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Lance
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Arena Rex Review


Arena Rex is a game set in the Mythic Age; a time where fantasy exists with the Roman Empire. It takes place in the sands of the arena, where Gladiators from Ludi around the world fight to wow the crowds and gain the favour of their patrons. A land and time where the famous from Rome fight with barbarians from the north and Atlantians from across the ocean. I place where the biggest matches can attract the likes of a wild Wendigo or the Gorgon sisters themselves.



The game is a skirmish game, where two players control a fixed number of gladiators each. The recommended numbers are 3, 5 or 8 models (though some creatures can be so big they count as 2 models). The game is developed by Red Republic Games who also produce a line of miniatures to accompany it. The store and rules are available at https://arenarex.com/.



Each model has a few key stats, their Move value in inches, their Attack value for their attacking dice pool, Defence for defending dice pool and Armour to absorb damage with. Additionally each gladiator will have a damage tree to resolve attack successes with, a vitality track to record their life against and a set of special skills.

The game doesn’t use points costs for any miniatures leaving each Dominus free to build the cohort they want. There are rewards in extra perks if the majority of each gladiator is from the same Ludus. This allows you to focus on a play style or try for interesting combinations of skills from all the different types. You can even mix in wild beasts such as Leo the lion or Acerbus the rhinoceros. All gladiator stats are available for viewing on the Arena Rex website through their store pages.

Combat checks are resolved with a dice pool determined by the attackers Attack value and the defenders Defence (there are some chances to change the value or value used). Results of 4 or more on a d6 are a success and the most amount of successes wins the action. If an attacker wins combat they count up their net success and pick the results from their damage tree. They start at the top and work their way down, picking either damage or other results such as pushing, repositioning, fatiguing or special moves. There is a special pool of dice available to the player that can be added to an action; these are called the Favour Dice. A single favour die works in the pool as normal except if successful it counts as two results, not one. Favour Dice are a limited resource though and are mostly gained as your gladiators take wounds and the crowd calls for you to entertain them more. The mechanic is quick and easy to understand. The combat model favours an attacker.

Players alternate activating a single miniature. Any ready miniature can be activated but to ensure it isn’t all one sided there is a reaction mechanic built into the game. A single model on the opposing side can react after a trigger condition occurs. This can be used to move or strike at an opponent fleeing. Most often it is used to provide a counter-attack for a defending model where it can use it’s Attack value instead of Defence and success grants it the right to hurt the attacker. Alternatively it can be used to assist a model being attacked, adding your own Defence to theirs.

There is a limit on how much movement and reaction can be performed and that is the games key mechanic of fatigue. Apart from one free movement each action a model performs increases it’s fatigue level, from empty at Ready, through to Fatigued to the debilitating Exhausted. Fatigued models cannot activate or perform reactions leaving them at the mercy of their opponent. Exhausted models fair even worse, granting extra push results to the attackers result. Fatigue is managed when you activate a model. At that time another friendly model that is Fatigued may remove the counter and return to the Ready state. If a cohort starts its turn with all models Fatigued or Exhausted it must make a special clear turn where all fatigue is reduced a step and the models perform no actions (though there are special tactics that can be performed often at the cost of Favour Dice or wounding your models). Becoming Exhausted can be dangerous but sometimes the benefit of the second attack or activating the mighty power attack (where you can re-roll failed attack dice, turning favour dice in an attack into an especially brutal result) is worth the risk.



There is no fixed size for the play area by a 30” diameter circle is a common play space (and again, any handy battleground can do to entertain the crowds). Terrain is simple, often being pillars, lethal pits, fire pits, spiked columns or other types. The game doesn’t have any missile combat so line of sight isn’t an issue and all terrain blocks movement. When pushed into regular terrain the defender increases their fatigue, when pushed into a wounding hazard they take damage and when pushed into a lethal terrain the model is killed outright. The pushing mechanic, while normally only a small amount of movement, allows a clever player to pull apart assistance and isolate an individual model. Being pushed back and forth between two models of an attacker can be a dangerous place to be. Red Republic Games sells a neoprene mat with an arena printed on it. There is also a Play Mobil gladiator arena set that matches the same size as used by the Arena Rex mat. You’ll see many pictures of it on the various Arena Rex game sites.

