Clash of the Gladiators
English language edition
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The audience is jubilant, the arena is full to the very last place, and already the fearless gladiators enter the arena to face other gladiators and various wild animals.
In the clash of the gladiators, the players assemble teams of gladiators to do battle in the arena. Only the strongest and smartest teams will survive. Although dice are used to resolve the battles, it is the make-up of the teams that is most important. The net casters are important for their ability to neutralize opposing gladiators. The spear holders are the fastest gladiators and determine how many dice the team rolls in battle. The swordsmen are important for their ability to protect the team from simple hits. Finally, the prong bearer is important as he can enable a team to re-roll the dice to try to improve the result. Beware, however, the second roll is the one that counts, even if it is not as good as the first, so players should not get too greedy.
Thus, the battles range from round to round with successful teams taking ever more space in the arena -- at the end, only the gladiators of the strongest player remain.
Clash of the Gladiators -- a fast-paced game of wits and chance for the prize of the emperor's wealth!
Notes: These rules make the game more interesting by making the non-swordsman units BETTER than swordsmen in many cases, thus making team composition more interesting. It also cuts down on the luck factor by adding more dice rolling to even out the rolls. Finally, the No Dogpiling rule cuts down on the unrealistic tactic of beating on a last mover weak team before it even gets to act.
1. Tougher Gladiators: All Gladiators take 3 hits, not 2, to kill them.
2. Everybody Fights: Every Gladiator adds one dice to the roll, except Swordsmen, who add 2 dice to the roll.
3. No Team dice: There is no additional collective Team dice.
4. Defense: Shield-Bearers can stop one hit roll, either a full hit or a simple hit (two red stars or one yellow star). Cannot stop two yellow stars, just one.
5. No Dogpiling: Put a marker on any team that gets attacked. Remove it when the players turn starts again. Teams with markers on them cannot be attacked. This rule does not apply if a player has no other targets on the board he can attack.
6. Animals Are not Wimps: Add one hit point and one die roll (sword) to every animal. Animal shield symbols work like shield-bearer powers, they can stop one full hit or one simple hit, (two red stars or one yellow).
EDITOR'S NOTE: This review first appeared in Moves Magazine.
It seems many folks remain fascinated by the civilization of Rome. Even though that empire ceased to exist over 1500 years ago, the modern world is still flooded with books, movies and articles on this fascinating empire and the impact it has had on western society. Even our beloved hobby of board games has borrowed heavily from this time period, with dozens of games utilizing themes somehow connected to the glory of Rome.
Back in the 1970’s, Battleline released a package containing two games set in Rome – Gladiator and Circus Maximus. Avalon Hill subsequently purchased many games from the Battleline family, including these two, which they released as separate titles. I remember thoroughly enjoying these two games, but, alas, they have begun to show their age a bit.
Back in 2001, a group of my gaming friends had the opportunity to playtest a new game at Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends from prolific German game designer Reiner Knizia. The game was tentatively titled Clash of the Gladiators and involved mortal combat between gladiators in the amphitheaters of ancient Rome. Even an assortment of nasty, carnivorous beasts were involved in the struggles. Sounds fierce and intense, doesn’t it? Well, apparently that was not the case as the group had a rollicking good time, claiming afterwards that the game was very light and filled with dice rolling, but also loads of fun to play. Sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to try it, but my interest was certainly piqued.
At the 2002 edition of the Gathering of Friends, Clash of the Gladiators had just been released and a few copies were available for play. I managed to play it a few and actually was a bit disappointed. My friends were certainly spot-on regarding their description – very light with lots of dice rolling. There really isn’t much in the realm of strategic planning or tactics. This one falls squarely in the “roll the dice and bash your opponents” category, what is often described as a "beer & pretzels" game. In the right mood with the right crowd, this is a fine fit for this genre. If you’re looking for a detailed simulation of gritty, hand-to-hand gladiatorial combat, however, you won’t find it here. That is really not very surprising considering German games tend to minimize violence and combat. Further, the game’s designer has a reputation for being VERY opposed to violence and combat in his other games is nearly always depicted in a very abstract manner. Even in this game, the rules never claim that gladiators are killed. Rather, players capture them and place them in their "holding pens". OK ...
