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Tom Vasel
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Initial reports of Colosseum (Days of Wonder, 2007 – Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lubke) were not as thrilling as other Days of Wonder games, and I began to wonder if this might not be the first game from that company in recent years that wasn’t great. There were rumblings of comparing it to Princes of Florence, another Kramer game that has garnered some rather high ratings (although I find it merely “good”). Still, the theme was one that intrigued me – of producing shows in ancient Rome, and I was sure production values would be high.

Once again, I really don’t understand early criticisms of the game (I should stop reading early previews!). Not only was Colosseum better than I had heard, but it has quickly become one of my favorite games in a long while, causing me to bring it to the table again and again. There is a smattering of luck throughout the game, but everything ties nicely with the theme; and I found that while Colosseum seems light, there is an undercurrent of real strategy. This medium weight game is, in a word, delightful; and I can see it being played many years from now.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: After Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, I really didn’t think Days of Wonder could increase their quality, and Colosseum indeed isn’t full of the plasticky goodness of that game. Still, there are a TON of cardboard counters in the game, all of which are beautifully illustrated. The board and box are also extremely nicely designed; and as the game board is built up with the different arenas, it really has a tremendous, thematic feel. The resin pawns in particular are pretty nifty – the emperor pawn is the neatest piece in the game. I did have a few small minor problems with the components. The coins were in various denominations, colors, and sizes but were only marked on one side, resulting in occasional confusion. Also, the box is a different quality than previous Days of Wonder games and was fairly difficult to open. Finally, while I think it’s cool and thematic to have Roman numerals on the dice, I soon realized that many people are fairly bad at recognizing them and was constantly reminding people the difference between a “IV” and a “VI”. Still, minor nitpicks in a tremendously produced game.

2.) Phase 1: In phase one, a player has a choice to invest in their arena via four methods
- Expand their arena (costs ten coins, can be done twice). This is useful because larger programs demand a larger arena to be put on, and because it offers more spaces for visiting dignitaries to land on.
- Purchase season tickets (costs ten coins). This adds five spectators to all shows.
- Constructing the Emperor’s Loge. (five coins) This allows a player to roll two dice when moving the dignitaries.
- Buy a new Event Program. (price ranges on program picked) This allows a player to buy a new program for future events with the better programs having a higher cost.
What is fascinating about this is that a player may only build one of these items per turn, and there are only five turns in the game. And you certainly will want two season tickets, a Loge, expand your arena twice, and have at least two new programs. So when the opportunities for double builds occur (and they are attainable), they become highly valued commodities. Also, it’s a bit of a struggle to decide which to build first. I’m currently leaning towards building the Loge on the first turn, but snagging a good event program is also a nice opening move.

3.) Phase 2: In phase two, players will bid on markets in the middle of the table. Each market has three tokens placed it in, which are usually tokens that match the twelve different types needed for the various programs. Occasionally, markets will have “wild” tokens or tokens that award medals or double builds, making them especially valuable. Players, in turn order, open up bidding on one market (minimum bid of “8”), and each player may win only one auction per round. Players start with a certain amount of tokens (based on the players in the game), and this, combined with the auctions, helps determine a players’ strategies. Folks who like fierce bidding should beware that the bidding is usually rather mild, because often players will want different sets of tiles, and there’s enough to go around. The market fills up quickly, and it makes the game slightly kinder in this regard. I’d like to make a side note that I really enjoy how the types of tokens (gladiators, ships, musicians, comedians, priests, horses, lions, chariots, cages, torches, scenery, and decoration) make perfect sense with the theme. While I’m sure the game was balanced around how many of each token is available, it’s nice to see that the programs seem to match the tokens they require (for example the “Cavalry of Spartacus” program needs three gladiators and three horses).

