Huzzah! I can finally open my trap about Mantic's upcoming game Dreadball. You see up until yesterday I was operating under the assumption I was still gagged by an NDA that I'd signed when I agreed to play test the game for Jake Thornton... soooo... I sought a bit of clarity. Turns out they're now perfectly OK with me spilling the proverbial beans on this thing. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about follow this link to their Kickstarter campaign for their game, or just watch this video:
So as you can see it's a new sports game from Mantic... and... that brings it inevitable comparisons with the grand daddy of fantasy type board game sports, Games Workshops very own Blood Bowl. Now I'm pretty sure I've mentioned in the past that I'm a pretty big Blood Bowl fan, even if it didn't make it into the 10 games that defined me as a gamer article, it nevertheless has had a large impact on me as a gamer. I loved it as a game, and my father had me playing the game from the very first edition, although it was the second edition with the polystyrene board that really got me hooked. So any game wishing to muscle in on this turf is going to have to front up to this behemoth.
|The elephant in the room for Mantic. They'll be hoping Dreadball isn't a white elephant|
For me personally though I began to get a bit sick of Blood Bowl while I was at university, sacrilege I know. Thing is I was running multiple leagues at the time, I was running and participating in a three league structure at my local Games Workshop as an employee, I was running two leagues at my university gaming club AND there was a local games club I attended that had their own league. Yep I suffered Blood Bowl burnout, so while I still have fond memories of Blood Bowl and it certainly deserves its place in the gaming hall of fame, I'm over it. This is far from the case for many gamers though who still play the game religiously or who revere it as a product like no other. We're talking about a sidelined Games Workshop 'specialist game' that is still so popular that small independent companies can earn a crust by producing Blood Bowl teams and miniatures to support what is still a thriving community. So not only is it an elephant in the room for Mantic, it's a much loved, well worn friendly elephant that has a horde of fans ready to leap to it's defense.
I'm pretty certain that when Ronnie Renton and Jake Thornton sat down to discuss Mantic doing this game they themselves will have spoken about the elephant in the room that is Jervis Johnsons seminal masterpiece. They can't not have, it'd be stupid if they haven't and as neither are stupid I'll assume they did. Indeed Jake has written about the inevitable comparisons between his magnum opus and arguably the most complete game, Games Workshop have ever produced right here on his own Blog. It was bound to happen, and given the prevailing wind within the hobby that all Mantic seem to do is riff on well worn Games Workshop tropes it was entirely predictable. If really, really unfair on the game and Mantic. So in many respects for Mantic it would have been easier to just leave well alone, but hey they've chosen to take it on, as the allure of a thriving unsupported marketplace to tap was just too good a business opportunity to resist. However, I'm not going to chastise others for instantly leaping to the default "oh Mantic are doing Blood Bowl" assumption, because if I'm honest when I was first presented with the product that's exactly where my mind went to as well.
So why is that? Well because Blood Bowl is quite frankly synonymous with fantasy board sports games thingies, it's indelibly etched onto the psyche of pretty much all wargamers and board gamers I know. True it isn't universally loved, nothing is, but you know what? It gets bloody close to being universally loved. There aren't many of my gaming buddies or friends who don't have a huge soft spot for the game of fantasy football. Realistically Blood Bowl stands alone as well, sure there's Impact Miniatures Elf Ball and Street Brawl etc, but honestly they're not all that huge, and I've not come across many people who actually play Impacts games. So it's had the limelight pretty much all to itself for such a long time, which has allowed it to establish the arena as its own and no serious contenders have come along... before now, because make no mistake I think Dreadball actually is a serious contender. Why? Because it has already garnered far more coverage and discussion amongst gamers than other similarly themed fictional / fantasy sports board games.
|It's been really nice seeing the finished mini's and what the board will look like.|
But nevertheless that elephant will remain, and I'm sure it'll remain for a long time even after Dreadball has launched, because Blood Bowl is the yardstick. So when did I first see Dreadball? Well it was a fair few months back now at Mantics headquarters in Nottingham. After a brief drama with our nations hideously decrepit rail network and 3 cancelled trains to Nottingham and a delayed and re-rooted train that then broke down. Seriously!!! How hard can it be to travel between our nations second city and another of its major urban areas? Luckily I bumped into two fellow geeks...instantly recognisable because hey it takes one to know one... and together we teamed up to procure a taxis from Derby to Nottingham. Where there's a will there's a way... and normally it is expensive. So after we arrived at Mantic, and after we had signed the NDA's we all finally got to see Dreadball. And there it was, that elephant standing in the room.
