Titan: The Arena
Doug Adams writes:
Titan: The Arena is a card game for 2 to 5 players, based on a German design by Reiner Knizia. In the game there are 8 creatures fighting in an arena for your entertainment pleasure. Think of a Roman gladiatorial battle and you have the idea. The players take on the role of gamblers who lay bets on the creatures, while trying to influence the outcome and get the creatures they supported through the game alive.
First off, it should be pointed out that Avalon Hill have borrowed the theme for this game from their popular game Titan. That's about where similarities between the two games end, they are entirely different systems, as Titan players will discover as they read on.
Components are simple and very nice. There are just over 100 gorgeous playing cards, some quality poker chips in 5 colours, and a full colour manual. The creatures in the arena are represented by 8 of the playing cards, which are laid on the table to form 'the arena'. The creatures depicted are the Hydra, Ranger, Dragon, Troll, Unicorn, Warlock, Cyclops and finally the Titan (see the image above). Each creature also has a unique special ability that allows backers to break the rules of the game (see below).
Each creature also has a set of 11 strength cards, numbered 0 to 10. These 88 cards are shuffled together to form the playing deck. Also included in this deck are 3 'referee' cards and 11 'spectator' cards. Each player is dealt 8 cards from this deck, and takes a set of 5 poker chips.
The game is played over 5 rounds. During a round, each player takes a turn in sequence until the round ends. During a turn a player may place a bet, then they have to play a card and finally replenish their hand to 8 cards. A round ends when each creature has a strength or spectator card played on it in the current round. When a round ends, the creature with the lowest strength card on it is defeated and leaves the arena. All cards and bets on that creature are removed.
Each player has 5 bets for the game which he can place at any time. As the game progresses, the value of the bets drop with each round. In round 1, bets are worth 4, then 3, 2, and 1 respectively. No bets are allowed in round 5. This is a nice feature, as players must judge whether or not to place a valuable bet early in the game then try and keep that creature alive. Only 1 player can bet on a creature in any given round, which is another nice feature. By betting on a creature, you may become it's 'backer'. A backer of a creature is the player with the highest value of bets on that creature. Backers can invoke a creatures special ability.
Players can also make a secret bet in round 1. Secret bets are worth 5, and are kept hidden by placing a token on top of a face down strength card of the creature being backed. None of the players know what the creature is, but there is a way of finding out !! Secret bets can be voluntarily revealed later in the game, usually if a player wants to take over the role of backer of a creature.
Playing a card is as simple as it sounds. A creature strength card can be played on that creature to alter it's strength, and this is where the game becomes chaotic!! Players are trying to keep their creatures going and eliminate other players creatures at the same time. The tension is really noticeable, and makes for some terrific game play. Also, if a backer plays a strength card on their backed creature, they can invoke that creature's ability. For example, the Dragon's ability allows any 1 card to be removed from the game...very handy for taking the '10' card off that annoying Hydra!
Spectator cards represent rather excited fans who jump into the arena to help out their heroes! These are played on a creature to alter it's strength and to cancel out it's special ability. Spectators can be useful, or a hindrance, and is a nice feature to add to the game.
The Referee cards can be played instead of taking a normal turn. The 'Head Referee' can be played above a creature and will force all secret bets made on that creature to be revealed. Normal 'Referee' cards allow any card to be taken back into that players hand.
Finally, at the end of the round 5 there will be only 3 creatures left in the Arena. All remaining secret bets are revealed and totalled with other bets. The player with the highest bets remaining is the game winner.
In summary, I think this is a wonderful little game. It has all the typical Reiner Knizia elements of tough decision making in a very simple, yet subtle, game. The rulebook is a bit of a struggle, but it's all in there. I've developed a suggested layout, which the rules don't seem to mention, which can be reached by clicking here. Excellent game.