Like a lot of games around at the moment Arena Rex is another from Kickstarter game. Whilst I never noticed when it was up (slight shame to be honest), it is a game I have picked up and after a slightly confusing start have found I really enjoy it. For many it will be seen as a Beer and Pretzels style game, one to sneak in before or after the main game of the night. But to me you should be treating it as the main event.
One of things though that can put people off on a game beyond not liking it is the miniature scale and of late I really have noticed a scale creep. Arena Rex is 35mm so that’s a bit odd and it does mean that fitting it with other miniatures or ranges is a little difficult. But it shouldn’t put people off playing the game.
Arena Rex is a game of gladiatorial combat set in a slightly fantasy version of our own world. Rome hasn’t fallen the way it did and Arenas dot the landscape. Arguments are often solved on the sands and to the victor goes the spoils.
You need 3-6 miniatures (your Cohort) to play the game and although there are various factions (Ludi), the game currently gives you 4 (Well 5 if you include the Gorgons as a faction) to play all with there own play style. You don’t have to pick everything from the same faction, though doing so can bring some great benefits. The game suggests that your area of play should be about 30 inches in diameter and I’ve found at that area its not hard to get into combat very quickly.
The minis are produced in Resin so the quality is pretty amazing. The only issue with this is that it means you will need to replace things like spears with something like brass rod as they are very flimsy. Its a small thing, but it does detract a little from the game.
From the off Arena Rex looks like a Standard I go, you go sort of game until you understand that there is no real end of turn phase. There isn’t a point where you get to remove all the bad things going on, take a deep breath and start a new turn. So that also means that the game has no turn limit system, it really is winner takes all. Even though the game talks about turns its more in the fact that it’s your turn to do something.
To be able to deal with a game like this and it not become totally insane a simple mechanic is used, Fatigue. When certain actions are carried out a model will become increasingly Fatigued and depending on what state they are can effect what they can do. Fatigue has 3 levels Ready, Fatigued and Exhausted. Doing a normal move action is fine, doing two will make you Fatigued, and three will make you Exhausted. An attack will make you Fatigued or if you’re already Fatigued it will make you Exhausted.
At the start of your action you can remove 1 level of Fatigue from a model, unless they are Exhausted though. That can only be removed in a clear round (Don’t worry I’ll explain later). You can then activate a single model and do whatever actions it’s allowed, but it has to stop its actions when it reaches the Exhausted state.
One thing that’s also great is you can pre-measure at any time. So it’s easy to work out if your plan will work before you try it out.
So what about this Clear Turn I mentioned. When all your models start the turn Fatigued or Exhausted a clear turn is initiated. This means that you’re going to do nothing, well sort of do nothing. All models in your Cohort remove one level of Fatigue, if your Cohort has at least 75% of its models from a single Faction you will also have additional Benefits that can be used in a Clear Turn, these are described as Tactics and can allow models to trade wounds, do free attacks and all other manner of things to keep the crowd entertained.
Combat in Arena Rex is actually very easy to do. But what it can do is what makes the system fun and can take a little getting used to. Combat starts very simple for each point in the Attack stat a model can roll 1d6, on a roll of 4+ it’s a hit. The defender gets to roll 1d6 for each point in his defence to reduce the amount of successes. The attacking model then uses the success to work down the damage tree. If you’ve played Guild Ball you know that you try and work out the best attack you can get from all your successes and sometime get a nice wrap around. In Arena Rex you apply all the success on the way down.
So let’s do a simple example with Sven who’s from the Zaphyri faction. Sven gets 6 dice and rolls the following 2,4,5,5,1,6. Well assume that his opponent didn’t get any successes on the defence roll to reduce what Sven is doing. So 4 Success and Sven has multiple paths on his tree as well.
Once you go down a branch though you have to keep going, you can’t go back, once a model reaches the end of its tree it stops, no wrap around system like Guild Ball. So I could either do a total of 10 Damage or if I went the other way I could do 6 damage, plus a re-position and a push. Re-position/Pushes/Favour/Fatigue all generate 1 damage as well as the effect. The defending model at the end of all this gets to take his armour value from the total damage received. This really does make the game very brutal. You might be thinking so what I can push people, yeah doesn’t sound that special does it? Till you consider that pushing into a model can increase Fatigue, also the game has rules for dangerous terrain. Oh did I just push your Gladiator into a fire pit? Does that mean he goes from un-wounded to dead from my one push? Sorry…
Arena Rex has a huge slew of ways to injure your Gladiators be it other Gladiators or like mentioned above terrain. They also have rules for bring in wild animals. Want a team to be eaten by Lions, Arena Rex can do that. Gored by a Rhino? Yeah it can do that. Killed by Medusa? It can do that as well.
But models don’t have to stand and just get hit, that would make it very boring and a little one sided. They can counter attack, they could have moved, and they can assist other members of the Cohort as well. The game brings huge depth and really gets you into that whirling melee of gladiatorial combat.
Are you not entertained?
At the start of the game each Cohort has three Favour dice, these can be added into the game at various points but you can only add a maximum of two to a single action. Say you really want an attack to hurt, you can add a couple of extra favour dice and the attack goes from six to eight. What about trying to keep a model alive? extra defence required then use some of the favour dice. One other handy thing about favour dice is that a four plus on a favour die also counts as two successes.
As a model takes wounds on its Vitality track it can gain favour for its Cohort, certain attacks or special abilities can also can you Favour. I do find though I don’t keep it for long as I’m trying to put a model down or keep one alive.
The only real issue at the moment is getting the minis in the UK. Its very limited and if they manage to fix that it could be a lot more popular.
Hopefully that’s whetted your appetite for the game a little, if you have any questions then feel free to ask. You can download the rules for free here and each faction has its own area on the store and you can also download the cards as well.
In future articles I’m going to cover a little bit about each Ludus, its history and the models that make it up.