Ancient Rome … probably a few years BC … (what’s C?). You, an Impresario, seek glory and fame from the grand Roman Empire. Unemployed gladiators roam the streets. Live lions are abundant at the stage prop supply stores. Wait, what? An Impresario is an event manager? Oh. Well, I guess I can get all that fame and glory without having to leave the comfort of my office!
3-5 Players| 1-2 Hours| Designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lübke
Colosseum a.k.a. Roman Event Management Simulator 20BC is a game about negotiating shrewd deals to hire performers and attain props, and then using them to put on grand shows. Whomever draws in the most spectators to their events will be crowned the ‘Grand Impresario’, and presumably go on to run the Colosseum. Originally published by Days of Wonder just over 10 years ago, Colosseum just saw a fresh new ‘deluxified’ release from Tasty Minstrel Games, bringing the experience to a new generation of gamers.
How does it work?
Colosseum is an auction and trading game played over five rounds, with players vying to draw in ever increasing numbers of spectators to their events. In Colosseum, spectator numbers equal points, so the focus of the game is around maximising the appeal of your events to bring in the crowds each round. Interestingly (and something I’ve not seen in another game before), the scores from each round are not added up to produce the player’s final score, but rather the player’s best single round score is used as their final score. Almost without exception this score will be achieved in the last round, and tensions remain high, as while things you do in the early game help build up your infrastructure, only the score in the final round counts for victory.
The mechanism for putting on events requires players to acquire ‘event recipes’ (which can be bought at the beginning of a round). Each one shows a combination of performers and props (e.g. gladiators, ships, decorations etc) that will be needed to put on the show. Events can still be performed with stuff missing, but your spectator count will take a hit.
Players bid on a market of performers and props, spending their money to acquire things they need, and importantly, things they think other players will need. Then begins the fun part of the game, trading. During the trading phase, players use money, props and performers to cut deals with other players and try to acquire the things they need to put on their performances.
After everyone has had their turn trading players each try to attract the Emperor and Senators to their amphitheatres, and then put on their events, totalling crowd sizes and updating their score. You earn money for the next round based on your spectator count, so holding back till later isn’t generally a good plan. The game ramps up as it goes on, new events draw in larger spectator counts, to which are added to bonuses and investments, leading to an ever increasing crowd size. The most prolific event manager, who draws the largest crowd will receive the title of Grand Impresario.
What do I think?
While I’ve only played Colosseum a handful of times at this stage. I think that its relatively straight forward and intuitive gameplay means you can jump right in and enjoy it from the first play. The game’s highly interactive nature means that it’s impossible to ignore the other players and do your own thing. You are never going to get everything you need from the auction and good negotiation skills are critical in Colosseum.
The Good Stuff
- I think the theme is hilarious. A game called Colosseum – you expect gladiator fighting or something, but no, the game is Ancient Roman Event Management Simulator. I really like this and have found everyone I’ve introduced it to finds the humour in it too.
- Despite having a fairly rigid round structure and rule set, the game really feels more like the players are running things, than following rules and doing what the game wants. I think this is a great and refreshing feeling where lots of other games feel very set in place. There are situations that can reward players for thinking outside of the box, and coming up with creative solutions (i.e. 3 way trades or tenuous loans of gladiators).
- There was a little bit of negativity surrounding the new redesign and artwork of the game with the TMG printing. I really like the artwork. All the tiles have great art/iconography, the player aids and event tiles are well done too. The only thing I am not super happy with is the edges of the gameboard. That seems very unfinished, but this is the smallest of complaints.
- In Ancient Rome, lions even boats can be celebrities.
- There is SO MUCH table talk with this game. Speculation on what a player is planning, what things they need, and how to block them is rampant while playing. It’s very hard to keep secret what you are working on and this provokes a lot of discussion.
- The gameplay is simple and intuitive. New players can pick it up after a round and there isn’t really anything significant to be learned from multiple plays that will stop newer players from excelling at the game. Being good at Colosseum is all about who can make the most crafty and lucrative deals, not who knows the ins and outs of the game mechanics best.
- The ‘structured’ trade round is an improvement over more ‘open’ negotiation such as is present in Chinatown. Having each player negotiate trades one at a time results in some strategy being involved in the trade round. Players can be left with little to negotiate with when it is their turn, or other players can pass on their trade to deny the opportunity to make deals later on in the round. This can be an effective way of not having to sit through unwanted negotiations!
The Bad Stuff
- The whole game has a snowball feel which can give players who are behind increasing feelings of deflation and helplessness. While I have seen some spectacular plays where players have caught up at the end of the game, this was more to do with the meta play (e.g. denying the winner or helping weak players) than the game itself. The rewards and power from being on top feel really strong, and the consolations for trailing behind don’t feel like much.
- Colosseum relies on players to balance the game. This is a negative in two respects, firstly it puts the onus on players to keep the leader in check. This is a common mechanic, but is exacerbated in this game. The next two points discuss this more deeply.
- In Colosseum it is especially difficult to refrain from trading with strong players as most trades in the game are mutually beneficial. The fact of a player being in the lead is they will have a lot to offer. Not trading disadvantages players a lot, usually more so the weaker player that would be denying the trade. I think this is fundamentally an issue where when a player becomes powerful, everything they do is amplified, but the very nature of the game is to interact with other players. You have little choice in some circumstances but to aid players in good positions to try and improve your position.
- On the other side of the above point, when you are in a good position (and the game makes it obvious with the score tracker), it is very likely the other players will ‘gang up’ on you, refusing to trade, denying auctions etc. This can make the game feel really un-fun as it is almost exclusionary having your ability to play the game taken away. Again, as the game relies highly on player interaction, this is something that can significantly impact your ability to play the game and score points, you can’t get by on your own.
- The Emperor, Consul and Senators can be worth a lot of points during the course of the game, and are very prone to ‘bunching’ up early and thus repeatedly rewarding players who have them nearby with points.
- Going into the last round, it might not be obvious who might win, and it can be very obvious that you aren’t going to be anywhere near. I experienced this one game, and it was a weird feeling. I was a little deflated because I knew I had no chance, but it also put me in a little bit of a king-making position. This is a controversial thing, some people love being in this position, some people hate it, but I think it’s generally a negative thing to have as a possibility because some players will always resent the king-maker.
I play boardgames because I love doing something mentally stimulating with other people sharing in the experience, and what I enjoy most about games is table talk, and fun and friendly competition. Colosseum really nails down all these things for me and gives an amazing experience. I like it’s light hearted nature, and the provides gameplay provides a well structured framework for trading and negotiation. If you love the trading and negotiation aspects of games like Catan, Chinatown or even Monopoly, but feel like they don’t have enough Ancient Roman Event Management, give Colosseum a try!