Recently, thanks to Erik at Frog the What games, I had the chance to play through a two-man game of Slaughterball. It is an inventive and exciting game about a futuristic game, based on handball and combined with genetic mutants and freaks. These people have been altered by companies to run faster, hit harder and have keen senses. It’s almost like someone tried to create a human “master race” through genetic alteration, but all they managed was a really badass football team. This game is up on kickstarter and they’ve been funded to their first stretch goal! Get in there now and you can still get some serious early-backer swag! You can also head to the Slaughterball website to get some more information about the game itself!
My favorite part of this game is how everything feels like you should be narrating it with an announcer’s voice, and this is what I did. It was legitimately one of the most entertaining times I have had sitting on my friend’s floor, playing a game. As it went, we chose one of the four teams that came with the review copy. I favored the spartan-themed Swords of Damocles whereas my friend went with the buxom Valkyries. Now the pieces on the board are referred to athletes and the people playing the game are coaches, which makes sense considering either could feasibly be labeled “players,” so they opted to eliminate that distinction altogether.
Each athlete has 5 stats: accuracy, agility, brawling, speed and toughness. Accuracy shows how good they are at throwing the ball, so when throwing the ball at a goal, you get the number of your accuracy worth of murder dice to roll. I call them murder dice because they are covered in knives and skulls. The more knives you get, the better you roll, so get knives. To get the shot in, you have to get a number of knives equal to or greater than the shooting distance in squares between the shooter and the goal. All of the tests work similarly with one stat giving you a number of dice and then another being the stat you roll against for the opposing athlete or just quick checks to see if you make a goal or pick up a ball mid-move.
Once you have your team selected, you have to place the little guys and gals on the board. Everything is pretty well explained, though. Once you’re all set up, it’s time to play. Now each team’s turn encompasses three phases: draw phase, onslaught phase, cleanup phase. The first phase is where you can discard any number of cards and draw more. This allows you to mix up your strategy at a moment’s notice and keeps you from stagnating in actions. There are a lot of cards, don’t be afraid to ditch the ones you have for something better! During the onslaught phase, your athletes can move, chop (attack, basically) and pass or shoot the ball. Moving and passing or shooting the ball are all pretty self explanatory, but chopping is where you use your athletes to attack the opposing athletes.
Successfully chopping the other team’s athletes is a good place to start really doing damage. When you chop, it incurs a DnD-style chop test (with the brawling stat) which you roll the murder dice for. For our game, both teams’ razors ( the skinny, accurate, fast ball-shooter) ended up in the slaughterbox, which is sort of the game’s hospital. Except instead of healing the athletes, they are allowed to just lay there bleeding while kids and viewers throw popcorn and ice cream cones at them. Getting off a chop attack will successfully down an enemy and, usually, score you points! Getting off more chops while they are down will get them injured, slaughter boxed, possibly penalized…. and more points!!!
When you start the game, the goals are closed and the ball shoots out of a ball-port. These blast the ball high into the sky, at least in my mind. The athletes run in, grab the ball and then run into the meat grinder at the center of the board. Wait…. fuckawhadinnabaht!?! No, they aren’t running headlong into a literal meat grinder like ball-playing lemmings, they are running into a section in the center of the arena filled with skin-slashing spikes, sandpaper carpeting and possibly demotivational posters. It’s like the chokey for genetically-engineered athletes. The best part is that you get extra damage on opposing athletes for knocking them down in the meat grinder.
Once someone runs the ball into the meat grinder, all the goals open and you can start making shots. Keep in mind that any time you don’t run open goals or make a shot with the ball, anyone with the ‘Shot Clock’ card can use it to get an athlete in the penalty box, redeploy the ball and get a little edge over your opponents. The structure of the game allows you to get some serious synergy, too. During your onslaught phase, you can select three different athletes (indicated with the onslaught tokens) to make two moves each. These can be used to run, chop, pass and shoot, as stated. A lot of times I would use one player to run, grab the ball, throw it to another athlete who would run it to the razor or shoot. My buddy Dave got two goals in the first round of the game this way. Granted the ball practically deployed into his hands, but you roll a die to determine which port it comes out of, and the dice are always in that guy’s favor. Gameplay is fluid, thrilling and fun. Mostly fun.
