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Subject: Gladiators - first play review rss

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Chris Miller
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A friend recently received his copy of Heroes of the Colosseum, a game I was excited to try after seeing a preview on LnL's website awhile back. We popped open the box and he read the chariot rulebook while I read the gladiator book. We decided to try the gladiator version first.

Out of the box, into the fire

A first look into the components was a mixed bag. The books are nice quality with a very big font size, so the rules were not as lengthy as they first appeared. The gladiator book covered a little bit of the history of the 'sport' and the types of gladiators that were common. The bi-fold maps were a bit small, with a few varieties of arenas. The arenas are separated into areas labelled wallside, heart, and center (may not be exact, memory not so sharp). There is a single counter sheet with counters for the chariots, gladiators, weapons, and some tokens for bonus dice and wound tracking. The material of the counters is nice, it feels like they may have a small plastic content rather than just cardboard, or they have some covering. The artwork is good for the gladiators and chariots, nothing special for the others.

The gladiator and chariot versions each has two double sided reference sheets loaded with charts stacked upon charts, intermixed with charts. This was the first oddity we noticed; the ordering of the charts. The ordering of the charts on the reference sheets goes right to left for some reason.. so on one chart you have 5.2 on the upper left, 5.1 upper right, 5.4 lower left, and 5.3 lower right. Again, the numbers may not be exact, but I think you get the idea on the ordering. We shrugged it off as either a layout mistake or some attempt to recreate Roman literature.

The book reading was fairly quick, but it was at times confusing. I was halfway through the book before the first section on how to play came in, so a lot that comes early in the book doesn't immediately make sense. The mixing of rules and background details complicated it further; for example the section describing the different gladiator types talks about the types of armor that each would wear, but not exactly what this means on the tabletop.

We played a two on two cooperative match; each of us controlling one against a team of two NPGs (non-player gladiators). The rules allow for solitaire or co-op play by giving a sort of AI system to control the NPGs. Some of the rules reminded me of other Two Hour Wargames systems such as NUTS! Second Edition, which makes sense as this is a joint effort of LnL and THW. On a given turn you will make rolls opposed or singly and consult a chart for the result, which sometimes leads to another chart to roll against, and so on. And this is where there wheels fell off the chariot.

The rulebook talks about having matches of any size you want, but there is only one gladiator sheet per type, for a total of six. So if you want to have two gladiators of the same type in the arena, you cannot. A 'type' of gladiator here would be something like a Hoplomachus (Gladius and buckler) or a Retiarius (trident and net), so this feels like a pretty severe limitation. There were not enough weapon/shield tokens to complete the four we picked, due to an odd choice of placing different weapons on the backside of different shields. It would appear this was meant to be a one on one engagement only, although the rules has sections on dealing with multiple combatants.

The first step is to create your gladiator. In addition to the type, there are three attributes (strength, speed, and savvy) and optional styles such as "strong" that adds to your strength and bonus dice. I think the game should have included some "typical" gladiator stats so you could just pick one and go, because it's not really clear how important an attribute is until you have played. There is a dice-rolling method to determine the build for NPGs if you want something random.

The turn is divided into three phases: Movement, maneuver, and attack. In the movement phase you will determine initiative by consulting your first chart. You get 1 die plus 1 for different reasons. Each point of speed and savvy is an additional die for example. You can also spend your bonus dice here, although it was never clear to me if there was a limit on how many you can spend on a single roll. Bonus dice work something like stamina, you can expend them to get more dice in a roll, and later can rest to regain them. If you run out of bonus dice you are in trouble. For each test there is a die roll to see if the NPG spends a bonus die, for example on this movement chart they will spend a bonus die on a roll of 1. Again, it was never clear if they spend only one die but I assumed so. As an example, my gladiator was rolling seven dice here without spending any bonus (3 speed and 3 savvy). Through the game everyone will be rolling lots of dice pretty constantly, but there are only two dice in the box. The rules even states that it is best to have around six dice per player, so I don't understand why they didn't include at least six dice for a $55 game.

