Wednesday, 29 August 2012

I can talk about Dreadball now!!!


 


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!

32 comments:

  1. Wondering if you can compare the size of the miniatures to GW blood bowl? If that's a 25mm base they are on - they are bloody massive.

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    1. lol

      Those discs are moulded onto pretty much all Mantic miniatures and aren't anywhere near as large as a standard 25mm slotta base. I'd presume that these Dreadball miniatures are a similar size to Mantic's other offerings.

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    2. Mantic has confirmed in Dreadball's kickstarter comment section that the miniatures are 28-32mm scale.

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    3. that's what I assumed Anton. Having seen the mock ups and greens I'd assumed they were just similar sizes to the Warpath stuff.

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  2. I like Mantic's style. This is crazy, I didn't even see this one coming. Having been a LONG TIME Blood Bowl player it's still a hard sell, even though differences are abound apparently, but color me curious and looking further into it.

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    1. I think it desrves people giving it a fair hearing. Personally I've been pleasantly surprised by the the quality of the miniatures that have been on show thus far. I'm hoping that they've actually gone to town a little bit more in terms of quality when it comes to the card components and box. As that's really all that lets Project Pandora and Dwarf Kings Hold down as a product.

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  3. I have to say I am looking forward to this. I'd have been surprised if Mantic stuck too close to BB and I'm definitely glad they've gone in their own direction. The more variety the better.

    I can see a lot of people converting up teams for it too, rather as with BB these days, at least until new factions appear. Some might see that as poetic justice, but there's no reason a converted team couldn't be based on Mantic minis, which are getting better all the time. My first thoughts are a grittier counts as version of the Forge Fathers, something more like '70s sci-fi-inspired Squat miners. There's a lot of sci-fi / sci-fantasy material out there that could be drawn in.

    Also, I'd like to see even more of this kind of game - what's essentially a board game with a core and possibly unchanging layout, but one that encourages conversion of playing pieces and even scratchbuilding of boards, and which supports the development of the pieces over time. It doesn't have to be sports-based of course, and it might be better now that it's not. If Dreadball takes off we might well see more exploration of the potential from other sources.

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    1. I think there's plans afoot already for another 4 teams after the initial first four teams, so I think Mantic will be pushing new product out the door for it and supporting it from the get go.

      As to it being poetic justice if people started making there own teams up for Dreadball... honestly I don't think Ronnie would mind. HAving met the bloke and chatted to him he wants people to enjoy games first and foremost. He'd like those people to enjoy Mantic's games and buy Mantic's mini's because people want to. I think he's the sort of chap that would love to see people going to town with their product, I honestly do.

      As to more of this kind of game... i.e. a core game with restricted or stable gaming environment but encouraging modelling etc... amen brother, AMEN!!! I'm totally with you on that score too. I also think you're right when you say if Dreadball is successful then other may give it a blast too. We can but hope, the more the merrier I say.

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  4. From what I gathered from the mantic post it sounds like it plays closer to elfball than Bloodbowl.

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    1. I have to be honest and upfront here, I played Elfball once and was underwhelmed. So there's not much I can say about that particular product if I'm honest. So I can't confirm or deny any similarities. I'll have to take your word for it.

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  5. Really looking forward to this one. I was clicking through to Kickstarter before I'd even finished reading the email Mantic sent out to say it was on. Imagine how gutted I was to find Amazon Payments had gone down...it was a tense 10 minutes of refreshing and clicking to grab one of those few remaining early-bird rewards!

    Even if it was a Blood Bowl clone I'd be getting it simply because I'm one of those people not quite old enough to have picked up Blood Bowl in its prime. If GW don't want to support the game so that I have people to play against, then I'm really happy for Mantic to pick up the ball and run with it.

    (See what I did there? Heh heh, sports puns...)

    Not that I think it will be a Blood Bowl clone. Jake Thornton's description of some of the mechanics convinced me of that.

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    1. Yeah it's funny you've said that about not quite being old enough to have experienced Blood Bowl, because I've had 3 emails after posting this article live all saying the same thing. I guess there are entire generations that are fed up of grumpy old gits like me chatting about Blood Bowl and having never had the chance to play the game. So perhaps Mantic are hitting this just at the right time.

