It’s not often you hear about a sports themed board game and think, “Hm. This has some serious potential.” Sports themed tabletop games generally have a niche audience, and I believe there are two reasons for that:
- There’s not a huge overlap between tabletop gamers and passionate sports fans.
- Historically, these games just haven’t been very good.
Two recent football game examples I remember are 1st and Goal and NFL Rush Zone. The first felt very oversimplified for a sport that is so nuanced, while still taking too long. The latter game had limited player agency and a bit too much was determined by luck. Neither satisfied that itch.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have games like BloodBowl and Guildball. With the added efforts of purchasing miniatures, assembling miniatures and measuring for movement, these titles haven’t really appealed to me.
What made me want to try Techno Bowl and is it really any better?
My first impressions of Techno Bowl came from an interview on the Ding and Dent podcast with the designer, Brent Spivey. Brent’s enthusiasm for his game was infectious. I loved the comparisons to Blitz, but even more so the ability to set formations and design plays. It took me back to the play editor that I spent hours on in between games of Blitz.
When I got to Gencon, I tracked down Brent for a demo, which was easier than it sounds. He walked me through setting up a formation, calling your play (choosing cards), and the activation system. My brain swelled a bit, but I was giddy to try it myself. I set up my Monsters (Bears) for what I thought would be a quick pass play. I moved one of my receivers out for the pass, then he activated a lineman to block one of my linemen. His guy was bigger and stronger than mine, leading to a successful block, setting him up for a full activation. The next guy he activated moved right through the hole that the block created. Within two more activations, I was sacked. I reset for 2nd down, providing my quarterback with a little extra protection.
This new set-up gave me more time to make a pass. I rolled for it and was successful. I started my trek down the field. Brent had a successful block for a full activation, his safety moved in for a tackle. Missed! I had an open field ahead of me, and I got closer to the end zone. Now, with my own successful block, I was able to activate my ball carrier and take him into the end zone.
I had to take off after that, but knew I had to come back and try my hand at defense.
This game has a lot of rules. The system will take you a couple of games to fully understand. That said, watching a gameplay video from the designer will be your quickest way to get started. You’ll likely reference the rulebook in your first few games. It’s worth it.
Gameplay video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_-8RrG83OI
All players have a number on their jersey, which range from 3x to 7x, x being the second number that is only needed to differentiate between players. The lower a number is, the better that player will be at blocking and tackling. The higher numbered players can move and throw farther.
Without going into too much detail, players each take a minute to set their formations, starting with the offense. Then players will simultaneously set their play by putting 5 player cards in the order that they want to activate them. After the hike, cards are flipped with the higher numbered player getting to choose who activates first.
During an activation, a player can move up to their full number value in spaces, move half of their value rounded up and attempt an action, or just attempt an action. Actions include blocking, tackling, passing, or any special skills a player has.
When attempting an action, two d6s are rolled, taking into account modifiers given by friendly players in your area and opponent’s that threaten you. These modifiers max out at +/- 3 to your roll, and there are other ways to gain these modifiers.
If a 2 through 6 is rolled, the action has failed AND the opponent will get to freely activate any of their players for a full activation. If a 7 through 9 is rolled, the action is successful, but the opponent gets a half move with any of their players. If a 10 or higher is rolled, then the action is successful AND the player attempting the action gets a full activation with any other player. If doubles are rolled on a success or failure, fun stuff like fumbles and knock downs occur.
There’s quite a bit more to it than that, and I would suggest watching the video above to learn more.
The game is fairly long. 90-120 minutes for a game is not uncommon. I am normally not a fan of games that long, but this is an exception because…
Techno Bowl is easily one of the most engaging games I’ve ever played. There is such little downtime due to the constant back and forth of player activations. The game is swingy, which is super fun 90% of the time, and a bit frustrating the other 10% of the time.
Additionally, in that time, so many stories are created. No two plays will play out the same way and you might just throw an interception which gets run back to your end zone, then you force a fumble and take it back in the other direction. Or maybe a ball gets tipped in the air to the defender, but instead of catching it, that defender tips it to your other receiver for an easy score. Maybe the defense pulls off a glorious blitz and sacks you for a safety OR maybe they miss the sack and your QB takes off for an 80 yard running touchdown. These are just examples, but moments like these are bound to happen, and it’s fun no matter which side you are on.
Another big plus for this one is its replayability. No game is going to play the same for several reasons.
- 32 teams that each have unique player skills, making you shift strategies based on how your team plays and how your opponent’s team plays.
- 5+ different game modes: 7v7 no skills, 7v7 with skills, 8v8 no skills, 8v8 with skills, and 8v8 with skills and inferno. There may even be another combination in there that I left out. Each play mode feels different and allows for different skill levels to play.
- Meta. Even if you’re playing the same player with the same teams in the same game mode, you’re going to learn some of their quirks from game to game and both sides will need to make some tweaks to be successful.
- Dice! Dice rolling is a big part of this game. There are ways to mitigate the luck factor, but ultimately they add some unpredictability to the game.
I have just completed a league for this game, and I’m still not growing tired of it. It is my favorite game system to explore. It’s just so damn fun and interesting to try new formations and plays. I would recommend this to anyone even a little bit into the theme as long as you can handle a decently heavy ruleset and the occasional snake eyes.
Too Long; Didn’t Read? Techno Bowl is engaging and thematic to the max. It tells exciting stories throughout. I really can’t imagine a better football game.
Interested in playing in a league? Join our Grognard Football League on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/692619624271261/). Next League will start in about 6 weeks. Go!