Sponsio is a card game for 3 or 4 players created by Dorsonczky Jozsef and published by Mind Fitness Games. In this game you take on the role of a Lanista, a trainer of gladiators in ancient Rome. You send out your gladiators into the arena to try and win your bets, no matter the cost. In those days they would call it Sponsio, the super-game of intrigues…
Since it is a card game the setup is pretty easy. First each player gets a player board, a sequence marker to place at the starting position of the board and 10 coins. Place the betting coupons according to the number of players together with the ability tokens in the center of the table. Give the deck of cards to the oldest player who will start out as the dealer. In a 3-player game you need to remove all cards of one color from the deck. Now you are ready to start the game of Sponsio.
Each round of Sponsio consists of 3 phases, the betting phase, the trick phase and the scoring phase. When a player collects at least 30 coins or wins 9 bets in a row he is declared the winner and the game is over.
The betting phase starts with the distribution of the cards. Each player is dealt 8 cards and the remaining cards, also called talon cards, are placed next to the tokens face-up. The phase consists of 4 turns starting with the player to the dealer’s left. During a turn a player can either pass or lay down a card face-up next to his board to take an action. As an action you can take a bet, token or change a card. To take a bet you have to pay one coin to the bank and mark your bet. These vary from winning a certain number of cards from a particular color, winning a number of tricks to thinking that all 9s will win a trick or you will win the last trick and so on. The only limitations to the bets is that you may never have two of the same color bets. The price to take a token is either a coin or placing another card face-up next to your board. These tokens might let you start the trick phase with a card that you place immediately under the token when you gain it, to doubling the payout of a future bet and so on. The third action you can choose from is changing a card. This is simply done by taking a card from the talon and replacing it with one from your hand. If a player has not placed a bet by the end of the 4th round then he becomes a Troll. The Troll is trying to screw up the other players plans so that they don’t get the requirements for the bets they have made. It is possible to have multiple Trolls but at least one player needs to place a bet.
When the betting phase is over it is time to start the trick phase. The player who has the token that lets him start the game starts with playing the card underneath his token. If nobody took the aforementioned token then the player to the dealer’s left starts the trick. Now going clockwise around the table each player places a card on the trick matching the color of the first played card if possible. The player can play a card from his hand or one that is next to his board. The trick goes to the player who played the highest card matching the starting color of the trick. Afterwards that player starts a new trick. Whenever a trick is won with a 9-card that trick is placed up near the winning player, otherwise they are placed face down.
When all cards have been played it is time to start the scoring phase. Each player now checks their bets. The losing bets are placed face-down. The wining bets get an amount of coins placed on them equal to their payout. The Troll on the other hand gets 2 coins for each losing bet that his opponents have. Every player that has no losing bets moves his marker on the board forward one space for each winning bet. The players with at least one losing bet move their marker back to the start space on their board. The Troll player gets to move his marker forward one space for each lost bet of the opponents. If there are no losing bets then he places his marker back on the start space. Starting with the player to the dealer’s left, every player has the opportunity to bank its progress by gaining the coins in the column where his marker is and return it to its start space. The player who gained the most coins during a single round gets an extra 2 coins. If there are more than one player tied for this amount they each get 1 coin.
This continues until a player has reached the end condition thus having at least 30 coins, get to the 9th space on his track or at the end of the 5th round. The player who fulfilled the victory condition wins. If there is more than one who has accomplished this, the player who reached the end of the track wins. When this still has no definitive victor then the player with the most coins wins. If this still leaves a tie then the victory goes to the player who scored the most coins in the last round otherwise it is a shared victory.
I love the artwork and the graphic design of the game. Everything is really clear and obvious what it means. The theme is a bit pasted on. You could easily play the same game and have simple hearts and clubs instead of blue and red gladiators. On the other hand I’m glad that they have done this theme because it simply is more attractive and gives you a bit of a feel that you are betting on fights instead of simple tricks. The betting is where this game stands out from the usual trick-taking games. This is the most important part of the game. Managing your hand by changing cards with the talon cards so that you can get the necessary cards to hopefully fulfill your bets. Choosing which cards to make public or simply be a Troll and try to mess up the plans of the other players. The combat token which lets you start the trick phase is also real important and can be instrumental to getting your bets correct. The trick-taking part is like a lot of trick-taking games. You are always mindful of your bets and the bets of other players when playing the tricks. I do prefer this game with 4 players and I would not recommend it with 3 players. I find it too easy to get you bets with 3 players since there are only 3 colors in the deck and it is a lot easier to know how the cards are spread. With 4 players this becomes a lot harder and that makes for some fun surprises. We also found it a lot easier to get to the 30 coins instead of reaching the end of the track because you can exchange the marker for coins. All in all a fun trick-taking game with a sweet betting twist that we can certainly recommend when playing with 4 players.
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