Arena Rex: Gladiatorial Combat in a Mythic Age!
What a name for a miniature skirmish game!
Arena Rex is the new game from Red Republic Game, which brings the blood-soaked sands of ancient Rome’s gladiatorial arenas to life as a miniature skirmish game. And Arena Rex doesn’t just use any kind of miniatures, but some of the coolest 35mm miniatures I’ve seen so far.
The guys from Red Republic Games currently run a highly successful Kickstarter-drive for Arena Rex. The game is funded many times over — I believe it funded within less than a day of going live.
Despite all the work they guys behind Arena Rex have on their hands now, Walker from Red Republic Games took some time to answer me some of my questions about Arena Rex.
As with previous interviews, I’ve decided to split this one into two parts for better readability.
The Arena Rex Interview Part 1 covers the following:
#1 – The People Behind Arena Rex
Zweischneid: The previews for Arena Rex look fantastic, great miniatures and interesting game-mechanics. Before talking about Arena Rex, I’d love to hear a bit more about your background. When and where did you get into miniature gaming and, more importantly, into designing games?
Walker: Regarding our professional backgrounds, Nick P. is an industrial designer, Nick C. has a Bachelors in Economics and a Masters in Accounting (he prefers to think of himself as an economist), and I have a Bachelor’s degree in Latin.
With respect to miniature gaming… does HeroQuest count?
I remember walking through the mall as a kid and being fascinated by the one hobby store in there. Most of it was science kits and model airplanes, but something about the tiny rack of Games Workshop Orks and Marines in the corner always drew me in.
I was never able to explore miniatures much when I was that young, but as soon as Nick C. offered to play a quick demo game of Warhammer Fantasy with me in high-school I jumped on the opportunity.
Since then, we have tried a few systems, and there are always lengthy discussions about them. We met Nick P. through Warmachine, after the long Chicago winters finally pushed him south back in the early battle-box days of MK I, and the three of us have been good friends and gaming compatriots since.
As for when we got into designing games – Arena Rex is the first game we have designed from the ground up. Work started in earnest about a year ago, though we have all have been informally collecting mechanics that we loved or hated for much longer than that.
#2 – Setting: A Miniature Game in Ancient Rome
Zweischneid: The setting for Arena Rex is very tight: gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome.
I assume you have a special interest in Gladiators, or at least in Roman history? What inspired you to make a skirmish game based around gladiatorial combat? What is the main appeal of this setting?
Walker: Who doesn’t love ancient Rome?
Sure, some folks love it more than others, but it really has a pretty solid baseline appeal for everyone, I think. We knew we wanted to make a low model-count skirmish game – the arena seemed like a perfect setting.
Personally, I have a degree in Latin, so it was an obvious choice for me.
The theater inherent in arena combat really draws people in. The scene in ‘Gladiator’ when Maximus first enters the Colosseum is a good example. They are meant to be reenacting the battle of Carthage in front of a massive crowd and of course it all gets turned on its head.
We felt like that sort of spectacle was a really fun starting point, and provided just the sort of cinematic experience that people love in miniatures games. A lot of the most animated conversations in a game shop are about what someone’s bad-ass character did that was really cool, and we wanted to make it easy for people to get that excited about Arena Rex.
#3 – Designing the Game of Arena Rex
Zweischneid: The Arena Rex website teases a lot of unique game mechanics to bring gladiator fights to life: damage-trees, a fatigue system, manoeuvres, etc.. . Can you give a bit of explanation on one of these? How will game-play for Arena Rex be different from other skirmish games?
Walker: One of the things that makes Arena Rex really unique is the turn structure — It basically only exists as much as you want it to.
Lots of miniatures games can lose the players’ interest because the turn structure is, well, structured.
Full-side turns are always really cool for the player whose turn it is, but aren’t always much fun for the opponent who is trying to weather the storm.
Standard alternating activation does a better job of smoothing that out, but sometimes you have models hanging out on the periphery. If a model is waiting for an opening or just poorly placed, it can feel like a burden to activate, slowing things down even for the active player.
We really wanted to make sure that nobody was ever sitting back on their heels in Arena Rex — or at least that if they were, it was because their opponent had clearly put them there.
We also like mechanics that involve a bit of resource management. We found a great way to combine those in the way our fatigue and activations work. When you add the additional management of Favor Dice into the equation, you start to get some really good strategic game-play elements.
The ludi in Arena Rex are also not factions in the usual sense, and are more “soft” factions.
You can choose models from any or all of them when you bring a team of gladiators into the arena — seeing exotic fighters and beasts was a great part of the spectacles in the arena. There is nothing prohibiting a bit of everything. There will be some benefits for sticking within a single ludus, but it certainly isn’t required.
#4 – The Arena! Terrain in Arena Rex
Zweischneid: How would Arena Rex Terrain, or an Arena Rex table look like? Would you try to model an arena or amphitheatre? Does the game come with a game-board? Will you produce terrain-pieces?
Walker: In Arena Rex terrain is really important — mostly because it is dangerous.
There isn’t really “rough terrain” in the abstract sense, the maneuvering is mostly to avoid or take advantage of terrain that will cause your foes to take damage, fatigue up, or be taken out of the match entirely. We really wanted players to feel like there was a good reason to maneuver, and capture the feel of a perilous arena. Having your back to a wall is both a good and a bad thing in reality, and the same is true in the game.
Pits, spikes, columns, and pits full of spiked columns are all recommended. We like to play on boards with a handful of columns, a couple pits, and some good spiked sections of arena wall to keep folks from hanging back on the edges too much.
If you’re planning to make a set board in anticipation, we have found that something in the neighborhood of a 30” diameter circle keeps things tight and exciting, while still allowing some good space to maneuver. We will have some suggested layouts that we think are fun and balanced available with the rules, but by all means, have fun with it!
We have talked about producing terrain pieces ourselves, but haven’t yet come up with a way to do it that satisfies us for both quality and cost.
The execution is important.
If and when we do produce some terrain pieces, it will be because we think we can pull it off at least as well as anyone else, if not better.
The real key metric for us is whether we would want to buy it if we saw it on a shelf somewhere. We are still dialing in on high-quality terrain that isn’t cost-prohibitive. It is something we would like to do, and we are still working on it.
This interview is far from done. Continue reading in the Arena Rex Interview Part 2.
Leave a comment to let me know what you think about Arena Rex!