Arena Maximus (Fantasy Flight 2003) is a racing/hand management game. Players must race chariots in a fantasy-themed race through various obstacles while whipping or blocking those who get in their way.
While the premise sounds great and the balancing of the game seems well done, the game was not all that engaging for me. Only 2 types of cards are essentially in the game, with the 3rd a wild card that can be either one of the other 2. I like how your speed counted against your hand limit so it felt like you were getting more and more out of control the faster you went, but the fun wasn’t there for me. The game also lasts a lot longer than it should. If the track was half of its size it might have been a good length, but as it stands, it draws on long enough to wear out its welcome.
Each player begins by drawing a random Chariot from one of the five available. Each one has different ratings for Beast, Driver, and Chariot. Beast is the acceleration value, Driver is how many cards a player can discard, and Chariot is hit points. The total of all points on each of the Chariot Cards equals a total of “10” to keep them balanced. Players take their Chariot Card and Chariot Token and unused ones are placed back in the box out of play. The Start/Finish Line Tile is placed on the table. The Straight Track Tiles are shuffled face down and six are placed without looking at them in a line extending to the right of the Start/Finish. Then the Curved Track Tiles are shuffled in the same way and 9 are placed to form turns 1 &2. Then 7 more Straight Tiles and 9 more Curved Tiles are placed to finish the track. The remaining 4 Straight Tiles are placed back in the box without looking at them. The first 3 Straight Track Tiles past the Start/Finish Line are turned over revealing the obstacles the players face, or lack there of. The Racing Deck, consisting of Whip, Rein, and Magic Cards is shuffled and 7 cards are dealt to each player. Players may look at these cards. The rest of the deck is placed in the center of the track so everyone has access to it. The Damage Counters are placed in easy reach of everyone and a Starting Player is determined at random. The Starting Player places their Chariot with the beige side up on the inside of the track next to the Start/Finish Line. Going clockwise around the table, each player places their Chariot, beige side up, below the last Chariot placed until all Chariots have been positioned.
Play is determined by the position of each players Chariot. The player in last place takes their turn, then the second-to-last place, etc. until all players have had a turn. When Chariots end their turns in the same tile, they are stacked with the Chariot that entered the tile being placed below the Chariot(s) already positioned in that tile. At the beginning of a turn, the Chariot closest to the track moves before the ones lower than it. When a player is done with their move, they flip their Chariot Token over revealing the other color so it is easy to determine who has completed their move.
Each Turn consists of 4 Phases. Those Phases are:
1)Set Speed: A player may change their speed during this phase by adjusting the number of Whip Cards or Magic Cards in play for their Chariot. A Player may play Whip Cards or Magic Cards from their hand to speed up or slow down. The Beast Score on the Chariot Card determines how many cards may be played to accelerate or be discarded from their Speed Pool to decelerate. A player may also just maintain their speed if they wish.
2)Discard: A player may discard a number of cards from their hand up to their Driver Score.
3)Draw Cards: A player must draw cards from the Racing Deck back up to 7 INCLUDING the cards they are using in their Speed Pool. The Faster the Chariot is moving, the fewer cards in that Player’s hand to use for avoiding objects and attacks. If the Racing Deck is exhausted, the discards are shuffled to form a new deck.
4)Movement and Resolution: A player MUST move their Chariot a number of tiles equal to the number of Whip Cards in their Speed Pool. Their Chariot Token is moved on the inside of the track. As each tile is entered, it is Resolved in the following manner:
When a Tile is entered, the following 4 steps are taken in order:
Ramming: The Player who is moving decided is they wish to Ram a Chariot which is in the tile they are moving into. If they wish to Ram, they must discard sets of 1 Whip and 1 Rein Card. Magic Cards may be substituted for either type of card. For Each set discarded, the target of the Ram takes 2 points of Damage. The defender may discard sets of their own to nullify sets of the attacker. For each set nullified in this manner, the attacker takes 1Damage instead. The attacker may not play more sets than their Driver Score rating and the number of sets they play must be determined before the defender plays their sets. The Player who moved into the tile may conduct rams on different Chariots if more than one is present. Each Ram is conducted as above, resolving one before the next Ram is conducted. A Player may only Ram a given Chariot once per round.
Blocking: After all Rams are conducted, players in a Tile that is being moved into may conduct a Block. This is done by discarding Rein Cards or magic Cards from their hands. The Blocker may not play more cards than their Driver Score. The moving player must play a number of Rein Cards or Magic Cards equal to the number the Blocker played or their turn ends and the Chariot does not move into the Tile. If more than one Chariot is in the tile they may both Block. The first Blocker to the left of the moving player decides how many Rein Cards they wish to play to Block. When that is determined the next opponent to the left determines how many Rein Cards or Magic Cards they wish to contribute. This continues until all Blockers in the same tile have played. No player may play more than their Driver Score. The moving player then must play a number of Rein Cards or Magic Cards equal to the sum of all the Blocker’s cards to move. After this Resolution or if no player Blocked, the moving player places their Chariot Token in the Tile they were moving into.
Tile Effects: If a tile has a picture and symbol on it, the effects of that tile are resolved. There are several different types of Tiles:
Empty: No Tile Effect
Rocks: Each Rock Tile has a Rein Rating. A number of Rein or Magic Cards equal to this rating must be discarded. For each fewer card played than the rating, the Chariot takes 1 point of Damage.
Jump: A Jump Tile has a Speed Rating. If a Chariot does not have a number of Whip or Magic Cards in its Speed Pool when entering this tile, it takes a number of points of Damage equal to the difference in speed versus the rating.
