With only 7 game titles listed I figured Roller Derby would be a relief to my research weary eyes. But although there’s only 7 games listed for this sports family there’s more to it than I expected, so let’s get started.
The highest ranked, only ranked, Roller Derby game over at BoardGameGeek is Impact City Roller Derby (2012). While it touts itself as being fast-paced, length game play is between 90 – 120 minutes. Because I know nothing about Roller Derby as a sport I had to look up how long a real-life game lasts – there are two 30 minute bouts. I also didn’t know how real-life game play works. Teams of five players are pitted against each other in a battle where each side is trying to help get one of their players, known as a “jammer”, to lap the opposing team. Each team is simultaneously trying to do this.
Quiz time, Jeff – what year does the Wikipedia give as the formative years for Roller Derby?
Answer: The sport gets its origins in the early 1930s, gains momentum through the decade, and by the 1940s is massively popular. Since the sport was originally seen as more spectacle than sport, it makes sense then that all but one of the games listed is from after 1999.
But back to Impact City Roller Derby – It’s played on an oval with a combination of cards and dice. Here’s the publisher’s blurb for gameplay:
The game uses strategic movement of your players to pass or block opposing players. A variety of dice (D6, D8, D10 and D12) are used to determine the success of key moves but dice rolling is kept to a minimum during a turn (normally moving all 5 players should only require 0 to 3 dice rolls).
In addition, each lap of the track the coach (ie you) will have a hand of 3 special move cards which will give you options for special offensive or defensive plays straight from normal flat track derby play (like a Leg Whip or Hip Check). There are also Foul cards which allow you to risk breaking the rules to give your team a key advantage, however the referee might catch you and send you to the penalty box.
At first glance I didn’t think I’d like this one, but it seems like a great way to translate the sport to the board. The game has miniatures for the players which add to the theme, although I think the mechanics of the sport are exciting enough to carry us through.
If you were looking for a purely card based game there is Jam: The Roller Derby Card Game (2014). It is as it sounds. Cards have a variety of options on them for interaction, and it’s a 2 player game that plays in 30 minutes. Yet I still think I’d prefer the longer game because it has the visuals of the board.
Which meant I was also intrigued by JammerUp: The Roller Derby Board Game (2012). It gives us a board filled with a hex based rink. The players are little coloured tokens that indicate whether the player is a blocker or a jammer. What makes this game interesting to me is that you have the option to play it as a pure strategy game. You can choose to forgo the dice and cards and use derby strategy to defeat your opponent.
And with that I think it’s time to take off the helmet and catch my breathe as we whip into our next sport.
While I anticipated that we would be shifting gears violently between sports, the top ranked Rugby game transitions smoothly from Roller Derby. Crash Tackle Rugby Board Game from 2001 bills itself as a strategy sports game, and from the look of the field filled with hexes and little player tokens you don’t doubt it. Once again, though, we are not stepping into a traditional battlefield.
The BGG listing tells us that:
Each teams 15 players are divided into 4 basic groups (Forwards, Backs, Wings & Fullback) according to their respective skills and abilities. These skills determine how well each player can perform actions like Passing, Kicking and Gathering the ball.
On their turn each player can move any or all of their players in any direction a certain distance (governed by their position and relative skill), rolling dice to perform actions such as kicking or passing the ball when necessary.
Also, special ‘Pressure Play’ cards offer additional moves and actions your players can make in pursuit of victory.
It sounds light and fun. Until you look at the 180 minute play time. Doubt about this title began to creep in for me. I can handle an hour or so of a game I barely comprehend, but 3 hours is pushing it.
This made me wonder if I would find Kahmaté (2008) less daunting with its promise of 30 minute gameplay with 2 players battling it out on the turf. They do play on turf, don’t they Jeff? I imagine rugby players to be insanely tough, but I’m guessing they don’t do this on asphalt or plywood covered in nails.
But Kahmaté looks too light, with its gridded board and basic endurance cards it looks like a checkers variant. Maybe there’s a lot of depth to it that I’m missing because I don’t know the sport well enough, but I’m not seeing it. I think rugby fans deserve better, and there wasn’t a lot of board games out there that seem to do it. The more I looked at the rugby games the more I came to think 3 hours of Crash Tackle might be not so bad after all.
