Titan: The Arena (Avalon Hill, 1997; aka Colossal Arena, Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) is another of my all time favorites because of the uncertainty of outcome until very late in the game, the interactivity of the players, and the theme.
Titan: The Arena (not to be confused with its larger namesake, Titan) is a card game in which 8 fantasy creatures, each with specific powers, are battling in an imaginary arena. They battle for 8 rounds, and each round one creature is eliminated. Players place bets on one creature during each round, and then place numbered cards on each creature to represent relative power for that round. Once each creature has a number card, the round is over and the lowest numbered creature exits, so all the bets that had been placed on it throughout the game are nullified. By the end of the last round, there is one creature left standing. Whichever player has the most value of bets invested in that creature, wins.
The beauty of this game is that each player has to simultaneously prop up some creatures while trying to undermine others, while betting accordingly. The chaos introduced by each creature’s special ability is especially fun; whichever player has the most bets cumulatively invested in any given creature gets “control” over that creature, and may invoke that creatures special ability. These abilities may prove critical late in the game! For example the owner of the Hydra can place two cards at once. If the he or she finds their creature with a low card, they could, on one turn, put a higher number under the Hydra and a lower number on another creature. The owner of the Dragon has the ability to destroy any card in play, so what the Hydra just did the Dragon might undo. The variations are as endless as the cleverness of the players.
I would recommend this game to just about anyone who is old enough to understand the rules. It’s recommended for 8 and up, but I wouldn’t expect anyone under 10 to really understand how to deal with the contingencies.
The game play makes it essentially a very interesting card game; the theme is secondary. People with no interest in the theme should be able to ignore it and enjoy the game for what it is! Those who do like the theme will find it very easy to imagine the arena setting, manipulations of the creatures, and invocation of powers.
Note: Titan: The Arena is out of print, but has been replaced by Colossal Arena, which has new art and 4 extra creatures. This review is for the version I know, but can be safely transferred to the new one.