So what about the components? Unlike most German games, there’s a lot of cardboard in this game and not a single wooden cube in sight. Fortunately, the cardboard is thick and appears very durable. The board graphics are functional, but rather uninspiring. I’d love to see what a company like Eagle Games could have done for a game such as this one. I picture some really neat gladiator and animal miniatures and a gorgeous map of the coliseum in Rome. Oh, well, this one does serve the purpose. Rounding out the components are the dice, wooden ‘hit’ counters and 20 light-weight plastic bases, each containing space for four gladiators.
Players begin the game by forming three teams of gladiators, each consisting of four individuals. The recruitment pool consists of the following types of gladiators:
Spear Holders - The team with the most spear holders has the initiative and rolls the battle dice first. If tied, the attacker rolls first.
Net Casters - The Retarius. For each net caster in a team, the player can neutralize an opponent's gladiator. That gladiator isn't dead (err ... removed), but he cannot participate in the current combat. He can, however, be removed as a casualty.
Swordsmen - For each swordsman in a team, the player rolls one more battle die in combat.
Prong Bearers - The team that has the most prong bearers may re-roll the battle dice once. However, the player MUST accept the results of the second roll.
Shield Carriers - Each shield carrier in a team blocks one simple hit.
Choosing which gladiators to add to your teams is the main element of strategy in the game. A wide variety of combinations are available. Do you want to field an offensive juggernaut filled with four swordsmen, or do you prefer a strategy of disabling your opponent’s gladiators with a few net casters? If you would like to block a hit or two, then you must add some shield carriers. Want to improve your chances of getting a good roll? If so, then you might want to consider a prong bearer or two. Rolling first in a conflict can be very advantageous, so don’t overlook those spear holders.
What team is best? Really, that’s hard to say. Swordsmen are certainly very important since they are the only gladiators that can actually inflict hits on your opponents. I also tend to add a net caster and a shield carrier to a team, but I’ve seen some players load up on swordsmen for offensive firepower. These teams can be countered, though, by the use of teams that contain a net casters and a spear holders, so they are not invincible. I don’t think there is one omnipotent team formation, which does help keep things interesting.
Once all players have formed their teams and positioned them into the arena, the battle begins. Players take turns assaulting neighboring gladiator teams or animals. A player cannot move a gladiator team unless there are no animals or teams in adjacent spaces OR the team has 3 or fewer gladiators remaining. Thus, early on, you are usually fighting neighboring teams or animals.
A battle is very simple. Determine initiative (the team with the most spear holders rolls the dice first), neutralize opponent's gladiators if you possess net casters in your team, then roll the dice. Each team rolls a number of dice equal to the number of swordsmen present in their team plus one. The dice depict single stars (a single hit), double stars (two hits) or blanks (no hits). It takes two hits to dispatch a gladiator and up to 4 to eliminate an animal. Single-star hits accumulate on a gladiator team (and are marked with appropriate counters) until two hits are achieved, which results in the elimination of a gladiator. A full hit (2 stars) cannot be blocked and immediately eliminates a gladiator. Both players roll the appropriate number of dice, results are applied and the combat round ends. If a team loses its final gladiator, the base is removed and the victor must occupy that space.
Gladiators lost in combat are given to the opposing player, who keeps them in his 'holding pen'. Each gladiator captured is worth 1 point, while conquered animals are worth 2 points. Further, any surviving gladiators are added to the player's holding pen at the end of the game and are also worth 1 point each.
If a player loses his final gladiator team, he is not out of the game. Rather, he can now control animals and use them to attack opponent's gladiators. A player can use any of the animals already in the arena, or may add a new beast. Any gladiators he dispatches while attacking with animals are added to his holding pen. Often, if you only have one or two gladiators remaining, it is a wise choice to cause them to be eliminated so you can then control a more powerful animal.
After one round of combat, play then rotates to the next player. This entire procedure continues until only one player has gladiators remaining, at which time the game concludes. Players tally the value of their holding pens to determine the winner.
Yes, after the initial selection of gladiators, the game is fairly mindless. Bash your opponents and hope you get lucky with the dice. Other than a few minor and usually obvious decisions, there is not much more to it than that. It does require a certain 'mind adjustment' to play. Forget strategic options, clever tactical moves, etc. Enter with the idea that you'll be rolling lots of dice and hopefully causing lots of carnage. Perform your best Kirk Douglas, Victor Mature or Russell Crowe gladiator imitation and have fun. With the right attitude, this game can be fun ... especially if you have a lust for blood, a desire to test your worth in the arena … and it is very late at night!
