It’s time for GladiGala, the annual showcase of the four greatest gladiator schools. Plan your actions carefully and remember: to succeed, don’t attack where your opponent is now, attack where they will be.
What Is GladiGala?
GladiGala is a programmed-movement game from Tyto Games for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 60 minutes to play according to the box. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $35 for a copy of the game. Despite the hints of gore on the cover image, there’s not any viscera in the game itself, which is a little more chess-like. I will note that the game may take 60 minutes for experienced players, but so far my games have run significantly longer than that (and a 2-player game increases the decision space, which can lead to a lot more analysis paralysis). More on that later.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
- Arena game board
- 16 Gladiator minis:
- 5 Sword
- 5 Spear
- 3 Dagger
- 3 Club
- 16 Magnetic panels (matching gladiator minis)
- 24 metal discs
- 24 snap-on bases (6 each in 4 player colors)
- 24 Attack markers (6 each in 4 player colors)
- 12 Hit markers
- Center Stage disc
- 4 Tactical boards
- 4 Treasury boards
- 4 Eagle tokens
- 24 School Symbols tokens (6 each per school)
- 12 Crowd tokens (3 each per school)
- 49 Denarii tokens (in I, V, and X denominations)
- 2 Objective tokens
The component that stands out the most in GladiGala is the magnetic panel, used for programming your gladiator’s movement. It’s a small, narrow panel that consists of a cardboard tile with a magnetic layer just under the printed surface on top. The image shows one of the four gladiators, with a tic-tac-toe grid used to indicate where your gladiator will move next. At the bottom of the panel, there are three icons for turning (left, 180°, and right), as well as a special ability. Next to the special ability icon is a small “nail” where you can put the ring when it’s not being used for the other actions.
The metal discs are small black washers, and they stick to the magnetic panels. I’m curious whether this was more cost effective than having magnetic discs (either on a magnetic or metallic panel), but it works pretty well. The washers don’t feel at first like they’re going to stick strongly—there’s no “snap” when you place them—but I haven’t had any issues with them falling off, unless I give the panel a hard shake or jolt on the table. The panels and discs are similar to the ones used in Tyto Games’ previous game, Stone Daze.
The tactical boards show each gladiator’s area of attack, and also has spaces for placing various tokens: objective tokens if you win, coin tokens for activating certain abilities, and your “declaration” tokens. The treasury boards are the same size as the magnetic panels, and just have three spaces for your I, V, and X coins. I didn’t find these particularly necessary, and I’m not sure why they aren’t just part of the tactical boards.
The prototype uses cardboard standees for the gladiators, but the final version will have plastic miniatures (with player colors indicated by the snap-on bases). Since it’s important to know which direction the gladiator is facing for movement and attacks, I think the miniatures will be much easier to read at a glance; the prototype just had a small dot on the base indicating the gladiator’s facing. One issue we encountered was that, since a player may have multiple copies of the same gladiator type, it could be tricky to remember which panel corresponded to which gladiator, so I used colored PennyGems to mark the panels and gladiators. Tyto Games told me they’re aware of this and are working on a solution for that.
Overall, the components look pretty nice, even in prototype form: the artwork and graphic design is mostly complete.
How to Play GladiGala
The game takes place over two matches. The goal of each match is to capture an opponent’s eagle, or else have the most coins when 5 gladiators are eliminated, and the winner of the game is the one who achieved the highest value objectives.
Place the board in the center of the table, with the center stage disc placed in the center of the board.
Each player takes a matching tactical board, treasury board, eagle token, 6 attack markers, and 3 denarii (coins). Each player will also take a number of magnetic panels (based on the number of players), and the corresponding gladiator miniatures, snapping their colored bases onto their own gladiators. There are always 12 gladiators total, divided evenly among the players. The Sword and Spear are Level 1 gladiators, and the Dagger and Club are Level 2 gladiators. The rulebook explains how many of each level each player will receive at random.
Players choose starting positions for their eagle tokens, which is placed in the second “ring” of squares around the center stage, centered in front of you. Gladiators are then placed around and behind the eagle.
Players take turns placing their crowd tokens along the edges of the board—no two crowd tokens may be on the same row or column of the board. These may be activated later during the game.
