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A (very biased) analysis of Colossal Arena

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After the “hype” of the Session report I thought it would be useful to put some thoughts on paper about Colossal Arena. Given the number of reviews I have produced for the Gamescape (umm, that would be zero) you can get an idea of the strength of my feelings. This review may not last long on the site as we generally don’t do negative reviews. So please consider this as more of an “analysis” of the game than a review.

A brief introduction. I will repeat the synopsis Si used in the session report.

“In Colossal Arena you’re betting on the survival of eight mythical creatures. You play cards and use the creatures’ special abilities to try to ensure the survival of your favourites while sealing the demise of those backed by the other players. As such it’s a real ’stitch em up’ game. You can play one secret bet but other than that it’s clear to everyone which creature you’ve bet on and how much that bet is worth.”

The game is won (or lost) on the value of the bets placed. The value of a bet is dependent on when it is placed. First round 4 points, second round 3 points, etc. A secret bet can be placed on the first round and is placed on top of one of the creature cards from your hand (played face down, hence secret). The secret bet is worth five points.

Strategy versus Tactical
The placement of bets is strategically important. Bets generate the points that win you the game. However each turn is a tactical play, reacting to what has been played and the cards in your hand. Therefore the game is won or lost based on the strategy of the placement of a bet that you defend through tactical play. In my opinion this makes the game random. You have to randomly place your bet. You cannot make a strategic decision about the placement of a bet. You don’t have enough cards to do this. With eight creature types and eight cards dealt at the beginning of the game you are likely to have one or two cards of the same type in your hand. You cannot make a strategic decision based on this. In fact if you have two creature cards the same you are likely to use this as the reason why you choose your secret bid (one card for the bid, one card to defend your creature).

I take it all back. This is purely a tactical game where you randomly decide the scoring opportunity and then hope like mad that you get the cards you require to defend your random scoring choice.

Backer Privileges – benefit or a curse
The Backer is the player with the highest total public bet value on a given monster. The Backer receives a special privilege when playing a strength card on that monster. If two players tie for highest public bet value, there is no Backer. The powerful privileges will get snapped up early. But if you start using this privilege then you become a target. The other players will want to stop you from using that privilege. The best way to do this is to eliminate that monster. Now not only have you not got the privilege but you have lost one of your highest bets. Double whammy.

Alternatively you decide to attempt to take control, become the backer. If someone claims the backer of a creature in round one it will be round three (60% of the way through the game) before you can attempt to become the backer. But in doing this you need to have the cards in hand and commit to one creature (as you have two bets placed). This can be risky as the elimination of this creature could cost you 5 points (a second and third row bet). There isn’t any guarantee with this strategy as someone could have a secret bid on the creature.

Backer privileges appear to be something that if you have then use, but be careful as you may become a target. And to some degree, if you haven’t got but are trying to acquire then it is a lottery. So, benefit or curse?

Player Elimination
A key feature of our game play is games should not have player elimination. Colossal Arena does not have player elimination, in the strict sense. However after round two when two creatures have been eliminated it is possible that your secret bid and your first round bet are out. Nine points lost. Now I have to admit I played it very badly. I played a first round bet and than a second round bet that was on the same creature as my secret bet. Both creatures had been eliminated at the end of round two. I had lost 12 points. So at the end of the second round (of five, ie 40% through the game) I was out of it.

There are a number of creature backer privileges that can negate the player elimination feature, but only to some degree.

Colussus allows you to retrieve a placed bet. The downside of this privilege is that when this is played you can only place the retrieved bet on an equal or lower bet level. So the later in the game the privilege is played the less impact it has.

Daimon allows you to place a bet in any open betting place. This is very powerful and would be a way of getting out of the type of predicament I had placed myself in. As we have already seen backer privileges, especially if you are trying to acquire them to get out of a hole, is a bit of a lottery.

A feature of the game is “stitch-up”. However I feel this level of stitch-up can, in some circumstances, cause player elimination which is a feature I don’t like in board games.

This is a tactical game. The object of the game is to stitch-up your opponents in order to eventually come out top. There are interesting backer privileges that can be used to assist you in this quest.