Just like the game, this review is rated MATURE CONTENT and recommended for ages 17+
SPARTACUS, A game of Blood and Treachery hails from game designers Gale Force Nine and is based on the popular Spartacus series which aired from 2010 to 2013. If you don’t know the series, it is very loosely inspired by the historical figure of Spartacus and well worth a watch with some excellent fight scenes and almost as much overt sexuality and nakedness as Game of Thrones. Get In.
I generally feel that knowing the source material for a game that is based upon TV series or movie is preferable as you get the references. It’s more fun to see the miniature versions of Spartacus and Crixus fight to the bloody death than it is to watch Nameless Mook and Generic Person have a one on one combat because you love to watch them do it in the show. But can’t just trust in a TV tie in to earn your boardgame dollar; it helps – but to have a product that draws in the fans you also have to make sure that you produce an half decent game that doesn’t just rely on a lot of in-jokes and series nods.
In SPARTACUS, you play as the Dominus of one of four families (or houses) in the city of Capua, each desperate to achieve and hold influence over the others in order to become the Bees Knees in Rome. Twelve victory points is considered a winning amount of influence to any Roman worth his salt, so if you choose to play a shorter game, the players start with more victory points. I find an Advanced game will cost me about three hours of my time and one long term friendship.
Totally Worth it.
A Game that tells you not to be an ass in the rules will always have potential in my eyes
What we’ve got with Spartacus is a card game that includes a groovy miniature based skirmish element. Not only can you poison your mates and gloat over their misfortune, you can add injury to insult by rubbing their faces in it and smashing their fighters in the arena phase. Cards wise there’s an Intrigue deck with cards for Schemes and Reactions. Schemes to dick on your mates and Reactions to avoid being dicked on. Schemes are how you get anywhere in life in Capua, whether it’s poisoning your opponents gladiator to ensure you don’t have to fight them in the Arena or robbing them blind. It’s the way influence rises and falls as well as the coins in the coffers BUT each scheme requires a certain level of influence to play so you need to ask for assistance from the frenemies around you, like a good little politician shaking hands with a knife behind your back.
In the market phase you bid for gladiators (who cost money to keep), Slaves (who earn you cash) and equipment (for gladiators to shove up opponent’s bottoms). You also bid to host the gladiatorial battles which earn the Dominus Influence. Now for the fun part
The board contains an arena area and it’s not there just to look pretty. If you are invited to participate in an arena battle (or you’ve bribed another players to invite you) you get to pick a miniature to represent the Gladiator (or slave) and get to fight it out in the arena. All players are able to bet on who they think will win and whether there will be an injury or the much sought after decapitation! Everyone can get involved even if they don’t have a fighter on the sands.
You have dice to represent speed, attack and defense skills and these determine how far you can move, who moves first and how much damage is inflicted. Each card has a different character with unique stats and skills, so pick well. There is nothing like an extra defense dice for turning a decapitation into an injury, meaning foolhardy gamblers lose cash and you don’t lose one of your valuable fighters. That is unless you are the kind of underhanded cold heartless bitch to bet against your own man, in order to watch them die in agony whilst you finance their replacement. The sands are hungry for blood and a good ol’ head-lopping-off always gets a cheer from my friends anyway.
The host gets to decide if injured gladiators live or die as well, another excuse to bribe and sweet talk people with gold, favors and cups of tea. It is the fighting element that makes Spartacus stand out to me and we found it really entertaining to watch a plastic figure in a loincloth chase another around the board while onlookers yell encouraging phrases such as
“Stand still and die!
“I’ve got three gold on a decapitation!”
Let’s talk flaws because you know there’s got to be one. It’s easy to become a target if you gain influence too fast so people feel they are being ganged up on or singled out for harsh treatment. You will lie, cheat, steal, blackmail and undermine each other but as the rules say “don’t be an ass about it. Everyone plays games to have a good time”. It can become sluggish if you’re all sat at 11 points for a half hour as people form brief alliances to stop anyone taking that final step to victory. It’s been commented that House Batiatus always begins the same at a disadvantage which some players dislike. Mirroring the TV show they start of poorer than other houses and with more outgoings than income. Although new players might find this tricky my experience has been that the inconvenience can be overcome in game, and having more gladiators can definitely be an advantage if you put them to use in other ways…I refer you again to the series.
I really enjoyed Spartacus. This might be because I enjoy putting on a posh voice and laughing at the misfortune of others. It might be because I like making tiny plastic people fight to the death for sport like a wrathful god, or it might be because the game is so engaging and interactive. The bidding wars are secretive and calculating, the battles are entertaining and the Intrigue deck offers lots of ways to pull your opponent’s pants down and spank them. The fights are a great element and the game seems to have so many sides to it I feel I’ve written a thousand words and not done it justice.
So in Conclusion; Spartacus (A Game of Blood and Treachery) is a fun time to be had by all backstabbing, manipulative calculating game fiends.
Double Decimation. 8 out of 10 Romans.