What is this game about?
Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities is about blood, sand, and glory. Three mythic lost cities—El Dorado, Xanadu, and Atlantis—have sent their finest warriors to Rome to do battle and prove their ultimate supremacy! Each team of gladiators fights with an especially powerful champion, who is supported by a number of gladiators who bring different specialties to the fight.
In Hoplomachus, battles take place on a giant neoprene mat with a beautifully printed arena, and gladiators are represented by luxurious-feeling poker chips. Players move their gladiators within the arena, seeking advantages and trying to get their best hits in. Destroying other gladiators and holding specific locations within the arena help players gain crowd favor. A player who pleases the crowd sufficiently can pick up new tactics, and eventually a new and powerful gladiator, for her team. There is some luck involved—each gladiator rolls a certain number of dice for each ability he uses, and gladiators are drawn randomly before deployment—but Hoplomachus is very much a game of strategy. Each die color has different odds of hitting the target, and there are battle tactics that can enhance the likelihood of success. If you want to reign supreme in the arena, you need to play smart and know when to take your shots.
How does it play solo?
Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities has a system for solo play that allows you to combat big bosses and several minions. If your champion can survive three rounds of combat—without regenerating his health between rounds—you win. Each enemy, also represented by a poker chip, has its own relatively simple rules for movement that govern combat. Beasts move somewhat randomly (they are untamed and stuck in an arena, after all) but will attack a gladiator who gets too close. Criminals quickly make their way towards your champion, while the big bosses approach you with devastating special attacks.
I really like Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities. The AI opponents can be very tough when you are trying to survive for three entire rounds, and they move in ways that make it interesting to fight against them. I love figuring out how best to deploy different gladiators from different cities, and there is just enough luck in the game to make it feel convincing (if frustrating at times). The only potentially serious issue this game has, in my opinion, is that there are limited enemy types and movements, and the bosses are basically all just huge and super-powerful beings who attack you for big numbers. Also, after several plays you will get entirely used to the gladiators from each city and have go-to strategies for each. If you play it enough times in a row, The Lost Cities can feel just a bit same-y. But overall, it's a hugely satisfying gaming experience, and I am so happy to have Hoplomachus in my collection. With expansions, I am completely head over heels for it. Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities is the first game in a larger system that includes Hoplomachus: Rise of Rome and Hoplomachus: Origins, as well as multiple small expansions.
Do I recommend this game?
I absolutely recommend Hoplomachus. It's fun, it's fast, and it's endlessly engaging. The biggest possible holdup is the price tag: Chip Theory Games does not sell its games at retail. Hoplomachus is a boutique game sold only through the Chip Theory site and made with high quality components. Get ready to part with your money. If you want a smaller, cheaper introduction to the Hoplomachus system, start out with Hoplomachus: Origins.
I'm interested in Hoplomachus. Where should I start?
I think you have two options when getting started with Hoplomachus. In my opinion, for gameplay purposes, it is best to start with The Lost Cities and then work your way through the games in order of their release, meaning you'd move on to Rise of Rome and then to Origins. However, if you want a smaller, faster, cheaper game before you commit, then you ought to start with Hoplomachus: Origins. The solo trials are awesome and you will love it. But honestly, if you start with Rise of Rome, you'll like that one too. This is a fantastic set of games.
Overall Rating: 4 stars (5 stars when combined with Rise of Rome)
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's OK.
1 star — Meh.