Charlie Theel
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Brent Spivey at the moment is an unknown name in the board game world. He's designed several excellent miniature game rule-sets including Havoc: Tactical Miniature Warfare, The Battlefield, and Rogue Planet. When I heard he was entering the board game world my eyebrows arched skyward like my 75 pound horse of a dog hearing the word "walk". When I discovered it was an 8-bit American Football game I was left dumbfounded, like my 75 pound horse of a dog trying to apply the Pythagorean Theorem to an obtuse triangle.

But this is Brent, right? Havoc won my heart as soon as I realized you could club a dude with a Giant and send the target's body into a line of infantry like a missile loosed from a Goliath-sized crossbow. You haven't lived until you've Tiger Woods'd a Knight down the fairway into a formation of spearmen.



Glory, bit by bit



It's easy to slip into hyperbole when you get emotionally invested in a game and the experience it provides; Lord knows I can become emotionally invested. Such it's hard for me to ascribe the word brilliant to Techno Bowl and actually command the respect that adjective deserves. But I'll try.


HUT! HUT!

While Techno Bowl's heart lies in its activation system (don't worry, we'll get there), it's brain certainly persists in the programming of those activations via "building the play". Each team consists of seven or eight players, depending on the mode, and each player is represented on your bench with two identical cards. Before building your free-form offensive/defensive formation you must program five cards in a stack. This is identical to the order system used in the fantastic Queen's Gambit or Star Wars: Risk. The beauty here is that you begin with control and a semblance of a plan, at least until the tanker full of chaos drives right through your offensive line and rolls your all-star Quarterback.

Like most of this design, the system is nuanced and deeper than it initially appears. When you simultaneously reveal cards to activate, the player with the higher first digit number, who is considered to be quicker, will go first. These players may have been slotted into a rough position on the field - Center, QB, Wide Receiver - yet there are no true restrictions and you can hike the ball to a lumbering ogre or even line up nearly your entire team in the back field. This freedom bolsters creativity while it also lifts any requirement of football knowledge. It's fantastic and works seamlessly to promote enjoyment by placing control in the hands of the players.


HIKE!

That play worked so beautifully in your head. When you throw it into the fast paced realm of an NFL Blitz and Techmo Bowl inspired old school gridiron everything can go pear-shaped in a hurry.

The activation system of Techno Bowl is where the beef's at. When you trigger a player he can move or perform a half move as well as an action. The number of squares you can move is equivalent to the player's number in the first digit on their jersey which is clearly visible on their counter. This becomes more interesting as you exit threatened spaces surrounding players, having to pay additional movement points to fight through the pack. This system of threatening and slowing down nearby players adds a great deal to the formation building as you attempt to clog lanes and throw up walls of linebacker flesh for your opponents to bounce off. It promotes natural strategy native to the sport as you keep coverage tight and collapse around the ball.

Actions consist of block, tackle, and throw. The dice-based system used is influenced by the fantastic Apocalypse World RPG where you sum two six-siders. Modifiers exist due to a difference in player ability as well as supporting teammates and threatening nearby opponents. Modifiers can swing at a maximum of three in each direction and this keeps results tight and easily calculated without eschewing their natural dramatic tension.



The game will ship with tokens, but print 'n play "pixel blocks" will be available to fashion beautiful 3D bonecrushers


Player abilities are brilliantly represented by their jersey number. As hinted at earlier, higher numbers can move farther and are more agile but will have negative modifiers when trying to tackle or block the heftier lower numbered players. Additionally you can throw or lateral the ball a number of spaces equal to twice the number in the first digit on your jersey. This has a very Battleball-esque feel where the giants on the field hit hard but lumber about and the slick jukeing gazelles cover ground at insane speeds but eat it quickly if confronted.

