DreadBall Design Notes – Leagues

The league system in DreadBall is mostly a traditional campaign system much as you will see in many other tabletop figure games (not that many of them have campaign systems, but… ). I decided to stick with traditional here as running a campaign or league is a load of effort without having to remember weird rules. Having said this, I couldn’t resist adding the odd twist as you will see.

Apart from the rules described below, the league section also includes guidance and suggestions for running leagues that will help people who are new to this aspect of gaming. At least, that’s the plan.


Core League Principles and Overview

The idea is a simple mirror of sporting reality. Leagues are played in rounds. Your team plays a game, individual players become more experienced and at a certain point this cumulative experience manifests as a new ability. Players with more abilities are worth more, and the whole team is worth the sum of its players + ancillary bonuses (cards and Coaching Dice). This is the kind of thing we see in real world sports. Manchester United is worth more than Scunthorpe because it has better and more highly skilled players who are worth more.

Normal players sign long term contracts, but there are two other types of players in DreadBall: MVPS and Free Agents.

MVPs are, in effect, very highly paid mercenaries who work for the highest bidder and only for a limited time (a round at a time). This maximises their income.

Free Agents are normal players who haven’t yet been signed to a team. They are used by the DreadBall Governing Body as balancing factors in games to ensure that the crowds get an entertaining match and the sponsors keep paying.

It’s the Corporation – it’s all about money 😉


Organising Rounds

The league sponsor who organises and runs the league, gets together with all the players once per round. This could be face to face at the club, or it could be over phone, forum, twitter, email or text. This meeting is to organise what happens in the next league round. Each team will have one league game, and can play more games if they have the time. The league game is the only one that they have to play for the league, but they can play more if they want. All the games will affect their team ranking (for good or bad).

The twist here is how games are allocated. The initial draw for the first round is random as all teams are initially the same level. In subsequent rounds, the league sponsor starts with the team at the bottom of the league, and asks that Coach who he would like to play. The sponsor then asks the next player up the league rankings, and so on; each choosing an opponent who has not already got a game this round. In this way a Coach can choose one of the teams near his own level or can pick someone really challenging at the top of the rankings. It gives the Coaches lower down the league more control over their fates, and avoids the unpleasantries of the big boys picking on the weak teams for easy wins. If you’re playing against someone much higher ranking than you it’s because you chose to do so.


Player Experience

When a player takes part in a match they may gain experience. This is done by doing what they are supposed to do particularly well. So, Strikers earn experience by making 3 or 4 point Strikes, Guards earn it by killing opponents or injuring them for 3 turns, and Jacks get it for either of the above. There is also a Man of the Match award to give a random player a boost.

MVPs and Free Agents never gain experience.

Player experience goes in ranks, with a player starting at rank 1. You need to earn a total of the next rank’s worth of experience to advance a level. So, a rank 1 player needs to collect 2 experience to rise to rank 2. Each time you go up a level you can roll on a table to get a new ability or stat increase. There is a table for each player role, plus a separate one for Extra Coaching (with different abilities) if you want to permanently sacrifice a Coaching Dice to roll on it. if you roll a result you already have then you get to choose from the remaining opions. If you have them all then you get to pick from any of the other role specific tables. In this way the advancement is a mixture of choice and luck.


Team Revenue and Worth

A team is worth the sum of its players’ values, its cards, Coaching Dice plus any spare cash. Player values start at whatever it costs to hire them, and go up by 5 million credits (mc) per rank they advance. Cards are worth 10mc each, and Coaching Dice 6mc. As a point of reference, all starting teams are worth exactly 100mc.

With a simple way to reduce the value of a team to a cash equivalent, the teams can be ranked in order to see who is winning the league. It also serves as a way to compare the relative potency of the teams and allow the DGB to step in and help even things up if one is seriously outclassed. This is where Free Agents come in. What is particularly interesting here is that these extra players are assigned randomly, and are not necessarily the same race as the main team. In play, this is really interesting, and has given our playtesters some very memorable games. A random player can completely change the dynamic of a team, and this is partly why they are added this way by the DGB. Whereas an experienced team might be easily able to take apart a standard opponent, they may find a unique combination a bit trickier to deal with. Any edge like this is a massive help to the underdog, never mind having additional players.


