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Subject: Enter the Arena Review by Simon Neale rss

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Simon Neale
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Enter the Arena

Designers: Max Mahaffa and Jonathan Oberto
Publisher: Promethean Games
Ages: 13+
Players: 2 - 4
Time: 20 minutes

Reviewed by Simon Neale
Review copy provided by Promethean Games

With a title of “Enter the Arena” there is little doubt that this card game takes on a theme of gladiatorial combat in a Roman amphitheatre. Enter the Arena was successfully funded via Kickstarter in November 2013 and consists of a deck of 71 cards (including 8 rules cards). All the cards are of good quality card stock and the artwork is reflects the bloody combat theme and may be the reasoning behind the 13+ age rating.

The rules supplied with the game are not particularly easy to follow and do not align with the full rule set supplied separately by Promthean Games, the former referring to Prowess cards and the latter to Event cards. In this review I will refer to the cards as Prowess cards and where there are rule differences then I will use the rules that came with the game. It took me some time to work out how the rounds of the game actually play out, especially when it came to taking a Prowess card, and a diagram of the player card interactions would have been helpful.

To set up the game each player is given an identical set of 8 cards, consisting of 3 Attack (values 1, 2 and 3); 3 Defence (values 1, 2 and 3) and 2 Style (values 1 and 2). Depending upon the number of players, each player also receives a number of Health Points ( 12 in a 2 player game rising to 16 in a 4 player game). If a player loses all his Health Points then he is eliminated from the game. To win the game a player needs to accumulate a total of 12 Style Points. The rules suggest using a pen and paper to keep track of both Health and Style Points during the game. In my games I used counters to track both, which added to the theme, either handing in Health Point counters when you took damage or being awarded Style counters. The 30 Prowess cards are shuffled and are placed face down as a draw pile. These Prowess cards offer one off special actions in Attack, Defence or Health.

A start player is determined and he takes the Round Leader card.
Place Phase: Each player chooses to play either an Attack or a Defence card and places it face down in front of him.
Reveal Phase: Then starting with the Round Leader and going clockwise each player turns over the card he has played. If it is an Attack card, then the player chooses the player who will be the target of his attack. At this time, he can add a Style card (value 1 or 2 Style Points) to the card, indicating that his gladiator is putting on a special performance for the Arena audience with his Attack or Defence manoeuvre. If his Attack or Defence is successful then the player will gain the number of Style Points on his card and pick up a Prowess card.
Prowess Phase: Once all players have revealed their cards and optionally added any Style cards, then starting with the Round Leader and going clockwise each player can choose to play a Prowess card, to change the outcome of the cards revealed on the table, or decline to play a card. This phase will continue giving players the opportunity to play multiple Prowess cards until all players have declined.
Resolution Phase: Starting with the Round Leader and going clockwise each player determines the damage he has dealt or received, with the damage being determined by Attack card value minus Defence card value. The Defence card reduces the Attack value of ALL incoming attack cards. If he had played a Style card and his Attack dealt damage to his opponent or his Defence card meant that he did not receive any damage then the player will gain the number of Style Points on his card. If the opponent unsuccessfully played a Style card against him, then he steals the opponent’s Style Points and adds them to his score. Finally, if he gained any Style Points he picks up one Prowess card from the deck.
Clean-up Phase: If there is only one player left in the game, then the game ends with that player as the winner. The game also ends if a player has scored a total of 12 or more Style Points, with ties being broken by the player with the most Health Points remaining. Otherwise the game continues with all played Prowess cards being put into a common discard pile next to the draw deck. All Attack, Defence and Style cards played go into discard piles in front of the player that played them. Every six rounds players will need to re-draw their Attack, Defence and Style cards into their hand. The Round Leader card is passed to the player on the Round Leader’s left and a new round starts with the Place Phase.

Despite being a fast card game, I have come across a couple of issues with Enter the Arena. You don't have to be a card counter in order to know which cards someone has played and therefore which ones they have left, in order to thwart their moves and more importantly when to play Style cards. There is a massive advantage in playing last in the round as you can see what the other players are doing and who your attack would be most successful against and hence whether to add Style or not. In my games I have found that those going early in the round tend not to play Style cards and usually play Defence cards. This makes the game play less volatile than you would expect in a game of gladiatorial combat! Additionally, my games have suffered from a “stop the leader” issue where everyone tends to attack the player in the lead to reduce his Health, instead of doing their optimal move towards their own possible victory.

Enter the Arena does not play well with just 2 players as the game becomes predictable and a little boring. However, with 4 players the game becomes interesting enough to hold a player’s attention during the 20 minutes or so of playtime. It is very much a “rock, paper, scissors” type of game, but with a reducing choice of actions each round until the players re-draw their hand of cards. The careful use of the Prowess cards can somewhat mitigate the issues with the game and certainly add in a fun element to the game.

In summary, Enter the Arena should be the sort of game that I would enjoy as it feels like it should hit the same sweet spot as Coup, being fast and furious fun. Unfortunately, Enter the Arena just does not work for me and after the initial plays, it is disappointing that it is unlikely to see further table time within my gaming groups.

My BoardGameGeek rating: 5.0/10
Review Date: June 2014.
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