Techno Bowl - A Game I Didn't Think I Needed

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Techno Bowl - A Game I Didn't Think I Needed

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There Will Be Games

A look at the upcoming Techno Bowl from Bombshell Games.

Brent Spivey at the moment is an unknown name in the board game world. He's designed several excellent miniature game rule-sets including Havoc: Tactical Miniature Warfare, The Battlefield, and Rogue Planet. When I heard he was entering the board game world my eyebrows arched skyward like my 75 pound horse of a dog hearing the word "walk". When I discovered it was an 8-bit American Football game I was left dumbfounded, like my 75 pound horse of a dog trying to apply the Pythagorean Theorem to an obtuse triangle. 

But this is Brent, right? Havoc won my heart as soon as I realized you could club a dude with a Giant and send the target's body into a line of infantry like a missile loosed from a Goliath-sized crossbow. You haven't lived until you've Tiger Woods'd a Knight down the fairway into a formation of spearmen.

It's easy to slip into hyperbole when you get emotionally invested in a game and the experience it provides; Lord knows I can become emotionally invested. Such it's hard for me to ascribe the word brilliant to Techno Bowl and actually command the respect that adjective deserves. But I'll try.

HUT! HUT!

While Techno Bowl's heart lies in its activation system (don't worry, we'll get there), it's brain certainly persists in the programming of those activations via "building the play". Each team consists of seven or eight players, depending on the mode, and each player is represented on your bench with two identical cards. Before building your free-form offensive/defensive formation you must program five cards in a stack. This is identical to the order system used in the fantastic Queen's Gambit or Star Wars: Risk. The beauty here is that you begin with control and a semblance of a plan, at least until the tanker full of chaos drives right through your offensive line and rolls your all-star Quarterback.

Like most of this design, the system is nuanced and deeper than it initially appears. When you simultaneously reveal cards to activate, the player with the higher number, who is considered to be quicker, will go first. These players may have been slotted into a rough position on the field - Center, QB, Wide Receiver - yet there are no true restrictions and you can hike the ball to a lumbering ogre or even line up nearly your entire team in the back field. This freedom bolsters creativity while it also lifts any requirement of football knowledge. It's fantastic and works seamlessly to promote enjoyment by placing control in the hands of the players.

HIKE!

That play worked so beautifully in your head. When you throw it into the fast paced realm of an NFL Blitz and Techmo Bowl inspired old school gridiron everything can go pear-shaped in a hurry.

The activation system of Techno Bowl is where the beef's at. When you trigger a player he can move or perform a half move as well as an action. The number of squares you can move is equivalent to the player's number on their jersey which is clearly visible on their counter. This becomes more interesting as you exit threatened spaces surrounding players, having to pay additional movement points to fight through the pack. This system of threatening and slowing down nearby players adds a great deal to the formation building as you attempt to clog lanes and throw up walls of linebacker flesh for your opponents to bounce off. It promotes natural strategy native to the sport as you keep coverage tight and collapse around the ball. 

Actions consist of block, tackle, and throw. The dice-based system used is influenced by the fantastic Apocalypse World RPG where you sum two six-siders. Modifiers exist due to a difference in player ability as well as supporting teammates and threatening nearby opponents. Modifiers can swing at a maximum of three in each direction and this keeps results tight and easily calculated without eschewing their natural dramatic tension.

Player abilities are brilliantly represented by their jersey number. As hinted at earlier, higher numbers can move farther and are more agile but will have negative modifiers when trying to tackle or block the heftier lower numbered players. Additionally you can throw or lateral the ball a number of spaces equal to twice your number. This has a very Battleball-esque feel where the giants on the field hit hard but lumber about and the slick jukeing gazelles cover ground at insane speeds but eat it quickly if confronted. 

After calculating your modifiers and committing to your act of aggression you chuck the dice and hopefully fist pump. A result of six or below will feel like Von Miller slamming into your ribs at full speed. Your action fails and the opposing player gets to perform a full activation with any one of his team members. A 7-9 means you succeed, but again your enemy will get a half move with one of his brutes. What you're really hoping for is that sweet sweet 10+ which means you pull off your move AND get to engage another one of your dudes to push up turf or truck an opponent.

This is where Techno Bowl sets fire to those other sports games and grinds their ashes with its cleat. This sense of back and forth, dynamic unpredictability and continual shifting of field position is unreal. Openings will emerge and suddenly your scrambling quarterback will be able to push beyond the blitzing defensive line and make a dash. You'll have turns where you attempt to hit a huge block with your lineman who has a healthy amount of positive modifiers stacked so that you can get a 10+ to activate that Quarterback so you can perform an unexpected throw. Squeezing out these extra slices of engagement is where the battles of Techno Bowl are won and where huge plays can erupt.

It's dramatic and exciting in a way befitting the most ecstatic moments of sports entertainment.

OMAHA!

Techno Bowl is not a light game. This is solidly a medium weight design that has what appears to be a hefty set of rules to work through. The first time I read the rulebook I was agog at the perceived complexity and began to worry that the 8-bit theme was mismatched with extremely heavy gameplay. And then I ran a play.

