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As a big rugby fan, I was delighted to find someone finally attempt a strategy board game of the sport, rather than the dice-roll intensive standard sports replay type of game.

Ordering by PayPal was easy, and the colourful box arrived from South Africa around 10 days later, containing a comprehensive rules booklet, 8 large hex-grid boards which make up the pitch, 30 individual player counters, a ball marker, a players skill reference card, a pack of skill cards, 2 templates for arranging counters during certain game situations, dice, and even (for those who have no clue what a rugby pitch should look like!) a sheet showing how to put the 8 pieces of the board together - in full colour and on good quality card.

And so to the rules, or Training Guide as they have named it - they have attempted to ease players into the game by a 'basic training' section which will allow you to start a game after only a few pages of rules - and an 'advanced training' section which introduces additional rules and card play into the game.

I realise a lot of people will have no knowledge of rugby, so here is a quick idea of the sport. A team consists of 15 players, all of who can handle and run with the ball, but may not pass forward, only laterally. Its similar to football in that the idea is to reach the opponents end of the pitch to score a try (similar to touchdown, but you do actually have to touch the ball down in the end zone!). Unlike football however, play does not stop after a tackle - a tackled player must release the ball and it is free for anyone to attempt to gather the ball and continue play - in fact its more like Blood Bowl to be honest!

As someone who understands rugby I found the rules fairly easy to understand, however the Offside rule could easily cause confusion to people with little knowledge of the sport. Dont let this put you off however, as even most rugby players are confused by the offside rule, and the FAQ section on the games website offers additional clarification for handling it in the game!

Turns were intially a little slow - on your turn you may move all, some or none of your players up to the number of spaces indicated on the skill chart relevant to the number of the counter in question. This did speed up though, once we grew more familiar with the movement allowance for the players. Tracking which players had been moved was also a little tricky, until a suitable set of numbered cards was borrowed from a different game, which we could turn over when we had moved players - this helped enormously.

As well as a movement allowance, players are also given a Skill rating, which the team with the ball must roll against when trying to achieve any action involving the ball - passing, kicking, or gathering from the ground - as many times as they want in their turn. A roll of less than or equal to the relevant players skill rating is a sucessful action, and the turn continues, a failure, and your turn ends immediately - the adds extra strategy in that your first few moves are likely to be safety moves in case the dice roll ends your turn prematurely.

Tackling is done whenever the ball carrier moves into a space immediately adjacent to a defender (their 'tackle zone') - at which point both counters are flipped to indicate they are grounded and the attacker continues his move with another player attempting to regather the ball. On the defenders turn, all he can do is move his players into better defensive positions, or into a tackling position next to the ball carrier - although the tackle is not actually made until the attacking players turn. As some cards however allow you to hand off a potential tackler, this again provides a dilemma of do you commit 2 defenders to the tackle, or leave just 1 and have more defenders to spread across the pitch?

The cards in question are given 2 each at each kickoff, and picked up 1 per turn, these allow either 'free' actions (ie not dice roll needed) or special actions, such as kick further than usual, hand off a would be tackler, injure an opponent so he may not return to the game once hes grounded etc. The cards indicate when they can be played, but any number can be played during a turn - although particularly annoying is the card your oppenent plays just as you are planning your 8 card, length of the pitch, spectacular move culminating in an amazing try, only to be told 'Pressure Play - oppenent must discard ALL cards' !!!

Overall, a very enjoyable game, with more similarity to chess than any Strat-o-matic type sports game - the additional rules and FAQ on the website are very useful, as is the shorter 7 a-side version of the game as an introduction to the game.

If you like rugby, or even if you just enjoyed Blood Bowl and have never heard of rugby, this is well worth a look.
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