Anyway, each player makes this series of rolls and scores a success for each die result of 1, 2, or 3. You make these rolls for the NPGs, and initiative order is by the number of successes from high to low. The rules were not clear on if one gladiator takes all steps of their turn before the next begins or if you each go through one phase in order, then move to the next phase. I decided to go with a gladiator completes their whole turn then the next goes. In the movement phase you can move one area in any direction. Then you go to the maneuver phase, and a gladiator that begins their maneuver phase in an area with an opponent makes a maneuver chart test against that gladiator. Again you are rolling a number of dice equal to some attributes and conditions, and you compare your successes against your opponent. The gladiator with the most successes is the attacker, and if you beat your opponent by 2 or more you can also gain an advantage in that upcoming combat phase.

Combat works similarly, rolling a number of dice based on attributes and conditions and comparing the results against your opponent's results and looking on a chart. The number of successes you beat them by is the base damage, which is taken to the next chart with modifiers applied to determine the actual damage done. When all gladiators are done, a new turn begins with movement phase and an initiative roll.

If it sounds like this is just rolling a lot of dice and consulting charts and sub-charts, well that is how it felt as well. The game offers very few choices to make beyond staying in an area with an opponent or backing out. There are hardly any choices on the attack, other than you can decide to kick sand in their eyes or throw a weapon at range. No option for a cautious attack or mad rush, precision strike or strong arm attack, etc. Once you are in the arena the game is pretty much on autopilot, with the gladiator attributes and dice results being the only variable. You do get to decide on when to spend your bonus dice, but it doesn't feel like much of a game at all. The different areas of the arena (wallside, heart, center) only matter when it's time to appeal to the crowd if your down and at the mercy of your opponent. Why couldn't there be a combat modifier for being backed up against a wall for example?

Aside from the dull play, there are some issues with the components themselves. The chart orders and lack of dice are more of annoyances than real problems, but there are some more serious problems as well. We couldn't figure out how to know the armor value of a gladiator's different body areas, although it was mentioned in the rules but not explained on how it works in the game. I noticed that on the gladiator sheets each area has a number that could be the armor value for that area, but they didn't match up. The arm holding the shield has no armor while the weapon arm does? It took me a bit to catch that this is printed backwards; in fact it IS the left arm that has the higher armor value, but the shield icon is printed on the sheet in the wrong arm!. Just a proofreading miss, but because the rule book talks about armor values and what each type of gladiator historically wore but never says how it works in the gameplay, this wasn't at all clear. The rulebook is a mess, with rule ordering being odd and some things are talked about lightly in one area and then a little more many pages later, but never quite clear on how it plays. The book could also benefit from some real examples in each section, because the wording is ambiguous in many cases.

The verdict?



I really want to be nice here, but I have to be honest. I cannot recommend this game to anyone. I normally do not like to review a game after a single play, but I will never play this again. We considered giving the chariot version a try, but I looked at the two double sided chart sheets for that and it appears to be very much the same thing. Want to pass an opponent? You roll a number of dice and compare the results on a chart.

I will give a small nod to the solo aspect of the game. If you are interested in creating a gladiator and pitting him against a basic AI through a career, you might get some enjoyment from this game. The game plays something like a Strat-o-matic sports game, where you make basic decisions and then the dice plus stats on the card plays the game. However the meaningful decisions here are far fewer than even a Strat-O-Matic game.
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Ed Teixeira
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Thanks for taking the time to review the game and I hope to answer some of your questions. Here we go.

The gladiator and chariot versions each has two double sided reference sheets loaded with charts stacked upon charts, intermixed with charts.

We decided to put all the charts you’ll need, from start to finish, in one place. When fighting actual matches you’ll see the Maneuver and Attack Tables are the ones you use 90% of the time, then the Hit Location and Damage table if you do score a hit.

This was the first oddity we noticed; the ordering of the charts. The ordering of the charts on the reference sheets goes right to left for some reason.. so on one chart you have 5.2 on the upper left, 5.1 upper right, 5.4 lower left, and 5.3 lower right. Again, the numbers may not be exact, but I think you get the idea on the ordering. We shrugged it off as either a layout mistake or some attempt to recreate Roman literature.

Not exactly as all the charts are numbered across the top of the page – left or right. 5.2 is on the left and 5.1 on the right as is 5.3 and 5.4. I think that was done for layout purposes, but the charts are correct for the reference in the rules.

