How to Play
To be the first team to score two touchdowns.
Assemble the game board and place the football pawn in the center. Place the carnage tokens and the passing football die to the side of the game board.
Each player chooses one of the two teams. Each player takes all of the players for their team, the associated locker room card, and one of each type of dice and two yellow six sided dice. Each player decides where they want to place their eleven players. All players must be placed behind the 20 yard line on their side of the field and no two players may occupy the same space.
Both players roll their 20 sided dice. Whoever rolls highest gets to go first.
Moving Your Players
At the beginning of your turn you must select one of you player tokens that you want to move, announcing it to your opponent. You then roll the dice that matches the color of the base of the player that you are moving. For example if you are moving one of the green players you will roll your green die. If you are moving the heavy tackle (the large figure that takes up two spaces) you get to roll both yellow six sided dice and you can then choose which die you want to use for movement. If you roll doubles with the heavy tackle, the player malfunctions and is unable to move any spaces during their turn.
After rolling the die/dice you will have the opportunity to move the character you chose. You can move the player between one space and the number that you rolled. Here are some of the rules that must be followed while moving:
- Players can move in any direction and can even move over the same space multiple times.
- The player can not land on the spot that they started their turn on.
- A pawn may not go on a space occupied by another player or a carnage token.
- The half spaces on the edges of the field count as one space.
- If at any time during movement a player moves into a space next to an opponent’s player, they must immediately stop their movement.
If while moving a player moves over the space where the football is sitting (not controlled by any player), the ball is placed on the token indicating that player is currently controlling the ball. If the player still has movement remaining they may continue running with the football.
If after movement one of the player’s pawns is on a space adjacent to a pawn of their opponents, a tackle attempt will be made (see Tackling Section). If multiple pawns are next to opponent pawns, the current player gets to choose which pawns will face one another. If there are no opportunities for a tackle and the current player has a player who has the football which is next to one of their teammates, the two players can attempt a handoff (see Hand Offs section).
If players from the two opposing teams are on adjacent spaces after a player has moved a piece, a tackle occurs. The current player can only attempt one tackle so if there are multiple tackle attempts, the current player picks one of them. Each player takes the dice corresponding to their player that is part of the tackle. If the heavy tackle is involved they get to roll both yellow six sided dice and pick which dice they want to use. Both players roll their die/dice. Whoever rolls the lower number wins and the losing player is placed in their teams locker room where they will stay until the next half of football. If the player who lost the battle was carrying the football, the other player now controls the football.
A carnage token is placed on the space(s) where the player who lost was located.
If both players roll the same number, both players are removed from the board. If one of the players where holding the ball, the ball is fumbled (see Fumble section).
If while rolling either or both players roll a one (two ones for heavy tackles), that player’s token is seriously injured and is removed from the board and cannot be used for the rest of the game.
If a player has two of their player tokens on adjacent spaces and one of them has the football, the player can attempt to hand off the football from one player to the other. The player rolls the die/dice that correspond to both player tokens. If the number on both dice match, a fumble occurs (see the Fumbles section). If the hand off involves the heavy tackle only one of the two dice has to match the other player’s die for a fumble to occur. If the numbers don’t match the ball is successfully traded between the two players and the current player’s turn ends.
The passing game is part of the advanced rules and is not required to be implemented. I would highly recommend it though.
In order to have the opportunity to pass the ball on your turn, none of your pawns can be on a space adjacent to an opponent’s pawn. In this situation the player can choose to either pass or hand off the ball (or neither) on their turn. While passing the ball, neither player has to be the player you moved during your turn.
Before passing the ball the player must determine the distance of the pass. The player counts the number of spaces between the player with the ball and the player they would like to throw the ball to. In this calculation you do NOT count the space of the thrower but do count the space of the receiver. The receiver must be on the field (not the end zone) when the ball is passed to them.
To attempt the pass the player takes the six sided football die as well as the die for the receiving player. For example if a red base player was the receiver the player would roll the 20 sided dice. If both dice end up as the same number, a fumble occurs (see the Fumbles section). If the total of the two dice is equal to or larger than the passing distance, the pass is complete and the ball is moved to the receivers spot.
