First of all, I would like to say that this is my first review. I will try not to explain all the rules of this game, but will do my best to comment the pros and cons of some of them as well as of the game as a whole.
The first thing that seems very obvious to say is that, although people who don't like football (soccer for people in the USA) may enjoy this game, I think that it will be at least a bit more interesting for those who do. The game works like any football game: you move, pass, shoot and hope to score, all this while trying to prevent your adversary to come into possession of the ball.
There is a fantasy theme involved, but it is hardly noticed except for the very well designed and pre-painted miniatures. If you like theme games, I don't think the theme present in this game will draw you to it for long. The players also have always the same type of stats. It doesn't matter if you are a dragon (of Basela) or a madman (of Zyon), you'll always have the following offensive skills: dribbling, passing, shooting, heading; and the following defensive skills: stealing, tackling, clearing/intercepting, pressuring.
How the Game explains the Rules
The rules of the game are pretty simple, and even if you find them a bit difficult at first, there is a nice "family version" of them, which removes the most complicated rules and resumes the stats to a defensive and an offensive one, allowing for fast learning and even faster play (at least it seems so - until now I've only played the "geek version"). Also, all rules are explained in four languages (French, English, German and Italian), which is nice, and there is no use of text during the game (provided you can memorize some simple explanation about the function of some cards - I'll come to them in time). There is also a quick-rules guide for each player, which seems complicated at first glance, but becomes very clear once you've read the rulebook.
Here I would like to make a remark. I've read the rules in English, and noticed that some of them were not clear (and some did seem to have something wrong) until I've taken a look into the French rulebook. There seem to be some minor translation mistakes (I think the original rules were written in French) and there is an image in page 13 which has no numbers, even though the rule explanations point to them (but, of course, you can just go to the same page in the other rulebooks and look at the image in them for reference). Anyway, those minor problems are far from spoiling the fun, and there is always a forum in BGG in which they can be discussed.
So, all in all, the rules are pretty simple (even the "geek" ones are not so complicated once you take them to the field) and easy to learn. They are also very well designed, as I'll comment in the next section.
The game is designed for two players, each one trying to take the ball to the opposite goal. This is done through a series of turns, in each of which first there is a movement phase followed by an action phase. In the movement phase, the attacker goes first, and then its defender's time to make his moves. In the action phase, the order is inverted, with the defender taking action first. This system works very nicely and was very well designed, making the game flows without problems.
Tha actions are always optional, and all of them have their successfulness decided by a roll of dice (except shooting, which can also be decided, negatively, by one other factor - I'll come to that too). If you don't like dice rolling and luck influencing the outcome of a game, you can stop reading this review and step away from this game. If you think you are an unlucky person (and happen to be right about it), don't even try this game, unless you are willing to lose every time. Of course there are some tactics you can use and there are cards (which are optional) for you to use in the right moment, but the outcome of a good attack is always decided by a rolling of dice. So there is lots of luck involved. If you don't mind that, then you can keep reading without major concerns.
The things you can do without rolling dice are basically moving, short-passing, controlling the ball and goalkeeping. In the movement phase there is no roll of dice, you can simply move your players on the field; if you wish to move further than one hexagon, you have to pay with the player's boost (and, once the boost is depleted, the player has all his abilities halved), but you will never have to roll dice for moving a player. Short passes (1-2 hexes) don't require a roll of dice, they are always successful (can be intercepted, thought). I've also mentioned controlling the ball because, although it seems normal that a player should receive the ball nicely after a well-done pass, games like Bloodbowl still requires you to roll dice to make sure you could catch the ball; in Helvetia Cup, no such rolling is needed, the only thing that can prevent a successful pass from arriving at the target is a successful interception/clearance made by the defender. Now it comes to goalkeeping; before the attacker can successfully score a goal (by means of dice rolling, of course), it has to bypass the goalkeeper, and that is when both players take their goal boards and secretly choose where the shoot will go (for the attacker) and what sections of the goal the goalkeeper will defend (for the defender); the fact that the different sections of the goal have different malus (in opposition to bonus, the malus is subtracted from the dice roll on the scoring attempt) was a very nice addition, as well as the fact that the number of sections the goalkeeper can choose depends on how far the attacker stands from the goal. These rules for scoring were very well designed, and you can't feel cheated, because you have a certain control over your chances of scoring, since you know beforehand which will be your malus in case the goal keeper can't reach the ball.