As Jake took us through the basics of the game and discussed what it was and how it worked, Blood Bowl instantly flickered across my mind. Even as the mechanics were discussed and demonstrated, Blood Bowl continued to linger, even though the two were clearly quite different beasts. When Jake asked for questions and comments I knew somebody would mention Blood Bowl so I wouldn't have to. You see I've been brought up properly and have been well versed in the ways of social etiquette and I felt that being the first to raise Blood Bowl in such an environment was a social faux pas I didn't wish to perpetrate. However, the first comment was "so it's a bit like Blood Bowl then!" I actually wrote it down at the time, because I knew eventually I'd write this article, and I wanted to capture that momentous occasion just right. Jake handled it with good humour and I'm sure he was expecting it, his answer on that day was polite and well rehearsed and revolved around pointing out the two games were only similar insofar as they were fictional sports games that used dice and that was about it.
Jake is right too, I've played an awful lot of Dreadball, and I'd bet that I've probably play tested it way more than most. Mantic even allowed me to take the rules and other stuff away with me and set up play testing sessions with my friends to run through various things in the game with great detail. I've even been responsible for the ridiculously complex unique sequence of numbers that will be printed on the games playing cards and have picked over the games league rules with a fine tooth comb and put them to the test. I'm comfortable in standing up and saying Dreadball is not a Blood Bowl clone, it is not Blood Bowl in space and it isn't even trying to be. It shares more with Amiga and Atari ST classic Speedball than it does Blood Bowl and I'm really excited to see how gamers take to it. Because if people do take to it then there is a good chance it could become a huge draw at clubs across the globe.
|I think aesthetically Mantic have got the game just about right|
So what is it like? Well I'm not going to talk about specific rules, because that's for others to talk about. But for my money Jake Thornton has produced a very cool little fictional sports board game, that manages to distinguish itself quite well from Blood Bowl. Whereas Blood Bowl is a slow methodical game, Dreadball is fast , furious and fluid. It's a game that evolves as you play it, at no point does the game 'reset' during play and for that reason you have to constantly think about attack and defence regardless of whether you have the ball or not. Something that isn't the same with Blood Bowl as that game was all about making drives and plays. Whereas Blood Bowl became bloated and at times overly fussy with rules Dreadball is streamlined and quite neat. True its stripped down nature won't be for everyone, but within the confines of the very robust and simplified ruleset I have personally found immense scope for tactical play and individual play styles.
|A lot of my friends love the look of the Forge Father team|
Having played with all 4 of the initial races extensively (Orx, Humans, Veer-myn and Forge Fathers) I can also confirm that each team actually have their own personality from the off. Something that wasn't initially obvious in one off games of Blood Bowl. I'm also of the opinion that despite the teams in Dreadball being very distinct right from the get go I have no worries over initial balance. While Blood Bowl only really got going on that aspect during a league system. Dreadball will also offer that sort of team progression with its own league system that will come right out of the box, and all the emotional attachment that these sorts of systems bring to star players. There is no question in my mind that the two games are significantly different systemically and in terms of how they play on the board. Dreadball should, and will stand on its own merits, of that I have no doubt, as long as Mantic do a good job with supporting the product post launch.
|Whereas I really like the look of the Veer-myn.. sadly they're my least favourite team on the pitch. Bugger!|
So that's it, that's my thoughts so far on Dreadball and Mantic's new baby. I hope it is judged on what it is and not on what people think it is, as I really do think Jake and Mantic deserve that much at least. I'd urge people to go and have a look at the Kickstarter campaign and read what the game is really about. I was asked by a fellow play tester what I would give Dreadball out of 10 if I was to review it now. That's a difficult one to answer to be honest with you because I haven't seen the quality of the miniatures or card components yet. However, I can at least give you an indication on the one thing I have done to death and that's gameplay, on that score it'd be getting an 8.5 out of 10 right now and I'm pretty sure the cats would considering approving it. Why? Because actually Dreadball does share a little bit more in common with the aforementioned elephant, simply put it's a really good fun game that's easy to pick up and play and enjoy with your mates. At the end of the day isn't that what we all want from our hobby? Peace out!