Champions from 6 different mythos enter the arena to fight for the entertainment of the Gods, handpicked to fight for their skill in combat. Before the battle, each must bid for the best equipment using their life force, trying to obtain valuable gear to survive without weakening themselves too much. Matches end with first blood, the remaining warriors being judged by their overall health at the end of the battle.
Arena for the Gods starts with the players choosing an arena setup from the rulebook based on the number of players. This will decide where the pillars, traps, and Life Fountains are placed. Of course, players can design their own setup, but this is recommended only when they’re more familiar with the game. 5 Life Tokens are placed on every Life Fountain on the board. Players then take a character, matching privacy screen, and 20 life tokens, which are kept behind the screen. All the remaining Life Tokens, Exhaustion Tokens, and Protection Tokens are placed in the Reserve bowl.
There are two main phases of the game:
- Equipment Phase – Players bid on Weapons, Mounts, Armor, and Spells
- Combat Phase – Players enter the arena and battle it out with the items won in the Equipment Phase
The Equipment Phase is fairly straight forward. Draw as many Weapons from the Weapons Deck as there are the number of players. Each player secretly bids a number of their life tokens, then reveals their bids. Highest bid chooses a Weapon first, followed by the next highest bid, etc… Ties are settled by player discussion, or by shuffling the remaining Weapons and dealing one at random to each tied player. The same procedure is followed for Mounts, Armor, and Spells. Once each player has 1 type of each card they place their characters into the arena on any open space for the Combat Phase.
In the Combat Phase players take turns rolling the 7 dice, with a single reroll of as many dice as they like allowed, and performing actions based on their rolls. Equipment Cards each have an icon, or set of icons, needed to roll to be activated. Pairs of each type of symbol can also be used to deal a single damage to an adjacent hero (swords), move a space (paws), push an adjacent hero (shields), or deal a single damage to any hero (magic). Once a hero has performed all their action play continues clockwise around the table. The game ends the first time a player loses all their Life Tokens. The player with the most Life Tokens left is the winner.
Combat is a bit more detailed than I described with players being able to push other heroes into traps, walls, or other heroes. There’s also Exhaustion Tokens that can be placed on heroes, causing them to roll less dice on their turn, and Protection Tokens that activate special powers when that hero is attacked.
For the full rules, check here.
As with just about every IELLO game, Arena for the Gods has an outstanding production quality. The cardboard is thick and durable, the Life Tokens a nice, rich-colored plastic, and the dice are etched and colored to give them a quality look that should last quite a while. The box has a wonderful glossy finish that really makes the cover art pop and gives it a real presence on a shelf.
Special mention needs to be made for two items that come with the game. The first is the 3D pillars. They’re a really nice thematic touch to the game that isn’t really necessary to have made in 3D but certainly enhances the game by being there. The second item is the removable Reserve bowl from the game’s insert. It fits in the insert and helps store the packaged components, but is then slid out and used to hold all the Life Tokens and counters needed for play. Again, not necessary, but a really nice touch.
Arena for the Gods is a light and thematic game that fits perfectly into a 30-45 minute time frame depending on the number of players. The rules also contain a set of default equipment for each character if players want to skip the Equipment Phase and jump right into the Combat, thus drastically reducing the time to play to around 10-20 minutes.
While light, there’s still a fair about of strategy and though required to play the game. The first choice players must make is how much of the precious Life Tokens to use for bidding on Equipment. It’s really easy to bid a bunch of tokens to get the best stuff, but it leaves players vulnerable to being knocked out quickly and ending the game. It’s a tough balance, but once that’s vital to playing the game.
The rest of a player’s choices are based on their die rolls and how best to spend their actions. It is worth making direct attacks or trying to push other players into traps, or each other, to deal maximum damage. Do you activate a card, or use the default paired actions? Should you go for the kill, or try to snag extra Life Tokens from any fountains on the board?
Arena for the Gods is easy to teach, easy to play, and a blast to play. It’s quick play time makes it easy to setup and play multiple times in a sitting, each time trying a new combination of equipment and tactics to take out your opponents. The age range is 8+, which seems to feel just about right.
It’s a game that gladly shares space on my game shelf with IELLO’s ever-popular King of Tokyo.
A copy of Arena for the Gods was provided free for review by IELLO.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.