Dreadball vs Blood Bowl pt. 3 – The Final Chapter!
Whew, just managed to finish up part 3! If you didn’t catch the earlier articles on Dreadball (“DB”) vs Blood Bowl (“BB16”), you can find them here:
This time around we wrap up the big Dreadball vs Blood Bowl article with an emphasis on rules. Are you ready to rumble?!
For this one, I’ll have to put the blinders on. Blood Bowl has roughly 24 teams to choose from! In addition, there are rosters for many ‘unofficial or alternate’ teams that people can find/play. I’ve played nearly all of the official (and some not so official) teams, so I’m quite familiar with what makes a good Skaven team versus why you wouldn’t necessarily want to play a passing game with Chaos Chosen. Dreadball added many additional teams throughout the Kickstarter campaigns, and I forget the total number of teams to date. I picked up a lot of those, but only really played extensively with the teams from the initial season.
To make this a fair comparison, I’ll be using the teams from Season 1 of DB (Corporation aka ‘Humans’, Marauders aka ‘Goblins and Orxs’). As I received everything around the same time (see “Production Launch” below), I’m not quite sure if the other two teams in the Season 1 rulebook were also included with the base game, but I will factor them into my comparison as well (Veer-Myn aka ‘Ratmen’ and Forge Fathers aka ‘Space Dwarves’). The Blood Bowl boxed set contained two teams: Humans and Orcs.
First of all, while looking back through the rules I remembered some of the initial confusion with DB. You have generic teams created for you, like a Corporation team called the Trontek 49ers. The Corporation is also referred to as “Humans”. Similarly the Marauders team is called the Greenmoon Smackers, but consists of Goblins and Orx. This occasionally caused confusion as names were intermixed throughout the rulebook. It’s quite possible that people new to Blood Bowl also have run into a similar problem with there being an Ogre on the Human team (which is otherwise all Humans) or the Orcs being able to have Orcs, Goblins, and Troll players. But it seems to me that distinctions were made much clearer in BB.
For our initial Dreadball games, we played with the four different teams, Veer-Myn, Forge Fathers, Marauders, and Corporation. The fluff and visuals behind each team is pretty interesting, and I felt myself getting drawn in moreso than I had with Blood Bowl in the past.
Maybe it was because I was in on the ground floor this time, whereas my intro to Blood Bowl wasn’t until at least 3rd edition, and I was unsure about a lot of the stuff I read about. Truth be told, 1st edition and 2nd edition are still quite the mystery to me, though there aren’t a lot of people yammering about “going back!” to entice me enough to read and play the earlier editions.
While I enjoyed the DB fluff, playwise…things fell very flat, very quick. The teams only have a 1 point difference in a few stats. For example, the Corporation players have a 4+ for Skill, but the Veer-Myn have a 5+ Skill. Yes, that should give them a 17% advantage, but in actual game play we saw very little difference. Add to that, only the Forge Father Guards start with a skill (“Steady”). Add to that, Positions which also try to remain constant across teams (see Positions below) and things get really generic. The team stats ended up invoking a yawn.
Now I’m sure that the idea of only making the Stats differ by 1 point was an attempt to counter the ‘horribly imbalanced Blood Bowl game!!’. There are often a lot of arguments online about how such and such team or skill or whatnot is broken in Blood Bowl. Yes, teams in Blood Bowl are imbalanced and some will be much more challenging to win with than others. I’m not a tournament chaser, but from what I’ve seen, no one team dominates the top year after year. There are several teams who seem to be at top, but as long as it’s not just the same 3 teams, it seems there must be some balance. Just don’t go taking your Vampire team to a tournament and expect to take home the cup.
So back to DB and balancing. Yes, the teams seem to have been built with the idea of making them very balanced. However, it feels like it cut out most of the fun of the game. Comparing the four generic Dreadball teams to just the two teams in the BB16 box, you see a big difference. BB16 has Humans and Orcs. The Humans have several different positions to choose from: Throwers, Blitzers, Catchers, Lineman, and an Ogre. Stats between these positions range from 1 to 3 points of difference. Just on the team itself. The difference between Orcs and Humans is usually 1 point, but the skills on the positions make a big difference. I think most people would quickly agree after playing those two teams against each other, the Orcs are slightly slower and stronger, whereas the Humans are a bit more agile. I also tend to think the Orcs have the advantage out of the two teams in the boxed set, but that’s an argument for another time! At any rate, with Blood Bowl I think you quickly get a feel of the differences between how teams play and from that you have to devise tactics to take advantage of your team’s strengths and make up for their weaknesses. In Dreadball, the teams didn’t feel much different in initial games and team tactics were not as emphasized, leading to a general disinterest in team selection.