4.) Phase 3: In phase three, players can trade tokens and/or money with one another. Initially I thought that this was a fairly easygoing task, as players normally will not need or want the same resources. However, as players get more experienced at the game, this trading gets fiercer and more competitive. Players are knowledgeable enough to look ahead to the future and will trade aggressively with this in mind. Also, there are seven “star performers” that provide bonuses to those who have the most tokens of some types; and a player doesn’t want to give these stars up too easily, even if they don’t need the tokens. Finally, some of the tokens are rarer than the rest (for example, there are only ten cages, but twenty gladiators), again making competition fairly fierce.

5.) Phase 4: In this phase, players roll a die and move one of six nobles around the track on the board. Moving these nobles (one emperor, two consuls, and three senators) is useful for a few reasons:
- Move them into a space in your arena.
- Move them out of a space in another player’s arena.
- Move them onto a “resting spot” space, which immediately awards the moving player a medal.
In my opinion, this can be a very important phase of the game, because medals are incredibly important, and having the emperor watch your final show might just be enough to give you the victory. Players with a Loge can roll two dice and move two nobles, although they can also combine the roll and move one noble the sum of both dice. Phase four also includes

6.) Production: At the end of each turn, players will want to produce one of their events. There are thirty events in the game, and each player starts with two small events, although they can purchase much larger ones later on. Each event has a required number of resource tokens to put it on, although a player can produce them with fewer tokens for fewer points. When a player produces a show, they add together
- the spectators that the event gives (more resources, more spectators – ranging from three to fifty)
- 4 spectators for any star performers they have that match a resource used in the event
- spectators for each senator (3), consul (5) or emperor (8) in their arena
- 5 spectators for each season ticket they have
- 3 spectators for each podium they have (this is awarded to the highest scoring player each of the first four turns)
- 3 spectators for each medal they discard
- 5 spectators for each previous event they have already produced
The total is figured out, and the player’s score is adjusted to that number, and they also receive coins equal to the spectators that came. An interesting feature of the game is that a player does not add their event scores together, but they only score for their best event (most likely the one they hold on turn five). However, it’s important to hold an event each turn so that a player gets money, possibly a podium, not to mention that smaller events will help out later down the road when producing larger ones (five more spectators!) There are two more interesting things about this, however, and that is what happens in phase five.

7.) Phase Five: In phase five, the player who has the highest score in the game receives a podium (worth three spectators) for their arena. Each player must then discard one token that they used in their event (attrition), and then the player who is in last position on the scoring track may take a token of their choice (one of the basic twelve) from the player that scores the highest. This presents players with an interesting choice on some turns. Should a player go all out and produce the best show that they can, hoping to win the podium and get a little more money; but knowing that they may lose one of their valuable resources to another player? I’ve had to make that choice in a few games that I’ve played, and no matter which way I’ve picked, I’ve always second guessed myself and wondered if the other option was better.

8.) Five rounds: The game only has five rounds, which really puts a pressure on players as they must build and do as much as they can so that they can really put on a stunning show in the last round. While the starting tiles a player gets may determine their initial strategy, a player can utilize trading and auctioning to get pretty much whatever they need by the end. In this way, I think that the game is better played twice, as players have a much better knowledge about what to expect at the end. It is very critical that the entire game is about the final show you put on, and players must constantly be looking ahead. This is one of my favorite aspects of the game.

9.) Theme: There are some that may be put off by the box cover, which immediately makes you think about the tremendous fights and action sequences Hollywood has associated with the games in the Colosseum. So it is understandable that some may be a bit depressed by the fact that the game is all about putting on productions. But I found it a neat change of pace and was certainly glad to play a game with a refreshing theme that fit the mechanics well.

10.) Medals: Players get medals through some auctions, and by landing notables on the “resting places”. Medals can be used for three spectators in an event, exchanged for six coins, or can be used to move a notable up to three spaces in EITHER direction. Even more importantly, two medals can be discarded to allow a player to purchase two things in Phase one. This makes medals invaluable, and players must take care not to discard them willy-nilly in the early phases of the game.

