Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Wolfgang Kramer &
Markus Lübke





Once again DAYS OF WONDER invites players to buckle up their portable time-machines, and once again the players are taken back to pre-Christian times. However, instead of building a palace for Queen Cleopatra, the players now have become impresarios in ancient Rome, striving to attract the masses by organizing the most glorious spectacle in their arena.

Thus, each player starts the game with a two-part arena on the gameboard, and a starting equipment of several spectacle-tiles (featuring different actors, animals and props) and 30 coins. The arenas of all players are placed equidistantly at rectangular track on the gameboard, and furthermore playing figures for the Emperor, two Consuln and 3 Senators (the "Nobles") are placed on some marked spaces of this track. The setup of the gameboard is continued by openly placing three randomly drawn spectacle-tiles at each of the five market stalls at the central square of the gameboard, and then all other playing material like Emperor Medals, Star Actors, additional arena parts and Program cards are placed close at hand. The stack of Program cards is sorted in numerical order and the first five Programmes are drawn and randomly shuffled. One of these Programmes is dealt to each player (excess Programmes are discarded), and this process then is repeated with the Programmes Nos. 6 to 10. Thus, each player has a starting hand of two (small) Programmes, whereas the stack with the other Programmes remains on the table so that the Programmes may be purchased during the game.


As indicated, it will be the aim of the players to perform the spectacle with the biggest audience, and to reach this aim the players will need to purchase and perform Programmes. Each of the available Programmes in the game has a Spectator-value and certain requirements concerning possession of spectacle-tiles and arena-size. For example: Programme No. 20 ("Circus Maximus") requires an arena-size of at least three pieces, and furthermore the player should possess 3 Gladiators, 3 Horses, 3 Chariots and 1 Props to perform the spectacle at full effect to get a spectator-value of 32. The spectator-value of a Programme can be enhanced further by attending "Nobles", Emperor Medals, arena enhancements, past spectacles and the participation of one or more Star Actors, and so the players strive to organize the single most successful spectacle of the game.

The game has a total duration of five rounds, and in each round a player will have a chance to invest in arena-enhancements, purchase new spectacle-tiles, trade spectacle-tiles and perform a spectacle. Considering the task of the players to organize a successful spectacle, it might seem that a total of five rounds might be too short to become a successful impresario, but it is noteworthy that the players still have enough possibilities for planning and strategy so that the duration actually is sufficient to reach a winner without an overwhelming luck-factor unbalancing the game.

Thus, a round always starts with the players being allowed to make one investment. Such an investment may be the purchase of an expansion of the player's arena or of an upgrade of the seat categories, the building of a loge for the Emperor or the acquisition of an additional Programme. From these kinds of investments, an upgrade of the seat categories has a direct influence on the spectator-value of a player's spectacles since the value of each performed Programme is increased by 5 for each upgrade acquired. The expansion of the arena allows a player to perform bigger and more profitable Programmes while at the same time giving the player a possibility to attract more than one of the "Nobles" to attend the performance. The Emperor's Loge enhances a player's possibility to attract "Nobles", and the purchase of additional Programmes gives the player a possibility to perform a spectacle for which he possesses fitting spectacle-tiles. However, there is one important rules about the purchase of a new Programme: each Programme bought must have a higher number than the last Programme performed by the player, so that a player only may purchase bigger Programmes but not smaller ones.


After the investment phase follows the auctioning of the spectacle-tiles from the market stalls. All three tiles from a stall will be auctioned together, and several rounds of auctioning take place until each of the players had the possibility to make a starting bid in a round of auctioning. This way, the players will acquire new spectacle-tiles for performing a Programme, and thus they will have to bid for the market stalls which offer the tiles which seem most suitable for their strategy. During the auction phase the empty market stalls will be refilled at certain times, and thus even the players who have not won one of the earlier auctions in this phase still may be lucky to be able to bid on a stall with highly needed spectacle-tiles.

Once the auctions are over, the trading phase begins, and starting with the first player each player now is allowed to trade spectacle-tiles and coins with all the other players.