Between movements and scoring attempts, there is a lot going on. The time runs forward every time the ball changes possession. It starts on zero minutes and goes all the way to 45 minutes. When the time marker goes beyond 45, then the first half is over, thus beginning the second one. The amount of time which moves forward is decided... can you guess? Of course, by a roll of a customized dice, in which sides are the number of minutes: 6, 9 and 12. During this time, the passing actions done by the attacker can be intercepted/cleared by the defender or the attacker can be targeted by a tackle - which, if unsuccessful, can lead to a free kick and broken bones for the attacker, as well as cards for the defender (the cards and injuries are also decided by, guess again? Yes, right on the money... two customized d6, and each team has its own customized dice) - or by a ball stealing attempt, in which the dribbling abilities of the attacker will also be tested. These rules work very well. If the defender tries to steal, he can be dribbled by the attacker; if he tries to tackle, he incurs the risk of total failure (ending with his player lying on the ground) or, even worst, the risk of a red card (and penalty, if the disastrous tackle was made on the penalty box), but the attacker will go down if the tackle is successful, and the ball goes directly to the defender, without a dribbling skill check. The defender can also opt for staying still in the same hex as the attacker; by doing so, he forgoes the chance of stealing or tackling, but applies pressure (which works as a malus for the attackers actions).
I think all these rules are pretty well designed and work very well on the field. The only rule which is very controversial is the offside rule (thanks, FIFA, for it!). In my humble opinion, it is as bit as controversial as in the real world, because it doesn't really precise what is a pass towards the goal and what is a side pass; also, since the defending player gets to move after the attacker, oduring the run to the goal (waiting for the final pass), it is simple for the defender to just step one hex forward, and, by doing so, leaving the attacking player hopelessly offside until the next turn. I think the rule of offside should have a mechanism for preventing this type of malicious movement by the defender. I know, offside line is not forbidden, but it can really be a pain in the ass if your adversary keeps moving all the defenders forward, allowing no pass at all beyond midfield. But ok, the offside rule is controversial on the real world, why shouldn't it be on a fantasy one...? :-)
The cards exist, and CAN be used, but are optional. I've played the game many times before introducing the cards to it, so as to see how big the impact was. What I can say so far is this: they do add some variation to the game, but doesn't change much from the original pass and score. But this is not at all a bad thing. Of course, a card that says: ok, the offside you cried for is overruled by a bribed referee (it doesn't say exactly this, but that is its core meaning), can be nasty and make easy for one team to get to the goal, but there are no such things as "instant goals" or something like that. To score you still have to bypass the keeper and throw a good number on the dice.
The Game Components
All of the components are very well done. There are miniatures, cards, goals, player cards, wooden tokens, match sheets, time and scoring ruler (which is called totomat on the game), four cardboard tokens, game board and, of course, the almighty dice.
The miniatures are beautifully designed and painted; and there are three types of them: regular players, captains and goalkeepers. All of them are well designed, the only remark (it is not really a big problem, unless your myopia prohibits) is the size and placement of the numbers on the players. Since the regular players are all the same, and there is at least three of them on the field, the only thing that makes them unique is the number on their backs (for madmen) or on their sides (for dragons), and that is not very good, because you can easily lose track of which player you're playing with.
The cards are not made of the best material, but won't be destroyed if you take just a bit of care. They are also pretty well designed, with well-done images.
My only real complaint about the game components is the goal and its bases. The goal should stand on top of two small pedestals, but these are too narrow and have grips which carve into the goal cardboard, leaving white tracks on their path. I gave up the pedestals at my first attempt, after I saw the little white tracks on the edge of the goal.
