BadCat Games hired me to produce this How to Play video for their Kickstart campaign for Gladiatores: Blood for Roses. It was BadCat’s second attempt at crowdfuding this title, and this time, the game was funded in the first two days. Did my video make all the difference? i’d like to think so! 🙂

(click to view transcript)

Hi!! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and this is a prototype version of Gladiatores, a card game simulation of arena combat in Ancient Rome, for 2-5 players. Bad Cat Games has asked me to teach you how to play, so i’m gonna do just that!

You and your friends each play a different gladiator training school, or ludus. You take turns bidding on a list of available celebrity fighters to train, and then pit those fighters against each other in combat to win glory points in different arena events, sometimes with the help of sponsors, or by using the special perks and tactics your particular school has developed. The skirmishes themselves play a little like war or snap, with cards flying back and forth rapidly until one fighter or the other taps out, gets hurt, or impresses the crowd. After an agreed-upon number of events, one school will have claimed the most glory points and will emerge victorious!

Each player is randomly assigned a different ludus. You get a player mat and a certain amount of money, represented by these purple wedges, which will convert to glory points at the end of the game. Each school carries a bit of fan notoriety, represented by these rose petal tokens. You start with three.

You turn over the top card from the event deck to reveal the contest the gladiators will be fighting in. Top prize is here, second prize is here, and a range of smaller prizes is available here, depending on how much the crowd likes each fighter. We’ll see how this all works at the end of the match, but for now, you pile up this many crowd favour tokens – the ones represented by rose petals – on top of or near the event card, and the rest go back in the box.

You can optionally draft for sponsors off the top of each round. In turn order, draw one card from each sponsor deck, keep one, and sink the other to the bottom of its deck. Your sponsor card will give you a leg up in a single skirmish later on. But first, your school needs a champion.

There are 8 famous gladiators up for grabs at auction. Player count plus one banners representing the available fighters get randomly distributed to the Star Player auction market, row by row, from the bottom up. Each school gets to bid on which gladiator they want to come train with them. First player gets first shot at bidding. The rest of the players’ bid tokens were randomized into these slots during setup. In that order, players take turns choosing a gladiator and placing their token in the leftmost column next to that gladiator’s name.

So if you were the first bidder and you wanted to train Astyanax, you’d put your token here, and you’d be on the hook to pay one bronze for him. If you wanted Achillia, you’d place your token here, and pay nothing. But later bidders can outbid you by placing their tokens to the right of yours. If you’re outbid, you immediately have to choose another fighter to train, but you can’t pick a column to the left of anyone’s token. You can only ever increase the bid. And you only use the columns up to your player count. That means that in a 2-player game, since you can only use this column, nobody can be outbid.

Once the last bidder has locked in his or her bid, everyone pays the money wedges required to claim their fighter of choice. The denominations of each wedge are listed here. If you’re stuck for money, you can get a loan from the bank by moving your smaller token along this wheel; since money is converted to points at the end of the game, you’re essentially taking an early hit to your score that you’ll try to make up later in combat. Let’s hope whichever gladiator you won is worth it! If you ever max out on loans, you have to start using your own money to pay for fighters.


Now that you have someone to train, you take that fighter’s gladiator card and put it on your school mat. You pile up a stack of bloody life point tokens on the card according to the number listed here – these are like your gladiator’s hitpoints, and when they run out, your gladiator is defeated. Gladiators also come with a certain amount of popularity with the crowd, so you get to pile up a few rose petals off the bat. These come from the supply in the box, not from the pile of petals you put on the event card.

Each gladiator comes with his or her own deck of nine cards. The cards are in three categories: attack, defense, and effect. There are also three common decks of cards, one in each of these categories. Some fighters may be stronger in some of these three categories than in others; to give you the chance to round out your fighter’s abilities (or go all-in on one strategy), you can now draw five extra cards from any of the common decks that you like.

Your school also gives you different perks and advantages. Ludus Capua, for example, lets you begin each event with a few extra rose petals. Ludus Messana lets you add an extra hitpoint to your fighter before the match begins, for up to two different events. Each school also comes with a deck of tactics cards; at this point, you thumb through them and choose one that you can reveal some time during the event for a little extra bonus. Maybe it gets you extra cards, or extra favour tokens – that type of thing. Like the sponsor card you chose earlier, it goes face-down near your board, and you can play it at any appropriate point during the event.

Next, everyone player takes one of these face-down turn order tiles. The tiles are numbered from one to whatever your player count is, and they determine who fights first in the arena. By the way, Bad Cat Games wanted me to point out that the quality of all the tokens you’re seeing in the prototype will be improved in the final game.

Now before the event begins, each player can bet on the outcome of the match. You have a stack of betting chips, one for each of the game’s gladiators. You choose the chip matching the gladiator you think will win – even if it’s not your gladiator, and place that chip face-down near your board. Once you pick it, you’re not allowed to look at it until the match is over. A gladiator’s odds depend on his turn order; gladiators who fight later in the roster pull in better rewards than those who fight first. So if you bet on Kalendio, and he drew turn order 3, you stand to gain one skinny silver wedge if he wins the event.

Now, it’s time to get down to business! Gladiators readyyyyy! The player with the lowest turn order token fights first, and gets the active player token. Let’s pretend that’s you. Here’s how your turn goes.

You can either attack someone, use a certain effect card, or discard a card. To attack another player, you need to use an attack card from your hand – one with the crossed swords symbol on it. Some cards have a little red triangle on them; these are special effect cards that you can play on your turn instead of attacking someone that let you heal up or recoup some of your hand. Otherwise, if you don’t have an attack or red triangle card to play, you’re forced to discard, and your turn is over. The crowd thinks you suck if you do this, so you lose one crowd favour token if you’ve got it. But this is the start of the match, so you’ll probably pick another player and throw out an attack card.