You see, while the rules may be daunting upon first read, everything internalizes very quickly. You won't need the exceptional player aids after a couple of plays and you will easily remember how each action is resolved, how fumbles and interceptions work, and how you can motion before a play. The resolution is simple yet produces deep and unexpected results, and the capabilities of your players are always clearly visible on the pitch. The experience is beautiful and immersive.

Still, I won't be teaching this to my game-averse Mother who's perfectly fine connecting routes with plastic choo-choos. It requires 60-90 minutes and can be excruciatingly slow with someone who is prone to analysis paralysis. The rules look to solve this issue by dictating a timer to build your play but this won't be needed with most gamers (although I do enjoy the Space Hulk-like tension).

The game also features several modes which does actually make tailoring the experience to different skill levels and preferences easy. You can play a more fast paced game with the standard seven players a side, or a slower more thoughtful arcade experience with eight on each team. While standard play is meaty enough to consume your dome with strategy and engagement, I really dig the player abilities that grant several members of your team special traits. This will let you juke or perform a powerful block, increasing your ability for the dramatic and adding another layer of bluffing when building plays as you utilize your weapons in deceptive ways.

I could ramble on like Robert Plant and talk about the NBA Jam-like Inferno mode where players can catch fire, or dive into analysis of properly utilizing your "bench" where you manage your activation cards. The fact of the matter is that once this game gets out into the world it will sell itself. No downtime, a huge opportunity for clever play and extreme dynamism make for the best sports game I've ever played. All of this is coming from a guy who hasn't watched a full NFL game since Kurt Warner left the Rams.


Charlie Theel
Associate Board Game Reviewer

In addition to a solid writing background, Charlie Theel is a game designer and heavily involved in the hobby. He enjoys talking trash and ridiculing members of his game group despite the fact that he can't win a game to save his life. Besides gaming, he enjoys hockey, film, and heavy metal.

You can find more of his work on his blog Player Elimination. He also co-hosts the Ding & Dent gaming podcast with his Ameritrash brother-in-arms Rafael Cordero.

Articles by Charlie

Charlie Theel
Associate Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Charlie

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charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #224283 14 Mar 2016 09:12
Just FYI - This game will be on Kickstarter sometime soon (this month), and I received no compensation for this review/preview.
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #224287 14 Mar 2016 10:06
It sounds great. Although I hate the lag time of Kickstarter, I'll have to look into this. The publisher should send a print-and-play copy to backers so they can whip themselves into a frenzy while waiting for the physical copy.
gorm's Avatar
gorm replied the topic: #224290 14 Mar 2016 11:23
Insta-buy, don't even have to think about it. Do you know if Brent will have a copy at Geekway?
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #224291 14 Mar 2016 11:25

gorm wrote: Insta-buy, don't even have to think about it. Do you know if Brent will have a copy at Geekway?


I don't think he will be at Geekway. I have a Print 'n Play copy he assembled for me to review with 8 of the 32 teams and could bring it. My Geekway schedule is already insanely busy though.
SuperFlySwatter's Avatar
SuperFlySwatter replied the topic: #224297 14 Mar 2016 13:30
sounds like Battleball crossed with some of the dynamic from Street Soccer, an underappreciated roll and move sports game thats actually much closer to a highbrow abstract than it appears and one where competent players annihilate casual players with ease to underline the fact. Sounds interesting
Gregarius's Avatar
Gregarius replied the topic: #224319 14 Mar 2016 15:24
I'm still excited about this game, but I have to admit that I'm disappointed by the 90 minute playtime. The game sounds like it earns it and is engaging the entire time, but for me personally I was hoping for something half that length.

Thanks for the review, as well as all the informational posts you made while playtesting it.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #224320 14 Mar 2016 15:44
Instant buy for me. I can't wait to construct the football player cubes.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #224322 14 Mar 2016 15:47

the_jake_1973 wrote: Instant buy for me. I can't wait to construct the football player cubes.


Yes, those are great! Brent sent me one team's worth of them and they feel and look as good as you'd think. I will probably construct a bunch of them down the line when the files are released.

I'm still excited about this game, but I have to admit that I'm disappointed by the 90 minute playtime. The game sounds like it earns it and is engaging the entire time, but for me personally I was hoping for something half that length.

I definitely think it will go past 45 minutes for an average play, especially in your first few. I think it will be closer to 60 than 90 after you have played a couple of times, particularly if you use the suggested delay of game timer.

But yeah, playing with new people will likely consistently clock in around 90. It's a heavier game in terms of the experience, not a quick Battleball-like run through. This also means though that there's quite a bit of depth and this thing will have a huge deal of replayability.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #224327 14 Mar 2016 16:38
I haven't bought much this year -- but this will be one that I get immediately.
Da Bid Dabid's Avatar
Da Bid Dabid replied the topic: #224345 14 Mar 2016 20:39
I think I will be backing this game. It seems to really speak to people with mini gaming backgrounds - from Charlie's descriptions I imagine a mash up of Warmachine die rolling with activation similar to Andrea Sfiligoi's newer protagonist reaction system. I don't know how well that will translate to regular board gamers, math adverse mothers aside, but that doesn't really affect me.

