Monday, 6 January 2014

Dreadball Battle Report: Alpha Sigma Squeakers vs Deimos Athletic

I got my first nerdy game of the new year in yesterday evening.  My girlfriend Ailsa and I sat down to a game of Dreadball, the science fiction sports game.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, Dreadball is oft likened to a science fiction Blood Bowl (or, if you prefer, a boardgame version of Speedball) though mechanically it plays quite different.  For those of you unfamiliar with me, I enjoy Dreadball but have yet to beat my girlfriend at a game of it.  In an entire year, every game against her has seen me lose.  Will 2014 be the year I beat the streak?

Dreadball differs from Blood Bowl in play in a rather vital way - the game doesn't restart with a new kick-off after every point is scored, but instead the ball simply shoots out in the middle of the pitch with players remaining where they are.  This means that marching your whole team down the table in a "cage" isn't a viable strategy since it leaves your own side defenseless.  Combine with less distance to travel to reach scoring locations and multiple scoring locations worth different points (so the more awkward a location you go for, the more points its worth) the game goes much faster.

Deimos Athletic (Forge Fathers, Brown) and Alpha Sigma Squeakers (Veer-Myn, Green) on first turn setup.  I've gone for harder punchy players up front, whereas she's kept her muscle in the middle and put faster, weaker ball-handlers on the half-way line.
Let's play ball!

Our game started quite slow, with Ailsa mangling her first die roll, but an early 2 point strike by her saw her push into the lead.  Just after the midpoint she managed to slip through my defenses and score a rather impressive 4 pointer, pushing her to 6-0.  This is a problem for me, because not only will I need to score at least two strikes to tie/win, the game has a Baseball style "mercy rule" so if you're ever 7 points ahead, you instant win.  Will this be yet another wipeout for me!

As of turn 9 of 14, the state of play.  The Veer-Myn with two Forge Fathers around him in the centre-left of the pitch is about to be VERY unwell...

This isn't to say I was rolling over and taking it - Ailsa found one of her team members killed in a particularly brutal slam by my Guard.  (That's the first player death I've seen in about a dozen games - it's pretty hard to do in Dreadball as compared to Blood Bowl.)  More good luck comes my way with an excellent set of movements on my second last turn.  There's a limit to how many actions a model can take each turn, but for many actions succeeding by a large amount gives you free actions - so my Forge Father Striker grabs the ball, gets a free action to move and sails his way to the back of the pitch.  It's defenseless and he lines up for a 4 point strike.  If I can get this I might just be able to tie, possibly even scrape a win.  This could be my magical moment!  I get to roll 2 dice and if at least one is a 4 or more, I score.  The odds are 75% that I'll succeed - this is my moment to shine!

It's a magic number!

....So, yeah.  My last turn was spent just punching the opposition to make myself feel a bit better.  In the end it was another AIlsa victory, with Alpha-Sigma Squeakers 6 Deimos Athletic 0 at the final whistle.  Ailsa got a Man of the Match award and way more cash than me, as the winner gets to roll an extra dice for the purse.... but because I killed one of her players she had to replace him, so in the end she was kinda stationary. 

We both got to roll an extra skill for one of our players, too, and both ended up being allowed to choose rather than random.  Ailsa went for giving a Striker +1 Skill - the Veer-Myn are fast and nimble but not actually much use with the ball, which I found frustrating when using them, so increasing this is a big boon.  One of my Guards, meanwhile, became a Keeper - like a goalkeeper in football this means he can punt the ball a long way down-pitch to get it away from the scoring areas, and offers up some new tactical options for me.  (Especially as the Dwarves are slow, so moving the ball back up the pitch can be a slow process.)

Overall I do enjoy Dreadball.  As I mentioned the game is quicker than Blood Bowl, both in play duration and general feel.  Rather than one-action-per-figure, the fact you have tokens for 5 actions a turn and have to choose who to activate and how often does add an interesting edge - and the game can turn around quite quickly so even if you're losing, until the second-last turn you've still got a chance to win.  (And indeed I have gone from almost-mercy-rule-lost to roughly tied in just a couple of turns in other games.)

My main complaint is to do with the slower rate of advancement and the method of determining cash for winners/losers.  There's fewer advancement points on offer in Dreadball than Blood Bowl - only one player usually gets an MVP award (and it'll more likely be the winner) and fewer "easy" ways to gain them, such as throwing successful passes or regular scoring.  (Only the harder 3 or 4 point strikes are worth advancements.)  There's no money to be earned for losing to the Mercy Rule, while your opponent would get 3D6 worth of cash; and if you lose normally, it's still only 1d6 cash for the loser which is unlikely to afford anything, whereas 2d6 for the winner has an above average chance of buying you extra coaching at the very least.  The end result is that if you do get whumped in a game of Blood Bowl you're more likely to feel like you've earned something out of it that's for the team's benefit, whereas in some defeats in Dreadball it's hard to shake the impression that you've achieved nothing.

Oh well - plenty of 2014 left to go, so more chances to try and break the streak!

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