Haven't played yet, but I'm painting away (well, that makes it sound as if I'm making good progress - I've painted 2 of 24...)
Like you I got the rules on 50% off, and while overall pleased with the book I have to say it's really not that well-suited to 1 v. 1 battles. You can play the advanced hit allocation rules which help a little bit, but it's still pretty much a crapshoot and down to good dice rolls, as you point out. There are already so many Gladiator rulesets that cover 1 v. 1 well, though, and many of them free, that I can't say I'm too terribly disappointed in that regard.
Tactics will come into play in larger battles, but without any kind of point values it's pretty much up to you to design balanced forces or scenarios if you want to play something that's not in the book.
I'm in the process of writing up much more detailed campaign rules that should add some more depth to the game, and we'll hopefully get a campaign rolling sometime. When I finish off the campaign rules, I'll post them here.