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  FOR GLORY FROM SPIELCRAFT If you don't know your ludus from your lanista, you soon will after playing a game of For Glory and there&#...

FOR GLORY FOR GLORY

FOR GLORY

FOR GLORY

 FOR GLORY
FROM
SPIELCRAFT

If you don't know your ludus from your lanista, you soon will after playing a game of For Glory and there's no doubt that the picture on the box is rather an obvious clue!

So, without further ado, here we are in Ancient Rome tasked with being an owner of a gladiatorial school and training up gladiators to fight in the arena.  The lanista - well that's your role in life - and ludus is your school, in this case a training establishment for gladiators.  It's a neat point that the other meaning for ludus is a game.

Now there have been quite a few games on the theme of gladiatorial combat from the super deluxe Hipplomachus to many, often minor publishings, some with figures included or just traditional cardboard counters, some with arena boards and some without.  All have taken us purely to the arena and the gladiators and the combat; many are quite simple encounters, a few have been relatively detailed affairs.  None, as far as I've been able to ascertain, have covered the ground that For Glory does.

For Glory presents us with a compact, deck-building treatment that can just about be squeezed onto my all-purpose gaming board.  In the picture you can see everything except the game box and rule book.

In essence, it is a quick-playing, two-player, deck-building game.  On the right, you can see the cardboard coins, blue glory tokens and the wooden, red wound markers.

In this close-up, you can also see the gladiator's helmet token which designates the 2nd player.  All the components are of very good quality and I particularly like the art work of the many different cards and its extensive use in the rule book itself.
The rules themselves are a player's delight.  They are thorough, exceptionally clear and very easy to follow.  This is both because they are well written as well as exhaustively illustrated and exemplified.  Each type of card has its own separate picture and explanation of how to read its symbols.  The fact that there is degree of repetition when a feature of one type of card mirrors that of another type should be a great asset to anyone new to deck-building.

For those familiar with this popular mechanic, it makes assimilating the information a swift and effortless process.  As a result after a couple of games, I found play rarely needed any reference to the rule book.  However, should you need to, there is a very handy alphabetical reference section at the back of the rule book, though there is no numbered index to the rules.

The  excellent, easily assimilated set of rules

In brief, a Round is divided into two Phases
     Machinations Phase
     Arena Phase
However, in many Rounds you will only play the Machinations Phase.  But to help understand the flow of the game, it's worth briefly explaining the table layout which is appropriately presented at the very start of the rule book.


On the left side are the three Supply Decks: Economy, Gladiator and Training.  These Decks are where you will buy the cards to develop your own personal playing deck.  On the right are all the necessary markers, while running down the centre is your playing area tableau, the three potential Arenas where your gladiators will fight and your opponent's playing area tableau.

Taking a closer look at the very heart of the game, we have the three Arenas.

The left and centre Arenas are called the Fleeting Glory Arenas and the one on the right is the Lasting Glory Arena.  The Lasting Glory Arena can always have gladiators placed there, but as soon as the first gladiator is placed at one of the Fleeting Glory Arenas, the other Fleeting Arena cannot have gladiators committed to it. Note carefully the blue Glory tokens on each Arena card as these are you vital reward for victory in the Arena.  They are also how you eventually win the game, as the first player to gain six of these tokens is the winner.
An important factor is that the Arena Phase does not take place every Round.  Instead there is a gradual build up.  Each gladiator card that is committed to an Arena has a Bloodlust value and an Arena Phase will only occur when the combined total of Bloodlust points reaches a set number.  The mechanics of this is an element I strongly enjoy in the game, especially as there are two important balancing constraints.  
One is that the check for whether an Arena Phase has been reached is only carried out after the 2nd player has taken their Machination Phase.  In other words, the first player can't suddenly pile in several gladiators to reach the required total without the second player being able to respond.  The other is that an Arena Phase begins with Late Registration - this allows each player to commit alternately one new gladiator at a time to an arena by paying three coins.
This produces a very satisfying uncertainty about when and which gladiators to commit  and adds a good potential for bluffing.  My advice is to watch carefully which gladiators your opponent acquires and which have been committed to the arenas.
However, before any combat can take place, you will have taken several Machination Phases and I can assure you that these Phases are just as absorbing and exciting as the fights!
Picture of combat in the arena taken from the rule book
For those who may just revel in the hack and slash of combat, perhaps this may not be the game for you.  But for those like me who want a more nuanced experience, the Machinations Phase is just the thing.  As with many deck-building mechanics both players begin with an identical deck of 14 cards containing 2 identical and rather limited gladiators and the rest are mainly coin cards.  Each Round, you will draw 7 cards and you will want to try to use all of them to maximum effect, as any unused cards are placed in your discard pile. 
Here is your starting deck of 14 cards

