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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Spartacus: The Serpents and the Wolf

by Luke Melia

We recently got our hands on the new expansion for one of our favorite board games, Spartacus, by Gale Force 9 and Battlefront.  This series from Starz, was one of my favorite shows and I have always been terribly impressed at how it translated into game form.  The expansion allows for two additional players and introduces the Primus, where four Gladiators can all fight at the same time.  So here is your basic breakdown of the game:

The expansion comes with:
31 New Market Cards
55 New Intrigue Cards
2 New House Cards
50 Tokens and Coins
2 New Gladiator Models
26 Dice
1 Rule book for the expansion

The market and intrigue cards are marked with a small serpent head to denote it comes from the expansion so you can remove if you just want to play the basic game.  A new element has been introduced in the intrigue cards called opposed influence.  Basically, a card may have a up or down arrow.  These arrows denote whether you have to have more or less influence than the player you are playing the intrigue card on.  This can add an interesting twist, especially later in the game.  You also get a new Ashur Gladiator card which replaces the one from the original game. 

The new houses are House Seppius and House Varinius.  I have found Seppius can be extremely powerful as his special rules are that he:

A) Can exhaust guards to raise the influence required on a scheme or reaction for anyone, but more importantly he can

B)  Collect a gold any time any player completes a scheme that yields gold from the bank.

Seppius ends up with a lot of gold, which can influence a great deal of game play.  Varinius can set up an impressive defense with his special ability to retrieve Guards from the discard pile.  His other ability, Will of the Senate, is a little under-powered, as most times - especially in the beginning of the game - soliciting influence from players is never really a big problem.

A really impressive addition to the game is the Primus.  The Primus is when four Gladiators fight in the Arena at the same time.  Two Houses fight together for the glory of their Dominus and of Rome.  The Host can call a Primus when he has ten or more influence or when the reaction card, A Spectacle of Blood and Death, is played.  Invitations happen as normal, but victory is awarded to the team instead of the individual player.  In true Spartacus fashion, an element of treachery has been introduced.  There are a few Gladiators who have a new ability called fittingly enough "Treacherous".  These Gladiators may switch teams at the beginning of any combat round, before determining initiative, thereby making it a three versus one fight.

Overall I was happy with the expansion.  It did not take away from the original game, but in fact added some unique elements to gameplay.  This is one of my favorite board games out there and having two more players - making it a six person game - makes for a more interesting game.  I did notice that many of the new intrigue cards seem to focus on helping yourself through either gold gainers or ways of improving influence on your House.  There just did not seem to be as many screw your neighbor cards proportionately to the original.  This in itself can change the game, unless you have some very aggressive players across from you.  You really have to adjust your strategy to account for the additional players and steadily build up a strong power base and a god defense when you make your play for the win.  My biggest disappointment came from the expanded play time.  I am used to playing, even starting at one influence, in less than an hour and a half.  In the two games I have played, both have well exceeded that time and pushed into the two and a half hour time frame. 

I am giving Spartacus:  The Serpents and the Wolf 4.5 out of 5 Gladiators

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