Monday, 29 June 2015

Rules ?

As part of the process of a new project I turned of course to the subject of the rules that I'd use, rather than just plump immediately for one of the ones that I already had. 
First stop of course was to look around the web for Gladiator wargame rules to see if they offered anything radically different from the ones I already have.
Here’s a few of the results of my searches:
"Are you not Entertained ?"
Firstly let me say there are many, many sets of rules out there, far more than I thought there would be, including boardgame rules (like my own Avalon Hill’s “Gladiator”) which are fairly easily translated to a table top version of the game. There are even several games that include figures with the games (of varying quality), a “Boardgamegeek” 'geeklist' features 47 such rules sets and games of a Gladiator nature including several freely available on-line as pdfs, such as “Are you not entertained” and others that seemingly are excellent but no longer published (such as “Gladiator: Deadly Arena Combat in Ancient Rome” by the now defunct Warhammer Historical,  the latter having a good reputation for their historical accuracy, but is very difficult to get a copy of.
“Gladiator: Deadly Arena Combat in Ancient Rome”

There are rule-sets in abundance it seems and more becoming available on a regular basis, including some that look particularly interesting for massed Gladiator fights (“Gladiatoris”) and others that have taken the kickstarter approach for a fantastical version (such as “Arena Rex”).
Like everything in life, you pays your money and takes your chance.
"Arena Rex" - six inxh square (?) rulebook.
A set of rules for any subject has to have standard features that reflect the period or genre they’re intended to represent. Games with strong themes or flavour are much more acceptable than stylised, thinly disguised or “bland” games with little or no theme in sight. It may seem obvious to many but I think it’s worth pointing out.
A Gladiator game without the chance of having a “Retiarius” is just another man v man skirmish with sword and shields.

"Red Sand Black Moon", fantasy Gladiator combat
 For Gladiator combat, I'd be looking for the following:
▪Historical and Roman, no Gladiator arenas set in a future, apocalyptic or alien world.  I know of at
least one fantasy one - “Red Sand, Black Moon” by Two Hour Wargames, though they also have “Heroes of the Coliseum” now produced by Lock n Load which is historical and ticks all the boxes.
▪Differing types of Gladiator (there are many, Secutors, Provocateurs, the Retiarius as mentioned above and so on).  A game that didn’t have such different roles wasn’t one that I’d consider.
▪Some historical accuracy, I really didn’t want to play a version of “Asterix and the Gladiators” if indeed there is one (and there is almost bound to be one).
▪The necessity to play as a table-top game with miniatures or a boardgame with tokens as a minimum. (No games that solely use cards for example)
"Habet, hoc habet"

The game "Habet, hoc habet!" is a card game that looks interesting and with some obviously good historical research, but left me cold when talking about "swordsmen" and "great swords", terms that are at best anachrinstic and don't evoke much, if any 'flavour'.

"Heroes of the Colosseum" - board game
▪ A variety of contest types. One man versus one man will get repetitive very quickly. The actual Gladiator games featured many different contests, fights could involve teams, beasts, chariots, horsemen etc.
Lot's of rules fill this  latter requirement, though some are supplements of the original 'basic' man v man combat.
The Two Hour Wargames' game "Red Sand, Blue Sky" is such a game that has developed into the very good-looking game "Heroes of the Coloseum"
"Red Sand, Blue Sky"

Most TWH games follow a similar format, their Gladiator rules will feel very familiar to THW gamers. These rules tick many, many boxes.

"Familia Gladiatoria"

▪An interesting combat mechanic with elements of both luck (dice) and skill (the player’s ability)
▪Playing a single combat should be fairly quick so that many combats’ can take place in whatever time is available.
▪The rules have to centre on individual characters, not massed combats against legions as in The Spartacus revolt.
▪The basic rules should be relatively easy to learn and pick up by new players without a lot of rule searching.
▪The ability to organise a campaign within the context of the rules rather than strictly “one-off” games. Whether the game is about glory (Having the “best” Gladiator, winning his freedom) or about economy (having most cash at the end wins.
▪Though not essential, a solo game should be possible (for those times when you just want to try…)
▪There should be a quick reference sheet for ease of play.
▪The rules have to be cheap – no buying a £40 glossy book!  a good example would be "Familia Gladiatoria" - it's a very good production and available as a FREE pdf.
The "Spartacus. A game of blood and treachery" game box
 ▪It has to be FUN! The whole point of gaming is to have FUN (preferably with mates). If you’re still talking about “Nettus” the Retiarius and his lucky trident after the game then something is working. What appears to be a very fun game is "Spartacus. A game of Blood and treachery", which is a fully-fledged board game with miniatures for the actual combats.
At around £30, it's not that bad a price for a very promising game, but add on another £20 for the current expansion (and future ones are planned too) it will be a very expensive purchase.
Rear cover of the Jugula rule book
 But would my old AH Gladiator rules cut it in light of this all new smorgasbord of Gladiator rules and games? Or would I have to look around for a newer set such as "Jugula"?
Jugula is possibly the most current 'new boy on the block' that is in vogue and has everything you could want in a set of rules it seems, but at £20 it almost hits the "glossy, but pricey" category.
There are two new sets of rules on the market which deserve mention "Gladiatoris" which has been on the starting blocks for several years now but seems to be making little to no progress and "Blood on the Sands" which looks very promising indeed. The background history and development for "Blood on the Sands can be read on Furt's Blog "Adventures in Lead" here.

