We who are about to die salute you – Spartacus Second Edition Hits Game Tables
Updated: Feb 19, 2022
Full disclosure, Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery has been my number one board game since it debuted in 2012. It was something I never would have expected.
Gale Force Nine, a company best known for miniatures, had never produced a board game before, and their first was based thematically on a Starz historofictional TV show? How could this game possibly be good?
But it was.
So f****** good.
Combining three independent, but interlinked mechanics, you needed to lie, cheat, and bluff your way to a great position, then you had to throw caution to the wind in the arena and put your gold coins where your mouth was and hope the dice didn’t turn against you.
It was brilliant. And, if you have hammy friends, it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.
For the last few years Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery has been a collector’s item on the used market. The game was allowed to go out of print because GF9 made the decision not to renew the license with Starz. But they didn’t give up on my beloved Spartacus.
Oh no. Because, as noted above, it’s brilliant. Instead, Gale Force Nine decided to develop a Second Edition of the game but without the licensed elements that lapsed, such as images from the show.
They started rebuilding those visual elements from scratch, commissioning all new art for the cards, rulebook, and box. It’s glorious.
As in a full arena chanting your name, glorious.
Gone are the sweaty, lubricated Hollywood gladiators, replaced with majestic hand drawn renderings. It’s perfection.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I would highly recommend picking up Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery Second Edition at your friendly local game shop. If they are sold out (which they should be 'cause how can you keep enough copies of this classic in stock) try amazon or gf9.com
In case you aren’t sold on my effusive praise, preferring instead to decide based on how the game plays, what follows is a brief description of the game elements. If you’ve played the game before, skip to the end for “what’s new” in second edition and check out my Second Edition unboxing video here.
The golden rule of Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery is don't be an ass. I didn’t write that, it’s straight from the rulebook.
The game is played by between 3 and 4 players. The previous game had expansions that increased this number, hopefully they too are reprinted.
The goal of the game is to become the most influential gladiatorial school dominus (leader) in Capua.
You do this by scheming, negotiating, betraying (who, me??), and purchasing assets such as weapons, slaves, and gladiators to enhance the glory of your house.
CW: slavery. Spartacus is set in ancient rome, and since it was based on the STARZ tv show, the mechanics include purchasing slaves at market auctions.
The first to 12 influence (points) wins.
You play cards, win fights, and often backstab your opponents to increase your influence.
Players choose the length of the game by deciding at what level of influence to start: 7 (the shortest game,) 4 (a moderate length, most start here), or 1 (the most epic of games.)
The choice is influential (this review is not pun free) because your ability to play cards is tied to your influence…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A game turn is played in four phases:
Upkeep (where you refresh the assets you used in the previous turn, calculate your coin etc.)
Intrigue (play cards, and maybe negotiate, betray, and bribe your friends into helping)
Market (buy the assets, slaves, weapons, and gladiators you need to win)
Arena (throw your assets into the ring and offer the gods a sacrifice of blood)
Upkeep is simple. It’s mostly about refreshing your used assets. Anything you exhausted previously, is now refreshed. And you get some cash. For every ready (ie uninjured, or unexhausted) slave on your board you earn one coin. Every gladiator costs you one coin. Balance them out and earn (or pay) the difference.
Intrigue is the meat of the game. It’s when you play cards. It’s a big opportunity to gain advantage against your rivals. But sometimes you’ll need their help to succeed.
Spartacus is unique because your influence (score) is tied to your ability to play schemes (cards.) For example, if your influence is 4, you can play cards valued at 4 or lower. If you wanted to play a powerful scheme that required 6 influence such as "A Visitor from Rome" for example, well…you’ll need to convince one or more friends to lend their support.
But what will they expect in return? Now that is the question.
Turns pass in order from the first player (the host) until the last. Each player will play as many cards as they want, then pass.
Your rivals may leave your gates unlatched, which you’ll use guards to defend…oh, what fun.
Market is where you can freely sell and trade assets with other players. You’ll also secretly bid on unique weapons, slaves, and gladiators to enhance your chances at victory. Players also have the opportunity to bid on the host role, which gives 1 influence, but perhaps more substantially has the power to decide who fights in the games.
It’s an envious opportunity for the ruthless.
Arena is where you throw down…your dice. You can bet on the gladiators, and even if one of them will get decapitated (it pays double fyi).
Each character has an attack, defense, and speed value. Red, black, and blue respectively.
You gather together a dice pool equal to your character’s stats and then it’s go time. Starting gladiators have a total pool of 7, the best available gladiators have a pool of 12. So use your judgment on the most valuable ones to buy.
What’s unique about your dice pool is that it also represents your health. So, a starting gladiator with 7 dice, effectively has 7 health points.
If he took 1 damage, he’d need to lose one die. He gets to choose where to remove it, though, and that’s part of the strategy: figuring out whether to drop attack, defense, or speed is dependent on so many variables, which differ from fight to fight. It’s life and death every time.
The combat is simple: to attack, roll all your red dice. To defend, roll all your black. Then compare highest to lowest. If I roll: 5, 5, 2 to attack, and you roll 6, 1, 1, I would hit twice.
Your 6 beats my 5, but my 5 and 2 beat your double 1s.
And combat continues until somebody’s toast.
Let’s say both gladiators survive…it’s still up to the host to decide the loser’s fate. Does he honour the gods by bathing the sands in the blood of the vanquished? Or are they merciful…for a price?
The choice is yours, noble dominus, in Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery Second Edition.
What’s new in Second Edition
The rulebook is mostly similar to the previous edition. There aren’t any rule differences I was able to spot in a comparison of the two. I did notice that there are 104 intrigue cards, up from 80, in the previous edition. I haven’t compared card for card, but I like that there’s more variety.
They’ve also added some optional rules to the end of the book.
The first is making house special rules (the unique ability of each player board) legal only once per turn and a revised speed check. Initially posted on BGG (as far as I know) the revised rule makes speed less of a god stat.
Especially in Spartacus.
But the revised rule mutes the advantage somewhat, but in a good way. Once the revised rules for the expansions come out (here’s hoping) I hope that they address cowardice in team battles. Too often I’ve seen a teammate run from combat to throw the battle because they didn’t want the other teammate to win.
But that’s a minor quibble for another expansion!
Go forth and pave your path to glory with the blood of your enemies, noble domini!
Photos courtesy GF9, and Fort Nerd, used with permission
A review copy of Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery was provided, but if you couldn't tell, I would have purchased it anyway.