You shrewdly customize your chariots with four gladiators from the communal supply of five types. They, together with ferocious animals, fill the Arena. Each turn, you must attack an adjacent space. The different gladiators on each fighting team, or the gladiatorial strengths of attacked animals, determine who strikes first, which enemy gladiators are temporarily disabled, and who can refuse his first roll and try again. For each strike rolled, you acquire an enemy gladiator and hold it off the board, as you do with conquered beasts; both earn you points at the end. Most points wins when the brawls are all finished because only one player's gladiators remain. Belligerent boardgamers may never play anything else again!
One of my favourite games from the early eighties was Circus Maximus from Avalon Hill. It appeared in 1980 and a year later the same designer, developer, publisher combination produced a companion game called Gladiator. The subject matter was promising, the designer had shown he could deliver and the development team was top drawer. It ought to have been fun, but it wasn't. Not even close. Bogged down with bookkeeping and typical wargamer's minutiae, it was one of the dullest games imaginable. What the topic needed was a bit more "Take that, you swine" and a lot less
"13.1 A gladiator must perform a KN or RO standard move in the the first movement phase in which he can move following a prone result."
It has taken twenty years -- which is strange, when you consider how many chariot racing games we have had in that time -- but an entertaining gladiator game is finally available and from a somewhat unexpected source. We all know that the designer comes up with light games as well as deep ones and no company which has Affenbande on its CV can claim to be totally free of a frivolous streak, but in combination you are expecting a strategy game when Reiner Knizia and Hans im Glck get together. Not this time. There is enough flavour to justify the theme and enough in the way of tactics to stop it being totally mindless, but in the final analysis this is a game about rolling dice, cheering when the results go your way and groaning when they don't.
The board shows an arena, divided into 17 areas. At the start of the game each of these areas will contain either a gladiator team or a wild animal and each player will control either 3 or 4 of the gladiator teams, which they will have put together from the various types of fighter that are available. It is then a matter of attacking adjacent targets and scoring points for the men and animals that you eliminate.
A team consists of 4 gladiators and the player putting it together has free choice from a list consisting of spearmen, net throwers, trident carriers, shield carriers and swordsmen. Spearmen determine which side hits first but don't do any actual fighting; net throwers are used to disable an opposing gladiator for the duration of the fight; trident carriers give you the option of re-rolling the dice and shield carriers block non-critical hits. Only the swordsmen actually inflict damage. The fighting capabilty of the animals is recorded on the pieces by symbols which correspond to the various gladiator types, with the exception of the net thrower. Most animals have 4 such symbols and so their fighting ability is comparable with that of a gladiator team.
On your turn you nominate one of your teams and select an adjacent target. To resolve the battle you first count the number of spears on each side. The one with most has the initiative, becomes "the attacker" and will throw first. Since strikes are not simultaneous, this is a significant advantage. In the event of a tie the player on turn goes first. Now the net throwers come in. Each tangles an opposing gladiator of their choice in his net, removing him from the fight. They have no effect if the opposition is a wild animal. The attacker now throws special dice, a basic one die for the team plus one extra die for each swordsman in it. The dice have three blank sides, two which show a yellow star and one which shows two red stars. Yellow stars are ordinary hits and red ones critical hits. If you aren't satisfied with the result, you can re-roll once for each trident carrier in the team. However, if you do re-roll you must accept the modified result, even if it is worse than the one you rejected. Each shield carrier on the opposing team nullifies one ordinary hit but can't do anything about critical ones. For each two stars in the net result the target team loses a gladiator, their choice which one. If the net result had an odd number of stars, a yellow star is put in the space as a wound to be carried over to the next combat. The non-attacker now strikes back by throwing for each swordsman they have left. The only difference in if an animal is involved is that they have a variable number of hit points (between 1 and 4) as opposed to the standard 2 of human fighters.
After the one round of combat it is on to the next player's turn and this continues until either all the wild animals have been defeated or only one player has any gladiators remaining. Players score 1 point for each gladiator they eliminated and 2 for each wild animal. Most points wins.
The potential drawback with elimination games is that one or more players will find themselves reduced to a spectator role before the finish, but that doesn't happen here. Should you find yourself with no gladiators to fight with on your turn, you select one of the surviving wild animals and fight with that instead, scoring points in the usual way for any casualties that you inflict.
As you can see, this has no pretension to being a deep game, but it is true to its theme, it is fun and for the "end of evening" spot offers a nice change from the usual "small card game".