Gladiatores Review

The sword is heavy in your hand. Sweat and blood run in rivulets down your tired and aching body. And the sun, that wicked golden eye, it stares down at you, relentless, glaring and baking your flesh beneath the scant armour. Of your opponents there is only one left standing and you know he feels the same. You can only hope that his weapon is heavier, his body more drained and that his wounds are deeper.

Game: Gladiatores: Blood For Roses

Designer: Jason Maclean Jones

Publisher: Badcat Games

Artists: Ania Kryczkowska, Rodrigo Gonzalez Toledo

Runtime: 20 – 90 minutes

Player Count: 2 – 5

Gladiatores is a fast paced, hard hitting take-that game of arena combat, there’s a touch of deck building, a hint of memory, a smattering of betting and amidst all the Gladiator quotes there will be lots and lots of swearing at one another.  A game about fighting should always be accompanied by plenty of smack talk I say. After choosing which of the six different gladiators you’d like to play as and adding to the small deck of gladiator specific cards from the central supply you are more or less ready to say in a gruff Scottish accent “Gladiators, ready!” and start fighting.

Gladiatores Board Game Review - Board Meetings - In Play
The Hoplomach is doing OK overall, maybe this fight he’ll distinguish himself for a greater reward

The combat in this game is very light and can be very fast, it’s based on a card trumping system, where one player will launch an attack by playing one of their attack cards, the defender has to play a card that repels the previous, which in turn can also be countered. And so this goes, back and forth until one player cannot play another card.  However, this isn’t just a case of playing one card after another; you’ll have to repel the previous card with specifically named cards. So, a Cleave, for example, can only be repelled by either a Parry or a Block, which in turn can only be repelled by a Disarms/Grab, or a Shove/Leap respectively.

This all means that players have to carefully manage and negotiate their hand of cards because this game isn’t really a deck builder, as you’ll be shedding cards far faster than you’ll be picking them up. You see, the cards don’t only represent what moves and actions you can take, but also your energy, use it up and your gladiator collapses to the sand. It’s important to note here that losing a bout of combat though isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact, it can be a good idea to let your opponent use up their defence cards where they don’t directly affect you.

Gladiatores Board Game Review - Board Meetings - Card Stack
It started with a Thrust and the same player ended up having to Dodge

In Gladiatores players are trying to do two things, as you are essentially playing the game at two levels. One in the arena as the gladiator, where all you care about is dispatching the others. The second is as the owner and operator of a Gladiator Ludi (a school or troupe) where all you care about is the overall fame and glory. This ‘glory’ is collected in a variety of ways and is represented by these little rose petal tokens. You’ll win it for pulling off certain or special moves in the arena, dishing out damage and naturally, winning the fight.

Gladiatores Board Game Review - Board Meetings - Rose Petal Glory
Rose Petal Glory!

Another way to win glory is through the in-game gambling system. This mechanic overall is very much like a backup plan, a hedging-your-bets type of thing and in that function, it works well, but I find myself wanting a little more from it. I will state here that I personally dislike gambling generally, but here I dislike it because when I lose the bet (which Gladiator will win) all I’ve lost is the opportunity to win, there’s no weight or consequence to it. However, winning the bet is both a great catch up mechanic and always leaves me with a smug sense of satisfaction.

Gladiatores Board Game Review - Board Meetings - Glory Wheel
Glory Wheel, what it’s all about!

It is with these considerations that Gladiatores is far more than a simple combat, card trumping game. Players will often have to plan and strategize about the whole fight, not just the combat they’re in because even when not in a fight the other players are watching what cards are going down on the table. If you see someone play more than two Blocks you can be fairly confident the attack on your turn will find its mark. This game has “active downtime” whereby a careful player will be watching and waiting for their perfect moment to strike. Add to this that in each fight at least one player will probably be trying to defend another to win the bet too and all of a sudden you have a dynamic and clever fighting game.

Now, Gladiatores can be played one of two ways, a single event and season mode. The former functions better as a tutorial/demo than a true reflection of the full game simply because it doesn’t show off what this game is capable of, it doesn’t really allow players to build relationships and vendettas, it makes the gambling, tactic and sponsorship cards almost redundant. Having played Season mode I would now, never play a one-off fight outside teaching someone else.

Gladiatores Board Game Review - Board Meetings - Event Cards
There’s an array of Events to take part in, and these all add to the variability of the game

In the “proper” game you’ll come to see and appreciate the nuances between each of the gladiators, knowing how valuable or dangerous particular cards are for certain fighters is part of the overarching strategies and joys of this game. With the highs of exciting and quick-fire card playing along with the often twisting combats, there is the ever-present risk of being knocked out of the game. With Gladiatores this pseudo player elimination; where your gladiator is killed and out for the remainder of the combat, it can be a little frustrating.  Yes, there is still the bet, but you have no way of influencing it, so you’re stuck in this kind of in-the-game-out-the-game limbo. Luckily, as more gladiators are knocked out of the fight, the rest of the match speeds up, but if you’re the type of gamer put off by things like this, it could still be a little too much like actual “player elimination” for you.

Gladiatores Board Game Review - Board Meetings - In Play Close Up Retiarius
The Special Attack has been used, the player will have to wait another turn before it can be used again.

The card trumping mechanic works really well, it’s very quick and easy to explain and although it can feel a little random at times it also creates a more interesting and exciting twist to each fight, there is never a guaranteed winner. When a volley of cards are slapped down between two players this game triumphs at creating those “and take that” moments, while simultaneously having the other players grin like starving wolves watching their prey exhaust itself. This game manages to strike a good balance between being fun, fast and fighty, and also creating enough tactical and strategic moments to elevate it far above a simple card trumping game. As with any arena style combat game, the more the merrier and bloodier and with around five rounds of combat you’ll get bad luck, drama and a lot of variety each time you play.

Now would you look at that, a whole review of a game about gladiators without a Gladiator or Spartacus quote in sight…I must be getting professional or something.


This review was based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher, as such the final version may differ from what is seen here.


5 thoughts on “Gladiatores Review

  1. Hi Rory Not sure of the best way to contact you – hopefully this will work. I saw your review for 5 Minute Chase and am really pleased that you liked the game, not to mention that it was a really well written and humours review (disclosure at this point that I am one of the co-designers of the game).  The first thing was that it has been brought to our attention that in the rules included in the first run of the game it did not mention that you need to mix the hideout tiles with the route tiles to make 28 tiles, so many people were starting with 25 tiles that they couldn’t split into 2 piles, and no hideouts. They’ve now corrected it and I believe that the updated (proper) rules are on the Board Game Geek website. I hope that you haven’t had this difficulty.  Secondly, there are currently no reviews on Board Game Geek for the game so I was wondering if I could start a thread on BGG which linked to the review of the game on your website? No worries if not, or if you were planning on putting the review on BBG yourself anyway (I certainly don’t want to plagiarise your work/ideas or steal your thunder).  As I said in the comments on your website – I really liked your idea of trying to escape before the end of the Prison Break credits (so much better that my ideas of playing dressed as cops and robbers, or trying to escape whilst 2mins of epic music is playing).  Kind regards,Antony


  2. Hi Rory Just a quick thank you for putting your review of 5 Minute Chase up on Board Game Geek. Much appreciated. Love reading about your other reviews on your website too. Kind regards,Antony Proietti

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Rory, another great review! Particularly I’m glad to see there is plenty of smack talk going on cos that tends to happen a lot in our games too! Interesting that you think that there is an element of deck building also. I see where you are coming from since you are creating a mini-deck of combat cards before each game but it does also feel like a deck-destroying game too as its all too easy to shoot through your hand ‘deck’ if not paying attention or getting carried away in the excitement of bashing your opponent. I wonder if deck-destroying card games will be a future thing in gaming?


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