As the AH rules stood they ticked a lot of the boxes, but not all of them.
They are historically set in the Roman period and have different types of gladiators and be it though only Light, Medium and Heavy types they do at least differentiate them and do have a Retiarius, which gave a little more historical accuracy. As a hex board game with individual counters for the Gladiators it would easily convert to a table-top game (with or without hexes) and the use of miniatures.
They would be usable not just for 'man v man' fights but I knew there were also rules for 'man v animal' fights that I’d seen and that would have to be sought out, so a variety of fights would be possible.
The rules contain a campaign system, albeit a very basic one. Our small group had used it in the past and it had been very easy to use.
The “Luck versus Skill” element is present in the game, positional advantage and manoeuvre is essential to success, and there is a certain amount of bluff with the combat as to where you should try to hit you target and with what force. (Trying to hit a heavily armoured head or an opponent’s legs where he may allocate some of his combat points.)
Solo play is possible as the animals are dice driven.
There is a quick reference sheet for the game and it must have been fun as I can still recall not wishing to face “Nettus”, scourge of the arena and the betting that consisted of how many turns you would last against him, rather than if you would win or not.
But there was still room for improvement to get what I was looking for and the solution was already there for me.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gladiator Figures

The box of 1/72 plastic Italeri gladiators
The number of manufacturers now producing miniatures is quite vast and in all sorts of scales, both in plastics and metal.
The plastic figures come from the several firms Pegasus and Italeri in particular are readily available, in 1/72 and 1/32 scales though there are others, such as Marx, Barzso and Atlantic. The latter three though all have problems with availability. There are probably also many more that I'm unaware of.

In metal, there are far more options readily available in metal both in 54mm size and 28mm size (1:32 and goodness knows what - 1:55 ?), Irregular Miniatures 54mm gladiators series in the UK and Black Hat's (formerly Alpha) series of 54mm gladiators in the USA. There are of course others but 54mm Gladiators in metal are expensive !
Pegasus Box 1
In the smaller scales, Wargames Foundry have a huge range of figures and there are great figures available from other manufacturers, Crusader, Brigade Games and Jugula are good examples amongst many others.

My intention was to reproduce a Gladiator game on hexes, reproducing a boardgame with figures rather than a tabletop game with freedom of movement. I wouldn't be representing any large scale gladiator revolt in miniature.

I estimated I'd need about 20-30 gladiator figures to represent most of the different type of gladiator and their fighting styles., so not a lot of figures really.
I dismissed the idea of the smaller 1:72 figures in plastic, almost immediately. as I have difficulty enough painting chunky 28mm figures already.

Pegasus Box 2

The alternatives then were 28mms at about £2 each, which would work out at about £60 for thirty figures or the 54mm plastics which, after a bit of googling for best value-for money buys could yield me the same number of gladiators for about £40. The decision was finalised, mainly thanks to Colin Nash's blog posts about his own venture into this genre with the 54mm plastic figures . (see here too). 
I followed Colin's lead and bought all the sets he'd bought. The two Pegasus packs (14 immediately usable figures) and the Italeri pack with two sprues of 8 figures each on them, including a lion and a bear, so another twelve usable humans and four animals.
Generally speaking the Pegasus packs are fairly easy to get whilst the Italeri one is normally a bit more expensive and harder to find. As in many things it pays to shop around for your purchases.

Next time I'll be posting about the various rule systems that I've looked at.

Monday, 15 June 2015


As part of my research for this project the first thing to do was of course look to see what I already had, which was not a lot, though I knew I did have at least one book about Gladiators.
Eventually I did find my copy of  "Those About to Die" by Daniel P. Mannix, an old paperback book that I'd  bought sometime in the early 1970’s for the princely sum of 30p, a long time before I'd played any Gladiator games, quite an investment as the Amazon Kindle edition is over £4! My copy may now have yellowed pages but it’s still in a readable state and a cracking read, if fanciful in parts.
The internet was of course the next place to trawl through looking for suitable literature at a reasonable price. I'd need three types of book I decided, firstly something about what they wore, weapons etc ("uniforms" for want of a better word) this should be fairly easy I thought. Next, some general background information about arenas, the games themselves, and all the usual background information that you need to at least be able to hold a conversation about the subject with some degree of knowledge. "Mannix" does give you a lot of information but sadly it feels dated and probably is.
 Lastly just to expand and satisfy my knowledge I felt I needed one or two "serious" books, the type you'd need to read rather than want to read - I'm just like that.
The next few days then were spent pouring through the various choice on the internet, looking for relevant books at a good price (i.e. within the £40 budget I'd set) and here's the results.