Notice the letters in different shapes on the athletes’ cards. These show the different types of athletes. Int he actual game there will be lovely plastic pieces that have differently shaped bases, but the review copy had these useful proxies. There is the butcher or ‘square B’. This is a big fucker that will chop anything and often ends up in the penalty box when you can get the card. You’ll have one on your team. The razor or ‘circle R’ is a lithe and speedy little fucker with four-arms who can move like nobody’s business. These guys make a lot of the shots.. at least until they end up in the slaughter box. You also have one of these. There is also the cleaver or ‘pentagon C’. These guys are pretty good defensive athletes. They have decent accuracy, agility and speed, but they aren’t much for brawling and chopping. This means you can use them to run the ball and score pretty well if you lose your razor. Then there are the slashers. These guys have higher toughness and brawling than your slashers, which makes them decent for defense. These guys will be good at carving (providing interference for athletes running the ball) and generally defending the guy running the ball long enough to get a score in. They are a little slower, less accurate and agile than the cleavers.
I may have mentioned that there are penalties and fouls that you can call. I love the way the rules are explained for this in the game. A great way to look at the rules is like the truth during a great story: never let either get in the way of a great time! This means that the referees of the game are all but fucking terrified to step into the arena. I would be too with these genetically-altered freight-train people charging and chopping each other all over the place! Each team looks like a scarier version of the Monstars from Space Jam! Fuck! So there are penalty cards, which can be used to call fouls. This represents a time when a referee was paying attention long enough to call a foul on a player, likely getting himself side-lined to the slaughterbox in the process. The thing is, violence is one way that the sport itself is so popular. These athletes knock eachother down, injure one another, rub eachothers’ faces in the meat grinder etc. all for points and the entertainment of fans. It is like soccer would have been in an ancient roman gladiatorial arena and it is brutal, spine-shattering fun.
One thing that I wanted in this game, which really disappointed me, was that there seemed to be no option for a “fantasy football” league. You know, an option that would let you alter the stats of your team, name your athletes and get more into it? I told this to Erik, the game’s creator and he said this:
“In league mode you can design your own roster, picking which athletes are on your team, you can spend winnings to increase your traits and skills. However, there is no build from scratch mode in this release. That’ll be in the next Kickstarter. ;)”
Back this game NOW!!!!! This is going to be something awesome that we nerds can have for our own! It will be a sports game that will allow us to weave in our love of football, american football and other sports that will allow us to make our own teams, then compete on a larger level! I can see this game being the next big international board game, like Warhammer.
I was playing this game and just imagining the athletes in the arena, I want to see this game turned into a show on adult swim. Seriously, think about it. The world has enough personality, there are several layers of conflict (athletes against eachother, teams and their coaches, all the athletes on the board and the referees, the fans and the referees), and you can throw in the TnA of the cheerleaders (available as an extra purchase on the Kickstarter) to make it a great show with an an amazing world. On top of all that, it would be EXTREMELY relevant considering all the violence in sports these days and it already has a nice fanbase going. For now, this is just an awesome game, and I am still hotly debating backing it although I can’t really afford to right now. I mean, look at this game! I only played a scrimmage, although I wanted to get a larger game going. It is a great time and it allows you to fuck with the rules, bullshit and not get too upset over getting screwed. You’ll be screwing up the other player at some point, too. Sure, they are already backed, so let’s work on getting those stretch goals met!
EDIT: I recently caved and contributed 110$ to this campaign. I got the early razor and the cheerleaders! Ra ra! EDIT EDIT: I just bumped my backing up to 180$. The things that made me do this was the fact that I was already at 150$ due to add-ons. I also wanted to get my mitts on the extra team that was unlocked (Fury) and I wanted to get two teams’ cheerleaders! Sis boom ba! EDIT EDIT EDIT: Yea, changed it again.. hopefully the last.. 230$ now so I can get my name on a card and a couple of cheerleaders teams! WOO TAH! ED.. oh you get the idea.. So I caved and I went for the Hall of Fame backing. 480$ for my name and picture in the game as well as the cheerleaders and every perk from the Butcher level. I guess I will be really abstaining from backing people for a while! X P!