Each card has some activation text on it. The player who got attacked will suffer the consequences of this activation text unless he or she counters with one of the cards listed in the orange banners. So this CLEAVE card lists PARRY and BLOCK. If the defending player slaps down either of those cards, then that card’s activation text affects the attacker… unless the attacker slams down one of the cards listed in those orange banners. And on it goes, back and forth: attack, defend, attack, defend, until one player either decides to pass, or can’t counter because he or she doesn’t have any of the necessary cards in-hand. At that point, whoever played the topmost card gets to carry out the activation text against the player who came up short.

This divider means either/or – you run either the top effect or the bottom one. This symbol means “immediately,” so if the card lets you draw a card from one of the common decks and then play a card, you draw the card first, and can then potentially play it right away if it’s the right type listed in the next action. However, playing just one more card could potentially bring your opponent back into the fray, and he or she could play a counter to the card you just daisy-chained in.

Every gladiator has an either/or special ability listed on his or her card. Generally speaking, each fighter has an inherent card type, so Britannicus can always counter with a LEAP, even if that player doesn’t have a physical LEAP card in her hand to play. In order to use one of these special abilities, you flip your gladiator’s card over if the ability applies. This immediately ends the combat. You can flip your gladiator’s card back over and use a special ability again at the end of your next turn as active player.

So then the event carries on, with each player in turn order attacking the other players with their cards. Every time you cause a wound, that fighter loses a life point token, and you gain a crowd favour petal from the event card. If you defeat a gladiator by knocking off his or her final hit point, the crowd goes wild, and you get two rose petals. If any gladiator runs out of cards, he or she is exhausted and can’t fight (or BE fought) any more during this event.

The winner of the event is the last player with either cards or hitpoints. The runner-up is whoever got knocked out second-last. Those two players earn the first and second prize on the event card, respectively. All players can then trade their crowd favour rose petals in at the exchange rate listed at the bottom of the event card. So one way to rack up points, if you don’t think you’re going to win, is to play cards to impress the crowd, so that you can siphon up all the crowd favour tokens from the event card before the other players get their hands on them.

You put any purple wedges you earn on your money wheel. Once you place them, you can’t move them around, but you CAN kick some out if you earn big fat wedges or higher-value wedges later on, and you need to make room for them. If you decide to cover up spaces with perks on them, you collect those perks now. You can only grab these perks once, so you can’t double-dip if you replace wedges with thicker or higher-value ones later. If you’re the first player to fill up your entire wheel, you get 8 points. Second player to do so gets 6 points. These printed spaces that indicate your school’s starting money don’t count towards filling up your wheel unless you have wedges on them, so this counts as a full wheel, but this doesn’t.

Everyone flips over their gambling tokens and claims their prize money if they backed the right horse.

From there, you do a little tidying and put all the gladiator decks of nine cards each back together, and recompose and shuffle the three combat decks. If you used your tactics card during the event, you throw it into the box – you can’t use that one again this game. The sponsor cards get shuffled back into their respective decks, whether they were used or not. The winner of the last event gets first pick of sponsor cards for the next event. Take three crowd favour tokens to start the next event. Randomly deal out a new roster of gladiators to bid on. Whoever lost the last event gets to bid first, and so on in reverse victory order. At the end of the agreed-upon number of rounds, purple wdge money converts into victory points, and whoever has the most victory points wins! Remember to subtract any points that players racked up in bank loans.

The rulebook lists a number of variants that i’ll cover briefly.

Instead of randomly drawing an event card, you can draw all of the event cards for the agreed-upon number of events, so that players can plan their strategies ahead of time.

When you cause a wound to another gladiator, you can take one of his or her crowd favour tokens, instead of taking a token from the event card. Bad Cat Games tells me that experienced players enjoy this variant quite a bit.

You can play the game without sponsor cards, without gambling, or without those glory wheel perks. Or if you like sponsor cards, you can even play a variant where you can use your money wedges to buy more of them: a bronze wedge gets you a top card from any set. Silver lets you draw 2 and keep 1, and gold lets you draw 3 and keep 1.

Another variant rule keeps your tactics cards in play, even if you’ve used them before, instead of sending them to the box.

In a 2-player game, you skip the betting mechanic, and you draw 9 extra combat cards instead of 5, for a hand total of 18.

To set up the game, randomly give everyone a ludus mat. You take whatever starting money is listed on your school’s glory wheel. Everyone takes a stack of gambling tokens – one token for each fighter – and their school’s deck of tactics cards, along with 3 crowd favour tokens.

Put the star player market in the middle of the table, and stack all the tokens around it – ludus tokens, life point tokens, crowd favour tokens, player order tokens, and money wedges. Turn order tokens go face down.

Put all the gladiator cards nearby – i like to stack them with their special decks underneath. You can tell which cards belong to which gladiator by matching the icon on the card with the symbol above the character. Sort the sponsor cards into different decks according to the text at the bottom right… the text on my cards is difficult to read, but keep in mind this copy is a prototype.

Split the Attack, Defense, and Effect cards up, shuffle the decks, and keep them handy.

Decide on how many events you want to play – from 3 to 5 – and then turn over the top card from the shuffled event deck.

Mix up the gladiator banners and deal player count plus one to the market from the bottom. The last player to have walked on sand gets the first player token, which means first pick of sponsor cards, and first dibs on the auction. The other players’ tokens get randomized into these slots.

And now you’re ready to play Gladiatores: Blood for Roses!