Spartacus: Blood and Treachery Description and Review

Spartacus:  Blood and Treachery, published by Gale Force Nine, is a thematic game based on the Starz original series, Spartacus.  In the game, 3-4 players take on the role of Dominus of a power-hungry house of the City of Capua in Ancient Rome.  As Dominus, players will engage in a ruthless pursuit of influence in their quest for power and employ political schemes, bribery, deception, and the blood of their slaves and gladiators towards this end.  In Capua, gold for bribes, poisoned wine, and the blood of gladiators all flow like rivers as the powerful houses of the city vie for dominance.

As the game begins, players are assigned one of the four houses in the game:

House Batiatus:  This house’s primary focus is on gladiators and the games.  The vast majority of their starting resources and their special abilities are related to using their gladiators to gain money and influence.

House Solonius:  The specialty of House Solonius is scheming.  Through the use of gold he may gain access to schemes that would require greater influence than he currently possesses.

House Tullius:  Tullius uses a large stable of slave to amass wealth and influence.  His special ability allows him to cycle cards during the influence phase by exhausting 3 slaves.

House Glaber:  As a Patrician and member of the Roman government, Glaber has access to a large number of guards (soldiers) and they are his primary path to power.  By exhausting guards he may draw cards, and by sacrificing guards he may gain influence.

Certainly all of the houses will engage in the use of slaves, gladiators, schemes, and guards to achieve their goals, but each family specializes in one particular area.

The goal of the game is to be the first family to acquire 12 influence.  There are three options for game length suggested:

Quick Game: In the quick game players begin at 7 influence.  This game is recommended for the first couple of plays and will generally take less than 2 hours.

Standard Game:  In the standard game players begin at 4 influence and the game tends to last between 2 and 3 hours.

Advanced Game:  Players begin the advanced game with only 1 influence.  The advanced game usually lasts over 3 hours as players rise their families from the obscurity to supremacy!

Game Overview

The game continues until a player reaches 12 influence.  If at the end of a phase only one house has reached 12 influence the game is over and that player is declared the winner.  If more than one player achieves 12 influence during the same phase then those families settle it on the sands of the arena by a tournament.  The victor of this tournament wins the tie!

Each game turn follows the same phase structure:

Upkeep

1) Refresh Cards:  Players refresh cards that have been used in the previous turn and make them ready for use in the coming turn.

2) Heal Injuries:  Any injured gladiators or slaves that players control roll to see if they are healed, remain injured, or die of their wounds.

3) Balance the Ledgers:  Houses receive one gold per ready slave they control and pay one gold for each ready gladiator in their possession.  If they cannot pay the cost they must release one gladiator for every gold the fall short.

Intrigue Phase

1) Draw Cards:  At the start of the intrigue phase each player draws 3 cards.

2) Play Schemes/Cash in Cards:  Starting with the player who has the host marker and proceeding clockwise around the table, each player plays all of the schemes, house actions, and cashes in all cards that he wishes and then declares his turn over.  Play then moves to the family to that players left.

Market Phase

1) Open Market:  During the open market all players may freely exchange slave, gladiators, guards, equipment, and gold amongst themselves.  This is the only point in the game when this may occur, although gold is an exception and may change hands at any time.

2) Auction:  During the auction one asset card for each player in the game is placed face down in the middle of the board.  One at a time they are revealed for bid and players may bid as much or little as they wish to add slaves, equipment, or gladiators to their stable.

3) Bidding for Host:  This is when players bid for the right to host the games and gain the point of influence that comes with that honor.

Arena Phase

1)  Honor to the Host:  The player who bid the most for the right to host the games receives 1 influence and the host marker which indicates that he will be the first player during the next turn.

2)  Hosting the Event:  The host must invite two families to participate in the games.  These may both be other houses or his own.  When a family is invited it may either accept and offer up a slave of gladiator to fight in the arena and assigns any equipment to the combatant, or the family may decline either because it does not wish to participate or is unable (Has no ready slave or gladiators)

3)  Tribute:  If the gladiators being entered in the arena have favor markers from past victories their owners receive 2 gold per favor marker or 6 gold if the gladiator acquired 3 favor markers and become a champion.

4)  Place Wagers:  Players may now wager on which gladiator they think will be victorious and whether the fight will end in an injury or with a decapitation.  Choosing the victor pays out at a 1 to 1.  If the fight end via injury or decapitation of either combatant then all who wagered correctly are paid at 2 to 1 on their bets.  Players may not wager against their own gladiator as according to the rulebook, ” As this would invoke the wrath of the gods!”

5)  Combat:  Each character in the game has three stats:  Attack, Defense, and Speed.  The numbers next to these attributes represent the number of appropriately colored dice that the character receives when entering the arena.  Speed dice are used at the beginning of each round when both combatants roll to determine initiative. The higher rolling player gets to decide which player acts first.  When a player is acting during combat he performs 2 things:  Moving and attacking.  The player may do these in either order, but must make his entire move before or after attacking and may not split it up.  A character may move up to the total number of Speed dice currently in his pool.  An attack is only possible if the character is in range of his opponent which is normally being adjacent, but range can be extended through the use of certain pieces of equipment.  When a character attacks he rolls the number of dice equal to his Attack total.  His opponent then rolls any Defense dice he has and the rolls are compared.  From highest to lowest the dice are arranged and attacks are defended for every Defense die exceeding or tying the Attack die it is next to.  If the number of Attack dice exceed the number of Defense dice any left over Attack dice that are 3 or higher are considered hits.  For each Attack that is successful the defending player must immediately remove one die from his available pool.  A player may never take the last die of a type until he is left with no other choice.  If a character is reduced to a total of 2 dice remaining the fight ends in a yield.  If the losing character is reduced to 1 remaining die the fight is considered to end with an injury.  In either of these outcomes the host then decides whether the defeated gladiator will live or die, and may of course be persuaded financially in either direction.  If the final attack results in the removal of all of the defeated gladiator’s dice the character has been decapitated and is killed immediately.

