Got some extra time on my hands due to the "snowquestration" here in the DC area. So, I figured I could sneak in another blog post.
Our local gaming group has been getting together after work one day a week for a while now...something we whimsically call the "After School Special" (remember what I said previously about acronyms....) We've moved around the day of the week, but currently we try to get together on Tuesday evenings at the Game Parlor in Chantilly. Tuesdays are good because the Game Parlor advertises that as their "board game night", so you usually get a bunch of folk in there, and if we need another player or two to round out the game, we can usually find a few.
Last night, due to various other commitments, only Mike R. and I were committed to showing up at the Game Parlor. However, the last few weeks a fellow named Carson has been joining us, and sure enough he was there again. We grabbed a 4th guy by the name of Mason and jumped into a game that I'd picked up on reputation - Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery.
*****WARNING - USE OF ADULT LANGUAGE AHEAD*****
As mentioned in one of my Prezcon posts, I had picked up Spartacus based on reputation alone. Or rather, I had put it on my Christmas list, and some member of my family was kind enough to get it for me. I also attended a mini-demo at Prezcon, but the guy at the Gale Force 9 booth really focused just on the combat, which is only a part of the game. There's much more to the game than that. Now, the GF9 employee also explained that they had had a generic gladiator game designed, and only towards the end of the design process did they approach the producers of the Spartacus TV show and negotiate the rights to use the Spartacus theme. I've never seen the show, but I recently watched a few clips online to get a feel. This is an adult show, no question about it. If you remember Lucy Lawless from Xena and Battlestar Galactica fame, she is in this show apparently playing the matriarch of one of the leading families. And you get to see a lot more of Lucy than you ever did in Xena or BSG. A LOT more.
This adult content is reflected in the game - and I had heard about that in the reviews. In fact, on the cover of the box is a printed warning - "Mature Content, Recommended for ages 17+". I had flipped through the rulebook and cards upon first receiving the game, but didn't see any gratuitous nidity like I was half expecting. The adult content mostly comes from quotes from the show. In fact, when you open the box, there are quotes printed along the sides of the inner box. One is from the character of Gannicus - "There's only one way to become champion...never fucking lose." There were a few more examples of amusing - adult - quotes as we played the game.
So, if it's not just about combat, what is it about? The idea is that you take on the role of a Dominus, the head of a house in Capua. You're job is to lead your house to victory by amassing the most influence (i.e. VPs). The winner is the person who can end a certain phase with 12 influence. Now, we played the "quick" game, in which we all started at 7. You can play varying lengths by changing what influence level you start at. The game is broken into rounds, each of which has 4 phases.
Phase 1: Upkeep. This is the easiest phase, where you just perform some upkeep from previous rounds, and "balance the ledgers" - you get 1 gold income for each slave you own, and pay 1 gold for each gladiator.
Phase 2: Intrigue. This is probably the heart of the game. In this round, you play various intrigue cards, either to help yourself, or hurt other players. Or both. There are also cards to counter anything that is played against you. The key here is that cards require a certain amount of influence to play. If you do not have enough influence, you can negotiate deals with other players for them to lend you influence to play your cards. These deals can be gold exchanging hands, maybe giving someone a gladiator or slave...whatever. And of course, you don't necessarily have to honor the details...you can immediately backstab someone if you like.
Phase 3: Market. There are a few sub-phases to this. First is "Open Market", where players can trade and sell amongst themselves. After that is over, comes the auction, where new cards are flipped up and auctioned off. These can be gladiators, slaves, or equipment. Lastly, you bid on the right to act as "host", which means you will host the next gladiator combat, as well as be the first player to act until the next Market phase.
Phase 4: Arena. This is the actual combat. The host invites two houses to send a gladiator for combat. This may or may not include himself. Houses can accept or decline...although declining will result in loss of influence. Houses that accept choose one of their gladiators, equip him if possible, and send him to the arena. Combat is pretty simple. Each gladiator has 3 attributes - attack, defense and speed. Each number (from 1-5) signifies how many dice he will get for that attribute (red for attack, black for defense, blue for speed). Initiative is determined by rolling the blue dice...winner gets to determine who will go first that round. You have two things you can do - move and attack, and you can do them in whichever order you desire. Combat itself is simple...when in range, you can attack and roll your red dice. The other guy defends with his black dice. Match the dice up, highest to lowest, "Risk" style. However many attacks the defender did not block, he gets that many wounds. Wounds are tracked by removing that number of dice from your dice pool, of whichever color you choose. This of course, means your gladiator's effectiveness will decrease. You cannot remove all of one color until you are down to 1 of each. At that point, when you are attacked again, if you lose just 1 die, you are simply defeated. 2 dice, you are injured, all 3 dice, you are decapitated. I should mention that at the beginning of the combat, all players can bet on the outcome, and whether there will be an injury or decapitation. And at the end, assuming no decapitation, the Host can give the classic thumbs up/thumbs down for the loser (and accept bribes to do it one way or another).
So, how'd our game go? In short, I like this game quite a bit. As mentioned, we started at 7 influence. I think this tempered our wheeling and dealing a bit, as except for some really potent cards, by and large we all had enough influence to play most cards without asking for help. I raked in a lot of money on the first round...but alas no gladiators came up for auction (you start with some "starting" gladiators and slaves...but they're a bit ho-hum). Mason did get a javelin, which allowed him to attack from range 4 once per combat, using his speed dice as attack dice. I hosted the first game, and picked Mason and Mike to fight. Mason won with judicious use of that javelin.
Next auction, "Dolor" came out...this was one of two promo cards that I got at Prezcon. Dolor is a tough gladiator, with 5-3-4 ratings. After some serious bidding, he was old to Mason for 11 gold. In a subsequent auction, Spartacus (4-4-4) himself came out, and promptly bought him for 10 gold. At one point, my Spartacus got pitted against Dolor...bets came out leaning towards Dolor, and I bet heavy on myself...and the promptly used an intrigue card to make Mason switch out Dolor for a lesser gladiator. I had bet that I would injure the other buy, but I underestimated Spartacus, as I beheaded the hapless guy I was against.
The next gladiator I picked up was Gnaeus, who's special ability was "cruelty" wherein defeated opponents are auto-injured. His quote was (adult warning) "I will fuck your corpse". I never got back into contention after losing Spartacus but I did enjoy repeatedly telling Mike R. what I was going to do with his corpse.
In the end, Mason won by judicious use of Intrigue cards to gain 3 influence in 1 turn. I definitely need to get this game to the table again soon, perhaps for a longer game. And also, I need to break out the paintbrush and put some color on the minis that come with the game.
After Spartacus, we broke out Lords of Waterdeep, which Carson had never played. I was happy to play, since I hadn't got to at Prezcon. I had the lord that gives points for commerce and arcana quests. I drew the 25 point arcana quest at the beginning of the game, and I picked up the 25 point commerce quest in round 3 or so. I also completed the quest that gave me an extra 2 points per commerce quest. Mike put a mandatory quest on me, though that really screwed me up for a few rounds. I had just got to the point where I had the exact number of adventurers I needed to complete the 25 pt commerce quest, when he put the mandatory quest on me. Which meant I had to spend time collecting those 3 adventurers, and that set me back. I also had a couple of brainfarts, forgetting to complete a quest when I had the requirements...things like that. In the end, I completed both the 25 pt quests, plus a handful of others, but Mason's completion of the 25 pt skullduggery quest on the 7th round put him in the lead for good, and I finished about 12 pts behind in 2nd place.