Between Matches

After a game a Coach collects his winnings in cash, sorts out his players’ experience and rolls for advancements if they apply, and then buys extra players, dice or cards if he wants. All of these changes are recorded on a team roster and copied to the league sponsor (as the chap running the league is called). When everyone has returned their rosters the sponsor can work out the new league rankings.



Another thing that happens between matches is that the services of the MVPs are auctioned off. Yes, auctioned.

Each MVP has a minimum that they will work for, so the bidding starts here. Unless, that is, someone paid more last round, in which case that value is the minimum they will work for now. In this way the cost to hire an MVP for a round goes up and up until people refuse to pay, when it starts to tick down again at the rate of 2mc per game they sit out.

A league sponsor must choose which MVPs are available in his league, and I would strongly advise him to be selective. Less is more in this regard. The relative availability of MVPs has a big impact on the teams, and too many causes them to be cheap and Coaches will start to rely on them at the expense of developing their own players.

One of the clever bits about it being an auction is that it can hoover up any excess of cash in the league. Hiring players is finite as you only have 14 slots on your roster. Buying cards and Coaching Dice is capped too, but you can spend whatever you like on an auction.


And So On…

There’s lots more description and detail in the wrinkles, plus rules for playing against non-league teams, playing one-off games with league teams and suchlike. But this should give you a general impression.


This entry was posted in DreadBall - The Futuristic Sports Game, Game Design Theory. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to DreadBall Design Notes – Leagues

  1. moocifer ( also in Nottingham ) says:

    I am very pleased to hear that MVPs will be expensive, rare, unable to advance further their existing extra abilities and most importantly be limited in use (ie: 1 game/round only).

  2. Kiwamu says:

    My questions is, while leage play is great if you have LOTS of folks playing, but what happens via casual play as by the rules. Sure I can bend them to my will, if I want to, but I would how you tackeled on this subject

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Casual play works fine just using the basic teams. That was one of the points in my original brief – the game had to be fun without the league rules. That was an additional level, not the only way to play the game.

  3. Talarius says:

    @Kiwamu: not that you asked me, but I don’t understand your question. If you aren’t playing a league game, but rather a one-off fun game you wouldn build a 100mc starting team roster and play.

    @Jake: the fact that cash adds to team value is a little warning bell for me, as this has been a problem with Blood Bowl in the past. That cash sitting in the bank isn’t contributing to the effectiveness of the team on the pitch. Skill-ups, Cards, Coaching Dice, Coaching Staff and anything else that has a potential impact on the game itself should be counted in, of course, but money you’re saving up to buy more players later down the road shouldn’t. In BB, there are situations where a team with high armor values don’t tend to suffer as many casualties and deaths, so their bankroll can grow and grow to the point where they can afford to hire Morg ‘N Thorg, while lower-armored (or less fortunate) teams are continually cash-poor as they are continually paying to replace killed-off teammates.
    I can anticipate that you might want to say, “ah, but in DreadBall all armor values are the same per player position” and while that might mitigate the problem a little, it won’t do so for teams that are Striker-heavy and to a lesser extent Jack-heavy. Guard-heavy teams won’t suffer as much (although I imagine they won’t score as much, either)
    You can find more extensive discussions about this issue on various BB forums (or ask Tom Anders about it for a truly expert opinion). As I don’t know much about how DB cash-flow works, it may not be as much of an issue here, but it did catch my attention right away. Thanks for reading.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The debate about the cash is an old BB one, as you say, and I am not at all convinced that there is a right answer.

      I chose to make it count towards team value as that encourages people to spend it, rather than artificially reducing their team value to play against lower teams by “hiding” value in cash. If you think of selling a real team, the amount in its bank account would contribute to its worth, so it does in DreadBall too 🙂

      There is also a up-and-down associated with counting cash, as it gets spent on MVPs, though if you buy anything else with it the value remains constant. This is the inverse of BB where a team value goes up suddenly when you purchase something that does count with cash that doesn’t. Swings and roundabouts.

