Dreadball Ultimate – A Review

471e27f330bd96c059203afdab82dfef_largeIt’s time to once again done our spangly jumpsuits and silly helmets and try to catch some speeding balls… I refer to, of course, to Dreadball Ultimate, the third rule release for Dreadball from Mantic.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Dreadball. The games anyway. The models are a bit hit & miss. Season 2, whilst useful, wasn’t convincing as a real supplement as it offered very little to the game other than teams it didn’t really need. And I’ll be honest when I heard about Season 3 I rolled my eyes and concluded that Mantic must have still had some of the Dreadball kickstarter money lying around.

When it was announced that Season 3 would be called Ultimate and offer a multi-player option I was pleased for two reasons. The first was that it actually sounded like you’d get something for your money. The second was that Ultimate had a nice ring of finality about it which meant Mantic could stop trying to come up with nonsense rules and focus on making the ones they had better. And the models for that matter.

dreadball-ultimate-coverSo what’s in the box? Quite a bit actually. A lovely big gaming mat for use with up to 6 players, a deck of cards, a nice shiny new book and some Giants – the new model type new for Ultimate.

I must be honest – unlike me I know – but I don’t like the idea of Giants. Aside from being, well, giant, they do two things that piss me off: the first, require their own set of rules because they don’t fit the existing ones and the second is they’re overpowered to the point that if you don’t take a Giant of your own to counter act your opponents you stand very little chance of taking them down. It’s something that always really annoyed me about MVPs in Dreadball, they just unbalance the game too much. And Giants are just mental. They ignore the threat hexes of non-giants, they get bonus dice up the whazoo and thanks to their size they’re not the easiest opponents to get around.

I’ve never been a massive fan of Blood Bowl but at least star players were just juiced members of your chosen race/team. In Dreadball they can be used to offset team weaknesses (which were designed to be there) whilst being nails to take down. Giants are this but more so. Which is a bit pants. It’s difficult because I know my opinion won’t be the popular one and it’s kind of one of the big draws for Dreadball Ultimate but the reason Dreadball is so good is because it’s genius in its simplicity and things like Giants rather over egg the pudding. It’s all a bit gimmicky.

big-mech-isolated

But if you’re wise enough to buy the Ultimate boxset, rather than the book, you get them all included so take ’em, don’t take ’em it really makes no odds.

There’s a couple of rule tweaks in Ultimate/Season 3. There’s nothing really to write home about other than it’s now against the rules to screen the model with the ball. I’m a bit mixed about that as it rather seems to benefit the newer weaker teams especially going up against the likes of the Forgefathers. But you know what? It’s not going to ruin my day. It will ruin Neil’s (of The Chaps) though as it’s a favourite play of his to shut the ball down if the score is tight with only a rush or two to play.

As usual there’s also yet more teams to add to the ever-expanding Dreadball league. If I’m honest, I’m fairly indifferent towards them. There’s a couple of interesting ones . The Kalamarin, with their sticky or hard guards (I’ll leave you to make your own jokes) and the teleporting space armadillos are the Ukomo appeal but otherwise it’s just ticking the boxes to make sure they’ve robbed all the teams from Blood Bowl as well as a couple from the sci-fi hall or fame. Including some diminutive grey chaps. And some of the models look bloody awful.

But on to the real reason to get Dreadball Ultimate: the big mat and the rules for some utterly mental game play. This is where the real work’s been done. The board/mat/thing is gorgeous. I mean bravo to whoever designed it because it’s arty without being fussy and actually builds on the look of the Dreadball pitch rather than just emulating it. It doesn’t feel quite right rolling on it mind, the bounce just isn’t the same as rolling on the board or a table but I suppose the answer is to, you guessed it, roll on the table. But on a serious note, the surface tension created by the fabric does mean the dice don’t roll as well. So, yeah, roll on the table next to the mat.

dreadball-ultimate-pitch

It’s a finely balanced thing, having up to 6 teams running about the place, but Mantic just about pull it off. Three players is a bit more manageable though. And quicker. And having that many people playing a game designed to be that quick has the potential to get confusing and lead to disagreements but some how it does work. And having two balls in play at any given time is only going to end well.

With Dreadball Ultimate I rather feel like they were trying to do too much to make it worth the price tag. In the interests of fairness, it does. There’s a lot in the box that adds a lot to the game. I’m not 100% convinced by it all but the rules for 3-6 player games and a pretty new board is enough for me either way. I do think the Giants are daft and I think that they’ll actually make for some pretty boring games but as a one off bit of fun I could live with them. It’d be a different story in a league however.

I do dearly love Dreadball and the introduction of new teams would get me excited if it didn’t feel like Mantic were just covering every possible statistical iteration available, and if they put more effort into the models. Some of them, particularly the the Not-Space-Elves look utterly, unforgivably poor.

But is it a poor supplement? No. Granted the book feels rather padded out, again, but the Ultimate rule set is way cool. Some of the new teams are way cool. The Giants are daft and overpowered but they come in the box so fuck it. With the addition of some new cards and the like and it does genuinely add a whole new dimension to what is already an awesome game.

Dreadball Ultimate is available from Firestorm Games priced £35.99.

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