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Subject: Review of Pocket Rugby League rss

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Ian Murphy
Spain
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Background

“Rugby League” is the fifth in the Pocket Sports series of dice-based sports games (or arguably the sixth, given that it was released at the same time as “Basketball”). Its predecessors “Cricket” -the most successful of the family to date-, “Footy” (Australian Football), “Golf” and “Soccer” have all met with varying degrees of success, so how does the newcomer compare to its stable mates?

Components

This is an area in which the Pocket Sports dynasty most definitely excels – eight laser-engraved dice -no problems with print erosion here- packed into a tiny drawstring bag along with a neatly-folded instruction sheet which clearly outlines the rules of the game and how its components should be employed. Each dice is a different colour, which, apart from being aesthetically pleasing, makes for instant recognition. This favours the high-tempo rolling that is so crucial to generating excitement and tension in close-fought encounters. The bag itself is embossed with the silhouette sports figure that has become Pocket Sports’ trademark, this time a sprinting fullback, ball tucked under his arm as he darts for the try line. Attractive presentation for less than 12 Australian dollars.

Who is it aimed at?

Anybody of any age who is familiar with the sport of Rugby League should soon find themselves drawn in, though the game, like previous Pocket Sports iterations, is the ideal companion for drink-and-snack sessions with friends - no board to spill liquid onto, no cards or money to leave grease stains on, and no complex technicalities to interfere with the fun. This is not, however, to say that Rugby League is entirely devoid of decision-making – an accusation levelled by some at previous Pocket Sports offerings. As we shall see, choice does play a part, particularly in the latter stages of a tight contest.

The game itself


After establishing half length (5-10 minutes is ideal and, surprisingly, more often than not produces true-to-life final scores) and tossing a coin for possession, the game begins with a roll of the red Scrum Half die. The Scrum Half is essentially the team’s playmaker, and each possession begins with the ball in his hands. Four sides of this die lead to a pass to another player, specified by the letters B (Back), C (Centre), W (Wing) and F (Forward). The corresponding die is duly rolled, and play continues – the Scrum Half’s team-mates also pass, though in this case, the player can dispatch the ball to whomever he chooses.

Of course, Rugby League is much more than just passing – all of the player dice have a liberal sprinkling of “Hit Ups”, which mean that the man in possession has come into contact with a defender. This brings the opponent into play – a welcome development in comparison to some of the previous games and one which ensures that both players are constantly involved at all times. A roll of the brown Defence die will now determine if the attacker is tackled or has evaded capture to set up a possible try. “Huge Hit” means that the man in possession has been on the end of a monster tackle, flooring him and possibly leaving the ball free to be stolen by the defence. The latter depends on the number obtained from the black die which, apart from determining if a try is scored or not when a player crosses the line, also acts as a standard D6. This die also serves to keep the tackle count – if a team is tackled six times, the ball is handed over to the opposition; each time a player is dumped by the defence, the die is turned to reflect the new tackle count – ingenious multi-usage of resources on the part of Pocket Sports or just serendipity?

Pocket Rugby also has its own ref – a white die that comes into play whenever “Contest” is rolled on the Back, Centre, Wing or Forward dice (the Scrum Half die cannot generate this event, an accurate reflection of the fact that contentious decisions rarely revolve around this particular player in Rugby League). The ref may decree that the ball has been lost, or that a scrum -settled by rolling the numbers die- is required. This is perhaps the one area where the dice game strays slightly from the real thing – Rugby League scrums are uncontested for safety reasons and invariably result in the team putting the ball in retaining possession. The idea of the higher number deciding who wins it therefore seems a little odd, though perhaps rolling the D6 is actually intended to determine which team gets to put the ball into the scrum in the first place. The ref may also award a penalty to the team in possession. Penalties are the second area where the player has a decision to make – he may choose to play on with the tackle count reset to zero (the option of choice for the gung-ho optimist or the team trailing by 12 points with just minutes left) or to kick for goal and a potential two points (recommended in a tight encounter or one in which the try dice has so far failed to pay dividends). Which brings us back to the try dice itself. Whenever a player gets into a try-scoring position, the black numbered die referred to earlier will determine the outcome – No Try, Video (requiring a re-roll) or Try. If a try is scored, the black die is thrown again – a 4, 5 or 6 means the conversion has been kicked successfully, and 4 points become 6. The same method is used to resolve the penalty kick option mentioned earlier.

Tries can be scored in a number of ways, and this is where Pocket Rugby really appeals. Each playing position has a custom move reflecting the way the player in question tends to get across the line in the sport itself. Hence the Back can kick a “High Ball” to be chased into the end zone and touched down, while the Winger will sprint “Into the Corner” for a last-minute score. Little but nevertheless telling touches like these lend a sense of authenticity to the game – players inevitably find themselves reading (or rather shouting) aloud the phrase inscribed on the dice to create a running commentary that becomes faster and more furious as the seconds tick away. The Scrum Half is the only player lacking such a signature move, though, in another nod to authenticity, he does, along with the Back, have the option to kick a drop goal by rolling a 5 or 6. This is worth only one point, but with 30 seconds to play, 5 tackles down and the scores tied at 16-16, the urge to gamble is almost irresistible…

Conclusion

Pocket Rugby League might not be to everyone’s taste – those looking for deep strategy will be disappointed, while those unfamiliar with the sport itself may be unable to “see” the game developing in their heads in the way Rugby fans would. Anybody in between (or members of the aforementioned groups with an open mind and 12 dollars to spare) will almost certainly find the game immense fun, particularly as a half-time companion to a televised match or over a beer or two on a summer’s afternoon. The satisfaction of following up a “Huge Hit” with a 5 to steal the ball towards the end of a tense battle is difficult to describe in text alone. Hats off to Pocket Sports for taking on board the feedback from previous games and putting it into practice in this one. Hopefully, future products (or maybe second versions of existing ones?) will manage to personalise the different positions involved in sports teams in even more detail, proving that realism truly can be packed into a three-inch bag.
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Hamish Sterling
Australia
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Thanks for the review Ian! We're thrilled you enjoyed the game.

We're always happy to learn from how we've made games in the past and add improvements to new games we develop!

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IanMF wrote:
Pocket Rugby also has its own ref – a white die that comes into play whenever “Contest” is rolled on the Back, Centre, Wing or Forward dice (the Scrum Half die cannot generate this event, an accurate reflection of the fact that contentious decisions rarely revolve around this particular player in Rugby League)
Great review Ian.

Just one correction to the above quote. "Contest" doesn't actually appear on the player dice as you describe. It's on the Defense die, which is rolled whenever one of those players rolls and uses a Hit Up. A "Contest" could also result if the Scrum Half rolls and uses a Hit Up.
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Ian Murphy
Spain
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Well spotted sir - even Hamish didn't notice that one! Hope you enjoy the game as much as I have - don't forget to give basketball a spin too!
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IanMF wrote:
Hope you enjoy the game as much as I have - don't forget to give basketball a spin too!
I have indeed, and I think I like Pocket Basketball even more than Pocket Rugby League! Here's the reviews I've just posted on both games:

Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light dice game for basketball fans
Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light dice game for rugby fans
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