      • Jack Trowell says:

        In case one of the designers read this post, I agree that the current system used in BB has some big flaws, but it is not the one that was initialy planned playtested, it has been changed by a last minute decision from GW to use the current one. What was the original system ? It was a “Bank” system where you were able to put up to a certain sum in a bank account (something like 100k or 150k, the exact value can be changed depending on your league). Under this system, the gold in the bank doesn’t count for your team value, but cannot be used once an opponent has been selected (so not useable for inducements), but the rest of you gold will count and be useable. This was made to both allow fragile teams to keep some gold as a failsafe to replace players in case of a bad match, while still making teams with lots of gold want to use it. Note that with this system, the Team value is compared once and then not modified by spending gold, so you could have both teams spending gold on inducements.

  4. Siggi says:

    Why not just leave a league “campaign” in the same shape as all sports divisions are set up. You play a certain team this “round” then that guy next. The fact that in a league campaign if you can get more games in than the next guy you are obviously going to gain wast amounts of cash and player exp (unless you run into horrid luck). This will leave to a snowball effect. Someone will have time/dedication enough to play 30 games over a weekend, next round in the campaign comes along and this guy (or guys) have so much better players than anyone else that its a done deal.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      This idea works too, though I think it isn’t terribly interesting. The addition of a feature which helps the lower ranked teams is, in my view, always a good thing as this makes the whole league closer, which is more fun all round. Runaway leaders just creates teams that nobody wants to play.

  5. Talarius says:

    @Siggi: I don’t know how DreadBall will address that issue exactly, but I’m fairly sure it will be similar to Blood Bowl’s inducement system. When two teams at scheduled to play each other in a league, you compare their Team Values. If one team is worth more, the underdog team will be able to pick Inducements equal to the difference between them. So if one team has had players gain skills and/or hired extra players, the less powerful team would be able to pick things like MVPs, extra Rerolls, Event cards, journeyman players, Wizards and other one-game coaching staff in order to redress the balance between their values. These bonuses are only good for that one-time game and would not stick around for the next match.
    It is not 100% perfect, but it does work quite well. I’m sure DreadBall will have similar types of rebalancing elements to tackle that problem. Heh. Did you see what I did there? “Tackle”. Sorry.
    😉 The evidence we already have are the event cards, MVPs, mentions of Cheerleaders and other Coaching staff, Coaching dice. I expect all these things are in place specifically to handle league balance.

    • Siggi says:

      I know where you’re coming from, (being an old hand at BB myself) but the inducements never actually compensate accurately. Sure an MVP will help you win, but usually they do hog much of the XP (since they are doing the XP scoring things) as they have higher skills. The free agents, while sounding like a brilliant flavor and twist, are a bit in the same shelf. A player which if he does real real well, will not play for you ever again. All the stuff done by him are XP lost to the rest of the team.

      Now not to be purely a naysayer. I’d love for the basic League simply to copy the format used by most of the football leagues around the globe. Each player in a league, playes 2 games against any other player in the league. No more No less. And a league conductor should try to make sure that all players are going at similar pace. Sure a game or two might be dropped due to someone not making it this or that night. But they can catch up next time maybe.

      Buying more guys mid Season in DB is probably not going to be as decisive as adding your second big guy is in BB, so that shouldnt be a problem. I personally would like to see some sort of an upkeep on the players from league round to round (pro atlete’s get payed pro money) this would increase with the players rank. A high skilled player is going to demand higher salaries, thus eating into the teams earnings real quickly. Ideally a league should emulate real sports leagues.

      • Quirkworthy says:

        Inducements are insanely hard to balance, which is why DreadBall uses a couple of options and deliberately messes with what is normal in doing so. I may not have got the balance entirely perfect, but it is such a fluid thing that it is hard to really tell.

