The Warhammer Historical "Gladiator" rules are what you would expect if you have played any of their other rules such as Legends of the Old West .Basically a tweaked and rewritten version of Lord of the Rings. Though with a very heavy Gladiator theme in the details. The game is the same kind of "You move, then I move, you shoot, then I shoot, fighting phase"- IGOYOUGO hybrid like Legends of the old West. So both sides have some measure of reaction time to the enemy plans and movement. The game also allows for scaling it up and down to 15 and 54mm if you like, but the standard is 28mm.
The contents of this book are more open ended and perhaps not as focused in some regards as the Legends of the Old West rules, and they suffer from a couple of things such as spread out and "baked into the text" bits of important information and rules needed to play. The good of the book still outweighs the bad. I will try to break it down as clear as possible.
The book itself, fantastic quality, I think it rivals Legends of the Old West. Very little artwork and instead a ton of pictures of actual well painted models fill the book. 144pages thick, hardback. The cover even has a slightly raised and glossy gladiators and title text.
The main attractions:
Main chunk of the rules are about regular Gladiator combat in the arena, with men and animals fighting, throw in some cavalry and chariots to top it off.
The rules also have a condensed and from I can tell clearer written rules part that handles two other events. Chariot racing, and Gladiator combat with ships involved. Both of these look like a fun bonus, though this review will focus on the regular Gladiator part which I suspect is the main reason you will buy the book in the first place anyway.
The book also offers 10 written and ready to play Gladiator scenarios of various size and style. Some are 1vs1 fights, other are mass battles to stage Roman historical battles in the arena against conquered barbarians.
Two campaign modes, one where each player controls a single Gladiator trying to earn his freedom. The other have the players take on the role of a "Lanista" owner of Gladiator teams and try to make the best and most valuable Gladiator team in competition with other players. The advanced campaign rules dictate the conditions and participants of the game depending on level of the game. You basically start out in a flea invested village and work your way to the Colloseum.
Historical circumstances that impact on the games and Gladiators depending on what year you play and who the emperor is.
32 Gladiator and character profiles, 28 weapons, 4 shields, fist fighters (boxers), 2 types of elephants, 26 animals including various types of lions/tigers/dogs etc.
Slave market for your campaign to add character/stats to your Gladiator novices.
So the book is packed with content to keep you occupied and interested for a good while. There is also a free to download PDF with additional "barbarians in the arena" profiles. The twist here is that you don't really have point values to the profiles. When fighting 1vs1 you get a a list of the historical opponents, like the Retinarious would always fight the Secutor, Provocator vs Provocator, Thracian vs Myrmillo and so on. In the campaign there is sort of a "points system" in the money value of slaves and gladiators or certain level but this is not a game where you say "let’s play 500points per side" and then proceed to buy Gladiators and separate equipment. Each profile is "locked" as all Gladiators are armed in the traditional way, the book explains how each Gladiator worked, what his armament would be and in some cases what experimental weapons he used. But for the most part you aren't going to manage the equipment of your Gladiators.
The rules for regular Gladiator combat
All models in the game have certain stats. These are:
(D)isciplina = Training
(F)ortituda = Strength
(P)atientia = Toughness
(A)ttack = How many strikes you make when winning a fight
(W)ounds = Almost every Gladiator starts with 2
(C)onstantia = Pretty much bravery/morale
(CV) = Desire for victory, special points only available to the champions of the arena. These points can be used to tweak dierolls in your favor, make heroic actions and make your fellow Gladiators follow your commands.
The fighting rules are divided into "basic" and "advanced" rules.
The basic rules aren't especially exciting. You basically roll for initiative, move, shoot and then fight. Fighting is just both players rolling D6 matching the number of attacks, the player who rolls highest wins the combat. Opponent is pushed back 1" and the winner gets to strike at the enemy with D6 matching his attack value again this time trying to beat the opponents Patentia with his own Fortituda. This type of fighting is perhaps better suited for mass battles where you really have 10+ models per side to resolve it quickly enough.
The advanced rules are the ones I will stick to using.
In the advanced rules, rolling for initiative is modified +1 in favor of the "lighter class" opponent.
The victor of the fight phase gets to attack the opponent, and also chose between making a "High stab" or "Low slash". Having decided which one of those you want to perform, you roll 1D6 for each attack to see where you score the blow. This is a lot more exciting because now the rules take into account protected and unprotected body parts, armor type and add negative modifiers to the player becoming wounded. It also makes sense for you trying to focus on the area of the enemy Gladiator which is easier to wound than just hack away against his thick plate armor. The rules list all the armor protection "types" available in the game and how they are classed in Patentia value. An unprotected body part is Patentia 2 and thus extremely vulnerable, while a leather wrapped body part is a bit harder to wound, chainmail even harder and so on.
