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Monday, September 22, 2014

Jugula Gladiator Game Review

Studio Tomahawk, the people behind the skirmish wargames "Saga" and "Muskets and Tomahawks" released their Gladiator based offering "Jugula" earlier this year with their partner Gripping Beast.

With plenty of things to do, it was a little while before I could sit down and actually play this new game. The first thing I did was to stop and paint up the four gladiator models that Gripping Beast sent me from the "Familia 1" box set. These models are detailed, slightly customisable with the extras in the box of figures, and look great in their 35mm scale on their large round bases.

Apparently, "Jugula" actually started life as a system for managing gladiators. Each player taking the part of the Lanistae (owner of a Gladiator school). What has happened now is that the Jugula rulebook covers two parts. The first is the Combat game (which I am covering in this article) and the second part is the management of each players Gladiator school, i.e. Gladiator Careers (i.e. experience).




The Jugula Combat game (pages 6 to 33 of the rulebook).

The rulebook is laid out in an A4 style full colour booklet format. There are illustrations and some images of 28mm scale models in the gladiators. A useful aid to painting and for getting more out of your models!

The game is played with models on an 8 x 8 grid of squares which forms the Arena for the game. A pull out poster map is provided in the rulebook. This also has markings along each edge for each player to keep track of various levels in the game.


Setup.

At this point, the best thing to do is read the rulebook page 8, as it has the setup steps in a quick format. Unfortunately, these are not on a QRS style sheet in the book, which would be useful.

For each player you will need a deck of "Jugula" cards to play and models for the gladiators. The game is for 2-4 players and each player has a school of 4 Gladiators in play during the combat game (you can have more in the campaign version of the game). There are no dice in this game, just cards, model figures and a few tokens to keep track of various events/stats (a copy of the tokens is provided in the rulebook for players to copy and cut out).

Each player's Jugula deck is sorted into three types of cards (Gladiators, Jugula and Prima Jugula ones)
There are 12 of each type of card.

The Gladiator cards represent one of each of the 12 Gladiator archetypes allowed in the game. These being the Veles, Secutor, Murmillo, Thraex, Retiarius, Crupellarius, Laquearius, Hoplomachus,Sagittarius, Scissor, Provocator and Dimachaerius.

The Gladiator cards are double sided (unwounded and wounded - a great way to deal with injury without tokens or dice!). Each card has stats for Movement allowance, Attack, Defence and Traits (special abilities). The information is simply represented and easy to find. You will need to draw out one of these cards for each of the type of Gladiator that you have and put it in front of you, healthy side up (!)

Each Gladiator has a type (light or heavy) which is influenced by their arms, armour and fighting style. Light Gladiators are represented by green icons on the Gladiator cards, Heavy ones by orange. This way the Attack and Defence stats can be matched to a Gladiator type of just light or heavy. More of this later.

The Jugula cards are in a beige and brown colour scheme and represent the actions a player can take. One card each played each turn, with turns alternating between players. At the start of the game, each player shuffles his own 12 Jugula cards and places them face down in a draw deck. Each player gets the top four cards from their draw deck. The Prima Jugula cards (brown with an orange stats motif colour scheme and with a star rating in the top left) are placed in a pile face up. These are gained via Jugula cards and are not in the players draw deck at the start of the game.




There are two decks of Jugula cards which have the ability to influence one of seven different actions a player can take. Players just do one thing from the card then put it into a discard pile.

Movement - the number on the card played defines how many of your Gladiators can move this turn.

Vox Populi - this is a stat that measures your popularity in the game. There is a track around the game board for each player that starts at zero. As you go up you gain bonus Attack points (starts at zero goes up to +4) and also increase the maximum size of the cards you can have in hand (starts at 5 goes up to 10).

Number of Attacks - you can make this many attacks with your Gladiators.

Draw Jugula cards - you can draw this many from your draw deck into your hand.

Abilities - there is a piece of text on many of the cards that gives a special rule (an ability) instead of using any other stat on this card. These are all different and make the real impact on this game.

Prima Jugula Upgrade points - you can draw one (only) Prima Jugula card from the Prima Jugula Deck into your hand up to the value of the points indicated (e.g. 3 stars equals a 3 point card).

Dice roll - each card has a value from zero to six in the from a die facing at the bottom of the card. These are used instead of a dice roll. In a way its much better as you take out some of the randomness and put the onus on the player to try and create a draw deck that has the best dice rolls for combat purposes. A nice touch again. The Jugula cards have the values: 0,1,1,2,2,2,3,3,4,4,5,6 The Prima Jugula cards have the values 4,4,4,4,5,5,5,5,6,6,6,6
These "rolls" are used for Initiative at the start of the game (who goes first) and to decide your base combat value when using Attacks.


Starting the Game.

In a two player game each player starts with four Gladiators in their school (Familia). The starting positions vary as more players are involved.

