Design by Maxwell Mahaffa & Jonathan Oberto
Published by Promethean Games
2 – 4 Players, 15 – 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Ahhh, Kickstarter. While there have been a few pleasant surprises, experience has taught me that most games that are ultimately funded and published have not been fully developed and, as a result, feel unfinished. It is easy to understand why established publishers may have passed on these games. They may contain a nifty idea or two, but as a complete game, they simply don’t measure-up.
Such is the case with Enter the Arena from Promethean Games and designers Maxwell Mahaffa and Jonathan Oberto. The game is set in ancient Rome, with players entering the arena for brutal and bloody gladiatorial combat. The videos for game tout the unique “style” mechanism, wherein players attempt to predict the success of their card play by enhancing it with style. This represents an unusual or exciting maneuver that thrills the crowd. If successful, the players earn style points, which ultimately determine the victor. Fail and those points could be stolen by one’s opponent. While this may be original, it does not save what is otherwise a mediocre, lackluster affair.
Each player begins with an identical set of cards consisting of three attacks, three defense (both valued 1 – 3) and two style cards (valued 1 or 2). Each turn, all players place one of their attack or defense cards face down, revealing them in turn order. When revealing their card, a player must name the target of an attack (If an attack card was played) and decide if he wants to add one of his two style cards to his card. This decision must be made immediately, often—due to turn order—without seeing the type and value of cards played by one’s opponents. No method is provided to indicate the target on one’s attack, which can be problematic in a multi-player game. A few tokens from other games can help rectify this, but a method should have been provided.
Once all cards are revealed, players have the opportunity to play “Prowess” cards. These are special cards that can cause a wide variety of effects. Many modify an attack or defense, others enhance or decrease style points earned, while others cause different effects. Prowess cards add some variety, uncertainty and surprise to the game. They are gained whenever style is won.
After any Prowess cards are played, attacks are resolved. Combat is a simple matter of comparing attack and defense strength, as modified by any Prowess cards. If the strength of an attack is greater than the defense, the defender suffers hit point damage equal to the difference. For example, if the attacker’s strength was “3” versus a defender’s strength of “1”, the defender suffers 2 points of damage. The game provides no method by which damage or style points are tracked, so players must devise their own method to record these values. Old fashion paper and pencil works just fine.
If the attacker or defender played a style card, style points may be earned. For an attacker to earn style points, he must do damage to an opponent. A defender must avoid any damage in order to earn style points. If a player prevents an opponent from earning style points, he steals those points from that opponent. Thus, it is possible to earn points from your own as well as an opponent’s style cards.
After all attacks are resolved, the round leader card moves to the left and a new round is conducted. Players do not retrieve played cards until all six attack and defense cards have been played. Thus, every card (not necessarily the style cards) will be played, so it is possible for astute players to track the cards that have been played and those remaining in each opponent’s hand. This is significantly easier to do when playing with just two players, but more difficult with three or four players.
The game continues until one player achieves 12 style points or eliminates all of his opponents. The amount of damage required to terminate a gladiator varies from 12 – 18 and is based on the number of players. Two-player matches can usually be played in 15 or so minutes, while four-player matches last around 30 minutes.
For me, Enter the Arena is the epitome of what I tend to find wrong with the majority of games that have found life due to the Kickstarter system. The rules are terrible. They are contained on a handful of cards and, as such, are way too brief. They fail to adequately explain the game and provide no examples to help clarify game play. While artwork is certainly a matter of taste, I find the artwork to be amateurish and far too dark (in terms of color, not theme). Indeed, it is difficult to even see the art clearly. Poor artwork can usually be overlooked. Poorly written rules, however, are, for me, anathema. They make learning a game extremely difficult, if not impossible. I do not want rules that force me to visit websites or watch videos in order to properly learn a game.
Worse, what is endemic to many Kickstarter games is poor development. There may be a kernel of a good idea or system, but it has not received proper development by the hands of experienced developers who tend to work with major publishers. As a result, the game feels incomplete and lacking. Such is the case with Enter the Arena. The game is pure vanilla, with little that generates excitement. There are minor decisions to be made as to which card to play and whether style should be added, but it truly is more of a guessing game akin to Rock, Paper, Scissors, attempting to guess which card your opponent might play and act accordingly. This is basic stuff and really doesn’t make for an exciting game or convey any of the atmosphere of gladiatorial combat.
I continue to be amazed at how easily gamers are willing to part with their money to back projects from novice designers and unknown companies. Slick videos are easy to make in today’s tech-savvy world, and it appears the power of advertising is still a formidable force. Enter the Arena has an enticing theme and boasted a nicely produced Kickstarter video. Sadly, that is about all that could be mustered, as the game itself might be fine for a group of pre-teen boys, but anyone with a modicum of gaming experience will likely avoid entering this arena.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
1 (Not for me): Greg J. Schloesser