Wounds reduce movement speed, defensive bonuses from shields, reduce protection value of helmets and strength in your slashed weapon arm.
The advanced rules also include morale checks if you want to attack wild animals or arena champions, slaves destined for execution in the arena also have more situations where morale is taken into account.
For once someone have included the logical conclusion that if you don't hit your mark with an arrow - the arrow won't disappear into the thin air. It will travel in a straight line and have the chance of hitting someone along that line before smashing into the wall of the arena. Most weapons have thus unlimited range, some weapons have a ranged where the users strength is taken into account to work out how far they are thrown though.
Chariots can crash in a spectacular manner, throwing the crew to the ground, same goes for cavalry. Chariots can be mounted, horses do not allow that however. But I would say ignore that bit if you want to remake the battle of Carthage scene from Gladiator where Maximus jumps up on a horse and rides around hacking people’s heads off.
Appeal to the crows/after battle sequence
This is one of those fun details that make the game feel like a proper Gladiator game. When you have defeated an opponent (reduced him to 0 wounds) and unless this is a mass battle, he is allowed to roll 2D6 and add his current Gladiator level (Novice, Gladiator, Veteran, Champion) to the result. If the result is 10 or above he gets the "Thumb up" , else he is dead. After the battle you have to roll for that Gladiator who got out alive again to see what happens with his wounds. A simple D6 roll with various outcome, death from infected wounds, slow healing process or fully healed for the next battle.
Champions of the arena, are also allowed to appeal to the crowd for their freedom in fights wherethey have been victorious. The champion will thus roll 2D6 and add his level value, the total must be at least 15 in which case he becomes a free man.
Shields offer additional protection, but large shields can also be used to fight defensively making it more easy to win 1vs1 battles but you will only push back your opponent if you win. Large shields are also required if you wish to form a "shield wall" against chariots and cavalry in the game, you will also need models armed with spears to do so. But this makes it possible to recreate the already mentioned Carthage scene from the Gladiator movie.
And there are a few despite how fun this game is.
The rules are not that plentiful which is good - but - some important stuff is dispersed all over the book and sometimes baked into the text which makes quick reference hard. There is a quick reference sheet at the back of the book but still, if you want to learn detailed information you sometimes need to look through long paragraphs of text to find a single sentence that actually contains the rule.
The campaign mode is unclear as to how you really hire and use Gladiator prices in the 4 levels of the campaign. There are 2 pages that explain the "basic guidelines" as I would call them for the campaign but the tone is more that of a discussion and not that clear. I think the basic campaign rules should be used together with the "advanced campaign" rules to make some sense. In the advanced mode you buy slaves, and can use their basic value to sort of calculate how much they will increase in worth depending on level of gladiator and level of battle.
Summary of the good:
Lots of profiles, easy enough rules to get into the game quickly, allows for easy tweaking of stats and rules. A lot of the special rules are very satisfying, such as the chariot crashes, slave market, appeal to the crowd, shooting rules etc. It does feel like a Gladiator game have no doubt.
And the chariot racing rules actually look like a lot of fun if you are into that sort of things.
The shortcomings of the hand to hand combat is very easily fixed to better reflect the varied training of opponents. It is also a game that requires a flat surface or a "fighting pit" if you want to build one. Not much more in the way of terrain is needed. Thus you can focus on the fun of collecting/painting models. The book is kind enough to list a lot of Gladiatior miniature sources, so you can find all those cool models in the book.
The author of the rules also have a nice rather straight forward attitude on when something is historical and when it is mere speculation if sources are in conflict. The historical (would not call it "fluff") bits are very interesting.
These are my own tweaks that I worked into the games "advanced fighting rules".
1) Fights are still won by rolling attack dice, however, only the dice that beat the opponent counts. So if the defender roll a 4, and you roll a 1 and a 5 you only score 1 successful hit. Same goes for multiple attackers against a single defender.
2) Fights are resolved with a D6+ Disciplina. This makes better trained Gladiators show their skill more often than when just rolling a "tie" during the fight phase.
3) When resolving hits on the hit chart, Shields only give their bonus value to the Shield arm.
Overall I would give the book 8/10. There is very little you can't fix yourself for the better or to your taste. Even the campaign rules could be used as a guideline upon which you yourself add the cost values and limits allowed.
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