Developer: Stormcloud Creations
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium 400 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 35 MB HD space, 6x CD ROM drive, Windows 95 or more recent operating system
Coliseum sets players about the task of managing a stable of three gladiators in a medieval arena. Manage training, publicity, and matches while pursuing wealth and the personal satisfaction of guiding the careers of the kingdom's most popular and successful gladiators.
Coliseum is a clever variation on the genre of text-based sports management simulations. Rather than saddling the player with a baseball, football or rugby team, Coliseum hands you a gladiatorial team with three openings. While you start with three young athletes, you can continue as a manager through as many seasons of arena combat as you wish. Watch older warriors retire or fall to injuries or disease, and replace them with new blood or seasoned gladiators with less of a career ahead of them.
As is true of some other sports management simulations, save a few (well rendered) static illustrations, there's nothing in Coliseum that couldn't have been done on an Apple IIe or Commodore 64. With a little imagination, text can convey anything that graphics can display, and are a more practical medium for a one-man development team such as Derek DiBenedetto's Stormcloud Creations. The difficulty with Coliseum is that despite a number of statistics and tactical options, it's easy to feel that your real influence over the daily success or failure of your gladiators is, at best, minimal.
Each of your gladiators has a variety of statistics. You will see the Strength, Speed, Agility, Durability and Intangibles statistics of your (and other) gladiators. These stats are the primary determinant of long term success in combat. There is also a hidden Potential rating that helps determine how fast and how far your gladiator will succeed. While there are plenty of random calculations in combat that can cause an upset, a gladiator with higher statistics than his foe is more likely to win, and will do so over the long term. Essentially, Coliseum has you pick the best of your randomly generated gladiators and repeatedly stick him into combat. You'll swap in a lesser gladiator occasionally, to give your champion a rest, or if your champion suffers a serious injury or wasting disease. Alternately, you can sack one of your lesser gladiators and bring in an older but experienced fellow. You could even decide to sacrifice the first few seasons by sending in a weak gladiator and focusing on training (as long as you can earn sufficient cash to continue).
Training is one of several problems in the game. You can spend cash in varied amounts and combinations to try to improve some or all of a gladiator's stats. No matter how you spend cash, training occurs slowly. Stats can be increased to 200 (more with magic), and often start in the range of 40-50. For training to have a noticeable and consistent positive effect, you'll have to keep a gladiator under tutelage for several seasons. Even hiring a legendary warrior to train your gladiator can have a small and occasional effect.
Seasons themselves are forty days, and can take several hours to complete, even if you just start and restart matches as quickly as possible. That means that training a decent warrior could require ten to fifteen hours of play. To aid your warriors in the short term you can indulge in potions or enchantments. Potions can boost your gladiator's statistics in the short term at the expense of possible health hazards (and some cash). Enchantments can have a wide range of effects, from boosting income to increasing a fighter's prowess to disadvantaging your foe. You will always have a choice of two enchantments. Pick one, and you will get a new choice of two once the first spell expires. Particularly in early seasons, getting a decent enchantment (usually one that helps in combat) may be all that can ensure consistent success and a chance to reach the championship tournament at the end of the season. At the end of forty days, the four top-ranked warriors will be invited to a single elimination tournament.
Before a match (and sometimes in the middle of a long one), you can give your gladiator a little coaching. You can urge him to take an aggressive, neutral or defensive posture in battle. Even after thousands of matches, its hard to tell which choice is most beneficial. The gladiator with the highest stats wins. It would be much more involving if you could customize your gladiators more, perhaps with different weapons. A greater variety of strategies (and more clear feedback) would also help make combat seem more thrilling. The text descriptions of individual blows and parries in battle are vivid, but impersonal. Were the descriptions more evocative of a unique weapon, skill set or combat style, they would become something to read rather than skip past. Sure, a graphical depiction of combat would be even better, but out of the scope of this title. There is some feedback, but it is often difficult to tell why a warrior succumbed to injury or died, and if there was anything that could have been done to prevent it.
Beyond managing gladiators, the player must manage a budget. Training, potions and contracts for new gladiators all cost money. You'll earn cash for matches, partially based on attendance. Attendance can be boosted through advertising, but spending on advertising is a gamble – it may produce more or less income than you spend. There is also conventional gambling. You can bet on matches, but there are no odds, so everything pays 2:1. You can make money betting on obvious mismatches early in the season, but after a few days of a season, betting becomes an even-money proposition, and isn't worth bothering with.
There is talk of future patches to update and improve the game experience. Possible changes include seasons of variable lengths, an overhaul of gambling and even adding animal matches. Unfortunately, as released, the game doesn't feel interactive enough to be deeply involving. Much faster, higher level seasons or far more options are needed to make the Coliseum exciting. At a price of $24.95, Coliseum isn't nearly as much of an investment as most retail games. Still, while the DVD case is nice to have, this title would be better off as a download at lower price. Fortunately, there is a free, downloadable demo that will let you run the first half of a gladiatorial season. The demo is a very good indication of the full title, so if a text-based, gladiator management simulation sounds like fun, try the demo, and you'll be able to make up your own mind easily.