No, I will not do any terrible jokes about sailing away to the next category. I refuse. Except that we will now talk about sailing games. Completely coincidental.
The top ranked sailing game is Regatta (1967) from the 3M Sports Game line. Check out the review below that shows you an original edition. This doesn’t look like a complex game, but I am inordinately fond of the board and presentation of everything. It’s illustrated with water filled with little plus signs. I don’t think this is some standard nautical map presentation but it is aesthetically pleasing and a beautiful shift from hex boards. I love hexes but the graphical layout in Regatta fits the game so well:
Now while Regatta looks simple it does seem to hit on one key part of sailing games – that they’re about wind management. Insert juvenile joke here. Regatta is for 2-6 players and takes about 60 minutes, which seems ideal. The main downside to this game is that it is only available second-hand.
As I perused the other highly ranked sailing games they all seemed to be variants of the same thing. Boats, buoys, wind, trying to crush the competition with your imperviousness to motion sickness. There’s Cape Horn (1999) which brings a Euro flavour to the game. Or there’s 2007’s Race the Wind which tightens the race with smaller movement increments. But the game I want to play is from 2010 and also named Regatta. Except this Regatta is for ages 5 and up. And has no board. But what it does have is a bunch of boats, movement cards and fast game play. It’s been described as a good intro to miniatures games for little kids and that’s exactly it. The boats lay on the table and each player has 5 cards to choose from that will move the ships around. It’s like a really simplified Star Wars miniatures game. And that still seems fun, probably even if it were with just a bunch of over-competitive adults.
It’s a bad sign for the skateboarding section of boardgame sports when most of the games listed are not about skateboarding.
Because life is short and researching board games is long I am going to say that there was nothing good to talk about here and we will simply do a rad kickflip before we move on to surfing.
It should come as no surprise that the top 3 ranked surfing games are titled Cowabunga, Surf’s Up, Dude, and Hang Four. What’s interesting is that the games in this category seem to be largely aimed at the family market. They are light and fun looking, but there’s simply not that much to talk about here either.
Am I racing to the end of the sports listings? Maybe. But both skateboarding and surfing feel like largely solo activities that, even in competition, aren’t that interactive. Perhaps this is part of what leaves me feeling uninspired about their board game offerings. Let’s see if we fare better with our next sport.
Tennis. Is this going to be badminton all over again? There’s certainly more titles listed, with nearly 110 games to chose from. I’m not sure we’re off to a good start, though, when the highest ranked title is a dexterity game titled Affentennis (2006). Although the game is about monkeys playing tennis and has cute monkey minis, I still wasn’t sure. Here’s the description:
Affentennis (Monkey Tennis) is a dexterity game with a good strategic design. The tennis court is overlaid with a hex grid, and players use a rubber-band mechanism to hit the ball. The Monkeys are used only to note the location of the player on the court — they could have just been cubes, but look much better this way.
Take a look at the video below so you can decide if this is more fun than it sounds:
If you want to avoid the dexterity but throw the dice then the next title is for you. Passing Shot (2010) is all about custom tennis dice. It’s a fast 2 player game aimed at pretty much any age group, so if you love tennis and dice then this might be perfect.
And if you hate dice then perhaps you’d prefer cards. Grand Slam (2014) has got you covered. The interesting twist is that the cards in this game show both halves of the court. The cards are used either defensively or offensively, and I like this type of decision making. Whenever you need to determine how much you want to give up in order to make a play in a game it’s usually good. It’s like you’re playing both against yourself and the opponent.
But since we’ve covered dexterity, dice and cards in rapid succession we have to move on. It’s the rules, Jeff. Talking about Boardgame Sports is a sport unto itself.
Did you hear that sound the other day? You know, that sound that was something like construction many miles away? That was just me banging my head on the table as I realized our next category was volleyball. I don’t mind it as a sport. But as a board game? It seems like the best thing that board games has to offer is Strand-Cup (2000), a card game about beach volleyball. I know what you’re thinking – no, it’s not ALL muscle dudes and cleavage shots. Just mostly. But it does seem like a light party game and I believe players play in teams which might make it kind of fun.
