06 January, 2012

Hell on Eight Wheels: One - Outline


I like Bloodbowl, the fantasy football game from Games Workshop. I’ve never been a huge fan, I haven’t played it enough to have a favourite team or a series of strategies for optimal play…in fact, most of the games of Bloodbowl that I’ve played have either ended early because we got distracted by something else, or one of the players walked out due to arguments or someone’s blatant manipulation of certain rules, thus exploiting a loophole and gaining a huge advantage within the game. The only team I have is an unofficial team of female players produced by Shadowforge miniatures (www.shadowforge.com.au); and of the two copies of the rules I have, one was given to me free by a friend when he was tossing out some old gaming stuff, the other was the freely downloadable living rules currently used to play the game in sanctioned tournaments (http://www.bloodbowlonline.com/rules.shtml). Perhaps I like the idea of Bloodbowl more than I actually like Bloodbowl.

Bloodbowl basically represents a game of American Gridiron using fantasy races from the Warhammer fantasy world. The game has seen a number of versions, each of which is a rough strategy game involving manipulation of miniatures around a sporting field. To make the game more fantastic, it includes more dangerous injuries than you would normally see on a sporting field, and since it takes a while to move figures around a board, it strips back the number of plays you’d normally expect to see in a football match to keep the duration of the game down to two hours or so. Bloodbowl isn’t a direct translation of football to a board game, but it captures the spirit of a violence filled football match far better than most other sporting board-games capture their respective on-field sports.

I like Roller Derby.

It’s got athletic girls, it’s got violence, it’s got attitude, and it’s got a whole lot of depth beyond the stereotypes. Late in 2011, I watched my first derby bout; taking photos from the sideline. I instantly thought that it would make a great board game in the same vein as Bloodbowl. But I don’t necessarily want to do a fantasy version of Roller Derby, there is enough thrills, spills and antagonism in the sport already. I want a game that strips down the essence of roller derby and translates it to a board.

At the simplest level, I’m looking at few key aspects:

A team of a dozen or so miniatures on each side, only five of whom are on the board at one time (each team allocates a jammer, a pivot and three blockers).

Figures literally move around the track.

Rules for blocking, potential crashes, risking the opportunity to foul in exchange for a quick advantage, strategic plays and crowd popularity.

I could easily write a game that rolls a few dice to give the outcome of a bout based on some arbitrary statistics assigned to the skaters. But this doesn’t give any of the excitement of the sport.

I could write a game at the other extreme, where every action is carefully resolved with the jammer’s effort to pass (and any jammer assistance) compared to the blocker’s attempt to prevent this (and any blocker assistance), further rolls resolving any damage that might be done to either skater’s body or pride. This could end up losing the thrills of the sport if a single attempt to get through a pack required three or four die rolls against each of the four opposing team pack skaters. Twenty die rolls per attempt through the pack, and the jammer has to get through the pack twice to score points.

Perhaps a strategic element can be used to minimise the die rolling, speed up the game and make the outcome more considered and less random.

That’s one of the key places where I’ll start the project.
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