TITLE: Ludus Gladiatorius (2005)
AUTHOR: Doug Cowie
PUBLISHER: em4 Miniatures
PUBLICATION DATE: 2005
PRICE: £12.00 / $25.00 (in 2008)
REVIEWED BY: SeattleGamer Steve
PERIOD COVERED: Gladiator Combat
Ludus Gladiatorius is not just a set of simple rules but a complete game. The rules fit on a single tri-folded sheet of paper (double-sided), and are mostly straight text, with a few illustrations. There are Character Record Sheets, which fit on a single, tri-folded sheet of paper (single-sided), designed to be copied and cut into five separate record sheets, one for each type of gladiator. A set of 30 colorful, die-cut, thin cardstock counters are also provided, along with a full-color, fold-out 16” x 16” game mat (printed on glossy paper), depicting the arena. And you get 7 custom dice.
But most important, you get 5 pre-painted, 28mm metal gladiator miniatures, and their plastic, hexagon slotted bases.
Ludus Gladiatorius is designed as a quick set of rules for pitting two or more gladiators against one another in ancient Rome. The game can support up to five players, with each player controlling one gladiator (in a two-player game, each player controls two gladiators).
A player can easily control several gladiators without trouble, and if you join this set of figures with Ludus Gladiatorius II (a stand-alone sequel which includes 5 new miniatures), a game can handle as many as 10 figures at once.
Game models come pre-painted, are individually based, and represent one gladiator.
- Ground scale: unspecified
- Time scale: unspecified
- Figure/Base Ratio: 1 figure = 1 man/woman/beast
- Recommended Figure Size: 28mm (included)
- Table Size: unspecified – but a small card table is sufficient.
- Length: Varies based on number of players, but a typical game between two opponents, each fielding two gladiators, is playable in about 30 minutes.
The included miniatures come with 1” hex-shaped slotted bases. The arena play mat has a hex grid to aid movement.
Place the numbered counters (equal to the number of gladiators being played) in a container. Each player draws one counter for each gladiator in their control. These counters are placed face up in front of everyone. These denote the gladiator activation order for this turn.
- Players now decide if they wish to have their gladiator(s) perform a Special Action. If so, a counter indicating the action to be taken is placed face down next to the gladiator.
- The player who drew the #1 counter now becomes the active player. Their gladiator may Move and then Fight, or Fight and then Move.
- Once the first active player has finished, the second player becomes active, and may Move and Fight, or Fight and Move their gladiator. Play continues in this fashion until all the gladiators have been activated this turn. A new turn then begins.
The rules are all simple and easy to grasp. The only thing out of the ordinary is the use of custom dice. There are three so-called standard dice, two boosted dice, one mighty effort die (these all have varying numbers of single and double “swords” and “shields”), and the Emperor’s Die.
There are five gladiators provided, each with a different combination of Life Points (ranging from 8 to 12), Movement Rates (ranging from 3 to 5 hexes), Combat Dice (varying numbers of standard and boosted dice), and Special Actions (each gladiator has seven, but they will have a different mix of the four Special Actions).
Once activated, a gladiator may Move and then Fight, or Fight and then Move. The arena has a hex grid to facilitate movement. Facing is unimportant.
Combat can only be initiated against an adjacent enemy. A gladiator may only make one attack per turn (unless a Special Action permits more). The attacker rolls the appropriate Combat Dice for his gladiator, counting all “swords” as hits. The defender rolls the appropriate Combat Dice for his gladiator, counting all “shields” as parries. Subtract the shields from the swords. If more swords were scored, the defender loses Life Points equal to the difference, otherwise the defender is safe. Cross off the Life Points on the record sheet for that gladiator.
Note that a gladiator may only make one defense per turn (unless a Special Action permits more). So if a gladiator is attacked more than once in a turn, no defensive dice are rolled – all “swords” go directly to taking away Life Points.
Once a gladiator has been reduced to zero Life Points, the attacker rolls the Emperor Die. If a “thumbs-up” is rolled, the gladiator is removed from the arena, but lives to fight again (Campaign Rules only). If a “thumbs-down” is rolled, the defender is slain on the spot, and removed from the arena.
There are counters provided for performing Special Actions. Each gladiator has a different mix of four such actions. These include Savage Attack (additional dice are rolled when making an attack), Feint (re-roll misses when attacking), Dodge (re-roll any misses when defending), and Doughty Defense (additional dice are rolled when defending, and any extra “shields” are saved, and can be used against other attacks this turn).
Special Actions (numbers and types) are listed on the record sheet for each gladiator. When a Special Action is performed, cross it off the record sheet.
A black counter is also provided for each gladiator, so a counter is always placed, and your opponents will never know if it is a Special Action or a ruse.
Gladiator selection is simple. Before the game starts, place the numbered counters in a container, and have each player draw a counter (in a two player game, each player draws two counters). The number drawn indicates the gladiator selected.
There is but one scenario – a fight to the last man!
The rules were simple and easy to understand. There are no diagrams or charts included, but that’s because none are necessary. One read-through of the rules is probably all you need to be ready to play your first game.
And though the game is definitely simple, there is still some depth to the rules. While every gladiator has seven Special Actions, they will have a different mix. Knowing when to use an action (and when to bluff) may make the difference between victory and death.
In multi-player games, another level of strategy is knowing when to “partner” with an opponent to gang up on an enemy, and when to turn on that partner. Remember, a gladiator can only make one defense, so unless he played the Doughty Defense Special Action, after that first attack, any additional attacks this turn go straight to taking away precious Life Points!
To many, the rules and other game components are all secondary to the main attraction, which are the five pre-painted metal miniatures. In fact, the box is actually marketed as selling 5 pre-painted miniatures, and getting a game included for free.
I found the miniatures to be nicely painted and a good value. Because of this, the “free” rules are a lot of fun to play, and you can knock off a couple of quick games in less than an hour.
Are their issues with the game? Yes, three. First, the die-cut, cardstock counters are printed on the thinnest of cardstock. Any thinner and it would probably qualify as paper. This isn’t a big deal, but I thought it should be mentioned. They are a little hard to pick up, and using your finger nails to pry them up will slowly start to ding the edges. More enterprising players have developed suitable cards to use for the various counters, and even alternate (and more colorful) character record sheets. These are free on BoardGameGeek (see the link provided at the top of the review).
Second, while an Emperor’s Die is included, and allusions are made to Campaign Rules, you are later directed to Ludus Gladiatorius II (the sequel) to find those rules. I wish those rules had been provided as a free download. The existing rules, while fun, are still very “lite” on detail, and adding campaign play of some sort would have been really nice.
Third, the Standard dice, Boosted dice and Mighty Effort die are all white with different mixes of sword and shield symbols. It can be a little difficult to tell them apart when it comes time to make your rolls. Color-coded dice would have been nice. I am happy to report that this was addressed by em4, and that colored dice were included in LGII, and are also available for sale separately.
This is a fun, fast-playing game of gladiator combat. What it lacks in detail it makes up for with speed of play. And I must admit, it is nice to be able to open up the game box, unfold the colorful arena map, and plunk down painted miniatures – without having to take the time to paint them myself.
If you purchase Ludus Gladiatorius II, you not only get the campaign rules, but you can expand your gladiator mix with 5 additional miniatures – one of which is a lion!
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