Matteo Santus &


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

When I was a teenager, I was really fascinated by the time of the Roman Empire (like quite a lot of other young boys). We learned a lot of the Roman culture in our Latin lessons, and furthermore I read some quite novels about a Roman boy which were quite popular at that time. A holiday trip to some Italian cities, especially to Rome with all these old monuments, additionally drew my interest to the diverse spectacles of Imperial Rome. Unfortunately there are only few games that deal with the everyday life in a Roman city, since most of the games with connection to the Roman empire concentrate on the conquests and wars at these times. So it was no question for me, when Frank asked me to do a review about a new game, that tries to recreate the atmosphere of the old magnificent circus games of the Roman empire.

Munera - Familia Gladiatoria is the first result of three Italian friends, who took the plunge from their hobby into an independent game publishing. Their mission is no less than putting their gaming experience from the most innovative products of the last years into the creation of their own games. With Munera they try to establish a series of boardgames that have a focus on the multicolored spectacles of the Roman empire. The games not only deal with the spectacles itself, but they try to include the preparation and the management around these spectacles. This also explains the title Munera, which is the Latin word expressing a service for the general public, for example the organization of the circus games.

The first game of the Munera series is called Familia Gladiatoria, and as you will already have concluded from the title, it deals with the famous duels of the gladiators. The players take the role of lanistas, who were ancient managers of the gladiators. Every player gets his own gladiator school, called gymnasium in the games. So, as a manager you are not only responsible for the quality of the fights, but you must also care for your gladiators, recruit new fighters and staff and organize the transport to the spectacles.


There are two game boards in Munera - Familia Gladiatoria. The first one shows us a map of central Italia and is divided into different provinces. At the beginning of the game each player chooses one of the provinces as the home of his gymnasium. The provinces in the middle of Italy are the best ones, because they are central and the transport costs to the spectacles in other provinces will be moderate in most cases. But of course they are also quite popular and so the price for establishing a gymnasium here is quite high, too. In the game, the map board only has the function to measure the distance from a gymnasium to a spectacle and so to calculate the costs for the transport. Additionally we can find a bets and tampering box, where players who are not involved in a duel can bet on the winner.

The more important board for the game is the spectacle board. This board shows us a huge pugna part, with 10 boxes for two gladiators each. Here the players send their gladiators to fight the duels. Additionally we can find some fields for virtus points, where we hold the number of possible re-rolls of a gladiator and his suffered wounds. Finally a comprabatio part indicates the mood of the crowd. As you can see Munera uses a lot of the original Latin words. At the beginning, the players need to get used to this new terminology, because you have to look after some of the terms in the rules again and again (at least if your Latin is not perfect any more). Last but not least every player gets his own gymnasium chart, where he keeps tracks of his glory points and the staff who trains his gladiators.

Each turn of the game has three phases. In the Eventum phase a player draws a new eventum card. These cards can change the regular rules and can have huge effects when played. A lot of these cards are for influencing the duels. For example there is a card that stops a spectacle and all duels in it immediately. No more bonuses and experience points are then given to the involved players. But although these cards can be quite strong, they do not unbalance the game completely.

[IMAGE]In the next phase, the forum phase, the auctions for new gladiators and staff of the gymnasiums takes place. Gladiators can be of different origin, influencing their obedience and of course the gladiators differ in strength and toughness. There is no limit of gladiators for a player. The beginning number of gladiators is six, quite a lot one might think, but the spectacles are organized in a way that each player who wants to take part in it, sends as many of his own pairs of gladiators as were requested. Now one must know that the gladiator duels in old Rome were not accidental meetings, but followed strict rules. In Munera a player can assign a gladiator one of seven classes. The fights are well defined duels of pairs of gladiators. The fitting pairs are called matchings. Now imagine a spectacle where three pairs of gladiators are requested. A player who wants take part in it, must send six of his gladiators, but these gladiators must fit to the matchings, too. So a clever lanista should always have some gladiators in reserve.

Staff is quite important, too. There are seven different jobs, that help you to train and to satisfy your gladiators. Beginning with a doctor, who can train the gladiators and give them more Virtus and thus more rerolls they can use before they must give up a fight, and ending with a Lupae, the Latin word for a prostitute, who make the gladiators more obedient. The staff and the gladiators have different skills, and so there is always a fierce betting for the most valuable persons. Betting is no big deal. All players chose one or more coins they want to spent for a specific card and open their hands simultaneously. I have seen more sophisticated ways of betting in the last years, but for Familia Gladiatoria this form of betting is acceptable, because it makes the game fast in a phase that should not be overburdened.