Both games have “positions”. Which are basically titles or ‘job functions’ for each player. Blood Bowl has Throwers, Catchers, Blitzers, Linemen, ‘Big Guys’, and other specially named players like “Witch Elves”, “Assassins”, “War Dancers”, etc. A lot of this is owed to Blood Bowl being made by Games Workshop and coming from the Warhammer universe. There were positions called “Blockers” from an older edition, which is sometimes carried over to the newer editions. Like I mentioned earlier, my knowledge of earlier editions is very, very little, so I’m not sure of the true origin of a lot of the position titles. The main ones you will see kicking around though are “Throwers, Catchers, Blitzers, and Linemen”.
Dreadball has positions called Strikers, Jacks, Guards, and Keepers. Again, newer rules might have introduced stuff that I’m unaware of. On a side note, trying to figure out which mini was which, often involved trying to track down a picture in a rulebook or sometimes on someone’s random blog (see comments about unlabelled miniature packages in “Production Launch” below).
Here is where things quickly differ. While the positions in Blood Bowl tend to delineate starting stats and skills, they don’t necessarily dictate function. If I want to turn my Renegade Dark Elf Lineman into a Thrower, I can take Pass and other Thrower like skills to make her into a very capable Thrower for the team. She won’t have the title “Thrower”, but she can function quite admirably in that role. This happens quite a bit in Blood Bowl and forms the basis of many debates on how to optimize positions in a given team, by selecting the right skills at the right time.
In Dreadball however, you are locked in. A Striker is the equivalent to a Thrower in Blood Bowl. They can pick up the ball, and can throw. They are usually decent at running too. However, they can NOT block (called “Slam”). Likewise, the blockers in Dreadball, can Slam (block), but can NOT pick up the ball. There is a position called “Jacks” that can do both, but are not as good at Slams or Throwing. There is also a “Keeper”, which is a developed Guard who can pick up the ball to throw it. Think of a goalie who throws the ball back down field.
At first I thought this was an interesting approach. I read the fluff, and it seemed like they were trying to cover up the rule with nonsense. A ‘special glove’ is needed to catch this ‘very fast ball’. Though some people are using high tech gloves and others are using rudimentary metal claws. If someone is using just metal claws, then why can’t a Guard catch a ball with a metal gauntlet? Or better yet rip off the arm of a Striker and use that to catch the ball?! Yea, I get annoyed by rules explanations that are not well thought out.
During play I immediately noticed where the Dreadball position limitations are just that. It’s another change that removes the flavor I feel you get in Blood Bowl. If the ball bounces over to the Guard in DB, he just has to look at it. You always have to hope you have your Jack or Striker in the right position at the key moment if you want to get that ball, or to get that goal. Want to block that guy in the way? Better hope your Guards or Jacks are not on other side.
In Blood Bowl though, you have options!
Any position in Blood Bowl can pass, throw, hand-off, foul, or block. Most of the times you want to use that position to do what it is designed to do, and you won’t try to block a huge Ogre with a weak Goblin. It would likely get pulverized. But there are times when you are going to want or need to do just that, despite what common sense and the odds are saying you should do. You also wind up with crazy situations where a ball bounces around and somehow (despite all those odds), your super clumsy Ogre winds up with the ball. If he was a Guard in DB, forget about it. But in the BB world, get the ball, everyone looks stunned and the opposing team looks at each other “Uhhh, how do we stop that guy from scoring?!”. And the Ogre walks slowly down the field, leaving a trail of bodies behind.
Interesting change in DB, but limitations are limitations.
More Head Scratching:
Since I got started above, with the dreaded Dreadball glove explanation, here’s some more.
“Sucker Punch action”. Sounds pretty cool. If you start anywhere in front of a player and then run around behind them and Slam them, it is considered a foul action. However, if you start from behind the opposing player and run up and Slam them, it’s not a Sucker Punch. Additionally, I think if you start in front, but then move, and stop, and then move and Slam them, it’s not a foul either (I could have that confusing rule wrong). So the player you are about to punch is not okay with you punching them in the back, if they see you in their line of sight first. But if you run up from behind them, and brain them, that’s totally okay. Okay? OKayyyyyyyy!
“Eye in the Sky”. There are two referees, one a bot or alien (represented by a figure), and another that is something like an all seeing camera floating in the sky. If you make a foul, you roll one die for the “Eye” and also for the Ref. Given that this in a high tech world/universe, much more advanced than ours, it seems totally illogical that an “Eye in the Sky” all-seeing device would not catch every single foul that happens. Instead, it catches things on a 50% chance. Another ridiculous explanation, and I would’ve bought it if they just used the Ref bot/alien and said it’s sometimes bribed, distracted, etc.
Those are a couple items, and if I looked back through the books, I’m sure there are others. There are nonsensical things in Blood Bowl as well, like Dwarven Death Rollers, etc. But they don’t try to make sense of them and provide over wrought explanations of those. Even though DB has some decent fluff, they sometimes just fall flat when it comes to explaining things.
