below, and to my mind these look even better!


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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany