Published on September 29th, 2014 | by Nicole Jekich4
Slaughterball Season is Here
Equal Parts “Sports Ball” and “Slaughter”
Frog the What Games has returned this fall to bring Slaughterball back to Kickstarter and into the hands of gamers looking for a brutal and beefy miniatures game. Battle your friends in an arena of steel and see if you come out on top! You’ll want to grab your mouth guard for this one.
All images included in this review are of the prototype Slaughterball game and may not reflect final quality of the game after the Kickstarter campaign.
With a miniatures strategy game, you can always expect lots of miniatures of course, handfuls of dice and a large board for battle. Slaughterball delivers with its components: plenty of diverse figures, tokens and thematic accessories. Slaughterball looks very professional even in its prototype stage and the theme is spot-on. The game board is an image of a steel pit with tiles splattered with blood and dirt while the surrounding walls are advertisements of future cyberpunk companies blazed in neon lights and some of which are real companies that contribute to making Slaughterball. Frog the What Games has also embraced new 3D printing technology to bring some of the miniatures on Slaughterball to life. The minis we played with were 3D printed, but the best additional mini is the game ball. You can purchase a steel ball worth its weight on Shapeways in a variety of metals and painted colors and having a steel ball means business, especially if you plan on spiking it into an opponent’s face later.
The minis are in dynamic, athletic poses and their size and base shape are indications of their team position. Just like in basketball or any team sport their are characters that take up certain positions which have a abilities and stats that are better suited for certain roles. For example, the Butcher on each team is the largest mini and has a square base. The Butcher is the best at chopping or trying to knock down opponents and in turn is much slower and less dexterous for picking up the ball and scoring. The point guard or quarterback in this game is the Razor: the smallest, most nimble and most accurate player on the board. There are characters that range in stats and abilities between the Razor and the Butcher.
The initial teams that are shown in the image above are: Blue figures are Nemesis: sleek, Tron-like opponents. The yellow are Valkyries: am all-female, gorgeous warriors. The green are Carnage: large, grotesque orc-like monsters who are best at smashing. The red are Swords of Damacles: organized fighters with an equally impressive name. As more stretch goals are unlocked on their Kickstarter, other teams (like the Fury cat-men) and celebrity athletes like Tom Vasel will be available as a Kickstarter exclusive to add to your game.
For our first game we had 4 teams, the max number of players, playing the Slaughterball Lite rules. In this basic version of the game every team has the same stats for each of the character positions. All Butchers have the same stats, as do Razors and so on. In the advanced games, titled Deluxe, each position has different stats and abilities depending on what team they’re on. Valkyries are great with positioning by pulling and pushing opponents to gain the upper hand. Swords of Damocles characters have abilities for multiple chops against and opponent. Lite and Deluxe are two different game modes aimed at introducing people to a minis game and giving veteran players many options for customization and micromanaging respectively.
Players all start in the same formation around the meat grinder center before the ball randomly launches. Once the ball is in play, one team must run it across the center successfully to open the four goals. And at that point, if it hasn’t already, the game turns into utter mayhem. Teams are rushing for the scattered ball, clobbering defenseless Razors and trying desperately to get themselves into a favorable position. Each action except for moving requires a dice roll and the number of dice are determined by that position’s stats and environment factors like adjacent opponents.
Slaughterball is a lot more immediately interactive than most competitive miniatures games. The hitting and aggression begins very quickly and possession of the ball changes constantly leading to more risky plays and desperate attempts to change momentum. There are cards that end a player’s turn; players can police penalties and adjacent figures can interfere by either supporting or hindering the attacking the player making them gain or lose a die in their roll.
Utter, random mayhem to me can be a perk in a game especially when their is an end in sight. An entire game of Slaughterball is around 30 minutes per player and could be less when using the Lite rules or playing with experience miniatures gamers. I really enjoy games that have a set number of turns rather than an objective-in six turns, no matter what happens, no matter how much I’m losing, the game will end and if I like, I can start up again and try a different strategy.
Slaughterball comes with many options for new and experienced gamers and fixes many of my issues with fantasy sports games in the past by making opponent-smashing and goal-scoring strategy equal parts of the gameplay. In addition to scoring via the four goals, players also gain points by knocking characters down or injuring them which means removing that figure from the game. Players who can’t get the ball could still win and definitely still have many options in front of them to interfere with opponents. This simple change made the game more aggressive and entertained my bias that fantasy sports should have fantastical rules.
The only issue I had with Slaughterball was associated with dice rolling in the basic gameplay. Players determine success by the number of knives they roll during an action and compare that to their opponent’s counter roll. With constantly using different quantities of dice without modifiers except through cards allowing a player to roll more dice, there were never any guarantees of success. Equally, there are times where players are incredibly successful with their rolls. Just like in my opening move to down Luke’s Carnage butcher that was between my Damocles men and the steel ball. My insanely lucky roll not only knocked his Butcher to the ground but did so much excess damage that he was injured for the rest of the game. With no way to react, with no fail safe, I took out one of the strongest characters through shear luck.
What you can rely on with this game is that Slaughterball’s designer, Erik, really likes sports-based miniatures game and his dedication and enthusiasm shows in his campaign. The different stretch goals, unlockables and accessories are catered to the minis gamer: a dry erase board for easy score tracking, a metal game ball that feels like a trophy (available only on Shapeways) and he already has a map set up for other Slaughterballers to know who else is playing the game.