Jugula is a gladiator game, written by the same team that have previously published Saga and Muskets & Tomahawks.
Unlike some previous gladiator games, Jugula does not simulate a detailed combat between two gladiators. Rather, each player takes on the role of a Lanista, taking charge of their own ludus (gladiator school). Teams of each player’s gladiators fight in the arena – between two and four teams of gladiators can fight each other at once. If you wish, as well as combat you can play using a career mode, which will see each player striving to make his ludus the most powerful, and thus gain the most glory. If you gain the most glory, you win the campaign game.
The game splits neatly into two parts. The first, and most visual, is the combat game. In this, each player uses a team of four different gladiators. These are pitted against rival teams (one, two or three others). The last group of gladiators left wins the day.
Combat takes place on a square grid, eight squares to a side, rather like a chess board. A full colour paper play mat, 39cm x 39cm is provided in the rulebook.
As I said, each player has a team of 4 gladiators. He can choose these from a selection of twelve different gladiator types (each is represented on a card) – he may only take one gladiator of each type. Gladiators are divided into heavy and light categories (The Retarius and Thraex are examples of light gladiators, the Murmillo and Hoplomachus examples of heavy gladiators)
Each gladiator has a movement value, and a combat value in attack and defence against each gladiator type, and also a possible special rule.
Rather than using dice the whole gameplay of the gladiatorial combat uses a card system. Each player starts the game with a deck of 12 cards, called Jugula cards. He also has a deck of 12 Prima Jugula cards. You start with a hand of 4 cards (though this can be increased during the game) and on your turn, you can play one card. Each card allows you to one of several different things:
- You can move a number of gladiators
- You can increase your popularity (which can give a combat bonus, and increase the size of your card hand)
- You can perform a number of attacks
- You can draw more cards
- You can perform the card’s special ability
- You can use the card’s dice value
- You can use the card to purchase a Prima Jugula card
This mean that, on each turn, you have potentially a large choice of things you can do, unless you are left with a single card in your hand, which means that you have to use it to draw cards.
It’s also worth noting that generally, you cannot move and attack in the same turn, so you have to carefully plan so that you can move to attack your opponent without leaving yourself open to a pre-emptive strike – not as easy as you might think. You can move in any direction, and change facing, but you can only attack the three squares immediately to your front, and you get bonuses for attacking the flank or rear of your opponent.
Combat is simple: you take your attack factor, plus perhaps a modifier, and compare it to the defence factor of your opponent. You add a random factor, either by drawing the top card from your deck, or playing a card from your hand, and using the value of the dice symbol on the card. The gladiator with the highest score wins. If you double your opponents score, his gladiator takes a wound (his card is turned over). Quadruple his score and the gladiator bites the dust (removed from the arena, although not necessarily dead). Two wounds will also ensure that a gladiator bites the dust. In a two play game, inflict a total of four wounds on your opponents team of gladiators, and you are declared the winner.
In the campaign, or career, game you recruit your gladiators, and also servitors (retainers who can give your Ludus bonuses either in, or outside, of the arena) fight with your gladiator team in the arena, earn money, and then spend that money to train your gladiators between fights, buy or sell your gladiators or slaves, or even hire mercenaries to fight for you whilst a particular gladiator recovers from his wounds. There are a number of phases which take place in between fights in the arena. Your goal as a lanista is to gain the most glory. Achieve the most glory, and you win the game.
As I said earlier, Jugula is not a traditional gladiator combat game, especially as you fight in teams. The combat part of the game is highly tactical, and relies on a player managing his card resources, and using them in the best way possible. It also includes aspects of deck-building, as you can buy extra, more powerful cards to add to your deck (but at the cost of not performing another action) It’s all about choice. Similarly, in the campaign game, there is more than one road to victory, as several different actions earn you glory. You can also play in different ways, such as playing a campaign until someone earns a certain amount of glory, or playing a set number of combats, with the Lanista with the most glory at the end of these combats winning the game.
It’s worth noting that these rules only cover an initial twelve gladiators, and does not contain rules for such favourites as gladiatrix, dwarves, equites or creatures (lions, tigers and bears, oh my!)
The rulebook is beautifully produced, with clear, well presented rules, lots of examples and a good smattering of artwork and photos. It’s worth noting that most of the photos in the book are actually of the miniatures from the Crusader range of 28mm gladiators. As I mentioned, the rulebook also comes with a full colour paper play mat of an arena. However, as well as the rulebook, each player will also need their own deck of Jugula cards. These are sold separately, and come in a box of 36 cards. These include 12 Jugula cards, 12 Prima Jugula cards, and 12 gladiator cards. These are again produced in full colour, and are of a good quality, very similar to that of decent quality playing cards (although they do not have a plasticised finish).
The rules retail for £20.50 from Gripping Beast, which is nearer the high end for a book of its type, but certainly not overly expensive. The cards are £7.50 a pack. This may seem expensive, but actually producing good quality cards of this type is not cheap. However, since each player needs a deck, if one person where to purchase enough decks for a four player game, it does become somewhat expensive.
The gameplay is good, but takes a bit of getting used to. Whilst I’m assured that gameplay does become rather quick, and you can play several games in an evening, our initial plays, even with just two people, tended to be somewhat on the slow side, and we didn’t finish a game in over 90 minutes. Certainly getting to know the card abilities and general gameplay is a part of that, but also the game can be a somewhat cat-and-mouse affair when you are trying to take advantage of your opponent. Perhaps we were just being somewhat over cautious, and a more carefree approach to the lives of your gladiators would reward you with a quicker, and certainly bloodier, game.
All that said, I enjoyed the game, and I’m looking forward to playing it again. Certainly the prospect of fighting with 16 gladiators in the ring at the same time does make one’s mouth water.
Although Gripping Beast have produced a range of 35mm gladiators for Jugula, it is quite possible to play the game with whatever scale of miniatures you wish. The grid on the playmat uses 30mm squares, but you can always use a bigger mat, should you wish to use bigger figures (such as the 54mm Italeri plastics)