        The underdogs do indeed get a bonus, and this can be spent either in the bidding for MVPs and/or in hiring Free Agents for that game. The Free Agents really mix things up as they create teams which cannot exist any other way. This often radically effects the way the team plays, and working on the assumption that the underdog was going to get creamed anyway, this metaphorical moving of the goal posts allows them the chance to wrong foot the more powerful team. It has certainly proved to be quite popular in playtesting and has generated some very memorable games.

        Of course, as in most other gaming situations, it is the better player who will usually win.

        • Really interested in the Free Agents and how they will work. My take of Free agents “really mixing things up”, could mean a Judwan striker (or two) on an Orx/Goblin team. Sitting on the bench until the Orx have beaten the other team down to manageable numbers…then coming out to flip the score back into the Orx favor. Oh the possibilities.

  6. Just another Peter says:

    I’m also hoping for a round-robin style league to be allowed. The described league system would work only if there’s a fixed location for playing and everyone hangs around until the next round is decided (or you decide the new round at the start of the time). The BB league I’m in doesn’t have a fixed location, we just organise location between the competing coaches.

    Basically the described system sounds interesting, but unworkable in some situations.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I disagree. There is no reason why people have to be in the same physical location these days, what with Twitter, email, forums, text, chat rooms, Skype, etc, etc…

      I have organised campaigns at a distance without any of these fancy technical aids (other than a phone) more than once. It just requires a will to make it work.

      • Just another Peter says:

        The problem with using asynchronous communication (admittedly, any synchronous communication would be functionally equivalent to co-location) is that you can easily have gaps of a day or two between consecutive choices (e.g., the selection of who to play next). If you had a 16-team league and there was even 1 day between decisions of who plays who (because of not being able to get online at the same time), that’s a week lost between rounds. Auctioning MVPs would be even more problematic if you didn’t have a specified time that everybody would be able to attend.

        As I said before, the described system sounds interesting. I’d be willing to give it a go. But I would like there to be facility for other systems of match-ups. If this is the only allowed system I suspect there will be a lot of leagues set up and, after a couple of rounds, disbanded because this system doesn’t suit their situation.

        The other concern I have with what’s described in this article is that it seems that winning matches is irrelevant compared to increasing the value of the team. Surely win/loss should be the way to determine the rankings in the league and maybe tie-broken by value. The way it’s described you could have a bashy team like the marauders (for example) lose every match but be considered to be winning the league because they kill half the opposition every match and don’t have any of their own players die.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          “If this is the only allowed system…”

          Not at all. There wasn’t room to include lots of variations in the book, but I’m not only happy with people doing there own thing, I expect it.

          The core rules of play are something I’d suggest people don’t fiddle with if they can avoid it as they’re very intertwined and changing one bit can easily unbalance another. But the league system stands outside that and is really just a means of facilitating a bunch of games and developing teams. The story you’re telling here is more important than the exact means you use to do it 🙂

          I’m going to try and fit some more league commentary and options in Season 2.

          Whether you use team ranking or win/loss is another variation in league style. I’ve played in leagues of both sorts and they both work. They do encourage different styles of play, and I think that’s a good thing, not a bad one. However, I don’t think that bashy teams have it all their own way. Strikers get better at avoiding damage and ameliorating knockdowns, etc, and a 7 point lead wins the game immediately. I know that the all Guard bashing team sounds good, but a well run team of strikers can beat it. Even with losses the winning team will have more money to replace them, and with the advanced tech it only costs 5mc to recover a “dead” model. I don’t think that the bashy have the advantage in the long run.

  7. Andy says:

    You don’t need everyone to physically attend an auction for MVPs at the same time and place. Just get everyone to send a message to the league organiser and do a sealed-bid auction. It can be done with relative ease, surely?

  8. Lionel d'Lion says:

    The one issue I can see with this league format (and I realise it’s probably due to not having seen all of the rules for leagues) is a side-effect of the speed of games.