I’m not going to knock DB for it, as it’s mostly minor and BB has some too.
[+0 for both]
Here are some interesting items I had found in DB, that BB might want to take note of.
Slamback action – can make a block against the person who just blocked you. Wrestle skill in BB is close in this respect, taking your opponent down when they block you. But the ability to hit someone back after they block you makes people think twice before attempting to block a stronger opponent. It was a lot of fun getting to Slamback a Jack when they tried to hit my Guard.
Steal action – allows you to swat or take the ball away. In BB, you have Strip Ball. Steal action seemed pretty elegant, but you have to get a really good roll in order to actually get the ball.
Sprint/Run – movement in DB is your normal movement, or you can attempt a double move with the limitation of running more or less straight. You can turn however you want, if you just Sprint. In BB, you have only your movement score, and then (the oft dreaded) “Go For It”. Where you roll a d6 and on a “1” you trip and possibly Injure yourself. There is many a Skaven Coach story about ‘How my Gutter Runner died on a Go For it!!’. Pushing your movement in Blood Bowl is much more risky and tricky. Dreadball you have to be a bit more strategic in how you will turn and how far you will go.
Facing – not found in BB, but in DB your threat hexes (tackle zones) are your front 3 hexes and affect how you Slam and get Slammed. Also catching the ball, etc. It adds a bit more depth to the game. I found it best to use their hex bases with their minis and color the three front hex sides so that it is clear where your front arc is. Unfortunately, miniatures get bumped around and we had a few occasions where we had to figure out exactly which way a mini was facing beforehand. Not sure it’s totally needed or if I would ever want it to be added to BB. For a game like DB though, where there is only 6 players on the field, it’s not too much to keep track of and adds some nice strategic positioning.
Successes, Coaching Dice, and Rerolls – DB favors wild actions in some ways. You roll a number of 6 sided dice typically and any “6” you reroll, allows you to roll another die. You count up all those rolls, and add “successes”. The more successes you get, usually the better the outcome. Sometimes it’s very cool and you get to do a wild unpredictable thing. Sometimes it’s nonsensical, in that it doesn’t matter how many extra 6s you roll, you just have the one outcome. We waffled between this mechanic being “mediocre” and “cool”. I think the West End Games Star Wars rpg used the same mechanic. Interesting at first, but sometimes didn’t like it or could care less. Coaching Dice are another mechanic in DB, where you get a few extra dice per game that you can throw in to better your chance. As mentioned in Cards, you can also get more of them during the game by getting the fans riled up. Sounds decent, though it falls flat when your cherished Coaching Die ends up a “1”. BB has rerolls, which you can buy for each team. Most BB coaches can tell you about the value of Rerolls ad nauseum in the game. You don’t get many, and you want to use them where they count. At first it would seem that Rerolls in BB is far more limiting than DB, but you know exactly how many you have at the start and how many you will regain at the second half. I think the “known factor” helps out a lot in planning.
Turns – in Blood Bowl, basically one coach moves and acts with all their team models (all 11 of them!) until they fail an action and then the turn passes to the other coach. This means you could be staring at the board for quite some time as your opponent moves, calculates blocks and dodge rolls, looks up that skill/situation, etc. As mentioned in part 2, DB moves a lot quicker. Partly because you only have 6 players on the field, but also because you have 5 Team Action tokens. Each player can use up to 2 of those Action tokens (+1 from a Special Move card and unlimited Free Actions). So if you really need to get that Striker down the field and make a throw to score, you can use up two of those actions to possibly get it done. Maybe you need to run your Jack up to mid-field and get her in place. Maybe you want to run and Slam with your Guard? With the Action tokens, you have some decent options on how you want your team to act that turn. Although at least 1 of your team members is always going to be sitting it out. I found it to be a pretty refreshing mechanic and you have to think strategically about how you’re going to use those. It also means that gameplay will alternate between coaches a little quicker, which is nice.
Moving on/off the pitch – just a quickie, DB players can move on/off the pitch basically at any time through a designated area. You have to use an action to more that player, but I thought it was cool that you could switch out players quicker than you can in Blood Bowl (only after a touchdown or half). In practice, we didn’t use it much, because it’s usually better to use the team actions somewhere else.
MVPs (DB) and Star Players (BB) – I kind of like the flavor text of most MVPs in DB better than BB. Then again, I think either a lot of flavor text doesn’t exist or is in older documents for BB’s Star Players as all I’ve seen for most of them are stat lines. DB also has a bidding system for League MVPs. The League ref sets the number and which MVPs are available for that season, and the coaches have to bid to see who gets to use which MVP. I thought that was kind of interesting, as Star Players are often under-utilized in BB. Only coming out when with inducements, to help make up the difference between a weaker and stronger team.