After calculating your modifiers and committing to your act of aggression you chuck the dice and hopefully fist pump. A result of six or below will feel like Von Miller slamming into your ribs at full speed. Your action fails and the opposing player gets to perform a full activation with any one of his team members. A 7-9 means you succeed, but again your enemy will get a half move with one of his brutes. What you're really hoping for is that sweet sweet 10+ which means you pull off your move AND get to engage another one of your dudes to push up turf or truck an opponent.

This is where Techno Bowl sets fire to those other sports games and grinds their ashes with its cleat. This sense of back and forth, dynamic unpredictability and continual shifting of field position is unreal. Openings will emerge and suddenly your scrambling quarterback will be able to push beyond the blitzing defensive line and make a dash. You'll have turns where you attempt to hit a huge block with your lineman who has a healthy amount of positive modifiers stacked so that you can get a 10+ to activate that Quarterback so you can perform an unexpected throw. Squeezing out these extra slices of engagement is where the battles of Techno Bowl are won and where huge plays can erupt.

It's dramatic and exciting in a way befitting the most ecstatic moments of sports entertainment.


OMAHA!

Techno Bowl is not a light game. This is solidly a medium weight design that has what appears to be a hefty set of rules to work through. The first time I read the rulebook I was agog at the perceived complexity and began to worry that the 8-bit theme was mismatched with extremely heavy gameplay. And then I ran a play.

You see, while the rules may be daunting upon first read, everything internalizes very quickly. You won't need the exceptional player aids after a couple of plays and you will easily remember how each action is resolved, how fumbles and interceptions work, and how you can motion before a play. The resolution is simple yet produces deep and unexpected results, and the capabilities of your players are always clearly visible on the pitch. The experience is beautiful and immersive.

Still, I won't be teaching this to my game-averse Mother who's perfectly fine connecting routes with plastic choo-choos. It requires 60-90 minutes and can be excruciatingly slow with someone who is prone to analysis paralysis. The rules look to solve this issue by dictating a timer to build your play but this won't be needed with most gamers (although I do enjoy the Space Hulk-like tension).



Prototype tokens line the field, ready to bust some heads



The game also features several modes which does actually make tailoring the experience to different skill levels and preferences easy. You can play a more fast paced game with the standard seven players a side, or a slower more thoughtful arcade experience with eight on each team. While standard play is meaty enough to consume your dome with strategy and engagement, I really dig the player abilities that grant several members of your team special traits. This will let you juke or perform a powerful block, increasing your ability for the dramatic and adding another layer of bluffing when building plays as you utilize your weapons in deceptive ways.

I could ramble on like Robert Plant and talk about the NBA Jam-like Inferno mode where players can catch fire, or dive into analysis of properly utilizing your "bench" where you manage your activation cards. The fact of the matter is that once this game gets out into the world it will sell itself. No downtime, a huge opportunity for clever play and extreme dynamism make for the best sports game I've ever played. All of this is coming from a guy who hasn't watched a full NFL game since Kurt Warner left the Rams.


This review was originally written for FortressAT.com. To view other reviews written by Charlie Theel check out this Geeklist.
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Bryan McNeely
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Fantastic review! Very much looking forward to this one.

Also, Tom Baby for MVP!
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Asger Harding Granerud
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I'm not sure I get it. Can a player really move half of 69 in an activation, if that is their Jersey number? Or throw it that many spaces? How big is the field?

Regards
Asger Granerud
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Brent Spivey
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AsgerSG wrote:
I'm not sure I get it. Can a player really move half of 69 in an activation, if that is their Jersey number? Or throw it that many spaces? How big is the field?

Regards
Asger Granerud

Only the first number is used to determine the skill rating. So on a typical full activation player #69 could either:

-perform an action
-move up to 6 spaces
-move 3 spaces and perform an action
-throw up to 12 spaces [with a +1 bonus for throwing to a target within 6 spaces]

If a player on the opposing team performed an action that was a partial success [a 7-9 result], player #69 could move up to 3 spaces [half of his movement rounded up] after the opposing player's activation was completed.