The game isn’t just about two sides trying to beat each other to death. There are many interesting scenarios suggested in the book such as models that are chained together or a terrain piece, or area control that grants favour as you hold it. The rules also allow for wild beasts to stalk the sands striking out at models that are pushed near them. There isn’t even a requirement for both sides to be even. Red Republic Games often run special loot box terrain that players can win bonuses from within a game (or even prizes).

You can add multiple players to the game but the reaction mechanics are geared more towards two players (mostly for the move reaction which can slow down play as you check if everyone wants to react to your movement). Teams work well as they can act as two sides to the game.




There are currently four main factions and two new ones in development. The Ludus Magnus are the premier Roman Ludus, they have the money and the quality individuals. They can power big attacks and get the crowds favour easily. Legio XIII hail from the Gaul lands and bring a Germanic and Celtic field, additionally being from a Legio they favour team work. The Zephyri combine the Norsemen with the brave warriors from across the Atlantic. They are a mix of American Indian and Vikings and favour beserker rages and pushing on past their fatigue levels. The Morituri are the Egyptian death cults – most of their powers trigger when the model is killed turning celebration into dread for what will be done to the attacker. The new factions cover the Exilii, or unaligned fighters, and the Greek warriors.

I really enjoy the fatigue mechanic in the game. It requires you to manage who is able to do something and who is left without a defensive option. You have to consider is it worth pushing for something big and then leaving yourself exposed for a turn. It’s a simple mechanic that often means at every stage of the game there are always at least two or more options to consider. The actual mechanics of the game are simple enough to learn very quickly. Remembering all of the reaction triggers takes a bit more practice, and like managing fatigue is a vital skill to mastering the game. The rules for resolving what happens for exiting combat half-way through a combat result are a bit harder to grasp but nothing is jarring, it all fits well together and is a joy to play.

A weakness of the game is one I find common for most skirmish games; they often descend into a brawl in the middle of the table. In the case of Arena Rex this is by design and there is enough reposition actions in the combat tree to allow you to move things around and break up the clumps. A solo model versus the rest gets a special Last Man Standing rule that allows the gladiator to clear all fatigue at the beginning of a turn and still act. This is a good catch up mechanic to keep you in the fight. The game falls down when it gets to 1v1 matches; here it is normally about who rolls better dice rather than who can use better tactics. Most of this occurs because the rules are set up to simplify actions so you can control a group of gladiators rather than having detailed individual interactions. Most of my experience has also been in 3v3 games where fatigue can be easier to manage over a small group. I think it would scale up just as well for higher model counts though I can see exhausted models being exposed longer as you try to get to a clear turn to rescue them.




The miniatures are a key component of the game. They are fantastic sculpts, scaled in 35mm to allow true proportions to the model. This can be a weakness though; each piece is resin and can be fragile, especially as many have a single join point to the base (such as the models ankle). These are expensive pieces individually but it isn’t much worse than other skirmish games. Acquiring the models can be expensive overseas as there isn’t much of a world-wide distribution so most items have to be ordered from the USA direct, which incurs the very expensive shipping fees. Having all of the rules available on line does allow a player to proxy in pieces but I really do recommend trying the official line.

Arena Rex is a good game. It is easy to understand and always presents multiple options at a time with meaningful consequences. Players must master timing and balance risk. The models are fantastic and often get attention just for themselves. Put the mighty lion Leo in the arena and see everyone come to look at it. There is a very active Facebook page around the game and popular Reddit topics as well as the companies own forum. The game is still actively supported and while there aren’t constant new releases there is enough to keep your interest in battles on the sands going through the ages.


* Image of Hermes card linked to https://arenarex.com/collections/ludus-magnus/products/herme....
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Lance
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A correction on the Exilii - they aren't a new school as the others are; rather they are a new way of getting a benefit for a group of unaligned fighters that includes a specific model. That said it does open up the possibility of having gladiators that bring their own unique fighting style for future releases.
 
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Gabriele Stecchi
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Great models, and great paint job.
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