In all but a 2-player game, players will also use the school symbol tokens to make declarations on their tactical boards—these are predictions of what color the first 5 eliminated gladiators will be, and will earn you coins if you are correct.
Each round consists of these steps:
- Program movement.
- Place attacks.
- Activate your crowd. (Optional)
- Reveal movements.
- Resolve hits.
- Pay/receive coins.
For each of your gladiators, use the disc to indicate where you want your gladiator to move—into any of the 8 spaces surrounding it, or staying put. The disc at the bottom allows the gladiator to rotate or use its special ability (but not both). All programs are kept hidden from other players.
Each gladiator has a different attack pattern shown on the tactical board, indicating the possible spaces it may attack. Sword and Spear use a “II” attack marker, Dagger uses a “I” attack marker, and Club uses a “III” attack marker. All players place their attack markers simultaneously, and attacks are placed from the gladiators’ current position, not the position they will be moving to.
Activate Your Crowd
After attacks are placed, you may optionally activate your crowds. Two of the crowds have a green thumbs-up symbol: if any of your attacks in the corresponding row or column hits an opponent, you will earn an extra coin. One crowd has a red thumbs-down symbol: if an opponent lands an attack on you in the corresponding row or column, they earn no coins from that attack.
Everyone reveals their movement cards and moves their gladiators accordingly. If more than one gladiator attempts to move into the same space, they stay in their original positions instead, though they will still rotate or use their abilities if marked.
If a gladiator moves into a space with an opponent’s attack marker, it takes a hit. Place a hit marker underneath the gladiator miniature. With one hit, a gladiator may no longer move diagonally. With two hits, a gladiator is eliminated and removed from the board (and the colored base is placed on the center stage, building the “pillar of shame”).
If any of your attack markers hit an opponent, you receive coins from the bank equal to the attack marker (unless modified by crowd tokens). At this time you may also pay coins for various effects. For instance, if you place a coin on your board next to one of the gladiator types, that gladiator type may still move diagonally even if wounded. (This doesn’t remove the wound.) The Sword and Spear gladiators each have a “move under shield” ability: if the ability was marked on the panel and that gladiator got hit, you may spend one coin to avoid taking the wound. (The opponent still earns coins for the attack.) You are limited to 3 coins spent for shield effects per match.
The four center squares of the board are a safe zone—you may not be attacked while there, but you may also not attack from there. If a gladiator ends its turn in the safe zone, that player must pay 1 coin to the bank.
Also, you will earn coins if eliminated gladiators (indicated by the pillar of shame) match your declaration.
After all hits are resolved, remove all the attack markers, reset your magnetic panels, and start a new round.
Each of the gladiators has a special ability.
The Sword and Spear gladiators have the “move under shield” ability noted above: you may spend a coin to avoid taking a wound when hit.
The Dagger gladiator can move two spaces in the chosen direction when her ability is activated.
The Club gladiator’s attacks do two wounds instead of one when activated.
Capturing the Eagle
If your gladiator ends its movement on an opponent’s eagle, it picks up the eagle. The eagle now travels with that gladiator until it reaches the safe zone or the gladiator is eliminated (in which case the eagle is dropped in that location). While carrying the eagle, a gladiator may not use its special ability—and you may not drop the eagle once you pick it up.
The match ends if anybody makes it to the safe zone with an opponent’s eagle, and that player wins the Medal of Eagle. (If two players capture eagles simultaneously, the player with the most active gladiators wins; if tied, the player with the most coins in their treasury wins.)
If nobody captures an eagle, the match ends when 5 gladiators have been eliminated. The player with the most coins in their treasury wins the Medal of Coin. (Ties in this case go to the player with the most coins, then the player with the most active gladiators.)
In both cases, if the winner has the most coins in their treasury, they take coins equal to the difference from the second-richest player from their treasury and place it on their medal.
Then the board and gladiators are reset for the second match, which is played similarly.
After two matches, the game ends, and you compare the winners of the two matches.
The Medal of Eagle beats the Medal of Coin. In case of a tie, the player with more coins on their medal wins.
Why You Should Play GladiGala
I typically enjoy programmed-movement games, so I was intrigued by the concept of GladiGala. Plus, I’m a sucker for magnets, and I wanted to see how well these panels worked. As it turns out, the panels are a fine way to program movement on a grid, but with some caveats.