The book reading was fairly quick, but it was at times confusing. I was halfway through the book before the first section on how to play came in, so a lot that comes early in the book doesn't immediately make sense. The mixing of rules and background details complicated it further; for example the section describing the different gladiator types talks about the types of armor that each would wear, but not exactly what this means on the tabletop.

It sounds like you may have skipped over the Stop Boxes that we recommend players use. Here’s the text from the book explaining how they work.

1.1 STOP BOXES
To help you learn the game faster, we use Stop boxes. At the end of every few sections you will find a box that recaps what you have read and may contain a small exercise for you to do. By using the boxes and playing the small exercise, you’ll learn the game in no time.



The rulebook talks about having matches of any size you want, but there is only one gladiator sheet per type, for a total of six. So if you want to have two gladiators of the same type in the arena, you cannot. A 'type' of gladiator here would be something like a Hoplomachus (Gladius and buckler) or a Retiarius (trident and net), so this feels like a pretty severe limitation. There were not enough weapon/shield tokens to complete the four we picked, due to an odd choice of placing different weapons on the backside of different shields. It would appear this was meant to be a one on one engagement only, although the rules has sections on dealing with multiple combatants.

We tried to stay with the historical match ups as outlined in section 3.8 Fighting Styles. You’re right, fighting some combos of gladiators – like Hoplomachus versus Retiarius, could be difficult. They didn’t fight historically, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it if you want.

The first step is to create your gladiator. In addition to the type, there are three attributes (strength, speed, and savvy) and optional styles such as "strong" that adds to your strength and bonus dice. I think the game should have included some "typical" gladiator stats so you could just pick one and go, because it's not really clear how important an attribute is until you have played.

That’s an interesting comment as we address that in the rules in Section 8.0 - Strategy

Which is the best Attribute? That’s a tough one. Speed gives pluses on the Movement and Maneu¬ver Tables, but doesn’t help on the Attack Table. Savvy is used on Maneuver and Attack Tables, but neglecting your Strength for Savvy can be costly. The “sweet spot” for Impact is 3.
As for starting Attributes we give each gladiator 12 – section 3.6.4. It’s also in the Stop box on page 18.



The turn is divided into three phases: Movement, maneuver, and attack. In the movement phase you will determine initiative by consulting your first chart. You get 1 die plus 1 for different reasons. Each point of speed and savvy is an additional die for example. You can also spend your bonus dice here, although it was never clear to me if there was a limit on how many you can spend on a single roll.

3.7.3 Players can choose to use as many Bonus Dice as desired when rolling on the Maneuver (5 - 3), Attack (5 - 5), and Net Toss (5 - 4) Tables. NPGs (3.1.2) must roll dice to see when they will use their Bonus Dice.

Bonus dice work something like stamina, you can expend them to get more dice in a roll, and later can rest to regain them. If you run out of bonus dice you are in trouble.
You gain regain Bonus Dice during the match. Section 3.7.1
For each test there is a die roll to see if the NPG spends a bonus die, for example on this movement chart they will spend a bonus die on a roll of 1. Again, it was never clear if they spend only one die but I assumed so.
That would be here

3.7.3 NPG BONUS DICE USAGE
NPGs will use Bonus Dice based on the results of rolling d6 on the appropriate table. Here’s how we do it:
When on the Maneuver Table (5 - 3), the NPG will roll all of its Bonus Dice. If a “1” is rolled, use that Bonus Die when rolling on the Maneuver Table.
It covers all the tables you roll on and what is needed to use that d6


As an example, my gladiator was rolling seven dice here without spending any bonus (3 speed and 3 savvy). Through the game everyone will be rolling lots of dice pretty constantly, but there are only two dice in the box. The rules even states that it is best to have around six dice per player, so I don't understand why they didn't include at least six dice for a $55 game.
Yep, our bad. That was miscommunication on our part.