Each player starts with four Jugula cards in their hand. then each player turns over the top card of their draw deck and the highest "dice roll" on the card goes first. For a tie, re-draw the next card and so on. Now shuffle those initiative cards back into their draw decks.

The winner then gets to place his four Gladiators along his own baseline. The second player then places his Gladiators on his own baseline.

The winner gets to start and lays down a Jugula card. The player decides what they are doing, e.g. moving x number of gladiators  (by the movement allowances on the Gladiator cards), drawing x more Jugula cards, making attacks and so on.

Playing the game.

The players take it in turns to play a Jugula card, following the rules. The aim is to improve your Vox Populi rating to enable you to hold more cards in your hand and get a better combat rating, but you also need to manoeuvre your Gladiators into either attack or defensive positions. You need to try and get cards into your hand that win combats and also heal injured gladiators. More of this later.

There is an important rule on Jugula cards that you have in your hand: If you get to just one card in your hand you HAVE to play it to gain more Jugula cards. You cannot play other cards or abilities that would leave you with NO cards in your hand.

You continue through the game, by using your Jugula cards to gain Prima Jugula cards, gain Vox Populi, increase your draw deck and get cards in your hand that have useful special rules.

Knowing how to play these cards in certain orders and to stack your draw deck to get good combat rolls is ESSENTIAL in Jugula.

Movement: this is the most complex part of the technical part of Jugula in my opinion. To move, your Gladiator requires him to spend his movement points. To move forward to an empty square costs one MP, to move any where else costs two MP. The square in front of a Gladiator is the Danger Zone, and costs one additional point to move through this. You can change facing as you make a move to another square, but only then. If you don't move it costs 1MP to change facing. If you want to move when in the danger zone of of one plus enemy models, you have to turn to stay facing one of these enemies then move back(2MPs).

These are the essentials for now, but add in the complexities of having eight to 16 Gladiators on the 8 x 8 combat arena and I see this being harder to work out correctly (and slow the game down a bit until the field of battle is emptied a little!)

Note: each Gladiator can only move once per turn.

Combat: this requires stacking the odds in your favour, or as defender on knowing how to avoid combat at all if your cards are weak. An Attack is made into one of the three squares to the front of the Gladiator model.

When two Gladiators are in range and one player plays a combat option to attack, the Attacker and Defender need to find out their Attack and Defence scores.

Each player can take a card from their hand and place it face down in front of them OR they can draw the top card from their draw deck and use that. Use the dice roll at the bottom of the card as the base for determine the ATT and DEF scores of each players Gladiator.

The players then add their Combat bonuses from various sources:

From Vox Populi rating on the side of the gaming Arena.

Special Abilities on Jugula Cards - for example there are some cards that have an ability that allows an action and a further action in one turn (e.g. "Resolve an attack with a bonus of +4 but attacker is wounded afterward").

Add in the bonus from the Gladiator cards, based on the type of Gladiator Attacking and defending. For example, The Provocator is a heavy Gladiator. If he Attacks a light gladiator, e.g a Veles, he gets a +3 bonus. The bonus vary between +1 and +5, reduced by one if the Gladiator is wounded.

If there is a Gladiator in the front Zone of another Gladiator in this combat, that gives a -1 penalty to the score (having an enemy in your eye line is bad for concentration).

Finally, there are increasing bonuses if you are attacking the side, rear or back of a Gladiator.

Some Gladiators have special Traits. For example a Provocator has "Harassment", the Retiarius has "Hindrance", the Crupellarius has "Massive", the Sagittarius has "Bow" (a range 5 weapon) and the Scissor has "Stoic". Some weapons have a longer range than just face to face.

As an example, a "Hindrance" attack that succeeds leaves a Hindrance marker on the enemy model. This means the enemy model cannot move or attack, reduces combat score by -1 and does not have a Danger Zone. This represents the Retiarius using his net to tangle an opponent. To get rid of this marker takes all of a Gladiators Move Points.

"Harassment" gives a penalty to ATT and DEF rolls of an enemy that come into the Danger Zone of this Gladiator.

The "Stoic" Trait negates a Hindrance markers and negates threatening gladiators. This is the power of the Scissor (or Contra-Retiarius) and his 'cutting tool' hand!



Each player will have a total - one for Attack (ATT) and one for Defence (DEF).

If the Defence score is higher than the Attack score, the Defender goes up one point on the Vox Populi track.

If the Attacker score is higher than the Defender score then the Defender is pushed back one square (the attacker may pursue into the now empty square).

If the Attacker score is double the Defender score the Defender is pushed back and wounded.

If the Attacker Score if four times the Defender score then the Defender is killed.

You should note that despite the fact that your Jugula card may allow 2 or more attacks in your turn, you can only wound an enemy Gladiator once in a turn. You cannot do the 1-2 or even 1-2-3 with your men to finish him off in one turn. That's just not entertainment!

