FTW Staff Picks - Colossal Arena
For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new.
Genre: Betting Card Game
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Player Size: 2 to 5 Players
Game Length: 45 minutes
For fans of: Camel Up, The Hare & The Tortoise
Reiner Knizia is, by far, one of the most prolific game designers in the tabletop world. Scratch that, he's one of the most prolific designers of any kind in the world. With over 500 games published, under every genre you can imagine, it can be difficult to pick just one favourite. For me, I can confidently say that Colossal Arena is the one that stands out as a title that I will always be willing to play. Pitting mythical creatures against one another, while betting on those you choose to claim as your champions, it's a simple, but nuanced game.
The game takes place over the course of five rounds. Each round one of the eight starting creatures is eliminated from competition. Throughout the game, players may bet on the creatures with higher points awarded to earlier bets. At the end of the fifth round, all surviving creatures score points to each player who bet on them. Unlike a similar betting game in Camel Up, players have full control over which creatures live and which ones get eliminated. In fact, players have literal control over the creatures they have bet on most. The creatures have their own unique powers that shift the course of play. There is a delicate balance of controlling creatures, but risking having them eliminated by showing who you're betting on early.
Diplomacy plays a big part in Colossal Arena. Since 3 creatures make it to the end, you can strategize around forming alliances and deciding whether or not to betray them later on. Additionally, each player is allowed one secret bet with the highest value associated to it. This creates a bit of a bluffing element to the game as well. And if you need to make a late-game play using a creature's ability, you may reveal your bet to gain power over that creature.
Reiner Knizia is great at delivering deep experiences from seemingly simple ideas. Colossal Arena is just one of many of his games that has to be played to really appreciate its refinement. Originally a 1997 release, Colossal Arena still feels fresh and unique 20 years later. It's an often overlooked title, especially on our shelves. But this is why we started FTW Staff Picks; to shine a light on great underplayed games. Hopefully this will encourage gamers who enjoy betting, with a bit of "take-that", to give this Knizia classic a chance.