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Jun 12

Dreadball – 200mph Gaming

dread1

“Good evening sports fans!
The air is charged with excitement and the crowd here in Granite City Stadium is going absolutely wild at the prospect of this long awaited invitational clash between the Trontek 29s and the Greenmoon Smackers. Stay tuned as we will be right back after these messages from our sponsors.”

I must admit that I am a bit late in jumping on the bandwagon here as there is already a growing community of players in Scotland and further afield if forums and Facebook groups are to be believed. Having been released through Kickstarter way back in the summer of 2012 the game seems to have gathered a little more steam and with the release of Season 2 and the second wave of teams I thought this appeared as good a place as any to get myself suited and booted for the fastest and most exciting sports game of the future. Don’t think of this as a review as such; more of comments made by an experienced gamer with a desire to vent opinions and share experiences.

As with any new game there is always that feeling of is this going to be worth it? Being a lot more dreadball2stringent on my spending budget now than I was when I was younger I am always keen to get more bang for my buck. In this regard, Dreadball definitely delivers. Paying for the ‘deluxe’ style starter box you get everything needed to dive in. The quality of the board is excellent and I cannot find fault in the cards and tokens. If I were to be really picky, I would have preferred some plastic counters but given the price and the availability of these from both Mantic and other sources, this is mere quibbling. Where I did find fault though was in the quality of casting in the models included.
Despite being cracking figs with superb detail, there were a few prominent mould lines on those I had in my box. On top of this, there was a lot of ‘flash’, particularly on the Orx and Gobbos. Whilst this was not a disaster, it did lead to a lot of time spent cleaning and prepping. For me, as a gamer rather than a painter, I’m happy to spend a bit of time cleaning up a model as I know that it’ll just get a good enough paint job for the table. For those of you who enjoy the painting aspect of our wee hobby and pass time, this might irk you a bit more if details are lost. However, in saying this, let’s get a bit of perspective. For around £40 depending on where you buy, you are getting twenty one figures along with rules, board, and counters/cards etc. I think in the grand scheme of things the quality to cost ratio is outstanding.

Ok, onto the rules themselves.Wow! OK wow is maybe a bit over the top but I was suitably impressed. The book is a very high quality glossy page affair bristling with pictures in full colour throughout. The rules are straightforward and easy to read with some snippets of fluff to get you in the mood. So it’s just BloodBowl in Spaaaaaace! I hear you say right? Well that’s how it was put to me back around the time of its Kickstarter and whilst yes, there are remarkably similarities if you look for them, this is a far different monster altogether.

“So here it is! The sound of the fans is near deafening as the teams storm onto the field. This is no David and Goliath story here folks. This is giant versus giant, titan against titan, immovable object meeting unstoppable force with a thunderous clamour!”

My opponent and I being absolute novices, we decided to ignore the ref and foul rules for our first dreadball3couple of games to ensure we had the basics right before moving on up. Although straight forward we both managed to misinterpret the dice rolling rule for the first few rushes. In Dreadball, a rush is the equivalent of a player turn; during which they can make five actions in their attempts to score. The dice rolling is quite neat once we got the hang of it. You roll 3 dice and add or take away dice depending on modifiers. You will then be given a target number and any dice which equal or beat this are a success. As I say, this is clear in the rules but we both managed to get it wrong (I have to take most of the blame though). Both of us having a history of BloodBowl playing probably didn’t help as although some of the concepts appear, superficially at least, to be the same such as blocking/slamming and going for it/dashing, there are lots of differences. Think more of James Caan in Rollerball than Griff Oberwald in BloodBowl!

What also became apparent from playing our first game was that the rules were maybe not as well laid out as they could have been. Everything you need is in the book but we both experienced a sense of ‘knowing’ a rule but not remembering where we had seen it in the rules; an annoyance which was compounded by the lack of a quick reference sheet. Thankfully in this hi-tech digital wireless age, my opponent downloaded such a document from the Mantic site during one of my rushes, which made things much much smoother.

So what did I take from my first few games? Well after a fair few hiccups we rattled out way through two games in under two hours. With a bit more practice under our belts I’m guessing you could easily play a game in under 45 minutes. That is great news if you fancy running mini tournaments  as you can easily get in a good number of games in even an afternoon event. It’s also brilliant for people like me who normally confine their tabletop gaming to a club night. With little set up time, we can thrash out a couple of games and still have time to talk tactics or sup or beverages of choice.
The card mechanics are also a great addition to the game and throw some more unexpected results or effects into the mix.

Each team starts with a certain number of special play cards which give things like extra actions or effects. The card deck also works as a random player selector and ref move determiner by the inclusion of symbols and numbers on each of the cards. There is nothing that will lose you the game in there but it can throw you off kilter and force some more clever play. The inclusion of ‘coaching dice’ is also a pretty nice twist. Instead of offering re-rolls, you can add these dice to your pool for particularly crucial rolls. Perform some show-boating action or smash face during the game and you can accumulate more of these; something which also utilizes the card deck. Now I will point out that if you have luck like mine, this just means you have more dice to come up 1…

Both my opponent and I had the most fun we had had in a tabletop game for a long time playing dreadball4this game. Sure, we had grumbles about the balance of the starting teams (Orx Guard players can seriously ruin your day when the kill off more than half of your team in the first few turns…), and we missed so many of the little intricacies of the game but that is to be expected. There was so much in there that I found to be novel or clever, a prime example being the scoring. You don’t just score by throwing the ball into the strike zones and chalk up points; it’s more like a sliding scale.

If your opponent is in the lead by 3 and you score a 4 pointer? Well that means the score is now 1 to you. If a team makes it to 7 then it’s all over. Again, maybe it was due to playing the Orx, but I forgot about scoring and spent the game rampaging over the pitch. Not being able to throw the ball for toffee meant it was easier to remove the opposition and then spend the remaining time trying to get one of my gobbos to succeed in placing the ball in the next hex. As previously stated, my dice rolling luck is just appalling. Further to all this carnage, there is no resetting of position. The game is meant to simulate the fast paced futuristic sport of Dreadball where a titanium ball is whizzing around the pitch at speeds of 200 mph.

What happens when a team scores then? When a ball is thrown into the strike zone to score it is removed and a new ball shoots into play. This adds further tactical complexity as you need to be able to quickly respond to this new ball in play. I can envisage future frustration in seeing players thinking much further ahead than their opponents! (All part and parcel of this style of game and not in any way to the detriment of the product) Whilst it can prove disheartening if the ball bounces off at seemingly stupid speeds away from your carefully set up play, I found this rule to be genius and really keeps the game moving along at breakneck pace.

I hope that my ramblings have proven to be a welcome distraction for at least a few minutes; if they have intrigued you enough to look out a game then all the better. I assure you that if you enjoy fast paced games that don’t take themselves too seriously, then you will find this a blast. If you enjoy tactical strategy games then you might also find that this game delivers by the necessity of team and resource management.

“And with that final klaxon sports fans we end this truly awesome spectacle. The Trontek 29s put up a good showing but the Smackers will be going home with victory… and a few bruised knuckles!”

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