Cardboard Children - Kaosball
KAOSBALL. In Scotland we call it KAOSBAW. It's a sports game – that sport being a futuristic sport of endzones and punching and crunching. It seems like future sports are going to be really violent, doesn't it? I bet, in the year 2300, even golf will allow you to pound your opponents to death with a 9 iron. Darts will have explosive tips, and the bullseye will be marked on your opponent's forehead. Boxing will be inside a volcano. Gymnastics will feature barbed-wire leotards.
Oh yes, the review. Sorry.
Kaosball is a Kickstarter-funded thing, so it launched with about a million things. It's because of stretch goals or something. I dunno. Kaosball ended up with a lot of money and a shitload of teams and extra stuff.
I suppose it's good for me and you – we can buy in with the base game and know that the game is already well-supported with additional material. If you're a completist, and you have my sympathies if you are, Kickstarter is a nightmare. You're either in there, backing at the highest level, or you're chasing crap down at inflated prices.
Anyway, anyway. The review. Sorry.
Kaosball is a very simple game. Each player has a team, consisting of Bruisers and Runners. Bruisers are good at fighting – in fact, they are the only players who can tackle or attack. Runners can run. Their job is to get into scoring zones, and they don't even need the ball to do that.
Bruisers tackle, Runners run. Bruisers have an area around them (their KILLZONE) and Runners have to navigate these safely to reach the scoring zones. Steals, tackles and attacks are contests resolved with cards – no dice, simple opposing-stat stuff. Each player has a hand of cards – Energy cards used in contests to boost stats, Tactic cards used to make special moves, and Cheating cards that let you do powerful, nasty stuff at the risk of punishment.
During gameplay, the only way to score is to carry a ball to a scoring area. At the end of each period, runners standing on a scoring area without the ball get points too. It's a nice idea, because it makes each player think about the placement of his whole team. It's not just about that runner with the ball – it's the movement of everything else on the field, everything sliding into position for the scoring after the whistle.
It's weird – in places it feels like the ball's not that important. It's an interesting design decision. It makes the game feel a little bit like a dance as your Runners spin around the Bruisers and try to claim important positions on the field. I really like it.
You also get points for kills at half-time and at the end of the game. You can totally make a focus on slaughtering your opponent part of your strategy. You get deducted points for using those Cheating cards too, unless you pay off the Ref.
Let's talk about MONEY.
Each team starts the game with some cash. There's an auction before the match, where teams can bid for star players, called Ringers, and Team Upgrades. The Ringers are remarkable things. Super-strong players with cool abilities who count as both Bruiser and Runner. Take The Butcher, for example.
He's like this serial killer monster. If he comes up in an auction, you better seriously consider your bid. You don't want that guy on the other team. But then, you want to save money for Team Upgrades, right?
I love the way the Team Upgrades are handled. They are little bonus abilities. HATE, for example, gives you an extra point every time you kill an opposition player. They come on these little magnetic tiles that stick to your team sheet. You just go POINK! and attach them. Switch them in and out, shake your team sheet around – they won't fall off. It's super-cool.
But you want to save money to pay off the ref, right? If you spend all your cash during the pre-game auction, you won't be able to cheat without being hammered for it. Do you keep cash in your pocket or put it all on the field?
Let's talk about the teams now. The base game comes with four – Amazons, Fangs, Daemons and Ogres. Each team has 14 miniatures – 7 Runners, 6 Bruisers and a Team Coach (used for marking the score). Each team has different stats and a different special ability. The Amazons are athletic and have a Killzone that extends into diagonal spaces – they are a NIGHTMARE to run past. The Ogres are big powerful things that can pound the earth before they move, knocking opposition players away from them. It's a good idea for a new player to pick a team and stick with it for a while – the game will really shine when players know how to play a team to its strengths.
These miniatures – MAN. They are beautiful! The game looks incredible. The Ringer miniatures (all 8 of them) are particularly special – a big DRAGON, a big PANDA, a WRESTLER guy. They're unpainted, sure, but are detailed enough to pop on the board even in their natural grey.
There are tons of other teams on the way – that's what I hear. Werewolves, Ninjas, Cowboys, Samurai. All with their own beautiful miniatures and their own stat tweaks and special abilities. If this is a game you get into, you could fall DEEP in. So be wary of that.
THE BLOOD BOWL QUESTION
Every fantasy sport game has to face the old Blood Bowl question.
Is it better than Blood Bowl? No, absolutely not. Blood Bowl remains in a league of its own. But it's more accessible – quicker to play and easier to learn. It's less expensive too, and probably more beautiful. It's certainly more conventionally attractive.
Kaosball feels less like a sport than Blood Bowl too. It feels more like a skirmish combat game, at times. It has a King of the Hill feel, as the players dance around trying to hold those important sections of the field. It absolutely works on that level – Kaosball is a joy to play. It's gorgeous and the flow of the play is so smooth.
It's a big, heavy box – an expensive one – but it's full of cool stuff. Kaosball feels like a luxury package. It's like something you'd be happy receiving on Christmas Day. It's full of toys, it doesn't intimidate its players, and it hums along like a well-designed little machine.
I think it's great!
Please stop me from getting those other teams. Help.