An interesting take on gladiatorial combat, placing it at the centre of the game - indeed, it's the whole point of the game - with an innovative card based mechanic and no need for a GM if you cannot find one to hand!
It opens with the default setting of a run-down city called Oblim... but you can as easily run your game wherever you want as all you really need is an arena to fight in and an audience to be entertained. Indeed, you could even use this as a sub-game to run gladiatorial combat sessions within the context of a completely different game system if you wanted to do so.
Next comes Character Creation, defining your pit-fighter ready to do battle and win his way to fame and fortune. The base concept is that the character starts out destitute and with nothing else to do bar fight in the arena, and the process is geared around that. Each 'Warrior' - as characters are termed - is built around four statistics: Wealth, Renown, Pain and Hope. These are not statistics as you know them, but measure various qualities: material and less tangible wealth (not just gold but favours owed and the like), fame, and two deep-seated drives that reflect his mental state. Only then do we get to the nuts and bolts of fighting abilities, an interesting approach that puts WHY he is a gladiator central to the character's being. The combat traits are manoeuvre, guard, power and stamina and you can be well-balanced or specialise in one to the detriment of the others as preferred. To add flavour and distinctiveness to each character's fighting, there are Styles and Techniques to choose from to build your own unique fighting style - and each choice provides mechanical advantages too. Characters are rounded out with ownership of an Item - a favoured weapon or piece of armour - which may be used (again to mechanical advantage) once per round, and if wished you can create a rival for him.
On to actually Playing the Game next. Each player takes a turn in the spotlight, when they narrate the scene and can involve other characters as appropriate, not just his own. The resolution system is card-based, with red cards counting as successes and black ones as failures... cards being dealt only when a check is needed. If your character is not in combat with another player-character, generic 'forces of adversity' are portrayed by whoever is sitting to your left. The neat thing is that although whoever gets the most successes wins whatever the check was, the person who got the most failures gets to narrate what happened.
Interestingly, there is scope for more than mere brawling in the arena even though that is core. Other scenes are catered for, and are described in succeeding pages - work, train, soothe, connection, threat, challenge, duel and threat. Each has its own particular form of resolution and reflects a different part of the everyday life of our Warriors. Examples are provided to show how each aspect is played out. The results affect the core statistics of Wealth, Renown, Pain and Hope and may - if appropriate - also change combat traits or other things.
Duels are of course handled in particular detail - this is when you get to strut your stuff on the arena floor in front of a baying crowd. It's not the only opportunity to fight - under 'threat' you may be involved in a street brawl or be attacked by robbers or the like - but this is the main focus of the game, the climax towards which everything else works. Quests let characters break out and go off to achieve fame and fortune elsewhere than in the arena.
Finally, someone's Renown is going to exceed a target number and this triggers an Endgame in which each warrior gets one final scene in preparation for one climatic arena battle in which everyone participates. Each then has an Epilogue in which players narrate the conclusion to their character's story.
Overall this is an interesting take on the concept of a gladiatorial combat game, taking it beyond a mere fighting simulation yet remaining focused on combat as central. It slides towards 'story game' rather than true role-playing but is not as contrived as many story games are in terms of what can occur, even despite the clear focus on gladiators.
[5 of 5 Stars!]