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  6. I would be curious except for the fact that a drop my coins down for the reaper kick starter last week. It does seem to be a golden time for miniature gaming right now with all these new games launching or building up a following but I worry about the field getting to diverse and having to build the following yourself. If I want to recruit/train players I have 37 different Blood Bowl teams minis covering all 24 teams to show them with or my large chainmail collection for skirmish. Both are dead games in terms of new expansions but I doubt that most games ever get the continuing service that the army scale games do.

    Have you checked out the new D&D Dungeon Command? I have not really looked into yet.

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    1. I've heard the worry about a fragmented wargaming / board gaming community before... and part of me worries about it too. I'm tackling it in a Sunday sermon as a matter of fact. However, I kinda see it as survival of the fittest. Those games that are strong will thrive and their DNA will be passed on. Those games that are weak will ultimately perish and die. Harsh for sure. But there it is.

      As to D&D Dungeon Command I was actually talking with a friend about this today, no shit. Genuinely I haven't seen enough of it to know what the hell to think, but it is something I'm planning on doing some more research into. When I do I might post my thoughts up here.

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  7. There were a few things within the article that really got my attention, namely:-

    "It shares more with Amiga and Atari ST classic Speedball than it does Blood Bowl" - I enjoyed hearing that as Speedball was freaking sweet, I loved that game and have long been hoping it got picked up and re-done as a modern game (fingers still crossed that it will do one day!).

    "Blood Bowl became bloated and at times overly fussy with rules Dreadball is streamlined and quite neat" - I enjoyed Bloodbowl and years ago was very familiar with the rules but definitely found this to be the case when trying to introduce new players and trying to pick it back up a few years later; something similar but a lot slicker has got to be a good thing.

    "Dreadball will also offer that sort of team progression" - This is the main one for me really; the absolute best thing about Bloodbowl was the leveling up of players and their development into individual characters. In some games I found this to be a negative but the Bloodbowl game was perfect for this. Can you give any more details on the system of player development in Dreadball? Will it be the Bloodbowl style of players learning new abilities or more like the Speedball approach of purchasing equipment for players?

    I've often given thought to trying to get some local gamers into a Bloodbowl League but the introduction of a new game might well make the process of getting a regular league up and running a lot easier.

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    1. Heya Hendie,

      1) I knew I couldn't be the only Speedball nut out there!!! Like you I to hanker after a full update of that franchise. Sadly we'll both be waiting a very long time I fear.

      2) I know I'm not the only person who felt Blood Bowl expanded a bit too much and got a tad out of hand. It became a game that struggled to maintain it's own core integrity after a while.

      3) I can try. The team progression takes the for of simple stat bumps and the aforementioned skills. It's not as complex in terms of divergence as Blood Bowl was, and although at the last time of looking I'd personally liked to have seen a few more options for advancement I accept 100% that to go much further risks bloating the game.

      Well some my play testing group are already talking about setting leagues up. I have the distinct impression it'll be far easier than many think to get these sorts of league going. Especially if the teams are reasonably priced.

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    2. I played Speedball on my Genesis (brutal deluxe version), and it was da awesome.

      So, what you're saying is, if I play this game, and I have issues with some of the lil' charts on the cards, I'll know exactly who to send an angry e-mail to?
      :)

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    3. Well you can blame me for the sequence of numbers on the cards being ordered the way that they are... but as for the details on the cards etc.... well that's all Jake's fault and I'm not taking responsibility for them!!!

      :P

      Also Genesis, that's what Sega had to call the Mega Drive in the USA wasn't it? You see the rest of the world called it the Mega Drive. Plus I did not know Speedball made its way onto the home consoles, and yes it was da awesome.

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  8. I found blood bowl an "ok" game to play but this has got my intrest with the speedball look, I spent many many hours on that and loved it!

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    1. It is amazing how many people fondly remember Speedball, which makes it doubly amazing that nobody has thought about bringing the game game back from the dead!!!

