Tuesday, 18 March 2014

One Week, Three Games: Dreadball


Sunday afternoon saw me meet up with Charles, a member of my regular RPG group and occasional Warhammer opponent, for two games of Dreadball.  I brought my Dreadball game and my case full o' miniatures to his house - he has a couple of teams himself and we had time for two games back to back.
First game, I made up a new Forge Father roster - the Ferrobeasts - and Charles brought out The Heralds, his Judwan team, for their first ever game.  Charles insists that I apologise because he's something of a painting perfectionist and his figures are in a somewhat erratic state as he experiments with paint schemes.
First game deployment: The Heralds vs The Ferrobeasts

I had yet to play the Judwan but I knew of their rather odd mechanics - they have a longer throwing range than other teams but can't score the extra-point strikes; they are pacifists who are unable to strike opponents but access to a special Feint attack that moves the opposition away from them; they have a small team of only 6 strikers to start with and have no Coaching Dice or reserves.

In play, Charles was substantially faster and more nimble than I and my Forge Fathers struggled to keep up.  With a team full of Strikers throwing from one player to another was practical in a way it rarely is in Dreadball - whereas Blood Bowl makes passing between players practical and rewards it with a Star Player Point, it's much more of a gamble to pass in Dreadball with no XP reward at the end of it.

The moment after one of many one-two moves.

I was substantially stronger than him -I killed one Judwan and at one point only two Judwan were on the pitch, so rife with injury was he.  But even two Judwan could dance around my team and score Strike after Strike.  The Feint manoeuvre was particularly effective since it targets enemy Speed and that's the main weakness of my Forge Fathers - I found myself rotated and shoved by that move to open the path for sleekit shots.

Knocking people down but not making much headway.

In the end while I did score a couple of strikes here and there, it was a landslide victory for Charles and the game ended 12-5 to him in his last turn.  As before, I find landslide victories a good sport-mimicing idea but in practice I find it pretty frustrating to leave the match with no money and potentially no advancement points.  (I got one, count 'em, from a 4 point Strike I scored at one point.)  Charles got substantially more cash, a mighty 11MC plus 5 for recycling his dead guy.... though he ended up losing almost all of it to buy a new 6th Striker, so expensive are his players.

Sometimes the dice were with me though..... this is how I killed one of his guys, rolling six successes on my five dice versus no successes on his four dice.

But the afternoon was young, so we decided to squeeze in a second game.  Charles has yet to play as Veer-Myn so he decided to give them a go, while I stuck with the Forge Fathers to see if the Ferrobeasts could rack up an advance or two with a second game.

First game deployment: The Snake Eyes vs The Ferrobeasts
The Veer-Myn are a team I've found hard to use - Ailsa has pumped me with them, but there's a good dose of luck involved to make it work.  They're another fast, nimble team so they can still outmanoeuvre the Forge Fathers but while they do have some muscle in the form of two Guards a starting team has six Strikers..... with a very low skill.  5+ on the dice ain't that hot, and even on a perfect 4 dice roll you'll fail about 20% of the time.

I got it!  I got it! ... I don't got it.

The end result is that almost every turn Charles could make a throw, but he'd mess up a fair few of them.  Luck would turn against him at the last moment and the ball would go flying.  Meanwhile, while I was slower, my superior 4+ skill meant when my ball carriers did have the ball the odds were with them.... though that didn't stop me failing to pick the ball up on 4 dice at one point!

Somehow lucky enough to make a Dwarf evade two Veer-Myn.

The boot was very much on the other foot in this game and the end score was an 11-4 landslide to me with a final 3 pointer sealing the deal.  I did lose a player, alas, to a nasty Guard attack - Charles made a much more concerted effort in teaming up players for Slams than I tend to, so he managed to claim a Jack skull.  I did get a Striker up to 3+ Skill thanks to the advances earned in game.

Unfortunate things happen to one of my Jacks.
 Even on the winning side of a landslide I found it a bit unfair - Charles received no incentive to continue playing the Veer-Myn after his defeat, since he gained functionally nothing from the endeavour.  I was left once again thinking that starting with no or only one coaching dice there's little way to attenuate bad luck when things start to go wrong - increasing every team by two dice would let you do something about the the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  I also think that giving everyone 1 dice of money, even when they lose to a landslide, would make it substantially less frustrating to players who lose.

It was hard not to feel bad for Charles when he missed his last decent scoring chance and the ball ricocheted across the arena.

Overall, I do enjoy Dreadball, and don't want this bitching about minor stuff to detract from really liking the core engine.  It should also be noted my opinion is far from universal - Charles thinks the game is substantially more forgiving to losing teams than Blood Bowl, because where his experience is of teams seeing half their roster killed in play and the coach forced to restart rather than play with the shell of a team.  (This is very far from my own experience - two deaths on one side in a game would be unusually grim when I play - so this may speak to a difference of play tactics from our usual opponents, team match-ups from our usual opponents and a good dose of random luck.)  It's just that in a full-on tournament I'm not sure how chuffed I'd be if I was landslide-ed two games in a row and my team had functionally remained stagnant - why would I carry on playing in that instance?  How you encourage losing teams to continue participating is the big problem of campaign-style games and I remain sceptical that Dreadball has a good solution for that.

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