The Third (Board)Game Of Christmas

Editor’s note: These are going to start appearing thick and fast this week.

On the third day of Boardgamemas, my true love gave to me THREE FRENCH HENS. Except they weren’t French. They were Roman. And they weren’t hens. They were gladiators. And there wasn’t three of them. There was only one. His name? SPARTACUS.


Spartacus was my big board game surprise of the year. A TV show tie-in game, inexpensive, launching without much fuss. And yet it turned out to be one of the most thrilling, cut-throat games I’ve played in years. I’ve even accosted strangers in board game shops to tell them to buy it. The problem is that NO-ONE BELIEVES THAT THIS GAME IS GREAT. And my loving it has nothing to do with the show either. I haven’t seen the show. I just love the bones of this amazing game.

I covered it in some depth right here and I can’t think of a better game to play on a lazy boxing day. Four players, each a powerful Roman arsehole, manipulating each other and sending gladiators to battle each other. The game is like a festive selection box of some of the best board game mechanics. There’s a little bit of card play, a little bit of blind bidding, a little bit of betting, and a whole lot of rolling dice and decapitations. If decapitations are a mechanic. Let’s just agree that they are.

I just love this game. It’ll be a strong Game of the Year contender when I make that tough old decision in January. It’s been a great year.


Someone who watched Spartacus. Even if they were only watching it to see nude bodies.

Someone who thinks board games are boring. This game is so thrilling it will CHANGE MINDS.

Someone who likes getting really angry at being betrayed, manipulated, poisoned and decapitated.


Click this

You can also find it online, of course. But try to support your independents. This game is on the less expensive end of things, despite being full of cool shit.


A copy of Spartacus, a lot of food, and a lot of booze. This game is wild. You should feast and drink like the most decadent of Romans while you play this. You could even transition into a full orgy afterwards, if your gaming group bucks tradition by being even remotely attractive. Regardless, I guarantee a great time.


And it’s SPARTACUS! What will be next?! Nine to go!


  1. mrwout says:

    I almost bough this one, but the rather long play time scared me away…

    • Qwentle says:

      It can be quite long. There are rules for much shorter games however, lasting around two hours total, and though it doesn’t have some of the nuance that I imagine the full version does (not as many rounds mean you won’t have time to gear up your gladiators, and you’ll have access to the majority of influence cards from the off without help), it’s still the best boardgame I picked up last year (and that’s a year that includes Eclipse, City of Horror and Mansions of Madness).

      • mmalove says:

        “Shorter version, around 2 hours”

        So, Dune the board game?

      • tka says:

        Both short games I played with 3 and 4 players took about 60-75mins. Normal game with 4 players took 2 hours.

    • Archonsod says:

      The length of the game is largely down to the Mexican standoff that tends to develop rather than the mechanics as such (we were breezing through turns in around five minutes last week), so it’s more down to the group you’re playing with than anything else.
      There’s rules to shorten the game in the box, and it’s easy to set your own victory conditions once you understand how it plays if you want to keep things moving along. Our group tends towards being turtles in this kind of game, so we started using a “highest influence after fifteen turns wins” rule, which ensured people played a little more aggressively and we could get through a game in around an hour or so. It was still just as much fun to play (moreso in fact, since the amount of backstabbing increased about 200%).

  2. Shadowcat says:


    No, I’m Spartacus!

  3. Qwentle says:

    Picked this up on your previous recommendation and can heartily agree. Only qualm is that the combat bit can be a bit predetermined, but that’s both a) quite fine given the number of different things to do and b) probably a consequence of playing using the speeded up rules, with more equipment for gladiators I can see it being mixed up a bit.

    Our version was rather quite close to being renamed ‘Thing in the Pit’ after a shock series of events almost brought our titular character low.

    Can’t wait for the expansion which looks like it’ll make it even more hectic.

  4. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Three French gladiators, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a peeeeeaar tree.

  5. PoulWrist says:

    Bought it after the column about it, and it is indeed a great game! The only slightly disappointing part is the combat, the lack of any kind of meaningfulness to movement just means that a faster gladiator gets a free attack every now and again if you just play it totally mechanical, meaning the speed stat becomes the most meaningful. We tried playing without moving around in combat all that much, but that bit really is the weakest. If possibly it had not been hexes, or there had been some kind of obstacle in there, it could’ve been more interesting, but as it is, you just have to kinda say “ok we’ll just meet up in the middle, and since you’re the fastest you get to attack first” to feel there’s any kind of fun to that bit.

    Now, we have only been playing the “short” version of the game, where you start at 7 influence, and I think that the resource income and distribution is a little out of whack with that end of the game, as the first guy to kind of get a good gladiator is likely to win, provided he gets to fight in the arena, because they really are that much more powerful than the starter ones, and considering the 7 influence is kind of late-game it doesn’t take much to get through to the end. Looking forward to trying it one day going from 1 influence.

    Highly recommend this game :) it has some lovely art and some great fases, and a lot of physicality as you pick up gold coins to bid on auctions, bet on the outcome of fights and play cards and move little gladiators about. Buy it :D

    • Syphus says:

      I know the game says to start at the higher influence and play to the top, but I think it works out better if you start at 1 and then just play to a lower number.

    • Archonsod says:

      Movement doesn’t really become important until you start getting tooled up gladiators. Being likely to attack first becomes rather moot when the other guy gets to ignore your first attack anyway.

  6. AshEnke says:

    The only thing preventing me from buying all those games is that they’re mostly new and only available in english… and I don’t think all my french friends are ready to dive in a complex game in a language they barely understand… :(

  7. Mctittles says:

    I wish these articles had the cardboard children tag. I can’t remember all the board games discussed and when it comes buying time I like to look through previous chardboard children articles.

  8. jeffcapeshop says:

    If you have any family christmas recommendations you should do them next. like tomorrow. thanks!

  9. Temple says:

    Ask us! We will tell you lies as much as anyone else.
    link to

  10. McDan says:

    What a game, so far house rules include decapitations being 3:1 rather than 2:1 like injury as it is harder and something else which I can’t remember because the game is SO AMAZING.

  11. Groove says:

    “These are going to start appearing thick and fast this week.”

    Rab, you may be awesome, but your scheduling is not.

    • Fameros says:

      If you believed that, I’ve got a lot on Mare Vaporum to sell to you.

      • owenllharris says:

        He said on Twitter that they were all written and submitted.