When the trading is done the players come to the central phase of a round - the performance of a spectacle. In turn, each player now may decide whether or not he wants to perform a spectacle. If he does, the player first rolls one dice (or two if he possesses an Emperor's Loge) and then may move one or two of the Nobles on the track on the gameboard, trying to bring them to spaces within his arena. However, there are also some beneficial spaces outside the arenas among the track, since some of these spaces may allow a player to draw an Emperor's Medal which can be used to obtain one of three different benefits. Thus, such a medal may be traded for three additional spectators in a performance, for 6 coins or for the possibility of moving a Noble up to three spaces. If a player succeeds in collecting two medals, he has the additional option to spend both of these medals together to perform an additional action in the investment phase.


But let's return to the performance of the spectacle. After the movement of the Noble(s), the player declares which spectacle he wants to perform. He may perform any of the Programmes he possesses, even if he already has performed that specific Programme in a previous turn. Then the player shows the other players which of the spectacle-tiles listed on the Programme he possesses, and his basic spectator-value will be calculated depending on how many of these tiles he has available. However, the spectator-value of the whole performance will then be positively modified by a number of additional factors. Thus, a player receives additional spectators for one or more Nobles being within his arena, for purchased upgrades of seat categories, for attending Star Actors, for the number of different Programmes he has performed in previous rounds and for being the player with the current high-score on the spectators track.

Taken together, all these factors will be used to calculate the player's current spectator-value, for each spectator attending the performance the player will receive an income of one coin. More important still, the player also compares his current spectator-value with his spectator high-score from previous turns. Thus, if he succeeded in luring more spectators into his arena than in any of his previous turns he will be allowed to adjust hist high-score marker according to his current spectator-value.

The round then is finished with the closing ceremonies. On the one hand this means that the player with the highest spectator-score in the game will receive a bonus token which will grant him three additional spectators in all the following rounds (the player's spectacles get famous amongst the masses). On the other hand, all players who have performed a spectacle this round will need to clear their arena of debris, and thus each player is forced to discard one of the spectacle-tiles which he has used for the current performance. Finally, the winner of the bonus token will have to show his generosity, and thus he has to grant the player with the lowest high-score one of the spectacle-tiles from his stock.

As said, the game ends after the fifth and final round, and then the player who could reach the highest number of participating spectators in one single performance will have won the game.

After some more fancyful games like Schatten über Camelot, Kleopatra und die Baumeister or Battlelore which remained popular mostly with certain target groups, DAYS OF WONDER once again has produced a strong family boardgame with a strategic potential which will also appeal to the majority of serious hobbyists (who may not like the aforementioned games for their fantasy background or light playing mechanisms).

Colosseum comes in the standard-sized DAYS OF WONDER gamebox, equipped with a huge gameboard and lots of nicely designed playing components, and once the players have accepted their "uncommon" roles of showmasters in ancient Rome the game will reveal to them that the seemingly huge flood of playing components actually fits rather winsomely into a well designed, easy going playing mechanism.

As mentioned before, it may sound astonishing that the game only has a total duration of five rounds, but playtesting showed that these five rounds offer the players ample opportunities to build up and enact a strategy which might lead them ultimately to the performance of the grandest spectacle of the game. On this way, the players will have to make a lot of decisions: which investments are most promising? on which spectacle tiles should they bid? when should they use their medals? should they perform a spectacle and generate income or should they wait for another round? Each of their decisions may be felt in later turns, and this leads to a perceptible element of strategic planning which gives Colosseum an advantage over many other "collect-and-build" games. However, also being a family game in its true sense, there also a an element of luck present which can be felt most during the auctioning phase, and furthermore the leading player might suffer a setback due to the fact that he has to sponsor one of his spectacle-tiles to a competitor.

I really like Colosseum for its coherent and straightforward gameplay. Especially the connection between a player's number of spectators and his income generated from the performance of a spectacle was ingenious and logically consistent at the same time, but it nicely illustrates a player's need to spend (and lose) resources on performing a spectacle in order to generate money which he will need in following rounds. However, this is just an example of the fine interconnections existing between the different elements of the game, and taken together all these fine-tuned twists give the player a degree of control over his actions which I have not experienced in a family game for quite a long time.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany