Monday, February 2, 2015

The Big Game: Battleball!

This past Sunday was all about The Game, so the wife and I prepared snacks, met up with some friends and all sat down ... for a bevy of boardgames and light conversation.

What? What else could I possibly mean?

A Triple H marathon is slightly more likely.

Mostly we all played Qwirkle and Galaxy Trucker, both of which are current darlings of Lena (and repeatedly humbling experiences ... Lena's natural talent for Qwirkle is the source of once-entirely-joking accusations of witchcraft that have shaded every deeper into real concern that spiritual authorities should be consulted).

Dear One, me and this officer of church law would like to have a serious conversation with you
about those three double-scores in a row.


However, since I'm not *entirely* pop-culturally ignorant, as a referential jape I also brought along Battleball. And to my surprise, people actually wanted to play it. Not for long, but its still more tolerance of my odd preoccupation for the old game than I dared hope for.

Yes, Battleball!

Battleball and me have a bit of a history. I don't know the conditions of its initial release, though I get the impression back in 2004 it was over-hyped, over-produced and pitched to an indifferent children's audience. My first copy, and initial awareness of the game's existence, was found just a few years ago in a thrift store. I'll take a chance on any game that's under five bucks and still has all its pieces. And oh such pieces this game had; it's just loaded with fun bits.

I believe my feelings upon opening the box is called "squueee!"

Including a metal sci-fi-football token and custom football-shaped six-sider. So charming.



And of course, 22 individual miniatures for two teams of cyborged-up grid-iron warriors.

The one on the far right is Myrna MacArthur, who's working the Battleball circuit to earn enough money to finish her astrophysics degree after corrupt corporate agents suppressed her research and sabotaged her scholarship.
At least according to my fan-fiction.
As toyetic as all these fun bits were, I found upon reading the rules that it was also an unexpectedly clever little game, even elegant. Its a shameless ameritrash dice-fest, reveling in luck and cartoon carnage, and as tactical challenges go definitely not as nuanced as Memoir '44 or even Ogre. But with just a handful of rules it creates a efficient miniatures skirmish game with interesting choices, moments of fun suspense and dramatic reversals.

And some of those rules are downright clever. Y'see how all the figures have color-coded bases? Those colors match up to the different die types, so when the red-based figure moves or attempts to tackle you roll the red d20, if it's the black-based figure then it's the black d8. When rolling for movement, the number rolled is the total spaces you may move, so high numbers are good, and figures attached to bigger die-types are faster. But (and this is the clever bit) in a tackle, lower numbers beat higher numbers, so that black d8 is rather likely to demolish the red d20. Fast but vulnerable versus tough but slow; figures differentiated in game abilities without any need for printed stats. I love that.

Its also nice and quick. Dispensing with nearly all the rules of actual football (Battleball is about as accurate a simulation of the NFL as Warhammer is of medieval strife), play continues until somebody gets a touchdown (which triggers a short refresh and redeployment) and the game is won by the first player to score twice. I doubt a full game will ever take more than an hour.

So, like I said, sweet find for five bucks.

The game has one big drawback: the play-space to players ratio is lacking. Its just a two-player game, but the board fills up a table.

There's enough room left to keep your Doritos or your beer out, not both.


Thus I have been politely advised not to bring this table-hogging thing to boardgame nights and conventions, limiting chances for casual play. However ... from the first, I realized Battleball is screaming for a tournament. Not just because its so theme-appropriate; the particular combination of simple rules, fast play and visual presence lends easily to four or more games going simultaneously in a double-elimination bracket where only one player can claim Ultimate Victory.

Its something I'd really like to run someday, and to that end over the years I've been grabbing copies whenever I come across them. And ... remember how I conjectured the game was over-hyped and over-produced? I get that impression because the game shows up a lot in thrift shops and at garage sales. So I've picked it up plenty of times. Currently, I've seven copies.

The only picture in this post not borrowed from BGG.
Yes that's a few of my game shelves in the background,
have fun trying to read the titles.
All in ambition of someday talking a dozen folks into wasting an afternoon striving to master a game intended for ages 8+, enticed with such prizes as a refurbished high school football trophy and maybe a ten dollar drink credit. For such glory, I do strive.

That's not my only lingering unsatisfied gaming obsession. Someday maybe I'll explain my desire to find some newbies to run through Griffin Island, or my plan to run Renegade Legion: Circus Imperium in a toga.