Player cards are well designed and show everything you need to know about the players. They are also double-sided. One side is for the geek rules, and the other for the family rules.
The wooden tokens serve as markers, whether as boost (grey ones), yellow card (yellow ones), or goal trackers (red for madmen and blue for dragons). Those are very nice, maybe they could be simple wooden squares, which would probably stand better on the player cards, but that is only a matter of choice, and I can't really complaint for Helvetia trying to be different from the others.
The match sheets are very detailed, and have a better use for championship matches, in which is necessary to keep records of games and players. If you play only a single match, they are not needed. Nevertheless, they are well designed and you'll have to play plenty of matches before you run out of them.
The ruler (totomat) is made of thick cardboard (like the goals). There is not much to say about it, only that it is nicely done, very clear and easy to understand.
The cardboard tokens are used to make clear which side is which on the totomat, also to keep track of time. The last one of them is a coin, used for deciding who gets the ball and who chooses the starting sides at the beginning of the match.
Last, but not least, the almighty dice. There are only five dices in total. Yes, believe me, a dice loaded game like this has only five customized dice. One red d20 for attacking actions, one blue d20 for defensive actions, one customized d6 for injuries/cards of Zyon (madmen), one customized d6 for injuries/cards of Basela (dragons), and one customized d6 for the passing of time.
So, after all this (long) review, I think I can say the game is really well don and plays very well. I played it with my wife many times and, although there is the almighty dice, which can be sometimes frustrating, it doesn't spoil the fun by any means. I recommend this game for all lovers of football and, of course, board games. You won't be disappointed.
The fantasy theme, at the end, lies behind the scene and remains pale in view of the rules and the design of the game, which doesn't make any special difference between the teams, except for some cards and, of course, the miniatures. If there were no miniatures representing dragons, I think the theme would be as good as dead in this game, because the madmen are just regular (mad) humans. The dragons, on the other side, can't be related to our world - as far as we don't consider komodo dragons to be magic beings -, which makes it more obvious that there is something different going on.
So far, I like this game and try to play at every opportunity, since it is not long, doesn't take much time to set up, and, with its simple rules, can be a good appetizer in a game night/weekend.
Hope you enjoyed this (long) review and thanks for staying with me till the end. As said, it is my first one, so comments are always welcome. Misspells and other grammar errors are mostly due to English not being my native language, and I apologize for them. If you see some of them, don't hesitate in telling me so.
All images were taken from the BGG site.
Wow -- with reviews like this, I hope you will do many more! Never mind that it is your first one. Great job.
I've been very interested in this game. Sad to hear that the theme doesn't come through. You mentioned BloodBowl -- do you have this game, or have you played it enough to further compare the two? Also, do you think that there are expansion teams planned, or card sets that might increase the integration of fantasy setting/theme into gameplay?
If there is so little to recommend it on the basis of theme, how do you rank it in comparison to other straight-up soccer games that you've played? Is it the best of the lot?
There are expansions planned. The first expansion will include three new football teams:
The Bears of Berena, a powerful team
The Vampires of Zugriga, a crafty team who will consume the other player's boosts
And the Succubus of Agrosola, a women team with men slaves.
First of all: thanks, I appreciate.
Unfortunately, I've only played BloodBowl in the computer. The board game version is very hard to find, specially if you don't live in the USA. Anyway I've read the board game rules, which are pretty much like the computer ones (since the latter copied them very well, with all the dice rolls and everything), so I think it is fair to say that my comparisons, although not made directly with the BloodBowl board game, are pretty much reasonable.
As for expansions, I hope there are, since in the interview shown in this video (http://boardgamegeek.com/video/22297/helvetia-cup/helvetia-c...), they say there are plans for such. Fets Raptor also said the first one with three teams is already in sight. It would be great to have more teams, then it would be really possible to make a good championship, which is one of the creator's intention.