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Subject: First Impressions - Four men and a lion rss

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Mark Iradian
Canada
Ontario
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You would assume with the way geeks are, Gladiators would be a common theme next to Zombies, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. After all, shooting zombies and raiding dungeons seem to be a national violent pastime. With a theme about two barely clothed guys trapped in arena with their only tools being an awesome looking helmet and a sword, this violent backdrop would serve as a perfect vehicle for geek entertainment, yet the Gladiator theme is a barely explored theme.

Come Gladiatori, a game made in the far lands of Italy where nice cars, shoes, and women are made. This luckless card-driven game pits your tailored Gladiator to jump into the fray and stab as much people as possible to gain the most honour amongst his peers.

However, this is not an easy game to get into. It is complex not by execution of the mechanics, but understanding why they are there. Going through the usual turn structure is easy, the complexity of the game is understanding why those mechanics are put into place.

Let’s first start with cards themselves. You have four green action cards, dozens of 0 and 1 energy cards, eight yellow “Special Move” cards, a Feint card, and Blue Item cards. The game also comes with character sheets where your character will have three prime abilities: Endurance, Offense, and Defense. There are also skills called Blood and Speed. Finally, there are also “Powers” your characters can activate that are one-time use only.

Each card in the game’s “system” has numerous functions and there is where most of the complexity kicks in. Simply put, each card can serve multiple purposes and the key to winning in Gladiatori is when to use that card in the right situation.

Now this review isn’t going to full detail about the rulebook, since you can download it here at BGG, but I will a summary on how the game works.

First you will use a pre-made or create your own character. Each card lists the cost of the card to ‘acquire’ and the abilities/skills can also be purchased. Once your character is created, you can play all sorts of different modes depending on the number of players. 2 players can be a 1 v 1 with beasts entering the Arena, while 4 players can be 2 v 2 or a complete free for all.

Once your Gladiator is created, it’s time to start. First, each player must set up their “Hit Points” deck. Each card in your custom deck has a HP value, and you have set these cards aside for this specific round. This is very important because you have to balance between offense or defense strategies. If you want to play safe, you can stack a lot of cards in the HP deck, but you won’t have much offense (therefore, less victory points) to attack your opponents. On the other hand, start too low, and a nasty attack can you send you to a very early death. This decision is just one of the many interesting decisions you will need to make in Gladiatori.

After your HP is setup, it’s time to start. First you must decide if you want to move your character using Speed points, or pass. Once you pass that, you play your Action card. This is a green card and everyone has the exact same four. You have one for Movement, Berserk, Strength, and Dexterity. Movement is straightforward, whereas the other three is where things get interesting.

First, if you plan on attacking, you need to be facing their direction and adjacent to them. After you are in position, you pick Berserk/Strength/Dexterity card and place it facedown. You can also “boost” your offensive action by putting in Red Combat Cards (Energy/Special move cards) along with your Green action card. Once you lay the cards down, your opponent will play a card in response to your attack, and put down their combat cards if they need to do. Once both sides lay down their card, they are revealed and the calculations come in to see who has the higher value.

This is where another interesting aspect of the game comes in. Each Action card has their own of getting their value. Strength comes from the 1 energy cards placed down. Berserk comes from Blood Points, where 1 point is +3 on Attack Value but you cannot spend more than 3. Finally, Dexterity is based on the number of cards in your hand. Every two cards is +1 attack value. After this is calculated, you add your items, and if you want, you can also add your Offensive Skill to the attack.

The defense then responds by revealing their card and just like the Offense, their Defense Value is based on what they play. If the Defense Card matches the Offense Card, they get a +5 bonus. Berserk Defense gives a simple +5 defense value. Strength Defense is based on the Energy cards, with each 1 Energy card giving +2 defense value. Dexterity is based on Hand Size as well, just like when it is used offensively. The Movement card can be used as a Defensive action (via Dodging) by splitting the opponent’s Attack Value by half but any defensive items are ignored.

Compare the two values, and if the Attack Value is higher than the Defensive Value, it hits. If it is equal or lower, than it misses. If hit, the damage is based on how many cards were committed to the attack (the green Action card plus the red Combat cards). This is a key element because you control how much you want to focus on hitting your target, and how much you want to focus on hurting your opponent, especially with certain action cards like Dexterity. Even 0 energy cards, that are useless to playing a Strength attack for Attack Value, still damage at the end if the attack goes through.

While this doesn’t sound much, there is a lot more going on here as I barely scratched the surface of the system. For example, you can play cards that you previously played beforehand by spending Blood Points, with older cards being more expensive than others. Another key thing is that cards you used are discarded, including the Green Action cards at the end of the turn, and getting them back requires you to spend your turn Recovering or by using your Endurance. There are also Special Moves and Powers that allow you to modify your basic attacks and once-per-game rulebreakers. There is simply a lot to examine and again, I would highly suggest reading the rulebook on BGG to understand more.

So what do I think of this? This is probably one of the most thematic and tactical Gladiator games I have ever played. While the system can be a little confusing, especially with the rulebook jumping from one mechanic to another, it’s a system that forces checks and balances to the players. If you decide to do numerous string of high damage attacks, you’ll find yourself forcing yourself to sit out of the fight to regain your cards with low Endurance or constantly wasting your turn recovering. Have very predictable strategies and your opponents will block every attack attempt you lay on them.

Another interesting feature is how Victory Points work. In Gladiatori, you are rewarded for being aggressive and playing in a “proper manner.” You get victory points for simply attacking the opponent (hit or blocked), dealing damage, and drawing First Blood. You lose Victory Points by running away from your opponent and attacking them in the back. This VP system fixes the numerous problems that these Gladiator type of games have where movement is often very dominant (looking at you Spartacus).

Because of this VP system, even in a four player free for all, I didn't notice anyone ganging on one person unless they made themselves a target (e.g. facedown with nasty penalties, or everyone knows their character is very tired)

To me, the game shines when the Special Moves and Powers come into player. The game is pretty mundane if you stuck with the basic green attack actions. However, by adding crazy Special Moves that hit multiple targets like Sweep or Powers that make you live another turn before your dying breath, the game becomes an interesting cat and mouse between four people.

So would I recommend this? Yes. If you can get through the questionable rulebook and get used to the mechanics, you’ll find a system that is very flexible with all sorts of different characters and rewards successfully reading your opponent instead of rolling high results on a die that is often accompanied with games like this.
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Michele Quondam
Italy
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Ty for the nice review.

I hope the 2.0 rulebook i'm making will help ppl to learn the game

Will be ready next week (now is there a beta version).

Mike
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David Reed
Canada
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Ontario
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Hi Mark,

Thanks for the review.

I am one of those people that bought the game, but could not get through the rule book, let alone convince someone else to play.

I see you are in Ontario, so if you ever go to one of the game events around Hamilton, it would be great if you could help me learn the game some time.

D.
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Giandomenico Martorelli
Italy
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Good review. David if you need some help for learning the game you can ask me by private message.
 
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