Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery (Review)

I’ve been meaning to do this review for quite a while now, and being as recently this game has been hitting our groups table a lot once again, I thought I’d better share my thoughts on it. As I’ve had this game for a while now, I have also acquired both the “Serpents and the Wolf” expansion set, as well as the recently released set of promo cards available from the GailForce nine web store.
My thoughts on both of those, and what they add to the base game will also be included in my ramblings.

So to start off, here’s a quick game description of what the game is about from the publisher:
“In Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery, an exciting game of twisted schemes and bloody combats inspired by the hit STARZ Original series, each player takes on the role of Dominus, head of a rising house in the ancient Roman city of Capua. Each house is competing for Influence to gain the favor of Rome. Through a combination of political schemes and glorious battles on the arena sands your house will rise in fame and stature. As Dominus, you have a variety of resources at your disposal. Guards protect you from schemes launched by rivals. Slaves run your household and earn gold. Gladiators compete to bring glory to themselves and influence to their Dominus.”

The first thing I’d better address before I get into my thoughts on the different aspects of the game is that, as mentioned above, this game is based off of a TV series, a fact that usually sets off the alarm bells and sends people running for the hills in avoidance of such games! But fear not, for this game is different, and is in fact, a very good game!

So before I get on to the actual game play, what else makes this a good game? Well first of all, is the theme. I myself am a fan of the show, so the fact that all the roman houses the players play as, as well as all the slave/gladiator assets which players can buy and trade are actual characters with beautiful corresponding artwork from the show is fantastic! Along with obviously the arena combat, the backstabbing nature of the game, allowing you to play evil schemes to outdo your opponents really fits nicely with the whole feel of the show. But what if you’ve never seen the show? Well none of my game group has seen the show either but they too love this game. Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, while playing the game you can really get immersed into feeling like you’re in the role of a Lanista, acquiring new gladiators to pit against one another, while wheeling and dealing your way to the top.

Also there’s the games production value. The base game cost me around £30, which is on the lower end of a decent board games price range these days, but with that you get an abundance of good quality components which I would have gladly paid the higher end for. All the included cards, boards and tokens come with nice artwork, and are of a very good stock which will last. Considering they are pawns for a board game, the base game also includes 4 nice gladiator minis to use in the arena.

So how does it play? Well, the game is split into three phases of play, the first of these is “The Intrigue Phase". Now the intrigue phase is a screw you type mini card game where players use their Scheme cards, hoping to raise their fortunes while undermining their rivals. All schemes cost influence, and the players use their influence to put their Schemes into play, often asking for (or bribing) another player’s help in using higher powered cards. Although this phase is essentially a simple play card/react to card mini game, the phase is extremely fun. Not only can you see the look on you friends faces when you play nasty schemes on them, this phase is also great opportunity for making and breaking alliances through bribery and pandering, and a chance to extort as much gold as possible out of your opponents.

The second phase is “The Market Phase”, and this is when players buy, sell and trade Assets (Gladiators, Slaves, Equipment and Guards) with each other. After this, players also bid against each other to acquire new assets at auction, and thus a great opportunity to players to bluff and bargain with each other to acquire the Assets they covet.

The auction itself is a simple case of flipping over new cards from a market deck, and then each player putting an amount of gold they want to bid into their hands, which is then simultaneously revealed with the highest bidder winning the asset.

Then lastly we have “The Arena Phase” where the bloody games are held. The gladiatorial games are represented by a simple miniature combat system on the arena board, where gladiators from two rival houses are invited and pitted against each other in a brutal fight for glory. Now if you’re looking for an in depth tactical gladiatorial miniatures game, then I suggest you look elsewhere, as these fights are only a third of the overall game, and thus they are quick and simple. Fighters pit their Attack, Defence and Speed dice against one another in a “risk” like dice system, comparing dice strings to determine wounds. Wounds are then taken from the players in the form of dice, so in essence, the more wounds you take, the less dice you have to roll, and thus represents your gladiator getting weaker. Though fairly simple, I do like the way the combat system works as a whole, and they do make for some interesting fights at times. Its simplicity allows for non experienced gamers to play comfortably, and its quickness aids in the overall play of the game. Fighters who emerge from the arena victorious gain favour while their Dominus gain influence. But that’s not all, the loser’s lives are then subject to the whim of the crowd through the old thumbs up, thumbs down, while other players can also seek to increase their fortunes in this phase by betting on the outcome of matches.

So that’s roughly how the games played, and overall I have to say I really love this game! I truly believe there’s a little something for everyone in this game, as a lot of the things I like about other board games are inbuilt within the different phases. First there's a nice little card game, then a bid/trading game followed by a simple, yet effective miniatures game. Even though at first glance the individual phases seem just like fairly simple mini games strung together (which they are), it's the way they all gel together and flow nicely into a single game which makes the whole thing great. Having fun playing simple cards on one another in the first phase can be a blast, but this can also affect the treasury of other players, which can have a huge impact on a players ability to bid effectively during the market phase. The simple market phase is also fun in itself, and being able to buy good gladiators obviously improves your chances when your gladiators take to the arena!

Before I get on to talk expansions, I have to add that a few of the cards have choice words on them, hence the mature content rating on the box, but don’t let that put you off, as I highly recommend this game!!!

Ok expanding the game. First of all there is the“Serpents and the Wolf” expansion set, and I believe this is a great add on to the base game. It basically adds more of the same to game, providing new slave/gladiators from the show, a whole bunch of new scheme cards for the intrigue phase and a shed load more dice (you do get quite a few already in the base box). Accompanied with two new miniatures, it also adds two new playable houses to the mix, thus allowing the game to go from a 3-4 player game up to a six player game. The expansion also adds a few new rules which allow for 2 vs. 2 arena combat. Overall I personally think this is a must buy if you like this game, but by no means essential, and at the price of roughly £20, well worth it. In fact, £50 combined for the base game plus the expansion is fairly good, as I would have happily paid that alone for what you get in the base game!

Next up are the recently released promo cards. Five nice new gladiators for the game which are priced at $10 plus shipping on the GailForce nine web store.
A bit pricey for five cards, but then I’m used to playing MtG, so steep card prices is nothing new to me! Other than being five powerful gladiators, unlike the expansion, they don’t add anything new really to the game, so not an essential purchase unless like me, you really love the game, and want everything available for it!


  1. Great Review. Sounds like a great game and as you mentioned caters to a lot of tastes. I wish someone would do a post apocalyptic version of this game. It would be brilliant.

    When are you going to paint up those miniatures?

    1. Thanked Simon,
      I may get round to painting them at some point, and mabe redoing the board as a terrain piece! I have been seriously considering starting a gladiator project since I got this game

  2. Not really my thing, but it does sound very nice.

    1. It's definitely worth checking out should you get the chance to play a game

  3. Good review nd exactly tyhe sort of game I would love play, after all who doesn't like gladiators. ?
    Couple of quick questions:
    How do you win
    How long to play a four player game (about) /

    1. Cheers Joe,
      In order to win you have to get your influence total up to 12. This is done through a combination of hosting or winning fights, special abilities that each house has or through intrigue cards. In fact you can still win even if you never fight in the arena. A full game, starting at 1 influence takes my group about 2 hours, but you can adjust how long you want to play for by adjusting the level of influence everyone starts with. In the rulebook it does have suggestions on how much to start on depending whether you want a short/med/long game.

    2. Thought I'd also mention that if you follow the link I posted, under the game play section, they also have the rulebook available you to peruse through