If the total is less than the passing distance, the pass is incomplete. The opposing player will place the football token on a space the exact number of spaces away from the receiver as the number rolled on the football die. If the ball is placed on a space occupied by the opponent’s player, the ball is intercepted and that player now has control over the football. If the ball lands on an empty space, the ball is free for any player to pick up. If the ball has to be placed on a space occupied by a player of the passing team, that pawn has recovered the football and has control over it. If the ball cannot be placed on an available space (all spaces contain carnage tokens) play is halted (see Halted Game section).
A fumble can occur because of any of the following reasons:
- During a tackle attempt both players are removed from the field for rolling the same number and one had control over the ball. With heavy tackles a fumble occurs if either die rolled matches the other player’s die.
- While attempting a hand off or pass, two or more dice are the same number.
- When a heavy tackle has control over the ball and two or more dice are the same number when moving, tackling, or handing the ball off.
When a fumble occurs the player in charge of the team that was previously on defense (did not have control of the ball) will determine where the ball will end up. This player gets to place the football on any unoccupied space (no player or carnage token) within two spaces of where the player fumbled the football. If there are no unoccupied spaces the player can give the ball to one of their own players that are within two spaces of where the ball was fumbled. If the player has no pawns within the fumble zone, they must choose to give the ball to one of their opponent’s pawns. If there are no valid spaces to place the football, the game is temporarily halted (see Halted Game section).
Although rare you may occasionally encounter a situation where there is no way to proceed where one player could actually score a touchdown. In this case the game is halted. All carnage tokens and player pawns are removed from the field. All of the pawns that didn’t lose a tackle or were seriously injured are placed back onto the field behind their team’s 20 yard line. The ball is placed in the center of the field and the game proceeds as normal.
If during a half all of the players are removed from the board due to being tackled or being seriously injured, the half is restarted will the board being reset with all of the players being added back to the board except for players who were seriously injured.
In the rare occurrence that all players are removed from the game due to serious injury, the game ends immediately. Whoever has scored the most touchdowns wins the game. If both players have scored the same number of touchdowns, the game ends in a tie.
This is part of the advanced game and is only used if both players agree to use it.
On each player’s locker room card there are three different special abilities that gives each team an advantage. Each player can choose one of the abilities for each half. For each half and overtime the player can either choose to use the same ability or to change to a new one.
When a player reaches the other team’s end zone with a player holding the football they will score a touchdown. A player will also automatically score a touchdown if they eliminate all of the players from the other team and still have players remaining on their team.
After a team scores a touchdown the current half ends. If this was the first half, the board is reset with all carnage tokens being removed from the board and all players not seriously injured being returned to the board on any space behind the player’s 20 yard line. The team who didn’t score the touchdown in the first half gets to start the second half.
After the second half if one player has scored both touchdowns they will win the game. If after two halves both teams are tied 1-1, an overtime round is played just like the other rounds. The player to go first in overtime is determined by a roll of the 20 sided die. Whoever wins the overtime round will win the game.
Like most Americans I am a huge football fan (Go Pack Go). Due to its’ popularity many board game designers have tried to make a successful football board game. There have been hundreds of football board/card games made throughout the years and I own quite a few of them. The problem with most football board games is that they usually are not very good. Most of them are sloppily put together trying to cash in the popularity of the sport.
To celebrate the start of the 2015 NFL season I decided to take a look at the 2003 Milton Bradley game Battleball. I have actually owned this game for quite a while but I never got to playing it. It got buried in the large pile of other board games that I have yet to play. Battleball is kind of a peculiar game. While the game features quite a bit of strategy, it was made by Milton Bradley a company not generally considered for their strategic board games. I guess it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that the game sold poorly as you see the game regularly in thrift stores and you can get a copy shipped for around $20 online.
After having played quite a few football games, I have to say that Battleball is the best football game that I have yet to play.
Welcome to the Future of Football
While at times it feels more like rugby or soccer, I think Battleball does a really good job simulating football. Being a big fan of football I appreciate that fact since too many football games feel like a traditional game that had a football theme pasted on. While Battleball might be a little intimidating and take a while to fully understand, after you get used to it the game is easy to play. You pretty much just roll dice and try to setup a strategy to get the ball into the other player’s end zone. This is why I think Battleball could work really well introducing children or new gamers into minatures games.