    My gaming club meets for 4 hours/week. Because games are likely to be over in 75 minutes or so players are likely to try to get 2 or more games of DreadBall played in an evening. Unless fixtures can be arranged so that every participant in the league is at the club and is playing DreadBall on the same night*, won’t this cause major headaches for the unfortunate league sponsor – especially with the auctioning of MVPs and assigning of Free Agents between rounds or games? Teams can’t move on to the next round of league games unless every team has completed their games from the current round, after all.

    I can also foresee problems if a league has an odd number of participants depending on when the hiring of MVPs fits in the post-game sequence (a coach is unlikely to be amused if they pay x million to hire a MVP and then don’t get a game in that round). While this is easily resolved by having the challenge stage before the MVP auction it’s something to bear in mind.

    I’m taking the league structure described here as being no more than a suggestion or recommendation, btw. Clearly a league sponsor can have whatever structure he or she thinks will work for their own league. Personally – based on the info available so far – I’m thinking of keeping the challenge system described here but having teams playing each other twice in each round of league games (once at home and once away), adjusting their team values and getting allocated different free agents between these games but having the use of any MVPs they hired for both games. This would mean that only 2 coaches need to be available on the same evening to get their league game(s) played. Fast players might be able to get three games played (in the same way that some coaches in the club’s B********* leagues have been known to play two matches is an evening while others will play just the one leisurely game – one even tried to play two simultaneous games … but that really didn’t end well).

    Given the advice “A league sponsor must choose which MVPs are available in his league, and I would strongly advise him to be selective. Less is more in this regard.” are there any recommended number of MVPs to have – e.g. as many MVPs are there are teams in the league; one fewer MVP than there are teams; two fewer? Also, based on what’s been learned from the playtesting, is it better/more fun if the MVPs and free agents come from races which aren’t taking part in the league or from races which are? Is there any need for the list of the MVPs to be fixed for a whole season? I can imagine an MVP who isn’t getting hired leaving to ply their trade elsewhere and being replaced by a different, randomly selected MVP half way through a season.

    * and from experience this is definitely not a simple thing to arrange

  9. Thraug says:

    I’ve played every iteration of BB, from 1st edition to the current LRB, and have played in many many leagues, as both a coach and league manager. From my experiences, leagues where matches are played on regular intervals (1 match per week) are extremely difficult to keep operating, are prone to frequent unplayed matches, and do not easily accommodate teams dropping and joining mid-season. Worst of all, leagues with scheduled matches almost always have weeks where unplayed matches bring a league week to a screeching halt, or, for leagues with match weeks that always move on to the next week (regardless of unplayed matches), teams will fall behind and feel left behind and quit the league, causing a new set of problems.

    My sentiments are similar to “Just another Peter”. Please please please consider at least adding an “open” league option where, without getting into the gritty details, operates without fixed match schedules. One example is, in each league “week” teams can play any other team, at any time, and even play any number of matches in this game “week”! A wonderful side effect to this is a solution for what happens when teams drop or want to join the league. They simply drop or join! These leagues can be run with or without seasons. When running one without a season you simply have a top team that has the best winning record, or most team value or whatever, with teams dropping and joining a dynamic league that has no real end. Alternatively, if playing seasons is preferred, leagues can be organized in many different ways. One way is to end the season after X number of real weeks have passed, then pitting the top 2 or 4 teams in a single elimination tourney to determine the season champ. There are many other ways to run a season in an “open” league.

    Having seen how difficult it is to keep a league functioning when you have to rely on ALL coaches to play a game in a week, or submit something weekly (eg: auction in Dreadball), I don’t see the proposed Dreadball auction and weekly challenge system working out for many groups, including all of the groups I played BB leagues in. As suggested, please put in alternative league rules for those who know their group can’t support the league you proposed. My playgroup certainly can’t, unfortunately. =(

  10. Quirkworthy says:

    Some very good points here. What I’m going to do is expand my reply into a new post tonight as DB Leagues 2 as there are quite a lot of things to discuss.

    You are right that there are several ways to cut this cake, and it might be worth including more options.

  11. Pingback: DreadBall Design Notes – Leagues Again |

  12. Pingback: Dreadball – The Wargamers Forum Archive

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