I'm curious if there is any league rules with progression/injuries for players? Always fun to see that, but if not included maybe this could be a substitute in particular situations for BB, which generally lacks a bit for one off games when team development is not a factor.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #224363 15 Mar 2016 08:56

Da Bid Dabid wrote: I think I will be backing this game. It seems to really speak to people with mini gaming backgrounds - from Charlie's descriptions I imagine a mash up of Warmachine die rolling with activation similar to Andrea Sfiligoi's newer protagonist reaction system. I don't know how well that will translate to regular board gamers, math adverse mothers aside, but that doesn't really affect me.

I'm curious if there is any league rules with progression/injuries for players? Always fun to see that, but if not included maybe this could be a substitute in particular situations for BB, which generally lacks a bit for one off games when team development is not a factor.


Despite the fact I've never played Warmachine and not cool enough to even know about your second reference, I think you are spot on. This is a minis game on a grid, with card programming for your play and a very back and forth resolution with drama and unexpected results.

From what I've heard, league rules and possible injuries have certainly been playtested and are part of the long term vision of the system. I think they may be included if funding gets high enough, if not I think we'll see them down the line. He hinted at a system for players to develop and retire, as well as draft new guys. It sounds like he has a very long term vision of this game and plans on supporting it for a long time. The biggest challenge is going to be convincing people to play the game, which I think word of mouth will overcome.

Some more info that I didn't really convey in the review due to wanting some brevity - Techno Bowl's teams are part of the MFL (more fun league) and are spoofs of real NFL teams. I know some of you have already checked this out on BGG, and I know enough about football to get most of them and recognize a player like Randy Lichen.
SuperFlySwatter's Avatar
SuperFlySwatter replied the topic: #224379 15 Mar 2016 11:30

Da Bid Dabid wrote: . It seems to really speak to people with mini gaming backgrounds .


Da Bid Dabid's Avatar
Da Bid Dabid replied the topic: #224397 15 Mar 2016 15:39
I remember you saying that is a pet peeve, but don't recall why. Perhaps you could speak to us about it?
SuperFlySwatter's Avatar
SuperFlySwatter replied the topic: #224411 15 Mar 2016 19:48
Haha. I would have sent the speaktome police bear to your house but your Dune session reports have gotten you a lifetime harrassment pass so its no buckwheats for you dabiddabidbadoo, only the grumpyfacegif!
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #225378 06 Apr 2016 11:34
Kickstarter goes live 4/11.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #225381 06 Apr 2016 12:11
My birthday is on Wednesday, so it looks like this will be my present. Literally, there is no video game I have played more than the original Super Tecmo Bowl on Nintendo -- I went undefeated with all 28 teams; absolutely love it. Hopefully the boardgame comes close to evoking a little bit of the spirit.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #225678 11 Apr 2016 09:33
KS is up www.kickstarter.com/projects/1544172954/...gged?ref=hero_thanks

Not sure if it will have the muster to hit all those stretch goals being a non mini game, but if this has every team included the backers will be getting a ridiculous deal.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #225686 11 Apr 2016 10:27
This one seems like it has potential.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #225699 11 Apr 2016 19:33
I backed it.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #225736 12 Apr 2016 13:07
Charlie,
I'm curious... how different could 32 teams actually seem?
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #225738 12 Apr 2016 13:15

hotseatgames wrote: Charlie,
I'm curious... how different could 32 teams actually seem?


That's a fair question. They're not drastically different, not as different as say a Summoner Wars faction.

Here's where they're different:

-Player numbers
There are identical numbers and overlap of course, but some differ slightly. In an aggregate this probably isn't very noticeable and it's the smallest difference.

-Star Players
This is the main difference. If you look at the teams Brent revealed thus far you can see the Star Players and what their skills are. These skills can be very powerful and they're an important part of the bluffing of the game - if you a star passer and lean on the throwing game, you may pull of a surprising run as I setup my Zone D to stop the pass. Stuff like that.

But a team with a powerful O-lineman and runner will feel quite a bit different than one with a star passer and receiver. This depends on utilization of course because plays are free form.

-Aesthetics
Doesn't matter mechanically but since these teams have NFL analogs, people are excited about specific ones.


So in summary, it's in the Star Players. The basic game doesn't utilize Star Players (you just treat them as normal players) but it's the mode people will want to play with once they've learned the game.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #225907 15 Apr 2016 12:29
It's cancelled. Damn.

Ah well, hopefully he'll launch stronger next time.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #225923 15 Apr 2016 14:37
Yeah, he shouldn't have launched before Lance (Undead Viking) had a video ready. I think another video reviewer flaked out after he sent them a pre-production copy and he was just out the money/time.

I think if he can lower his goal and sell a stripped down box it will fund easily.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #225932 15 Apr 2016 15:12
Bummer. Seems like the kind of game that you don't really need a gameplay video for.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #225934 15 Apr 2016 15:20
This sucks. I was ready to start making my cube players.