The developer Stephen Baker (known for HeroQuest, Heroscape, and Battle Masters) put some real effort into the game in order to make it feel like a real football game. Players familiar with the game Blood Bowl may see a lot of similarities between that game and Battleball. While I have never played Blood Bowl I can see the similarities. As a whole Battleball seems like a simpler version of Blood Bowl. On the positive side, Battleball is considerably cheaper than Blood Bowl which is really expensive due to being out of print.
While most of the game involves rolling the dice and moving your players around the field, the dice themselves are where I think the game does a good job simulating football. Each team pretty much has three different types of players. You have the fast running backs that move really fast and are good at catching the ball and receiving hand offs. The running backs are really weak though and will lose almost every tackle attempt. On the other end of the spectrum are the tackles that move really slow but are a force when it comes to tackling other players. Finally you have your linebackers, safeties and linemen that are a combination of the other two groups.
What I love about the dice is that they are used in order to accentuate each players strengths and weaknesses. The running back uses a 20 sided dice that lets them move much quicker. The dice also helps with hand offs (harder to match another dice when there are 20 different options) and receiving (can throw the ball farther since you can roll higher with a 20 sided dice). The 20 sided die will work against you in tackle attempts though since you are much more likely to roll a higher number than your opponent and thus will lose the tackle.
The game also allows players plenty of opportunities to set up “football plays.” While the game is not played like traditional football, you can set up different formations in order to try and take advantage of a weakness in the other player’s setup. You could build a wall of blockers in front of the ball carrier in order to clear a path to the end zone. You could also try to sneak a running back down the sideline in order to throw a deep pass and score a quick touchdown.
This gets me to the passing game which while optional is highly recommended. The passing game in general is really well done. I like how the game made it easier for running backs to catch the ball rather that tackles. In addition the game does a good job making shorter passes easier to complete than longer passes. While we didn’t end up completing a lot of passes in the game, I could see the passing game being huge especially if the defense focuses heavily on one side of the field.
The Dice Will Determine the Winner
While Battleball has quite a bit of strategy, strategy will rarely make a big difference in who ultimately wins. While a tactical error can give a player an advantage (see my first touchdown below), if two evenly matched players are playing one another whoever rolls better will win the game.
While you can read the specifics below, in the game I played I had to have had the worst luck rolling the dice while my brother had some of the best luck that you could possibly have. Out of all of the tackle attempts in the three “halves” we played, I probably ended up losing 75% or more of them. I would regularly always roll one of the highest numbers possible (bad for tackling) while my opponent would almost always roll one of the lowest numbers possible.
The problem comes from losing your strong players early in the round. Your heavy tackle in particular is key and is the most powerful player in the game. Unless you roll poorly (like I did) the heavy tackle will win a majority of tackle attempts. Once you lose your two tackles, the other team can pretty easily start rampaging through the rest of your players since they will have a significant advantage in every matchup.
This problem can get even worse due to significant injuries. I like the idea behind significant injuries since it does do a good job simulating injuries in the game of football but it could be devastating to a team if they lose one of their tackles or multiple players in the first half. A numbers advantage is huge in Battleball and losing a player in the first half could be huge. If you lose a couple players in the first half you will have a very hard time winning the game.
Offense Wins Championships
Next to the luck the second biggest problem I had with Battleball is that the player who has the ball is at a significant advantage in my opinion. This actually does a good job simulating present day football. The offensive team has an advantage since they know what they are trying to do and also have a lot more flexibility in changing their plan based on what the defense does. If the defense ends up attacking one side of the field the offense can either use a running back to run around the side of the defense or catch a deep pass. The player can then be on a straight path to the end zone.
Meanwhile the defense is usually forced into playing a prevent defense. While they can take a risk and attack one side of the field, they could be easily burned if they are too aggressive. The defensive player is usually better off having their players spread out in order to prevent an easy touchdown. This puts them at a disadvantage though since the other player can use matchup advantages in order to eliminate the defensive player’s pawns.
While this issue doesn’t ruin the game, it does make it really important to get control of the football early in a half.
