Yesterday, I got to try Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery
for the first time. The game bear its name well!
Based on the STARZ TV series, it's a deep game that's not afraid to also be trashy and gory because it can. In that way, it's a great fit for the TV series.
You start the game Dominus of a ludus with a few starting gladiators. I was House Batiatus.
But much like Batiatus in the show, you won't stop until your influence opens you the gates of Rome and leaves your opponents bleeding on the sands of the arena.
What makes the game so intriguing is that it's the sum of very different parts that somehow mesh to really evoke managing a ludus and fighting to be noticed by Rome.
There is an Maintenance
phase where you need to maintain your ludus and heal your fighters' wounds (or watch them die).
It's followed by a card based Intrigue
phase where shifting alliances allow you to play schemes and try and raise yourself above the others. But doing so makes you a target. Counter schemes and house guards can help the others foil those attempts and get their own back. Choose wisely who to bribe and who to betray.
Then you get to visit the Market
and place hidden bids on whatever comes up for auction. Do you bid all your money on that tempting Gladiator or the weapon that might save his life? Do you need more house slaves to generate income and/or carry out actions on your behalf? Or should you keep your money to bid to become the Host of the games in the next phase? Every decision is agonising.
Finally, there are the games
. There is much honour bestowed to the Host.
and power. Who shall they invite to fight in the arena? Will they accept? Will players try and bribe the host to be or not to be picked for the fight?
And then the gladiators fight!
The fighting takes place on a tactical grid and is where the dice come out. Players place bets on victory or on more gruesome outcomes like injury or even decapitation
If the defeated gladiator doesn't die, the Host has power of life or death on them (though killing a favoured champion would cost them influence).
And all that is just 1 turn of the game. Then it starts all over again!
Throughout the whole game, players can barter, make and break alliances and stab each other in the back... if they aren't afraid of the consequences.
It's quite the experience.
I wouldn't play it with novice players who can't bear to spend time listening to an overview of the rule. And as the game owner, you really would have to spend time online getting familiar with the rules before trying to explain them to anyone.
But we were lucky and had someone with experience to explain the rules. And we had a lot of fun with the way all those parts mesh together. I've never played anything quite like it. You might get cross at people you thought were your friends though.
It's gruesome. It's mean. It's full of intrigue. It's totally Spartacus.