Initially, buying cards will predominate and what you can buy is handled very well, because there are the three decks already mentioned: Supply, Gladiators and Training and there will always be three cards from each deck to choose from.  Having this range of nine cards is a major plus, as you rarely find yourself in the position I've encountered in some deck building games where too often crucial cards keep appearing and being claimed by others just before your turn. Nor have I experienced the dreaded "killer" cards of some games that are so overpowering they totally skew game play.
There's a wide range of choice and effect that effectively bring in strong thematic historical elements to the game.  Particularly important are Patrons, who you will add to your player tableau.  Not only do they often add bonus effects, but their essence is the amount of Influence they bring with them.  This is crucial because Influence is what you need to allow gladiators to enter an Arena and for them to stay there.
Your Patrons will remain permanently in your tableau, but if you use their bonus effect/s, then as in most deck builders you have to exhaust them by turning them sideways.  If you do that, you lose their Influence until the next Round.  As a result you may not have enough Influence to maintain all your gladiators.  I love these sort of dilemmas in a game that force simple, but difficult choices and are also a realistic reflection of the theme.
Here's the basic layout of your tableau part way through a Round.  In the centre is your player board which handily outlines both Phases and the steps you can take.  To the left are placed your Patrons and just above them any Glory tokens you've gained, while to the right are cards that you have Reserved and above them any coins that you've acquired.  Finally below, on the left, is your deck of cards from which you will deal your next Round of cards  and to the right any discards.  What you cannot see in the photo are the cards that you still have in your hand to play that Round.
So, over a number of Rounds of Machination Phases, you and your opponent have placed enough gladiators to reach the Bloodlust level for an Arena Phase to take place.  The photo below shows the excellent example of this in the rule book. 
Initially this will happen fairly quickly, as only 6 Bloodlust pts are needed to trigger the first Arena Phase, but after that the totals for triggering rise in the following sequence: 14,19,24, 24.  
Though this is hardly a difficult item to remember, the game [following its excellent provision of superb visual aids] has a small deck of Boast cards with the Bloodlust numbers on.  What's more they are illustrated with a suitably boastful gladiator raising a sword and axe aloft and an equivalently boastful text - one of which, at least, shows a fairly high level of articulate literacy for a gladiator.
This level of attention to reinforcing theme through constant visual art is one of the game's many strong qualities.
Finally, in the Machination Phase never forget the ability to place Tactic and Reaction cards into your Reserve Area.  The ability to suddenly bring them into your hand during the Arena Phase could just be the difference between victory and defeat, but don't forget that you'll need enough coins to bring all of them out at one go!
The Arena Phase
As mentioned earlier, this begins with both players having the opportunity for Late Registration - but remember, you will need to pay 3 coins for each gladiator you want to now put down and will have had to lay cards during previous Machination Phases that provide sufficient spare Influence for this to be allowed!
That done, at last it's down and dirty to the combat.  A Fleeting Glory Arena must be resolved first followed by the Lasting Glory Arena.  It is, of course, possible for only one Arena to have had gladiators assigned to it.  Initiative is determined and then the players take combat turns alternately until both pass consecutively.
In a player's combat turn, a gladiator that is Ready [i.e. hasn't already attacked and been Exhausted] must attack and one Tactic may be played.  The latter may be a Tactic card played from your hand or a Tactic ability on one of the cards already set out in your tableau.
Should you have no gladiators left able to attack, you may still keep taking Combat turns, if you have any remaining Tactics playable.
Once both players have passed consecutively, if both players still have gladiators in that Arena alive, then they are all made Ready and the Combat process begins again. Ultimately the player who has at least one gladiator left alive will win the combat and gain the blue Glory token.  It is possible that both players might simultaneously lose their last gladiator, but it's not something I've yet experienced!

Once again, the level of interaction works to draw you into the atmosphere of gladiatorial combat.  There are many different types of gladiator, each with a differing ability and not always when they attack.  For example, some gladiators' effects. only come into play after they have attacked and are Exhausted.  Combine these with the abilities on Tactic cards, the Tactic abilities of some of your Patrons and the effect of Reaction cards and some Patrons' Reaction abilities and you have an engrossing set of mechanics.  

Even the Arenas play their part and this explains the names of the two types of Arena: Fleeting Glory and Lasting Glory.  If you win the combat in a Fleeting Glory Arena, you gain one Glory token and gain the ability of that Arena the next time you fight in it.  Should you lose in that next combat, your opponent will gain its ability for the moment.  Hence the name Fleeting Glory.  Whereas, if you win in the Lasting Glory Arena, not only do you gain two Glory tokens, but you gain the Arena card and its ability for the rest of the game and a new Arena card is turned over from the extensive deck of Arena cards to become the new Lasting Glory Arena!

To sum up For Glory ... good things come in small packages.  It's a both well designed and well presented game.  All the components and especially the art work on the many cards support the theme perfectly, especially when laid out in front of you in play.  The rule book too uses its design to great effect to make it an exemplary model for organisation and clarity. But more than anything else, it's an engaging, fun game to play and an excellent addition to the lighter field of two-player games

Obviously there's only one thing left for me to say, after thanking Spielcraft for generously providing me with this review copy of For Glory ...
  
Ave Caesar, nos morituri te salutant








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