Gradually, as the game goes on, Gladiators will be wounded and killed.

Winning the game.

The game ends (based on four Gladiators per side) when one player is left with:

Only two gladiators in the arena, or...

Only wounded Gladiators in the arena, or...

Only one unharmed Gladiator and two wounded gladiators in the arena.


Strategies.

The key is to increase your cards in hand and to that means increasing your Vox Populi rating. At the same time, keep increasing the number of Jugula and Prima Jugula cards you have in your draw deck. This increases the chance of getting the cards you need to work well in combat and to get useful abilities.

Especially at the start of the game when you need to get more Jugula cards and increase your VP rating keep your gladiators in a defensive formation. Do not allow your men to get too far from your "group". If the enemy can get to your side or flanks or rear, they will take full advantage of combat bonuses! Keep your enemy in the front facing of your men.

That said do take advantage of enemy mistakes. If the enemy get a man with his back to the wall then feel free to teach him a lesson with a "light" gladiator that can move in then attack - do watch to see when a good time is - such as the enemy having only one Jugula card in hand AND a man with no where to retreat!

Having only one Jugula card in your hand at the end of your turn is not good - your opponent KNOWS you HAVE to pick up cards and cannot attack, move, play special abilities etc.

Don't get your back to a wall. If you are forced back in a combat but cannot then you are wounded automatically - keep away from walls!

There is only one healing card in your Jugula decks. Once used it must be removed from the game. It can only be brought back by one other card which itself is then removed from the game. Therefore, you only get to make TWO healing actions in a game. Period. Getting wounded is a bad sign - it literally attracts the wolves in to finish you off!

Some of the Jugula and Prima Jugula card special Abilities are going to be very useful to you to make a strategy for killing enemy models. Getting these cards in the right place to make a strike is useful. Here are some of the key ones...

Impetus - Gladiator can move then attack or vice verse.

Plausus - Arrange the top 4 cards in your Jugula deck in any order, then if you have the highest Vox Populi, play another card.

Acies Aciei - Take one card from your discard pile and add it to your hand.

Infamis - if you have the highest Vox Populi you may resolve all the opposite effects in any order (those being 1 move, 1 attack, 1 draw Jugula card).

Fatalitas - for an enemy Gladiator that is in the Danger Zone of two or more of your men, wound that enemy and then remove this card from the game.

Fulmen - draw two cards and then either move a gladiator or attack with a gladiator.

Dementia - you can move an enemy gladiator.

There are more abilities that affect the Vox Populi or use it to allow more actions. The ability to do things like take cards from the discard pile, bring back powerful cards that were removed from the game, arrange the top of your draw deck and then be able to move and assault in a turn are all very useful, as is being able to get a good combat card in your draw deck ready to take on the enemy in combat.

Overall: do not rush to get into combat. Do not over extend your reach or your cards in hand. Try to see what the enemy is capable of (watch the discards) and strike while they are weakest (count the cards in hand).



Summary.

A few points are worth final thoughts.

Firstly, I wonder where this game sits in the players mind. It is not a full blown wargame like Flames of War. It is not a skirmish wargame like Saga. It is not a traditional board game. It is not a CCG or a LCG (a traditional deck building style game). The game uses no dice just cards and very few tokens. It uses a reduced number of cards to make a kind of "mini deck building game" but there are only ever a limited number of "characters", tactics cards and ways to "win" the game.

Jugula seems to have a place nearest to more modern board games such as "Spartacus" where there are elements of board gaming and skirmish gaming. I think fans of Spartacus may like the more complex combats in this game, but I don't think they necessarily would like the lack of the Intrigue and Market phases of that game.  I haven't gone into the Careers part of Jugula, that is for another time.  Some people like that kind of experience gaining transition. Others may just like the one-off combats.

Having a three player game seems to lend itself to the usual problem of one player feeling picked on. A four player game fills 25% of the arena with models. In these larger games, the finesse of moving seems to have gone as you will be in close quarters with many other Gladiators. Is the arena large enough?

I also struggle to see if Jugula is a game that can be played at more than a friendly level. Jugula tournaments? Time will tell.

There are only 24 Jugula cards. When you have played a number of games, the same cards and strategies keep coming to mind. I wonder if in future there might be a new deck of Jugula cards available to keep the game fresh? Even better, allow the 'old' and 'new' cards to be used to draw from to make the two decks of 12 cards for each player (Jugula and Prima Jugula) - that way you never quite know what the enemy has until you get well into the game!

What we have here is an interesting take on the Gladiator theme that should engage. Its hard not to like the subject matter or the models!

Thanks to Gripping Beast for supplying the Jugula rules, 'Familia 1" pack and deck of Jugula cards.

I will look at the Careers experience system in a future article.

--Mike.

Feel free to discuss on the forum....

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