Raf Cordero
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This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.

***

I’ll be the first to admit that American Football is not something I am very knowledgeable about. Being from a small Central American country and going to US school where the football team was somewhere worse than awful meant that my exposure was limited to Superbowl parties and NFL Blitz 64. That changed 5 years ago when I married into a Cowboys family, and since then I’ve grown to enjoy Sundays and have come to realize that there is far more to the game than people smashing into each other. Coaches set formations like chess grandmasters going head to head. Players run through their strategy, reacting quickly to changes as things develop. It seems like it’d make for a fantastic board game, and Brent Spivey has proven that to be true.

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Hut, Hike! (Prototype components)


Brent Spivey is known for his designs in the miniature gaming world, and I think that shows through in Techno Bowl. The importance of tactical movement and the sophistication of the activation system is well above most boardgames-that-have-miniatures yet the game is really easy to pick up. The rules seemed daunting at first, especially to someone who doesn’t know a nickel back from Nickelback, but by the time I was halfway through the first play I’d easily absorbed the gameplay and a little bit of strategy. Little touches, like tying a player’s skill to their jersey number, make it really easy to play without referencing stat cards or player aids and let you get into the flow of the game.

And boy does this game flow. The activation system is brilliant, both in how it keeps the game moving and how simple it is. The core will be familiar to anyone who has played an Apocalypse World style rpg, but it consists of rolling 2d6 and applying some easy to discern modifiers. After setting your play by stacking player cards in the order you want to activate them in, you’ll take turns with your opponent taking actions and rolling dice. Roll higher than a 10 and you’ve got a full success. You successfully block, pass, or tackle and you get to activate another player. Done properly, this can chain a great throw into a breakaway run or a block into a blitz that would make Demarcus Ware smile. Roll 7-9 and you get a partial success. You do what you wanted to do, and your opponent gets to move one of their players up to half their movement. As this is more likely to happen than a full success, it keeps players engaged when it isn’t their turn and more accurately simulates all the movement on a football field. There is lots of action going on off the ball.

That isn’t what makes it really interesting though. As my father-in-law will tell you, sometimes Dez Bryant drops a wide open pass, or Romo gets laid out. When you roll 6 or below, you fail at your action and your opponent gets a full activation of one of their players. Suddenly your throw is off target (another simple little mechanism comes into play here) and your opponent’s fastest player gets a shot at snatching it of the air and flipping the field on you. You can absolutely work the probabilities in your favor by using your slower bigger guys to block and faster guys to pass and catch, but you know in the back of your mind that there’s a chance to fail and open things up for your opponent. Just like in sports, hope is never completely gone, even if you’re attempting a desperation play on the wrong side of a mismatch.

Working the modifiers in your favor keeps the rolling from getting frustrating. The player’s skill is tied to the number on their jersey. Low numbers are big, strong and slow while high numbers are fast and nimble. Depending on what action you’re taking, the difference in player numbers will get added or subtracted from the die roll. Playing cards from “the bench” can influence those rolls and there are additional modifiers for teamwork that are intuitive and easy to grasp, so good tactical movement will often carry the day. While the dice do a great job of emulating the chaos of sports, games are going to be won and lost by the brain of the players taking advantage of that activation system.

See, it’s often better not to put the player you want to activate in your play deck at all. Not only can you opt to play a card off the bench once you see how the play is moving (at the cost of what you were going to do), but If you can roll a 10+, you’ll get a free activation and you can use more bench cards to improve your odds of rolling 10+ on that activation, and so on. Suddenly, your opponents linebacker failing to get a block and falling over turns into you abandoning your pass play and punching a running back up the field. Players don’t have positions, just skill values, so this flexibility means you have the freedom to adapt to what’s going on on the field and react to the constant back and forth. I’ve played real-time games that feel less dynamic than this turn based game. Hell, I played a solo game where I controlled both players and was still able to surprise myself.

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Awesome pixel art. (Prototype components)


I’m gushing really, because this game is good. It’s packed with game modes, you can go simple with 7v7 or all out with an 8v8 mode complete with special skills and fire tokens reminiscent of NBA Jam, and every one of them hums along. If you aren’t a fan of football, then don’t let the theme turn you off. It’s worth checking out purely from a mechanics and gameplay perspective. If you’re a fan of football then stop searching now, this is the game you want. What makes football great isn’t the 244 page NFL rulebook but the heart-in-your-throat moments and the dynamic back and forth. Techno Bowl captures that brilliantly.
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Brent Spivey
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captainraffi wrote:
If you’re a fan of football then stop searching now, this is the game you want. What makes football great isn’t the 244 page rulebook but the heart-in-your-throat moments and the dynamic back and forth. Techno Bowl captures that brilliantly.
Don't worry! He was referring to the NFL rulebook being 244 pages and not the one for TECHNO BOWL.

The rules for getting the basic 7-vs-7 mode up and running is only 12 pages, and that includes lots of diagrams and one page that's completely devoted to 'what to expect' and 'gameplay tips'.
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Raf Cordero
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Edited for clarity!
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Brent Spivey
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captainraffi wrote:
Edited for clarity!
Thanks! I think people were getting a little worried.
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Keith Higdon
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madison
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So is this game available now? Are the rules available anywhere? I see discussion of the game on the website, but no listing under products and no mention of a release schedule.
 
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Brent Spivey
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rkhigdon wrote:
So is this game available now? Are the rules available anywhere? I see discussion of the game on the website, but no listing under products and no mention of a release schedule.
It's coming to Kickstarter in the very near future. I'll be announcing the date soon. There's a wealth of information and art in the WIP thread here on BGG if you're interested.
 
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Asger Harding Granerud
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Certainly has my designer interest piqued, and that isn't an easy feat!

I love the sound of the ½ counter activations to make it feel more like a sports flow.

Regards
Asger Granerud
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Brent Spivey
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AsgerSG wrote:
Certainly has my designer interest piqued, and that isn't an easy feat!
Nice to hear Asger! I think you'll find it an interesting design study.
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Jef Addley
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Leatherhead
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Good review.

I have backed the kickstarter.. its still got 7 days don't miss out! .. you'll end up like all those guys who watched Talon sell out before they got a chance to get one
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