The Tale of “The Losers”
To demonstrate some of the issues I have talked about I would like to talk about the game that I played.
The first half started with me taking control of the football first. I quickly lost the football to the other team but eventually regained it. In what would foreshadow the rest of the game, my team would lose almost every tackle attempt which left me with few players remaining in the first half. At this point the half was pretty much over since there was no way that I could match up head to head with the other team. My only choice was to just go for broke. I had the ball in one of my running back’s hand (20 sided dice) and I decided that instead of just lying back waiting to die, I was going to try to score a touchdown with one last ditch effort. Needing 18 spaces in order to reach the end zone I ended up rolling a 19 and found a hole in the opponent’s line and was able to score a touchdown ending the first half.
The luck would end there though. I was lucky enough to take control of the ball first in the second half immediately throwing the ball behind my wall of players. The battle then commenced. The opponent’s heavy tackle, using his rigged ability to use both dice for movement (see below), quickly approached my players and proceeded to destroy all of them. He took out at least three or four players before he was finally defeated. My luck didn’t change as I continued to lose tackle attempts. In a last ditch attempt to score I missed on a pass attempt and the other team got control of the ball and proceeded to score.
It was now overtime which was somehow actually worse than the second half. It was so bad that it played out like what would happen if a high school football team would play the Super Bowl champions. The other player quickly got the ball and things just continued to get worse. The first battles were between the tackles which I proceeded to lose like every other matchup the rest of the game. The other team’s tackles then just proceeded to destroy all but about three of my players. At this point I had lost eight of the nine tackle attempts in overtime. In a last ditch attempt I tried to steal the ball from the opponent’s running back but they ended up scoring a touchdown along the sideline behind their massive wall of blockers.
So that was the tale of one of the worst Battleball teams in history.
- While Battleball does a surprisingly good job simulating a game of football, I would highly recommend checking out these advanced rules over on BoardGameGeek.com. While I have yet to try them out myself, I will definitely be implementing them into my next game of Battleball. These rules include add things like blocking, allowing each player to move three players each turn, adding league rules, and it even adds special scenarios into the game.
- One of the biggest problems with Battleball is actually finding enough space to play the game. The game board is huge and will likely take up the majority of a normal sized kitchen table. At times it might be hard finding enough space to actually play Battleball.
- While it is only cosmetic, I love the football die. The game could have easily just added another six sided die but I love that the game put in the effort to actually include a die that actually somewhat looks like a football.
- While the miniatures aren’t the best I have ever seen, for the price they are really good. The pieces show a lot of detail and really add to the experience of the game.
- I wish the tray that holds the pawns had some way to indicate which figure goes back into which slot. Good luck guessing which figure goes in each slot. Thankfully BoardGameGeek.com has some images that you can use to get all of the figures back into their original positions.
- While I usually enjoy special abilities in games, I did not like the special abilities included with Battleball. I think some of them are kind of rigged. In particular I think the Black Harts special abilities are more powerful than the Iron Wolves abilities. The Colossor the Swift ability in particular is way too powerful.
- In the game I played we had a tendency to forget to put out carnage tokens when a player lost a tackle attempt. The carnage tokens are pretty important since they could end up becoming roadblocks preventing players from doing what they would want to do on their turn.
- I give the game’s instructions a lot of credit. They are well written and cover pretty much every situation you could ever encounter in the game.
When I first saw Battleball I was intrigued by the game. The game looked kind of complicated though so the game got stuck in the backlog pile of board games. It is too bad that I waited so long to play the game since it is the best football game I have ever played.
While it is not a perfect representation, Battleball does a good job creating mechanics that actually simulate a game of football. While it may take a little while to fully understand, once you get a hang of the game it becomes quite easy to play. While it relies heavily on dice rolling players do have a lot of options in the game and can form a lot of strategies. If you roll poorly though you won’t win and the offense does have a distinct advantage in the game.
Due to the low price (around $20 shipped at the time of this post) and the surprisingly deep gameplay experience, I think Battleball is a very good game. Unless you hate sports/football or miniatures games, I have a hard time believing you won’t like Battleball. If you really like football like myself I would highly recommend picking up Battleball.