Review – MUNERA: Familia Gladiatoria from Albe Pavo, designed by Matteo Santus
I AM SPARTACUS!!!
There I said it… I don’t know about you but I have always enjoyed the spectacle that is the movie Spartacus and I must say that my limited knowledge of the world of gladiators in ancient Rome is very much limited by what I have seen on film. Not really a great way to understand what life for the gladiators was all about.
In gaming terms, there have been many games about gladiatorial combat which is where all the action is but the good folks of Albe Pavo have decided to produce MUNERA: Familia Gladiatoria, a game that covers the world of the gladiators from the viewpoint of the lanista or the entrepreneur who invests and risks his own finances to build up a ludus or gymnasium and familia gladiatoria (gladiator school) in order to financially succeed and gain Glory.
Be advised – this is not a rock-em sock-em beat em up game at all. It is an attempt to simulate this world and the first in a very ambitious series of Munera games. In this game, the players manage their ludus recruit staff, buy the strongest candidates to train as gladiators, bring their champions to the arenas and hopefully prevail against fellow competitors.
This game is clearly a labor of love as it is clearly a huge effort to take all of the information and history and produce a game. Matteo Santus is to be commended for taking what apparently is a very complex and richly detailed world and putting it into a form which is playable and interesting.
The rules provide background information about the different types of gladiators here which is very helpful and interesting and the theme is well developed using Latin terminology which takes a bit to get used to. There are useful and important descriptions of the components which include 2 very nicely themed game boards, one depicting ancient Italy and the other the Spectacle Board which is used to resolve gladiator duels. There are cards depicting Gladiators, Ministers who support and train the gladiators, Munus which are the spectacle contracts which can be bid for and Events. The information is pretty clear and well presented and the English translation is very good for the most part. Various other components and markers are available for tracking progress, collecting funds, etc. The artwork by Jocularis is very effective in presenting the theme of the ancient Roman world.
One criticism would be is that there is a fair amount to take in along with getting used to the Latin and it would have been useful to have perhaps a one-page synopsis of the main elements and game process rather than having to refer back to the full rules.
Interestingly, and here is the impressive part, the actual flow of the game is pretty simple. Once you understand how all the different elements function, it all plays rather well. You will find yourself going back into the rules at least until you get used to it all. It really helps that there are illustrated examples to help you learn.
The turn starts with the Eventum phase where Event cards are drawn, Gladiators are engaged and can be healed, and Gladiators and Ministers are auctioned in the Forum so you can build up your school of gladiators. The Munus phase is where you find out what Spectacle contracts are available to earn . The competing gladiator schools Tender or bid for the right to participate in each Spectacle. You also need to make sure that you send “matching” gladiators – only certain types of gladiators can fight each other. If opposing schools do not provide the right matching gladiators, you may have to set up a match between your own gladiators to earn a profit and complete the contract. If you win the Tender, you pay the Transfer (travel) costs from your funds. The duels are resolved which is interesting as survival of the gladiators may depend on how much the audience appreciates the Spectacle. Not that they are baying for blood, but they do appreciate a good old scrap!
And before you think that there is a lot of down time for those not involved in a particular Spectacle, the other players can place bets or even attempt to tamper with the outcome which I thing brings a sense of fun to the proceedings which could come across as rather grim in the tough, brutal Gladiator world.
Overall, there is quite a bit to get used to. The complexity is in the information and although it is presented reasonably well with useful examples, this is not a light game. It is not a dry simulation nor a action packed game. It is somewhere in the middle, catering for the action crowd, but not in a visceral sense as well as the business/economic crowd where ultimate victory goes to the best business approach. Manage your school and resources well and you stand a chance to win.
Did it work for me?
I found this to be a very interesting game and I appreciate the passion in the design. This is clearly a labor of love by the designer. It will be interesting to see where he takes the next games in the series. If you are looking to engage in the economic and bigger picture aspects of building your gladiator school and competing with other entrepreneurs, this is a great game for you. It needs to be absorbed somewhat before getting into it but once you do, it is a satisfying gaming experience.
Boardgames in Blighty Rating – 6 out of 10
Although very interesting, this isn’t a family game. More for experienced gamers.
For more information about Albe Pavo games go to – http://www.albepavo.com/