6) Victory and Defeat:  Upon the conclusion of the battle in the arena all winning bets are paid off accordingly and all losing wagers are sent to the bank.  The owner of the victorious gladiator is rewarded with 1 influence and the gladiator receives a favor token as the crowd loves a winner!

If at the end of the phase no house has reached 12 influence the game returns to the upkeep phase and a new turn begins.  This process continues until one house is finally victorious!

My Review

Spartacus:  Blood and Treachery is an awesome game that perfectly captures the theme of the show by which it is inspired.  However, this game is not just for the numerous fanboys and fangirls of the show, but rather for all gamers that love to indulge in their dark sides!  If you love games that allow for bribery, propaganda, manipulation, bold-faced lying, and utterly ruthless pursuit of the victory condition then this is the game for you!  Every single move in the game is an opportunity that players can use to squeeze extra gold or favors out of their opponents.  Promises of vengeance are sworn, curses shouted, and alliances are formed and broken in the blink of an eye.  Glory does not come easy in Ancient Rome, but must be seized by those with the cunning and ambition to claim it, whatever the cost!

Spatacus:  Blood and Treachery is an absolute blast to play.  It transports players into their roles as the Dominus of a Roman house so effectively that I have seen cases of spontaneous role-playing break out.  Players feel the part, and start to speak of honor and glory in the arena as well as pronouncing thinly veiled threats and promises of retribution with a sparkle in their eyes.   I have heard a player talk about how quickly he became calloused to the well-being of his slaves and gladiators and started to think of them as merely tools to be disposed of as needed.  The mechanics are simple and sound, and provide the game with a basic framework in which all of the wheeling and dealing can occur.  That is, of course, where the real game takes place, as players try to wring every possible advantage out each card, arena battle, and deception.  You will never hear the phrase, “Trust me” sound as quite so ominous as during a game of Spartacus when you have no other choice. The fights in the arena are great fun for all.  Despite the massive amounts of dice flowing there are opportunities for skillful plays and good decisions to be made.  The betting aspect keeps everyone interested even if the are not actively participating in the fight.  You will hear cheers of victory and groans of defeat as the fates of your houses play out on the arena sands. Spartacus:  Blood and Treachery truly delivers both in large quantities while also being an thematically immersive experience and providing great entertainment!

If I have any negative comments, I would say that this game is not for everyone.  Some people are not emotionally equipped to deal with the lying and backstabbing aspects of this game.  People who take plays within a game personally in real life need to avoid this game at all costs.  There are also some slightly mature content to the game involving language, elements of sexual slavery, the extreme violence, and the utter lack of respect for human life.  I understand that these characteristics help add to the feel of the game and would not suggest that they be removed, but I do recognize that these are things that not all parents want to expose their children to, and may even be more than some adults wish to encounter in a board game.  A rule of thumb as far as adults go would be if you are not offended by the show than there is absolutely nothing in this game that will bother you.  There is also on issue with what occurs in the event of a tie between players who do not have the ability to field a slave or gladiator in the arena for a tie breaking tournament.  This came very close to happening in my first game and we were having to develop house rules to deal with the possibility.  I feel that there also needs to be some sort of rule to make the gladiators fight.  It is possible that a situation can occur where it is not beneficial for either combatant to initiate the attack and the gladiators could circle forever.  However, these are all very minor complaints that do little to effect the overall enjoyable play experience.

In conclusion, Spartacus:  Blood and Treachery is one of the funnest games that I have ever played!  I rate it 9.0 out of 10.0.  I recognize that it has a few minor flaws, and that it is not for everyone, but with the right group of players this game is as good as it gets!  When I played it with some friends we gleefully lied, conned, slaughtered, poisoned, and betrayed until 6 A.M. and everyone was smiling from ear to ear the entire time!  So don your finest toga, sip some wine, and watch gladiators fight for your glory on the sands of the arena.  It will be one of your most entertaining and unique gaming experiences ever.  Trust me…

 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Spartacus:  A Game of  Blood and Treachery please consider Circle City Games.

 

4 thoughts on “Spartacus: Blood and Treachery Description and Review

  1. It is looking like I will be doing a gaming weekend for my birthday 10/07/12. When I am sure that we are having the event I will let you know and you can come get some Spartacus on!

  2. I definitely had my doubts as well, but as a fan of the show I decided to give the demo a try at Gen Con on a whim. My wife and I had an absolute blast and walked away with a copy and big smiles. Only after playing two full games did I feel confident enough to write such a positive review. If your gaming group enjoys scheming, backstabbing, and ruthless games I have no doubt they would enjoy this one! I know I am looking forward to my next play!

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