Firstly though, knowing that I'd read "Mannix" in no time at all, I'd need another book to occupy myself whilst having a day in hospital and I couldn't be sure I'd get my new books in time.  Amazon came to the rescue with "The Age of the Gladiators: Savagery and Spectacle in Ancient Rome by Rupert Mathews, an e-book I bought for my Kindle and was the first book I could easily get a hold of whilst waiting for other hard copies. Once more it was a good general light read, ideal to while away the hours I had to spend whilst hospitalised.
It felt a lot more up to date than "Mannix" (probably because it was) and followed a very similar format.

For the "uniform" information my own library was, to say the least, minimal, just two books with little more than a single page or two each (and one of those in French !). Although  I have a general interest in all history most of my reference material starts with gunpowder !
As in so many other projects I've started, I once more started  by looking at what was available in the Osprey collections. I've used Ospreys as one of my starting points for many different uniform researches and there was bound to be one !
There were two related Gladiator books, the softback"Osprey Warrior Series #39 Gladiators by Stephen Wisdom"and illustrated expertly as ever by Angus McBride, the other was about the revolt of Spartacus, which I felt would be superfluous to my current needs  - but would be kept in mind for future reference.  I’m guessing everyone is very familiar with the general Osprey book format and this one is no different; it’s concise, colourful and as accurate as any other source. Mine is a used copy but in good condition and was about half the price of a new one.
 On the Osprey website there was another book which caught my eye but was sadly out of stock
"Gladiator, Rome’s Bloody Spectacle", by Konstantin Nossov , a softback. To quote one reviewer “… is a big glossy book full of great pictures, artist's impressions, archaeological evidence and a good glossary at the back translating all the Latin gladiatorial terms.” And another review stated “The author of this book Konstatin Nossov has published before for Osprey and this book about Gladiators was already published in Russian in 2005”.  I knew it would be an excellent back-up to the “uniform” aspect of my research and and it was my third addition to my Gladiator bibliography and . I eventually managed to get a new copy from Ebay at about half the price. (it would also arrive last !).
If I were to recommend any book then this would be the one I'd recommend as it had everything one could hope for starting such a project as this. 
The book that seemed to have taken over from "Mannix" in popularity as the go-to book about was "The Gladiator, the Secret History of the Warrior Slave" by Alan Baker, hardback. I bought this off E-bay for less than £3, (the softback version would have cost just £2). 
I read "The Gladiator" during yet another day's soujourn in hospital and whilst it was a very easy read there was little that I hadn't already read in "Mannix", but it was more up to date.

 I wanted a book that would show me the historic evidence of Gladiators, their surviving equipment, mosaics, building etc. and bought "Gladiators at Pompeii" by Luciana Jacobella,  in hardback (score !) again off E-bay. For my purposes this was indeed a very good find. It was published in 2000 though and whilst the evidence hasn’t changed, some interpretations of it has, with time and newer discoveries. It's a coffee-table type book but a lot of the physical evidence we have about Gladiaotrs has come from the excavations at Pompeii. What struck me most whilst reading through this, was not just how much material has come from Pompeii, but how much has been lost throught the centuries of excavation, including frescos, reliefs,paintings and a lot more. For quick reference and flavour this book was a great find.

The most recent book I could find was "The Gladiators, History’s Most Deadly Sport" by Fik Meijer, in softback, a not too weighty tome which I bought brand new, again it was an E-bay buy and very cheap.
It was yet another general book of the history of Gladiators and follows much the same path as both "Mannix" and "Baker's" books. On the plus side it is the most up to date book of the three and like the others gives a good general flavour.

Gladiators and Caesars, edited by Eckart Khone and Cornelia Ewilgleben.- hardback and an ex-library book bought from Ebay. A “glossy” book with many illustrations.photographs etc but not quite a “coffee-table” book. As there are separate chapters about different Roman Emperors it could well be a volume that one can “dip” into as and when. I bought this out of impulse as I’d saved so much on certain volumes and I’m pleased I did.

Invisible Romans by Robert  Knapp, softback, another impulse buy and a very serious study of the “common” folk that are rarely heard of or written about. It’s not “light” reading by any means and certainly not one I’d recommend for a typical wagamer’s research, but I liked the idea of having more than just a passing “surface” knowledge  of the subject and I’ll be sticking with it.