      As to Blood Bowl being OK, I'm starting to wander whether it's OK now to start saying you don't like it as a game. There was a time whereby if you expressed dissatisfaction with some aspect of the game you were socially ostracized. Heaven forbid you said you actually didn't like it. As I said in the article, I genuinely loved it, but ended up playing the game way too much. Don't think I could go back to it again for quite some time... still.

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  9. While I really love the sound of the game itself I don't like the minis. Not because they're "ripping off GW", which was my initial gut reaction (as in they're very similar to BB minis) - but a similar reason.

    They're not sci-fi enough.

    At least the aliens aren't. I mean it wouldn't take much work to get the non-humans to work in a game of BB and not be noticable as non-fantasy. Given how TRON like the board is, they don't mesh together enough for me to like the game visually, even if it does sound mechanically very good.

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    1. I was a bit disappointed with the whole Warpath universe in many respects. Mantic had a chance to really break away from the grimdark there and go for a more high sci-fi feel with aliens that don't come from a fantasy background. Do a whole Mass Effect thing and create alien races that look alien. Instead they went down the same worn path others have trodden. True they've brought out Skaven in space, something you used to hear fans of GW really clamour for. They've also brought back Squats, which again is something that ye olde wargamers wanted. Truth be told it doesn't feel 'new' to me personally. For others that will be great, but me I'm a magpie and I want to see new shiny things, not a different version of the shiny things I've already seen.

      As to Dreadball I've had a few question the aesthetic and whether it "holds together". It's a really interesting point. Personally I think the Human team works perfectly well with the whole glowing Tron vibe of the board. Although I do see where people are coming from with the Forge Fathers, Orx and Veer-myn I really do. Perhaps because orc, dwarfs and rat men are so well worn fantasy tropes it jars mentally with us when we think we're looking at sci-fi. I say this because actually when you look at the armour on the Forge Fathers and Veer-myn in particular it does sort of fit with the futuristic vibe. The Orx though do look a bit visually jarring.

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  10. I'm unsure about this one. I played all editions of Blood Bowl over the years and had a Skaven Team for a long time. But, I'm not sure I can afford another game.

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    1. You're not alone in that. The game looks great, but I have enough projects that need completing as it is.

      I seem to be a sucker for big discounts and 'great deals'..

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    2. Yeah, that makes you and me both Angus. Affording new things to play can get expensive. In the immortal words of that curly haired ginger Manc "Money's too tight to mention".

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  11. Really enjoyed your article, thanks. The Lad and I love us some BB, but we are always looking to continue our fun with a bit of variety. And so, we are signed up at the Striker! support level and look forward to our first game of Dreadball!!!

    Looking forward to seeing what additional support will come post launch and what those four hinted at teams might be!

    Paul of the Man Cave
    http://tasmancave.blogspot.com.au/

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    1. Heya Paul, glad you enjoyed the article, and I'm glad to see you've pledged for it on Kickstarter. I hope you and your lad have a great time playing it when it arrives.

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  12. Great article, makes me feel a bit better about my pledge!

    I have to agree with Eriocrhome above, though. So many good Kickstarters and so little disposable income is becoming a problem! This is my third in the last month. I have to back away from the kickstarter page before it's too late!

    While I'm excited about the Dreadball, I think my favorite Kickstarter I'm in on right now is the DreamForge-Games. Big fun models in plastic just can't be beat!

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    1. Well I'm glad I could make you feel a bit better about your pledge!!! I think that's the worst thing about all of these Kickstarters for me, in many respects you're plonking your money down for something you haven't seen in the flesh, or indeed know that much about. You only really have marketing spiel to go on don't you? Then you have a nervy few months wait to see if what they send you is pile of crap, or actually as good as you thought it would be!

      I also agree that there are way too many Kickstarters floating about at the moment for me to consider funding them all. I wander whether there is actually starting to be a bit of a backlash against all this crowd funding malarkey, as I'm starting to hear more and more negative comments from people about it all. It'd be a shame on the one hand, but on the other it all needs to slow down a bit.

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  13. Nice article.
    Even though I'm bloodbowl player,I'm happy to know it is not bloodbowl clone.

    I can't wait!

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    1. Cheers

      I think people will be pleasantly surprised. I just hpe the card components are a step up from those in Project Pandora and the Dwarf Kings Hold games.

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