Well, it’s stopped raining. Before I get down to this week’s review I’d like to welcome aboard a new follower JC Hendee, make sure to check out his blog on fantasy games here. JC came on board after checking out Brad Cummings review of Forbidden Island, so thanks for that Brad, hopefully we’ll be hearing more from Brad very soon. Also thanks to Oli for cheering me up with the latest episode of Game Life…
Have I thanked everybody now??? Good, lets get on with the review. Over the last few months I started looking for small boxed games to take travelling, I’ve already reviewed Citadels and Red November, but now it’s time for another classic from the Silver Line range.
For those who don’t know the Silver Line range is a set of games from Fantasy Flight. They are great designer games crammed into little boxes, with the latest in the line being Lord of the Rings.
Colossal Arena is set in a fantasy world where eight terrifying creatures are released into an amphitheatre, while players bet on them as they battle to the death. The crowd will roar and shout and sometimes even leap into the ring to help out a loser or cripple the winner.
Well, not really, because Colosssal arena is really only about the numbers 0-10. The monsters are little more than Suits and the spectators are wild cards.
In the box you’ll find:
- 1 Rulebook
- 12 Monster Cards
- 12 Monster Decks with the cards 0-10 in each
- 11 Spectator Cards
- 2 Prefect Cards
- 1 Magistrate Card
- 10 Reference Cards (2 in each colour)
- 25 Chips (5 in each colour)
The components are reasonably nice. I don’t have the most recent version but in the copy I have everything does what it needs to. I think the chips are a little dull, I would have preferred coins or something instead, especially as they are supposed be equal to gold at the end of the game. The art on the cards is pretty nice and not too scary or anything, my major complaint about the cards would be that they are too thick. They are so well made that shuffling them can be difficult to do easily.
Each monster’s special ability is summarised on each card depicting that monster which means you don’t have to be sitting on the right side of the table to read the powers. Also the summary cards are really nice too.
To play the game shuffle the monster cards and deal 8 of them face up. Take the eight decks that correspond to those monsters along with the spectator/prefect/magistrate cards and shuffle the whole lot together to form a draw pile.
Each player chooses a colour and is dealt 8 cards. On your turn you do the following in order:
- Place a bet if you want to
- Play a card or pass if you cannot
- Discard defeated monster cards and draw back upto 8
The game will consist of 5 rounds. In each of those rounds you must strive to keep the creatures you’re betting on alive. Each round one creature is eliminated until only 3 remain. Only bets on these three creatures pay out.
To place a bet on a creature you place a chip of your colour above the creature you want to bet on in the current round.
Each round the value of the bets placed decreases, like so:
- Round 1 – 4 Gold
- Round 2 – 3 Gold
- Round 3 – 2 Gold
- Round 4 – 1 Gold
- Round 5 – 0 Gold
- Secret Bet – 5 Gold
Players may place one Secret Bet during the first round of the game. Once one creature has been eliminated they may no longer do so. To place a secret bet you put a card depicting the monster you wish to bet on from your hand facedown on the table and place one of your chips on it. This counts as both your Place a Bet and Play a Card actions for the turn.
The player with the highest value of bets on a monster is called it’s “Backer”, which means when that player plays a card depicting that monster they may use the special power. If they wish a player may reveal their secret bet in order to become a monsters backer.
Right, that’s betting, now onto combat!
During the “Play a Card” phase of your turn you must, if you can, play a card depicting either a monster, spectator, prefect or magistrate. A monster card is placed in the current combat row below the corresponding monster. The number on the card becomes that monsters Combat Value. Each monster has 11 cards numbers 0-10.
A spectator card can be placed underneath any monster, the number on the card becomes that monsters Combat Value. In addition, spectator cards cannot activate special powers and they void the special power for that creature next time a card is played on it in the current combat round.
Once you have played a card (and activated any special powers if you are the backer) you must discard and draw new cards. If you have any cards depicting defeated monsters you may discard up to 3 of them. You must then draw cards until you have 8 cards.
Players will continue to play cards and draw cards until all the creatures have a combat value. Note that multiple cards can be played on the same creature so the combat values can fluctuate during the round.
Once all the creatures have a card under them check to see if any single creature has the lowest value, if so that creature is eliminated and the next round begins. If there is a tie for the lowest value then the round continues until there is only one creature with the lowest value.
And that’s about it, play continues in this way until only three creatures remain or until the draw deck runs out, in which case all bets on surviving creatures pay out. The player with the most “Gold” at the end of the game wins.
Well, ok, the theme is threadbare at best, the special powers go someway towards making it feel like the creatures are behaving like their mythical counterparts. For example, the Ettin can attack twice and the Cyclops forces players to only use half their cards for a turn.
But, as a general rule it doesn’t feel like a chaotic pit fight. In fact it feels quite calculated and mathy because the whole thing becomes about numbers. However, every now and again you can find yourself in a battle for survival as the other players team up to take out that monster that will win you the game.
All in all the game is fast and fun, it’s just not a game of arena conflict. Like all card games you can find yourself at the mercy of the deck, but secret bets, special powers and the fact that spectators can be played on any monster help to add a layer of strategy to the game rather than just dumb luck.
Certainly there are times when you will find yourself unable to do anything to save yourself but the game is never truly determined until the end of the final round.
The game is really simple to play, but secret bets, special powers and backers are difficult to explain to new players without actually playing. The player aids included are excellent for new players but you shouldn’t need them after 3 or 4 games. Also the set up and pack down time can take a while because you need to separate the cards and build a new draw deck each time.
Overall I’m glad I own it, it doesn’t beat out Citadels for my favourite Silverline Game, but it’s a great, short, fun and small little card game.
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