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Are you not entertained? Well, you will be


Are you not entertained? Well, you will be

We all know what to expect from a card-based battle game, right? Pull a hand from a deck, spend resources to play summoned beasties or warriors down into a battlefield, then bash their heads together. It’s great fun, don’t get us wrong, whether it’s KeyForge, Sorcerer or 1066, Tears to Many Mothers. But when a card game comes along that treats combat in a whole new way – one that actually makes it feel like combat – you have to sit up and take notice. Rather like a bloodthirsty Roman in the front row of the Colosseum, in fact.

Gladiatores: Blood for Roses is, as you’d expect, set in the cut-and-thrust world of Roman gladiatorial combat. Each player selects a ludus (gladiator school) with its own unique power, then over an agreed number of events – the Tribune’s Trophy, the Consul’s Chalice and so on – they have to bid for big-name gladiators (each with their own special abilities and cards) before throwing them into the arena to take part in a series of mano-amano melees against their choice of the other players’ fighters, while also secretly betting on who they think will be the last man (or woman) standing.

What makes it distinct from other battle card games is the way those combats play out. Every player starts each event with a big hand of cards (14, or 18 with two players), and each card represents a combat move in one of three categories: attack, defence and effect. After selecting your opponent, you open with an attack. They must play a specific defence card to counter it, in which case you must counter in turn with a specific effect card, which in turn will require a specific counter of its own. This strategic back-and-forth continues until one player cannot play a card (for example, a disarm or grab to counter the previous player’s parry), in which case the bout ends and the effect of the topmost card is applied. If it’s a cleave, for example, the losing player would receive a wound, you would receive a crowd favour token (important for scoring glory), and then you’d have the option to play another card down, namely ‘subdue’, which cannot be countered. the hand as a whole also represents your gladiator’s constitution. If it runs out, you’re out for the count, so you have to be careful about how it’s managed.

It works fantastically, each play feeling like a fresh beat in a furious fight scene, the drama building as you throw down a new card. So much so, that in three- or four-player games you won’t even mind the downtime as two others duke it out. But this trick-taking-ish mechanic is just the

pounding heart of a game that has much more to it. In addition to the aforementioned bidding and betting elements there is a neat mini-game device in the ‘glory wheel’, where each player trades the crowd favour they’ve earned for cheese-wedges of victory-point-granting glory, aiming to complete a full circle and thereby end the game.

In truth, you can live without all the trimmings and still have a great, streamlined experience which only involves the combat and gladiator cards – indeed, designers Jason Maclean Jones and Rob Barrett helpfully suggest a quickplay variant which focuses purely on this.

There are niggles: the cardboard counter components aren’t of the best quality (quite a few of ours ripped as they were being punched out) and resetting between events is a bit fiddly, as you have to return all the discarded combat cards to their three decks, while also separating the gladiator-specific cards into their own piles, making mix-ups hard to avoid. But that doesn’t mean Gladiatores shouldn’t raise its bloody gladius in triumph. Thumbs up.



Gladiatores is innovative, impressively immersive and eminently replayable. It feels like the closest a card game could eve r get to actual gladiatorial combat.


► Bidding board

► Five player

ludus boards

► 194 combat cards

Eight gladiator cards

► Six event cards

► 25 tactics cards

► 12 sponsor cards

► 25 life point tokens

► 30 crowd

favour tokens

► 40 betting chips

► Eight gladiator markers

► Five ludus tokens

► Five ludus

bidding tokens

► Active player marker

► Five turn order



The mechanisms are different, but the two games share well-explored historical themes, vivid artwork and a smart way to recreate battle through cardplay.

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About The Best Games of 2019

Must Plays and more in our Best Games of 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Over the next 196 pages discover all of the most positively reviewed games of the year. With a massive 181 games reviewed, this is the definitive “what to play next” guide of 2019! Games reviewed include: Wingspan Copenhagen Hellboy: The Board Game Res Arcana Lifeform Century: A New World Megacity: Oceania Pandemic: Fall of Rome Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Rough Nights & Hard Days Azul: Stained Glass of Sinatra Tapestry Letter Jam Hako Onna Everdell Battle Ravens Dune + Many more!

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