Hazard: Each Hazard Tile has at least 1 Skill Icon printed on it. A player must discard a card that has this symbol on it or a Magic Card in order to pass the hazard. These symbols appear on both the Whip and Rein Cards. For each symbol that the player does not play, their Chariot takes 1 point of Damage.
Recovery Stables: A player MAY end their movement in this Tile even if they were moving fast enough to continue out of the Tile. If a Player chooses to do so, they discard all Damage Tokens on their Chariot, discard all cards from their Speed Pool, Discard as many cards as they wish from their hand and draw back up to 7, and then their turn ends.
Start/Finish Line: The game ends after the turn in which one Chariot passes the Start/Finish Line.
Attacking: After resolving Tile Effects, the moving player may Attack any or all of the Chariots in their current Tile. To do so, the player chooses their target and may discard a number of Whip or Magic Cards equal to their Driver Score. The defender of the attack may discard Whip or Magic Cards to defend against the Attack. For each card not defended against, the defender takes 1 point of Damage. If the defender wishes, they may Counter-Attack after the Attack is resolved. The Counter-Attack is handled in the same way as an Attack. A Counter-Attack may not be Counter-Attacked. If multiple Attacks are conducted in a Tile, each Attack/Counter-Attack is resolved before a new one is begun. Each Chariot may only be Attacked by the player once during a turn. Opponents may not Counter-Attack if they are not Attacked.
When the number of Damage Tokens on a player’s Chariot exceeds its Chariot Score, it crashes. If the Chariot hasn’t crashed yet (showing the unbroken Wheel side of the card) it is still in the game, if it already has the Broken Wheel side showing it is out of the game and removed from the board. When a Chariot crashes for the first time, the player’s Chariot Card is flipped over to reveal the Broken Wheel side. All Damage Tokens are discarded and their Chariot Token is placed on the outside of the Track Tile they have crashed. If other Chariots have crashed already, they are placed on the outside of those crashed Chariots. On the crashed player’s next turn, the normal turn is not played. Instead, their Chariot Token is flipped over to the new round’s color and their hand is refreshed to 7 cards. On the next turn after this, their Chariot Token is returned to the middle of the Track and play continues as normal.
If a Player’s Chariot is in the last face-up Tile, then the next 3 tiles are revealed. If the player still has movement left they must continue their move into these newly revealed Tiles. Once a Chariot has moved as far as it can or is Blocked, it is flipped over and that player’s turn is over. When all Chariots have been flipped over, a new turn begins with the player in last place moving first. When a Chariot crosses the finish line it continues moving until it has used up its Movement for the turn. All Tile Effects after the Finish Line are ignored. A Chariot that crosses the Finish Line cannot be Blocked, Attacked, Rammed, or targeted by Spells (Optional Rule). A player in a “Kingmaker” position may not interfere with Chariots if they have no chance to win. The winner is the player who moved farthest past the Finish Line, ties being broken by whoever entered the Tile first. If all players but one have been eliminated by crashing, then the last player alive immediately wins.
My thoughts on this game:
Components: The Components for this game are fairly well done, especially for the price. All the Tokens are printed on good quality thick cardboard and have a glossy complexion to them. The Damage Tokens are small however, but are easy enough to tell how much damage each chariot has. The cards are of good quality themselves and very easy to tell which of the 3 types of card it is and the symbols on the rein and whip cards are large and easy to read as well. Each symbol is different so color blind players will not have a problem with distinguishing them. The Board Tokens are well made and fit together nicely to form a track. It is a very good looking game when set up.
Rules: The rules are set up fairly well. Some of the rules are written later in the rulebook than I think they should have causing a few questions from the impatient people. If the Tile Effects had been listed where they were first mentioned it would have been nice, but that is a minor gripe. There are plenty of examples that explain the game well and the rulebook is easily referenced. It may be easier to teach this game than play as in our first game we had several restarts due to missed rules. The rules are printed in brown and white (maybe grayish and white) on thin paper. They are sufficient, although those with really bad eyesight might have problems.
Balance: This game is really balanced well. None of the chariots seem to be dominant and the card distribution seems well balanced. Nobody felt like they were at a disadvantage due to being a “bad chariot”.
Interaction: This is where the game fell apart. There isn’t really much of a point to really interact with the other players. This is odd with all the rules for blocking, attacking, and ramming. The only maneuver that seemed used a lot was blocking. Attacks and especially rams weren’t used very often as the rewards never seemed to outweigh the risks as these left you severely depleted for the rest of the players’ turns at which point you could easily be destroyed.
Player Elimination: This game has player elimination and it can happen fairly quickly if a player gets over-zealous or just plain unlucky. By the end of a game it is almost guaranteed that multiple players will have been eliminated.
Fun Factor: Arena Maximus was not a very “fun” game in my opinion. The lack of interaction made the game drag on as not much was happening. It wasn’t a horrible game that I dread playing, but I would be surprised if it ever gets opened again as there are far better racing games out there. I liked how you could get going really fast and start running headlong into things because you couldn’t hold enough cards in your hand to circumnavigate obstacles, but it was just a lackluster experience each time. This game shows up from Fantasy Flight for 5 dollars and it may be worth that but I would suggest getting a more exciting racing game.
Arena Maximus is not a game I would introduce to non-gamers. It is an easy game to grasp once play gets started, but it is not very engrossing. The early player elimination problem is also another reason I wouldn’t want to play with non-gamers as that tends to really discourage them from further playing of anything. The game can take a while (1-1 and 1/2 hours) so it is really not a filler game and would better be used as a warm-up game than anything.