In the realm of tabletop gaming, sports games have always been an under-appreciated genre. While we’ve had plenty of sports games offered to us, with varying degrees of success, they usually boil down into one of two categories. Either they are abstract representations (Blood Bowl: Team Manager), or complicated affairs that will push away all but the most dedicated of players (Blood Bowl).
However, new publisher Frog the What Games may have finally brought us a sports game that not only feels like I’m playing a sport game, but also is very easy to jump in and start playing. Slaughterball takes place in the distant future where genetically engineered neohumans take the field to score points and assault their opponents. Players will coach one of four teams, striving for maximum carnage and conquest.
Slaughterball is a dice rolling, sports minis game for 2-4 players that takes about 45-60 minutes to play. In our experience, Slaughterball plays best with 2 or 4 players.
In Slaughterball, each player (from here on referred to as “coach” to avoid confusion) controls a team of futuristic players in a grueling match of combat and scoring. During the game, coaches can activate up to 3 different players on their turn, who can take 2 actions each. The coach’s main goal will be to score points, which can be accomplished by either throwing the ball into the goal or knocking down and hurting other players. Once six periods have been completed, the game ends and the team with the most points is the winner.
Overall Frog The What Games has put together a solid offering for their first title. The main attraction of Slaughterball is probably the four different teams that the game comes with. Each of these is represented by a set of unique miniatures, in four different player types. There are also 4 free agents (or mavericks as they are called in the game) that are added to the league play version of the game.
The quality of the miniatures is pretty good, however I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more detail in their sculpts. It could be the plastic used, but the look feels a bit soft to me. Each mini also has a unique shape for their base, depending on which class they belong to. I thought this was a great idea and it makes using the miniatures much easier since you don’t have to spend any time figuring out which figure you are activating.
My only other area of concern with the components is with the game ball. It’s a tad small. I worry that I may lose it at some point, so I wish they would have gone with something just slightly larger.
Moving on, the game comes with a handful of tokens and a whole pile of custom, six-sided dice. The game board is dual sided, with one side being an octagon (for games with an even number of teams) and the reverse being a hexagon. There is a deck of player action cards included that, while they work well, they feel a bit text heavy. Be prepared to do a bit of reading with the cards.
The game comes with a large scrimmage sheet for each coach. One side has the relevant player stats and the other side contains a quick rules explanation for each action a player can take. When players are ready to move on to exhibition and league games, the game also comes with stat cards for each team and free agent.
How to Play:
For this review, we will be going over the Scrimmage mode. This is recommended for first time players and is the easiest mode to jump in. If you’d like to check out the rules for the exhibition or league mode, you can download a pdf of the rules from their website.
Once the game is set up and each coach has chosen their team, you’re ready to begin. The game is played over 6 rounds, with each round having 3 phases:
1. Draw Phase: If you are the first player, move the round marker to the next round. If it was already on round 6, the game is over. Otherwise, draw your hand size back up to 5 cards.
2. Onslaught Phase: During a coach’s Onslaught Phase, they can active up to three players. Each player, once activated, can take two different actions. Options include:
- Move: Move the athlete up to his speed value.
- Chop: This is how you attack an opponent. Each athlete has a brawl value and each player rolls a number of dice equal to that value. This number can be raised by playing a strategy card (or if the defender is prone). This number can also be lowered if you have allied athletes adjacent (called Interfering) to the target. Whichever player rolls the most knife symbols (on a 6-sided die, 2 sides show 1 knife and 1 side shows 2 knife symbols) knocks down the opposing player and scores 1 point. If the winning athlete rolled enough knives, they may also injure the losing athlete. This sends him to the slaughter box (basically out of the game unless the proper strategy card is played) and he earns up to 4 points (depending on who was injured).
- Pass: The player adds the passers accuracy to the receiver’s agility. Then he rolls that many dice, if the number of knives rolled equals or exceeds the amount of spaces between the players, the ball is successfully passed, if not the ball scatters.
- Shoot: Roll a number of dice based on the athlete’s accuracy value. If the number of knives rolled equals the distance to the goal, you score. Players score 1 point for each space of distance the shot traveled.
Those are the basic actions. There is also a Carve action you can take on an opponent’s turn if you have the appropriate strategy card in your hand. This lets you try to stop an opponent from moving away from one of your players.
3. Cleanup Phase: This is pretty much what it sounds like. Tokens are removed and if you have the right cards in your hand, athletes can return from the penalty box or the slaughter box back to the field of play.