Anyway, each player makes this series of rolls and scores a success for each die result of 1, 2, or 3. You make these rolls for the NPGs, and initiative order is by the number of successes from high to low. The rules were not clear on if one gladiator takes all steps of their turn before the next begins or if you each go through one phase in order, then move to the next phase.
That would be

5.1 Turn Sequence
Each match can last an unlimited number of turns, but each turn uses the following Turn Sequence. Only after one gladiator has finished its complete turn of Movement, Maneuver, and At¬tack, does the next gladiator carry out his turn.
When it is a gladiator’s turn, place an unused Health counter next.

If it sounds like this is just rolling a lot of dice and consulting charts and sub-charts, well that is how it felt as well. The game offers very few choices to make beyond staying in an area with an opponent or backing out. There are hardly any choices on the attack, other than you can decide to kick sand in their eyes or throw a weapon at range. No option for a cautious attack or mad rush, precision strike or strong arm attack, etc.

Actually there is. That would be using extra Bonus Dice during the Attack Phase. You can use more Bonus Dice if you want to.

Once you are in the arena the game is pretty much on autopilot, with the gladiator attributes and dice results being the only variable. You do get to decide on when to spend your bonus dice, but it doesn't feel like much of a game at all. The different areas of the arena (wallside, heart, center) only matter when it's time to appeal to the crowd if your down and at the mercy of your opponent. Why couldn't there be a combat modifier for being backed up against a wall for example?

There is a lot of strategy in the game which we covered in the Stop Boxes and section 8.0 Strategy. We’ve played the game numerous times over the years at conventions, and players show tremendous improvement in strategy in their second or third games. They see how the mechanics work then capitalize on them.

Aside from the dull play, there are some issues with the components themselves. The chart orders and lack of dice are more of annoyances than real problems, but there are some more serious problems as well. We couldn't figure out how to know the armor value of a gladiator's different body areas, although it was mentioned in the rules but not explained on how it works in the game.

That would be section 2.4 Roster Cards.
The Armor (3.9) for each body location is printed on the card and does not change.

And under Armor Protection.
3.9.1 ARMOR PROTECTION
Armor comes into play by absorbing damage. When rolling on the Damage Table (5 - 7), the attacker subtracts the AC of the target body part from the Impact of the attack.


I noticed that on the gladiator sheets each area has a number that could be the armor value for that area, but they didn't match up. The arm holding the shield has no armor while the weapon arm does?

Correct. Most gladiators didn’t have armor on their shield arm – that’s what the shield was for. Looking at the counters show this.

It took me a bit to catch that this is printed backwards; in fact it IS the left arm that has the higher armor value, but the shield icon is printed on the sheet in the wrong arm!.

Yep, that could have been better. It’s made for looking from behind the gladiator (your point of view) instead of head on and does cause some confusion. Luckily the armor values are correct.

Just a proofreading miss, but because the rule book talks about armor values and what each type of gladiator historically wore but never says how it works in the gameplay, this wasn't at all clear.

Again section 3.9.1.
The rulebook is a mess, with rule ordering being odd and some things are talked about lightly in one area and then a little more many pages later, but never quite clear on how it plays. The book could also benefit from some real examples in each section, because the wording is ambiguous in many cases.

The rules are presented in the order you use them in the game. Also the Stop boxes really help on that one.

Thanks for taking the time to review the gladiator part of the game and hope these answers help. It can be difficult getting all the intricacies of a game on the first play. Hopefully you'll give it another chance now that I've provided some answers. Hope this helps.
Ed

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Ed Teixeira
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I took another look at the rules and you bring up a good point about the counter mix. The counter mix is correct, where I made a mistake is saying place a weapon counter in the hand of the gladiator. I missed that the weapons are already on the card and you don't need to place a counter in the box. The weapon counters are used when the weapons are dropped - placed on the arena floor.

Also just to clarify about NUTS and Reaction Tests. There aren't any Reaction Tests in HotC.

Thanks again,
Ed
BTW - there's also a second set of gladiator player cards printed in the book.
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Robert Myers
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What size mini's would be best for this game?
 
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Ed Teixeira
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You can play with any size.

15mm will give the best visual presentation when using the arenas included in the game, but larger gladiators will still work.

A set of 4 15mm chariots can be found here if you want. As the chariots do not race around a track, any size, even the Marx 54mm can be used.

http://www.twohourwargames.com/chmi.html
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Robert Myers
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Thx.
 
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