After all cards are auctioned, the next phase, the Munus phase, begins. This is the main part of the game. First of all two cards of the Munus deck are drawn. They show us the locations and the conditions for a new spectacle. What follows is a form of a tender in which all players can make applications to take part in a spectacle. First of all the current start player chooses a show to resolve. He then takes part in it automatically and gets glory points and coins as indicated on the card. Well almost, he still has to find another gymnasium that participates. All other players can then declare if they want to take part in this spectacle, too. If there is only one other candidate he gets the same glory points and coins as the start player, but if there are more volunteers it comes to a showdown. One after another the players can make offers to take part in the spectacle. The offer must be lower than the coins on the spectacle card and of course lower than the last bidder. The winner of this tender only gets as many coins as his last offer, but he still gets the full points of glory. After the tender the players must bring their gladiators to the spectacle and pay an amount of coins for this transfer. A Vectores in the staff of a player can help to reduce these costs, so it is a good advice for players with a gymnasium at the edge of the map to hire such a man. Finally the duels take place…

[IMAGE]One by one the start player chooses one of his gladiators to fight against a gladiator of the other gymnasium. As only matching pairs are allowed to fight against each other, it may happen, that there is no matching gladiator of the other player. Then a player must fight with the corresponding gladiator of his own gymnasium and the duel is solved with a single dice roll. In the other case, the two gladiators are placed onto the spectacle board. The duels are performed in a series of sequential dice rolls. Each time the two gladiators have rolled a dice, the pugna marker is moved by the difference of the two rolls in the one or other direction towards the victory sign of one of the gladiators. Additionally the gladiator with the lower result, receives a wound marker. Gladiators can use their virtus points to reroll and thus improve their results. The duel ends if one of the gladiators reaches the victory sign or if a gladiator has suffered more wounds he can withstand. Then the loser undergoes the crowd sentence. The longer and more exciting a fight has been, the better is the chance to survive this crowd sentence. Sometimes it may also happen that it comes to an accidental killing, if a player has rolled a 0. As an accidental killing was frowned on by the crowd in old Rome, an Arbiter in the staff of a gymnasium tries to prevent this and succeeds in many cases. At the end the surviving gladiators get Popularity points. With these points they can raise in experience levels and this gives them an additional bonus in Virtus (thus influencing the number of possible rerolls, and – more important – it giving their Gymnasium a bonus in glory points whenever the take part in a spectacle). Experienced gladiators are therefore the key to success in Munera, although the distinct influence of luck cannot be denied when it comes to the determination of each duel.

As the gladiator duels are fought out one by one, this phase can take some time, especially if the spectacle demands three matching pairs of every player. What can other players do meanwhile? Well, of course, the can bet and temper and so influence the result of a duel. Besides, they can turn their coins to good advantage. Especially with four players the betting and tempering can have great influence on the outcome of the fights and is a funny pastime for all players, too.

As you can imagine, the duels in Munera – Familia Gladiatoria can result in a massive number of rolls and rerolls. As a result, luck plays a major part in the duels and players who are not directly involved have to wait a long time before it is their turn again. After some rounds of Munera this can become a little bit monotonous. This can be remedied by the first expansion. Munera – Ars Dimicandi which introduces new pugna cards to resolve the duels. Instead of rolling dices, the players play pugna cards with numbers from 1 to 5 on it. As in the standard game, the difference between the two cards determines how many steps the pugna marker moves in the one or other direction. But once a pugna card is played, it is discarded and cannot used any more. This makes the duels in my opinion much more interesting, because you can conclude and guess what your opponent has still in his hand and what he will play next. Additionally, each class of gladiators has two cards with individual abilities. For example, gladiators of the class of a Secutar have a card to take back the pugna card they had just played and to replace it by another one after the pugna card of the opponent has been revealed. This expansion alters the mechanism of the duels enormously and makes them much more tactical and deterministic. I therefore recommend them to everyone, particularly because they can be downloaded for free at the ALBEPAVO-website.

The first game of the Munera-series from the new publisher ALBEPAVO is a remarkable first work of Matteo Suntus and Jocularis. Munera-Familia Gladiatora (especially with the free expansion Munera – Ars Dimicandi) can be recommended to every experienced player with interests in Roman history, but other than indicated on the box of the game I would not advise to play the game with two players, if not just for learning the rules. The ideal number of players is definitely four, because only then the betting and tempering and the permitted sale and market between the players develops to a well-balanced and interesting game. If the authors succeed in maintaining this high quality standard, we should all be anxious to see the next games that are already announced for this autumn…

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany