Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery Review

Spartacus A Game of Blood And Treachery is a tabletop strategy title filled with player interaction, based on the hit show Spartacus Blood and Sand.

Published: November 19, 2014 9:00 AM /

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Spartacus Header

Plot! Scheme! Stab your friends in the back! Sentence a man to death! Read our Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery Review!

Before I get started with the review proper, I want to point out various aspects of the theme of this game. Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, published by Gale Force 9, is a game with a mature theme intended for mature audiences. The game references sex, prostitution, and slavery, and it glorifies violence. Slavery is not only a part of the game but pervades nearly every aspect of the game. If these themes have you clutching your pearls, then this is not a game for you.

Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery - Gameplay

Her look of smug satisfaction? Doing well at this game will give YOU that look.

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery is based on the STARZ TV show Spartacus: Blood and Sand and accommodates 3-4 players. In Spartacus, each player assumes the role of a Dominus, the head of a powerful house, each vying to be the first to reach 12 influence points. Each house has different starting assets which include gladiators, slaves, guards, and gold as well as two special rules that can only be used by that house.

The game is played over a series of rounds, with each round being broken down into four distinct phases. The phases of the game include upkeep, intrigue, market and arena. These distinct phases are where the game really shines. With the exception of the upkeep phase, each of the phases has unique mechanics that stand on their own and come together as a whole to make this game a great deal of fun.

The upkeep phase is the least exciting of the four phases and sees players refreshing exhausted cards, attempting to heal injured slaves and gladiators, potentially killing them instead, and balancing ledgers. Each gladiator controlled by a player costs that player 1 gold while a player receives 1 gold for each slave that they own. If the player does not own enough slaves to offset the cost of their gladiators, they must pay for each gladiator out of their house’s treasury or discard the gladiator.

Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery - Intrigue and Scheming

"Exhaust"....wink wink...

The intrigue phase has each player draw 3 intrigue cards and then, starting with the Host before moving clockwise, each player will play out their intrigue turn. During the intrigue phase players may cash in cards from their hand for gold, play their house special rules, play slave and gladiator card abilities and play schemes. Each player’s hand size is determined by their influence, increasing or decreasing as influence is gained or lost.

Schemes have a wide array of effects ranging from mundane, such as gaining another guard for their house, to wicked, such as injuring another player’s best gladiator with poisoned wine. Each scheme has an associated influence cost listed on the top left. Players may play any and all schemes that are equal to or less than their house's total influence or they may bargain, threaten, cajole or bribe other players to lend their influence towards a more expensive scheme.

It is during the intrigue phase where most of the scheming, backstabbing, bribing and threatening happens. Money can change hands at any time and although players can give their word there is no game mechanic or rule that holds players to any promises made. It is up to the player to keep or break their word and this can see alliances formed and shattered just as quickly.

Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery - Buy to Win

Yeah, you play as an utter bastard.

The market phase allows players to buy and sell assets to each other, bid on new assets during a concealed bid auction and finally bid for rights to Host the next arena phase. The auction makes up the meat of the market phase with players bidding against each other for ownership of four asset cards dealt face down in the middle of the table. The cards are flipped one at a time, with each card being auctioned off before the next is revealed. These assets range from powerful gladiators and valuable slaves to armor and weapons that a player can equip their gladiators with during the arena phase.

To bid, players take all gold from their house treasury into their hand, placing the amount they wish to bid in one closed fist and extending it to the middle of the table. Once all players have extended their bids all bids are revealed simultaneously with the winner gaining ownership of the card. In the case of a tie the tied players bid over again until a single winner is determined.

After the four asset cards are auctioned off players hold one final auction for the rights to Host the arena phase. The Host not only goes first during the next intrigue phase but also gets to determine who is invited to compete in the arena phase as well as choosing whether the losing gladiator lives or dies.

Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery - Buy to Win

I can't tell you how much I love Gannicus. I will sabotage my entire game if it means I get my hands on this card.

The arena phase is the final phase of a game round. At the beginning of the arena phase the Host receives 1 influence for their house in honor of hosting the games. The Host then extends invitations, one at a time, to the players of their choosing, including themselves. Once offered an invitation a player may either accept, which will see their chosen gladiator sent into the arena to fight, or decline. Declining an invitation, whether a player is unwilling or unable to accept, will force the declining player’s house to lose 1 influence.

Once gladiators are chosen tribute is paid to any player whose chosen gladiator has gained favor by previously winning a fight in the arena. After tribute is paid players are allowed to place wagers on the predicted outcome of the fight. Players are able to bet on the winner of the fight as well as whether they think the fight will end in an injury or decapitation! As soon as any and all wagers are placed combat begins.

Combat is played as a tactical miniatures battle between the chosen players' gladiators and takes place on the game board. Each gladiator, or slave if they are unfortunate enough to be sent to the arena, has a set of attributes listed along the left side of their card. These attribute values show how many dice the gladiator will roll for Attack, Defense and Speed. This dice pool also acts as the combatant’s health. When a combatant suffers a wound the player must choose a die from one of the stat-dice pools and discard it.

Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery - Combat

A CG shot? Sure. Why not.

Combat proceeds until one gladiator must yield, is injured or is decapitated. At this time, players collect on any winning wagers that they placed. If the losing gladiator is still alive the Host gets to determine if they live or die. The Host symbolizes this choice by giving thumbs up to spare the loser’s life or thumbs down, which will see the loser put to death. The winning gladiator gains favor and also gains one influence for their house.

Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery is my personal favorite board game. I play it at every opportunity that I can find with a full complement of players. With that being said there are a few negatives to the game with the biggest being that the game encourages a “gang up on the leader” mentality. The game also has a tendency to end in a “bubble” victory in which a player will gain quite a few influence in a very short time, potentially all in one phase, pushing themselves to 12 and sealing the win. Neither of these things bothers me as I feel they add an additional layer of strategy to the game.

Should I Buy Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery?

Spartacus is an awesome game. Each phase is interesting and it oozes theme. The theme will put some people off but everyone else will find one of the best competitive board gaming experiences available. This is the perfect game to buy if you crave player interaction, and love a game with theming coming out of every available orifice. However, if you're after a harmonious time that doesn't involve back-stabbing your friend who is winning, then it's probably not going to be a fun time for you. 

The copy of Spartacus A Game of Blood and Treachery used in this review was provided by the publisher. This review was originally published on 11-19-2014. While care has been taken to update the piece to reflect our modern style guidelines, some of the information may be out of date. We've left pieces like this as they were to reflect the original authors' opinions, and for historical context.

Review Summary

As long as you can deal with the theme Spartacus is one of the best board games that money can buy. (Review Policy)

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Maestro of cardboard and plastic, former Tabletop Editor. Now I mostly live in the walls and pop in unexpectedly from time to time. If you ever want to talk… More about Travis