After each score, the ball is shot out of one of the 8 launchers on the game board. If a team is lucky and still has actions remaining, they can pick up the ball (agility test) and try to score again.
Action cards may also be played when appropriate. These can be played during any coach’s turn and will have effects like fumbling the ball, adding dice to a test, or sending a cheating player to the penalty box.
After each team has taken an action, the round ends. At the end of the 6th round, whoever has the most points win!
I’ve played Slaughterball a few times now and have really enjoyed it. As an avid sports fan (love me some NFL Football), I’m always on the look-out for a game that acts as a good sports simulation. Unfortunately, most sports games, other than the abstract ones, end up being too heavy on the rules, forcing games to be long, drawn out affairs. This rarely captures the fast paced essence of the sports they are trying to emulate.
So I was exceedingly happy after playing my first game of Slaugtherball. The rules took about 5 minutes to explain and we were up and running in no time. We were able to get through a quick scrimmage game in about 30 minutes. In Slaughterball, turns go by quickly and we rarely had to stop the action to look up a rules question.
I think that is in part due to Frog The What’s thorough rulebook, but also due to Slaughterball’s easy to learn mechanics. Most actions are based on testing a specific skill, and over all, it just makes sense. Want to shoot the ball? Test accuracy. Want to chop your opponent? Oppose brawling tests. By the end of our first game, we rarely needed to even reference the scrimmage player aid. I love when game mechanics make for a smooth play.
The other nice thing about the quick playing turns is that downtime in the game can be fairly minimal. This is also enhanced because, most of the time, you really want to be paying attention during your opponent’s turn. Whether the reason is because you have to make an opposed test, or you have guys in a position to interfere with your opponent’s test, you want to make sure you’re on top of that. Then there are the action cards, many can be played out of turn, and more than once I was eagerly waiting for an opponent to take a specific action so I could play my card.
I did enjoy the game balance in Slaugtherball. This was due to game designer Erik Kjerland mechanics. For instance, coaches earn points for injuring players, so the obvious move is to have your brawler attack a razor (who is really bad at fighting). But not only do you not score points for hurting a razor, it’s actually a penalty if you get caught attacking a razor without the ball. Its little touches like these that help show that Slaughterball is well play-tested.
For the most part, I’d recommend all newcomers start with the scrimmage mode. It’s easy to learn and a ton of fun. To be honest, if that was the only mode of play in the game, I’d still really enjoy Slaughterball. For those looking for a bit more depth, Frog The What game has also included Exhibition and League play.
Exhibition play is for those who want a bit more complexity and variety in their game. Teams are no longer the symmetrical, with each team having different stats and being particularly skilled in a specific area of the game (and weak in another). There are a few more actions (such as the spike), and the edge tokens will be used to help balance out the teams.
League play is for those who essentially want campaign mode. Coaches earn money from games that can be used to buy more athletic skills, increase traits, or hire support staff. This is where the games 4 mavericks can be purchased to help round out your team.
It’s nice that Slaughterball can be as complex or easy as you want to make it. After we got a few scrimmage games under our belts, we mostly stuck with Exhibition play, which is where I’d guess most gamers will settle at. Even with the added rules and options, Exhibition play still ran smoothly and was a lot of fun.
I don’t really have a ton of complaints with Slaughterball. Frog the What created a great game that will definitely appeal to fans of sports games. While the game plays 2-4, I think you are going to want either two or four players. With three players, it can be a bit easy for one team to be ganged up on when it comes to brawling. But as a 2 or 4 player sports game, Slaughterball is pretty exceptional.
I love how quickly the turns go, how easy the rules are to explain, and the different levels of complexity. Slaughterball is most likely going to be a niche game, appealing to those who like a sports minis game. While the mechanics are great, there probably isn’t anything here that’s going to lure over a dedicated eurogamer. But for those of us that love a face pasted action of futuristic sports, Slaughterball definitely fits the bill.
This game easily fills a hole in my collection and it’s not one I imagine I’ll be replacing for a long time. Other than a few minor quibbles, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of gameplay in Slaughterball. This one is worth checking out!
If you’d like to get a copy of Slaughterball, you can pick it up for about $99.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great sports game that is both easy to learn and plays smoothly. It’s definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre.
• Game ball is a tad small
• The cards a little text heavy
• 3 player games aren’t the best