Fatality – DB has “Reviving” (costs base cost of player, plus a random roll) for a player that died during the game. BB has permadeath. With permadeath, you really feel the pain of losing a player. Yet there are times when coaches probably would pay anything to revive that Legendary player they had spent ages skilling up. With BB being such a fantastical world, you would think there is some way to save Legendary player from certain death. There should still be a high cost, in gold, plus maybe a restriction like they can only be brought back once.
Despite some of it’s shortcomings, DB added some interesting innovations to the Fantasy Football realm. Not all are gold, but still cool that they tried.
Here is where things turn a little sour for me. We’ll start with Blood Bowl. Blood Bowl 2016 took me completely by surprise. I thought the tabletop version of the game was “put a stick in it” dead. I never ever expected to see the game return, let alone in a mostly unaltered state. Part of me wanted to see sweeping changes that would bring it back into the realm of modern boardgames. Simultaneous turns, anyone? But another part of me is really glad they left it mostly alone and brought back the same great game that I’ve known and loved. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It wasn’t all a bed of roses though.
First the Skaven dice set completely sold out and was selling for ridiculous Ebay prices. Same thing happened with a ‘Blood on the Snow’ Winter pitch. For some reason people got the scoop and were snatching things up like crazy and reselling even crazier. It pissed off quite a few people. Then there were some minor rules additions and rewording. Things like “Weeping Dagger” skill on Skaven Gutter Runners had people just asking “WHY?!”. Personally, I think that was minor. All in all, most has been sorted out and people can enjoy the game as they have known it for a long time.
Before all that, there was Dreadball. A futuristic fantasy football game launched as a Kickstarter by Mantic Games that definitely wasn’t Blood Bowl. Yes, this was back when I thought Blood Bowl was “put a stick in it” dead. I had been buying Blood Bowl teams off of Ebay at not too pretty prices, because I couldn’t get any of them from Games Workshop and old GW wasn’t putting anything new out either. Luckily there was a fair number of companies with Fantasy Football minis out there, so I had some alternatives too. So yea, Mantic comes along with the new shiny and SciFi to boot! It didn’t take me long to plop that money down on the Kickstarter. Then not too long after they also launched Deadzone. Which reminded me of the style of GW’s Necromunda game in a way (both being skirmish games). Money down again. So then I’m waiting for things to arrive and more Kickstarters are coming out. Soon I’ve spent way more than I should have, but nothing really to show. Packages finally start to arrive, but they are a MESS. Little plastic bags with no labels, often multiple minis in a bag and not even a decent inventory sheet. Sometimes models were inexplicably changed from the initial Kickstarter illustrations, so I couldn’t even use Kickstarter as a reference. Retail listings also differed. By the time I finally figured out what was what, it was too late. The minis were not great, often missing pieces, or missing whole minis, and the resin they used was not good. It was mind numbing going through all of the packages, and I never did manage to sort everything out, deciding to just throw lots on Ebay and get rid of them because it was too much of a chore. A super frustrating experience, and yes, Mantic did apologize a lot for those early Kickstarters and tried to rectify things later….but I got totally burned out by it.
Blood Bowl does have the “Home Team” advantage having come out way before Dreadball. It’s difficult to compete with that, unless people are looking for the new shiny or never played the previous thing. I really like Blood Bowl, but it definitely has older style game mechanics that are not particularly endearing when stacked up against modern games. Modern games attempt to engage people throughout the game and not have one person sit idly by too long. In Blood Bowl you could be impatiently waiting for the other person to finish their turn for a good 5 minutes.
Dreadball was a smart attempt to make a beloved game progress faster by reducing the number of players on the field, and getting rid of the setup delays during the post-scoring and half time phases. The rulebook organization and wording was not the best, but could have been excusable. Teams didn’t seem drastically different, which made things feel a bit more generic. Then there was the production issues with the miniatures and the Kickstarter itself. Maybe if I had just purchased everything through retail, my opinion would be slightly different, but ultimately I think I would have come to the same conclusion.
Blood Bowl is the champion. The one that might take a lot of hits and get bloodied on the field, but will keep coming back for more. People have been playing this game for so long, with the same set of rules, that it is just mind-blowing to me. It’s not the most sophisticated game out there and it’s probably not even the best, but something keeps driving people to play it over and over and over. Even after you learn a good number of strategies, it never seems to play the same way twice and keeps you engaged. There is a magic there, that just can’t be duplicated.
Granted, people could certainly enjoy both games. Given that they are both miniatures games which require a lot of time to prep and paint minis to build teams, space to store them, and money to purchase them, there is a fair amount to consider in keeping both games around.
I hope you all were able to stay awake through most of this and found it a bit entertaining!? Sound off in the comments below and let me know if you have questions or if I got something wrong!