What: An intense game of “blood and treachery” not for the feint hearted
Players: 2-4 (5 with expansion)
Time: 60+ minutes, so settle in.
People: Only for those looking for something a little deeper, more strategic and with a longer attention span
Available: Get it here UK or here US (you get a lot of game for your money)
Why we recommend it
Spartacus: a game of blood and treachery. That last word might be an understatement, as I was to find out.
There are quite a lot of rules to learn, so this game will take a while and it probably isn’t for your mum. But, if you have a small group of friends who are ready to play something with a little more depth and a lot of theme then Spartacus is a great place to go.
I just hope you are still friends afterwards.
There is a lot going on in Spartacus. Every round is made up of three phases of things.
First, there is a scheming round of backstabbing, plotting and picking on each other.
Next, there is a market round of trading goods with each other, complete with a great blind auction for more weapons, warriors and slaves (err, yeh. Slaves. We’ll get to that*), then finally it all ends in the arena.
Host for the day throws two of you into the arena to duke it out. Everyone bets on the winner and then a load of dice-rolling mayhem ensues.
Once all is said and done you will beg and plead with the host.
A simple thumbs down and your warrior is killed. It oozes theme, wave after wave of exciting moments that you weave together over a couple of hours into your own story of ancient Rome. I want to tell you about one particular story.
We were on holiday in Dieppe, way out in the countryside. It was an incredibly hot day and we all were sat outside burning away deep into this epic game on the garden table.
Everyone was creeping closely to winning (first person to reach 12 points). As is common in Spartacus, someone notices something everyone else had over looked
Chris is about to win.
Instantly the negotiating, the scheming, the plotting; it all stops.
“What do we do? What do we do?” Matt says
We were all bitter opponents moments earlier but now we have to join forces. If Chris wins the final auction he will get enough points to win on the spot and that will be it. The hour or so of planning and plotting we’ve spent getting to this point will have been for nothing.
“I have the most money, if everyone gives me everything they’ve got I think I can outbid him” I propose to the group.
There is a moment of silence. Everyone is mulling it over. We all know it is probably the only way not to lose, but it will put me in a great position. Everyone wants to get their fair share.
“I’ll give you all of my money if you don’t put me into the arena” says Joel as all his warriors are gone and he has just a weak slave to fight.
“Deal.” He hands me over the small fortune he’s amassed.
“I’ll give you all my money if you do put me in the arena” says Matt, pointing at his champion who has already ripped apart several of us in battle.
“Deal.” He hands me over all of his coins
“Meh” says Adam. He throws me over 1 solitary coin. A token gesture. Classically Adam. He’d rather go down in flames with the rest of us than give over any more of his money.
I push all of the cardboard coins into my palm and clench it over the table in a fist. Chris does the same. Someone starts a drumroll around the table and the tension builds. We open our hands somewhat anticlimactically as we realise we can’t tell on sight who has the most.
We quickly count and double count out coins. “30!” Chris declares. Then I shout “31! YES” The rest of the table celebrate. Adam’s insulting gesture actually kept us in the game.
Everyone is happy, other than Chris who vows to destroy us all. It’s now my turn and I am the host of the next games. Our plan worked and it’s time to honour our deals and then get back to scheming.
Instead, I put myself into the Arena and Joel’s slave. The mood immediately sours and then a large amount of abuse is hurled at me. I deserve it, within a heartbeat of us snatching Chris’s victory as a team, I have betrayed them all.
That arena victory combined with no one have any money left to take me on was all I needed.
I win the game. Everyone fucking hates me for a few hours after. The brief elation of victory quickly feels hollow. Was it worth it? Would I do it again? … Probably.
*I know thematically there were slaves in ancient Rome. I know there are in the TV show this game is based on. It still makes me feel gross saying it and playing with those cards though. Call me sensitive, but I just feel there must have been an alternative idea they could have used.