The rulebook currently suggests that you plan your movements, and then lay the panels face-down next to the edge of the board so that each panel lines up with the gladiator it controls. If you have multiple gladiators in the same column, you simply line up the panels along that column, in order. The problem with that is that if one column has a lot of gladiators in it, you’ll end up with a very long string of panels on either side of the board, which takes up quite a bit of room. (That, or you overlap the panels, but then you risk shifting the discs when you pick them up.) I ended up using my UberStax card holders to hold the panels, and then we revealed them. It’s a little gimmicky, but it works pretty well for this sort of movement.
The hidden movement and open attacks makes for an intriguing mix. You’re trying to hit places where you think your enemy will be so that you can wound them and earn coins. However, since the attacks are placed right on the board, there can be a bit of bluffing as well. For instance: let’s say I am about to move a gladiator forward, into a space that could be hit by my opponent. I could put my own attack marker there, indicating that I think my opponent’s gladiator will move to that space … hopefully fooling them into placing their own attacks elsewhere. The risk, of course, is that I know that attack won’t hit anyone, but if the bluff works, I may avoid getting wounded.
You can also use movement strategically to pin somebody down, if you have a good guess about where they’re going: You can program a gladiator to the same destination, and then simply attack the opponent where they’re currently standing. When moves are revealed—if you’re right—you both try to move to the same space, you both stay in place, and your attack lands. Not only did you hit them, but you also prevented them from getting where they wanted to be.
The various gladiator types have different strengths and weaknesses, and part of the strategy is figuring out how to use your team effectively. Spears have a very long range, but are defenseless up close. Swords have a pretty good reach, and can also attack the space they started in. Daggers are very short range, but their speed lets them get across the board very quickly. Finally, the Clubs have a very limited attack space, but they can eliminate a gladiator in a single blow. Depending on your mix of gladiators, you’ll have to adjust your approach. Do you try to keep your distance and try to eliminate opponents from afar? Do you charge in and hope you can snag the eagle and get back out before they catch you?
I mentioned earlier that my plays have taken longer than the advertised 60 minutes. In a 2-player game, each player controls 6 gladiators, which is a lot to think about. Not only do you have to think about where all of them are moving and where they could get hit by an opponent, but then when you place your attacks, you have to consider again where you’re moving, and where you think each opponent might be moving. It feels a little bit like playing chess, but with 6 moves at a time, and so our games took well over an hour for a single match. This problem was especially pronounced because both players were overly cautious at first, hanging back and playing defensively.
I think, as with chess, if you don’t use a timer, GladiGala is a game that you could just sit and take all afternoon to play. That’s fine if you want a long, leisurely game, but I typically prefer to play more shorter games, so this may be my primary complaint. Tyto Games suggested that beginner players may actually try using fewer gladiators per team at first, though it doesn’t say that in the draft rulebook. I did wonder if having fewer gladiators on the board would make it harder to attack effectively, because you would be so spread out on the board. But then it may make capturing the eagle easier, which would also shorten the game significantly.
Interestingly, I think GladiGala is a game that would actually be faster with more players, because then each player controls fewer gladiators. For 4 players, each player only has 3 gladiators to think about, which I think would probably be more manageable. In addition, with more players, the board becomes more crowded, and a lot more targets will be within striking distance right from the beginning. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, I was short on time to get some players together to try GladiGala, so I was only able to play a couple of 2-player games, and wanted to share this before the campaign ended.
The core gameplay is really solid and I enjoyed it. I like the tension between capturing the eagle and eliminating opponents—you’re more likely to win the game if you can capture the eagle, but it can also be very risky to charge into enemy territory if the other player is hanging back. Some of the other parts of the game aren’t quite as compelling: for instance, the crowd tokens in particular add another decision you have to make each turn, whether or not to activate it, but it may not actually have a very big impact on the game. I can see that for expert players, crowd tokens might discourage players from moving into certain columns or rows (and thus help you predict where an opponent might move), but for beginners it may just be one more thing to think about.
If you enjoy programming-style games, take a look at GladiGala! It’s an interesting mix of hidden programmed movement and open programed attacks. The gladiatorial theme may not appeal to everyone, but the gameplay offers some nice competition and room for strategy.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the GladiGala Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.