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Charlie Theel
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AsgerSG wrote:
I'm not sure I get it. Can a player really move half of 69 in an activation, if that is their Jersey number? Or throw it that many spaces? How big is the field?

Regards
Asger Granerud

Ack, good point Asger. Thanks for clearing it up Brent.

I think my head was too far "in the game" when writing this one. When referring to a player's number during play we always used this as short form for their first digit number - which is their main stat.

So saying a player's number, referring to their stat, but it's just the first digit. Kind of took this for granted in the review but I think I made it a bit more clear.

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Jef Addley
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great review. Looks to be a super game. I have backed the kickstarter.
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Caveman
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4 downs to score? Parts of your turn are timed? This sounds odd, time consuming. Anyone check out Fourth Quarter Football? This Techno game sounds similar but even more complicated that Fourth QF.
 
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Richard Watney
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From what I can tell, it's a bit less complicated, but I don't have a FQF rulebook to check. I'm reality, for most of your players you're taking one of two actions - moving, or move-and-blocking. A lot of the strategy is in setting up favourable blocks, and lining up your play to have the right player activated at the right time. There are other complications (adjustments, reactions, skills) but once you get the basics they follow on easily enough.

The first digit=player 'skill' system in particular is very good at keeping things simple.
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Gene Chiu
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supercommando440 wrote:
4 downs to score? Parts of your turn are timed? This sounds odd, time consuming. Anyone check out Fourth Quarter Football? This Techno game sounds similar but even more complicated that Fourth QF.

I'll look into FQF a bit more. So far, I only checked out the review and saw a kickstarter video. The video was more of a campaign vid. The review didn't have a lot of detail in it. It does sound like there is some sort for player formation and you get to move players to try to get receivers open and such like TB. The video did so some play cards which I cannot tell exactly how they are used.

In TB, each play does take a while. You have to set up your formation, call your play and then actually play the play. There is probably going to be only a dozen or so plays in total per TB game. Having 4 downs to score is not really an issue and is going to give you a good feel of football. TB is about individual plays. You as a coach of one of the teams is going to be able to create your own plays and formations every down. This is what I really like about the game.

Just for comparison, an NFL game has around 150 plays from scrimmage. TB is going to be at least 12 times slower. TB will not be a perfect simulation of football in every aspect. It does capture the feel of football quite well. I wouldn't knock the 4 downs to score as a something negative in the context of a boardgame where you have to take a turn to move each player.
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Gene Chiu
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supercommando440 wrote:
4 downs to score? Parts of your turn are timed? This sounds odd, time consuming. Anyone check out Fourth Quarter Football? This Techno game sounds similar but even more complicated that Fourth QF.

I checked out the videos of FQF. I have not actually played it or anything, so I don't have a complete picture of the game. Here is my impression of FQF compared to Techno Bowl which I have played.

FQF tries to be a much closer simulation to football. It uses a lot more football terms than TB. They use terms like A-gap, split end and flanker which I feel are rather technical terms. I'm not sure that a lot of casual fans know what an A-gap is. Split end and flanker are terms I only know because I read books on football when I was younger. These terms are not commonly mentioned on most football broadcasts.

There are things like play action and pump fakes in FQF which is not an explicit thing in TB. You can sort of do these things or more accurately a feint in TB based on how you set up your players during a play. In FQF, you have play cards that say you do a pump fake or play action.

FQF appears to not have the flexibility as TB. FQF has a bunch of play cards and you draw a few of them every turn. The play cards pretty much dictate what type of play you can call. You can do something other than the play card, but you get severe penalties to your dice rolls if you do. I'm not sure the exact card draw mechanic, but it seems like if you don't draw any running plays, you can't run the ball. Also, the plays all seem like they're drawn up for you.

I think FQF is probably easier to get going. For TB, I see people in these forums asking how to do things like how to draw up an off tackle running play. TB is going to be a bit overwhelming for people who just want to say call a running play and don't want to have to figure out how to do blocking schemes. As someone who loves drawing up my own football plays and formations, TB gives me that versatility.
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