Friday, 13 December 2013

DreadBall Deluxe, Part 1: Box Contents

On a couple of occasions this year we've taken a look at games which cross the threshold between board games and tabletop systems.  First we threw in our two cents worth on Wyrd Miniatures Puppet Wars Unstitched, then we picked up the currently-on-hiatus Sedition Wars from Studio McVey and Deadzone from Mantic Games.  Continuing with this trend we're now turning our spotlight onto another one of Mantic's offerings, but this time of a very different nature, as we look at DreadBall; the futuristic sports game by Jake Thornton.
DreadBall is a game for 2 players, and is set in the universe of Mantic's tabletop system Warpath.  There are two different starter boxes which can be purchased for this game: DreadBall Kick-Off and DreadBall Deluxe.  For the purposes of this review we're going to be taking a look at Deluxe, as it gives players the complete DreadBall experience, whereas Kick-Off gives something of a stripped-down version, still playable in its own right, but lacking some of the finer points of the whole game.  At the end of this review we'll point out the elements which only come with the Deluxe set, allowing you lovely folk to decide which version better suits your gaming habits and pockets.
The initial appeal (after seeing how many people at our FLGS were enjoying the system) of DreadBall to us was its nature as a sports game.  We're not exactly the biggest sports fans in the world, but when most tabletop/board game hybrids are about two opposing forces trying to shoot eachother to death, it was a breath of fresh air to see something a little different.  In our Christmas gift guide we mentioned that our first impression of DreadBall was a combination of American Football and the assorted games of the Tron universe.  Having now played the game we can confirm that this is fairly accurate, although with the brawling element of ice hockey thrown in for good measure!  Let's have a run through of the box contents, and you can see exactly what the Deluxe box gives you to run rings around your opposition!

As usual, we'll start things off with the board.  Unlike some of the previously mentioned tabletop/board game hybrids, DreadBall does actually feature a good old-fashioned gaming board.  Any sportsball game by its very nature is played within a clearly defined area (we're lead to believe that sports buffs know these as "pitches"), and so the DreadBall board lays out the pitch for this adrenaline-fuelled encounter.
The pitch is divided up into hexagonal spaces, which neatly fit the hexagonal bases of the miniatures.  Making sure your players face the right direction is an important part of a match, and by opting for hexagons Mantic have given a decent range of facing and movement options.  As you may have guessed, the aim of the game is to score more points than your opponent's team, and so the blue and red areas of the board are the scoring zones for the home and away teams.  Other areas of the board include both teams' substitute benches and sin bins/recovery areas (DreadBall is the very embodiment of a contact sport after all!), the scoring track, and the turn counter.
In order to play any sportsball game, teams are fairly essential.  The DreadBall boxset contains two teams: one of humans - The Trontek 29ers, and one of marauders (orcs, to you and me) - The Greenmoon Smackers.  As usual in tabletop/board game hybrids, these do require assembling and painting, but they do go together with very little hassle and we had both of our teams ready to go within 2 hours...
Obviously painted miniatures do look a lot nicer, but if you're anxious to take to the field then there's nothing to stop players from using unpainted models.  Just make sure you wait for the glue to dry so that you don't ruin your nice game board!
Of course a sportsball game wouldn't be a sportsball game without... well... a sportsball!  And it would quickly descend into chaos without some kind of official to keep watch over the proceedings...
Fortunately DreadBall hasn't overlooked these points, and the Deluxe boxset contains a pair of balls (stop sniggering in the back row) and a ref-bot.  The ref-bot is not just included for aesthetics, but actually follows the action around the board and officiates over disputes.  The ref-bot not only has the power to send players off or sin-bin them for a number of turns, but it can also be used sneakily to block your opponent's team from getting to the ball or stomping a downed player!
We've grown used to board games throwing a plethora of tokens our way, and so the stunning lack thereof in DreadBall was initially a cause for great confusion.  On reflection, however, there isn't really much in a sportsball game which would need to be marked out with tokens, and so the box contains just a small sheet.  Each player can take 5 actions during their turn, and so each team has 5 tokens used to keep track of these.  Aside from those, there are simply a pair of tokens to keep track of the score and turn number, and one card effect marker.
Also included in the box is a decent set of dice in three different colours - blue for the home team, red for the away team, and white for the ref and to be used as coaching dice, which can be earned with flamboyant gameplay and used to bolster other dice rolls during a match.
Once you've selected your team, you might want to keep a record of their achievements, and so a team roster pad is also provided.  This is really only relevant for ongoing league campaigns rather than one-off matches, but if (like us) you decide to give your chosen team a theme, then you might want to fill out the roster to keep track of your players' names just for fun.

A game of DreadBall is a fast-paced and dangerous thing, and even the best laid plans and tactics can fall apart in the face of the whimsical sportsball gods!  DreadBall comes with a single deck of cards which can turn the tide of the game and maintain the unpredictable nature of a match.  Some of these cards have ongoing effects which stay in play until replaced by another, whilst some are one-shot uses which can have a devastating effect if played at the right time - having the ball explode as your opponent is about to throw a winning strike is always cruel!  As well as these effects, the cards also serve two other purposes: determining the movement of the ref-bot, and tracking how happy your fans are!  Pleasing your fans earns coaching dice for your team, which can help to score all-important points, which in turn make your fans happier still!
And of course it's generally useful to have a rulebook, otherwise the box would just be a mass of confusing components!  The full-colour DreadBall rulebook is rather nice, and features the complete set of rules for the game (the smaller book in the Kick-Off box only contains a stripped-down version of the rules - this will be further explained in Part 2).  As well as a breakdown of the gameplay, the rulebook also contains the stats for the different races' teams (including some of the additional teams, available to buy separately), and guidelines on how to run a league campaign with friends.

All in all we certainly felt satisfied that we were holding a quality product when we cracked open our DreadBall Deluxe box, so come back next week to find out what we thought of the gameplay, how the Kick-Off box compares, and the themes we eventually chose for our two teams!

No comments:

Post a Comment