The next title in this category, in a stunning example of a clever title completely driving game play, is called Pig Pong (1986). So let’s call it a day and get out of the sun before our brain fries. Oh, wait, it already did. Let’s hop in the snow for a little relief.
Quickly, before global warming kills the fun – the top ranked game in this family of sports games is Snow Tails (2008). Here’s the publisher’s description of gameplay:
Snow Tails is set in the snowy world of the Arctic Circle, where brave sledders compete in a test of skill and endurance. Action is fast and furious and not all sleds may make it to the finish. Huskies only have one setting and that is full speed! Hang on to your furs, the reins, your sled and anything else you can get hold of.
The game contains modular track pieces which can be fitted together to form different courses. Players have their own Dog Decks which they draw from and play onto their sled mat. Movement is rarely in a straight line as the sled may drift left or right. Losing control or speeding into a corner results in Dent cards being acquired which will limit a player’s hand size.
And if you like the sound of that you’ll be happy to know the designers, the Lamont brothers, reworked Snow Tails a few years later into Mush! Mush!: Snow Tails 2 (2013). Mush! Mush! Accommodates up to 8 players instead of 5 and gameplay is streamlined so it plays a little faster. I haven’t played this but I would like to. The game is minimal but beautiful and it looks like it could also be a fun group game.
Although I would like to end winter sports here, I would be not doing my duty if I didn’t mention at least one other winter sport besides dog sled racing.
How about The Great Downhill Ski Game (1970), which was branded with Nancy Greene’s name and picture here in Canada? It’s a game with a large gridded board. Players lay tiles as they ski down the track and avoid trees along the way. I think I probably like the aesthetic of this game more than I like game play. It reminds me of the classic phone game Snake.
With titles like Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice (2013), Avalon Hill’s Wrasslin’ (1990), or the He-Man inspired Champions of the Galaxy (1986) you might think wrestling is all fun and games. I’ll have you know that it’s neither of those things. Wait. Both of those things? It’s so confusing, especially when you are faced with titles like Los Cthuluchadores: Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring (2014 – although I’m not sure it is available as anything more than a print and play to promote the apparently unsuccessful Kickstarter), which we somehow overlooked during our boardgame Cthulhu episode.
I think it’s time to admit I’ve sustained too many blows to the head over the course of the past 293 episodes of this series. I need a time out. I need to sit down. I need some water. I need a nap.
The main lesson from this episode is that all the really popular sports appear earlier in the alphabet. If you want to start a new sport I’m guessing it would unwise to name it with a ‘z’.
The real takeaway from this whole series is that there are some really interesting sports games being made, far more than I expected and often in sports I wouldn’t have been interested in. Now I know I need to play Thunder Alley, a stock car racing game from GMT. I need to try a rough and tumble roller derby game. I need to treat my case of Horse Fever or enjoy a game of hunting for hunters in Tally Ho!. I have to try commercial fishing in Fleet or bicycle racing in Um Reifenbreite or find out how good my cyborgs are in Baseball Highlights: 2045. And I now have a copy of Sid Sackson’s Gamut of Games on my nightstand to see what other gems I’ve overlooked besides Bowling Solitaire.
I also have to exhibit mild surprise that I didn’t mention Reiner Knizia this episode. Maybe he had a wrestling game that I missed after that chair crashed over my head and I passed out from screaming about how much I was going to destroy you.
One thing I learned is that sports games have come a long, long way. While I expected a lot of uninspired dexterity games, roll and move games and other attempts at fun I came away with an appreciation of the explosion of innovation in games, particularly over the past decade or so. Designers have brought innovations to the unlikeliest of sports.
I am also surprised at how many terrible games continue to get made. That sometimes that title from the late 1800s remains the height of innovation. Or that sometimes just because something is fun in the real world doesn’t mean it will still be exciting once you convert it to tabletop form. But overall, with so many amazing games being made right now, I can’t imagine how boardgame sports will look in another decade.
Although I thought there might be another wrap-up episode looking at the more general Sports category over at BGG it looks like we ended up covering a lot of those titles already. Which means we’ll put the helmets, gloves, goggles, pads and mouth-guards away for another day.
I hope you enjoyed this mad dash through the what boardgame sports has to offer us.
If you have any comments leave them below or you can find me on twitter @epicgumdrop.
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