11.) Fun Factor: The game builds and builds to a very climatic showdown with everyone putting on their best performance in turn five. This is a game that grows in excitement, and although the bidding and trading phases may be mild (this will most likely depend on your gaming group), they are interesting enough to make the game more than simply luck of the draw or roll. Yes, there are roll-and-move mechanics, as the Nobles move around the track. Players must deal with the programs and tiles they are initially dealt. But I have felt (especially with experienced players) that the player who makes the sharpest decisions wins the game, and it’s often close enough to be a nail biter at the end.

I highly recommend Colosseum; it’s a beautifully produced game that has some real strategy behind it. I would call it a medium-weight game, and it’s certainly easy to teach and learn; but I cannot fathom why some would call it too lucky. The comparisons to Princes of Florence are perhaps somewhat valid, but that game is dry and dusty, while perhaps nicely designed. Colosseum, on the other hand, is a game that invokes the theme of the Roman era and gives players a lot of fun, easy choices in a game that lasts about ninety minutes. Easily one of the best games of the year!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”
www.thedicetower.com

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Mike Bazynski
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great review.

nitpicking: paragraphs 2 and 8 seem to disagree how many rounds are there in the game...

EDIT: more nitpicking:
"- 5 spectators for each previous smaller even they have already done"
should read:
"- 5 spectators for each previous event they have already done"
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Tom Vasel
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Fixed 'em. Thanks!

Tom
 
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Mike Bazynski
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about that 5 points for a previous event - I meant the word 'smaller' seems redundant - I don't see any thing in the rules that would make a 'bigger' event than previously not count for 5 spectators.
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John Barnes
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Well, great. Here I was, thinking my poor wallet was going to get a break from the latest DoW offering. Ha! No such luck.

All kidding aside, great review Tom. You've pushed this one into the 'buy' category for me.
 
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Tom Vasel
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bazik123 wrote:
about that 5 points for a previous event - I meant the word 'smaller' seems redundant - I don't see any thing in the rules that would make a 'bigger' event than previously not count for 5 spectators.


You are correct, sir! I've fixed it in the review.
 
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Mark Mueller
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Tom,

Thanks for another well-written review.
I've read a lot of comments that the game takes much longer than indicated on the box, and one of the associated criticisms is that there is just not enough game for 2 hrs or more.

What's your experience with the length of play and how it affects your enjoyment of Colosseum?

Also, although you did mention that the auctions often aren't hotly contested, you slyly avoided giving your opinion on the subject. Do you have one?
 
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Tom Vasel
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My games have NEVER gone over two hours, including me teaching it to new folk, and I've taught it to three different groups, including one of teenagers. I really don't understand why it's taking so long for some groups.

I don't mind the mild auctions at all, because for me it's just buildup for the trading phase.
 
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Dean Weller
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nice review

just played for the first time

think you nailed it

keep em coming
 
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Tony T
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TomVasel wrote:


Also, the box is a different quality than previous Days of Wonder games and was fairly difficult to open.



By different quality, do you mean paperboard instead of the normal coated cardboard?
 
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George Kizilis
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I must agree with this review.

I bought this game on my wife's recommendation and its one of my favourite games. Its relatively short, simple to learn and great fun. Also, I like the balancing elements such as the donation at the end of the round.

It has become one of the popular games in our group
 
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Douglas Buel
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So is there no actual fighting in this game?
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David McLeod
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dbuel wrote:
So is there no actual fighting in this game?


Absolutely none unless initiated physically by the players themselves.
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Tuomas Tirronen
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Thanks for the nice review - I had a hands on on the box yesterday and it got me slightly interested. After reading this I might have to buy it. Thumbs up.
 
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Mike Lin
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Thanks for another great review, but stop temping me to shell out more money to get games...

Somehow I feel I've 'heard' this one... Just wondering, is this one of your scripts for The Dice Tower? BTW, love your show.
 
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Stephen
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Doesn't the emperor give you seven points instead of eight?
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