Before we get to Dave's review of Kaosball we would like to inform you that we will be starting a league for Kaosball in October. More details about that will be coming soon! Now on to Dave's Review.
Reviewed by: Dave
Do you wish football involved more foot and less ball? Are teeth the only thing you want to see flying into the end zone? Would you prefer the game be played not by men bulked up to the strength of ogres, but actual ogres? Congratulations, you are part of Kaosball's target audience!
Kaosball is a game that supports up to four players, but is generally designed for two. It mimics football with an aesthetic similar to the old Blood Bowl, but in a more streamlined mechanical package. The board is relatively small; while there are end zones on each of the playing field's four sides, most of the action takes place on the 5x5 grid in the center. With five players per team running around, it gets crowded quickly until knockouts start to occur (so you can imagine the KAOS!! involved when four teams take to the field). Players maneuver one of their team members each turn, and affect play more directly by throwing down cards that affect the action.
Knowing how to maneuver one's figures will always be important in a game like this, but because of the limited space (apart from the often difficult-to-reach opposite end zone, all scoring areas are clustered in the center of the board), card play becomes the most critical skill. Most often this involves knowing when to play the power cards that help your team win battles, take control of the ball and the field, and maximize their points during the period. Power cards (as opposed to tactic or cheat cards) have a number on them; this number is added to your team member's score during an attempted attack or tackle, with the high total winning. However, during a given period, you can only play a card with a particular number once; playing a card with an identical number later on results in that card being considered dead. Therefore a substantial amount of psychology can come into play when determining when to use your bigger numbers. If they're wasted, your opponent could rack up the points.
Oh, and where it says "attack or tackle"? That difference is another enormous factor in the game's strategy. A tackle attempts to knock an opponent down; this is powerful, as a tackled opponent is down for the remainder of the period. On the other hand, an attack attempts to do actual damage. If it succeeds, the opponent is injured, and if sufficient damage is applied, the opposing figure dies, removing it from the roster and giving you potential bonus points. However, if a successful attack does not result in a kill, the opponent remains active, still able to move and potentially score (if he or she has the ball in a scoring area). Furthermore, dead figures can be replaced from the bench after the period, and it takes at least five kills before a player is even potentially affected in terms of the team he or she can field at the start of a new period or half. The upsides and downsides to each strategy are balanced enough to suggest players work along the lines of their teams' strengths (e.g. Amazons have excellent attacks; Ogres have strong tackling).
Then there are the cheat cards. And even with the cheat cards, we haven't left the realm of the basic game! Once players are familiar with the core mechanics, the game is designed to involve skill purchases and ringers who, on top of possessing special abilities, can both tackle opponents and carry the ball (regular team members can only do one or the other). Then there are online rules for running your own Kaosball league, which involves its own strategic balances depending on who you play week to week... the potential depth is marvelous.
Before we delve into the negatives, your humble reviewer wishes to clarify that in terms of gameplay alone, Kaosball rates an easy 8.5, pushing a 9/10. It strikes an excellent balance between maintaining enough depth to require planning, enough ease of learning to let almost anyone grasp what's going on by the end of their first game, and sufficient options to allow for fairly deep meta play against familiar opponents. It could rate even higher over time, but better to say it's quite good and improve that opinion than assume it's nearly perfect only to discover some balance issues that require numerous playthroughs to find.
However, other factors exist that should be considered before pulling the trigger on a purchase. First is the price. Depending on where you buy the game, it is likely to run at least $70-80. While it is very fun, numerous cheaper games are also very fun, so you should expect to get more for your money. Where might that come from? The Kaosball league concept appears to be something the developers are keen on using as a selling point, and if you can start one that lasts for even one full season, you'll probably get more than your money's worth. However, leagues tend to be used by a relatively small percentage of a game's player base, even when leagues are well-supported. Still, if you have a few friends who might enjoy this and expect to play the game numerous times, it has enough depth to keep from getting old before you feel as though you've received sufficent value from your purchase.
The second issue may be more problematic. This appears to be a board game designed with minatures fans in mind, as all of the figurines come in the same base gray color. If you're artistic, especially where miniatures are concerned, consider this a huge selling point- each team has thirteen players and a coach, along with eight ringers. Sixty-four paintable minis for $70-80, with a solid board game on top of it? Easy buy! But if you're not artistically inclined, and don't know anyone who would want to paint them for you, then your excellent board game is populated by a bunch of drab gray pieces, which may tamp down the game's fun factor for some people. Likewise, additional teams sell for $20-30 apiece, which wouldn't be bad for full-color minis but seems steep for a bunch of gray pieces. Options to purchase game and team kits with painted pieces, even at some extra cost, would have been nice.
If the price and potential aesthetic issues are something you can manage, however, Kaosball will make a solid addition to most game collections, and is a worthy successor to the Blood Bowl mantle- unless, of course, you enjoy your star receiver being brutally murdered in the last week of the season and watching your team collapse during the playoffs without him. But if you get into Kaosball, I don't think you'll miss that as much as you'd expect.