DreadBall Design Notes – Leagues Again

This follows on from the comments in my last post on Leagues. Just another Peter, Thraug and Lionel all mentioned related issues, and I thought I’d pick out the problems here as well as answer them there, to put it in front of a wider audience.

The problems revolve around the effort-benefit angle from the point of view of the organisation, especially the league sponsor who runs the league. Actually, I don’t think it’s as bad as they suggest, and there are several simple ways to make things work more smoothly. But first, a ramble…


Some Whys and Some Developmental History

Most of the playtesting done on DreadBall’s league system was done in an almost tournament fashion, with people meeting for extended periods and playing several games. This was a side effect of the playtesting process rather than a deliberate plan. It arises simply from the difficulty in getting lots of people together repeatedly over a very short space of time. Most playtesters can make once a week, but few can do every day, which is what we really needed. So we condensed things a little, and ran what was somewhere between a tournament and a leaugue. Incidentally, this is why I know that DreadBall will work brilliantly in tournaments  because we have effectively run several already, in a couple of different formats.

Anyway, testing the league rules like this was both good and bad. To take the good first, it demonstrated that with a little organisation you can play several league matches in a single session and that giving people a specific time to finish by is not arduous.

However, you needn’t make all the matches in a single session league ones. The rules include a discussion on how to deal with non-league matches played by league teams (against either other league teams or non-league ones). So you could have a gaming session with 2 or 3 games of DreadBall, only one of which was a league match. You wouldn’t then need to run an MVP auction more than once an evening, if that was worrying you. Of course, as the league sponsor decides which and how many MVPs are available in each league round they can choose to make the auction easy or hard for themselves anyway.

In a bad sense, this manner of playtesting was not entirely the same way everyone will play. To be fair though, playtesting very often isn’t exactly like real gaming, and it is plainly impossible to replicate the myriad variables possible in every gaming group. The fact that it worked as well as it does with as many people and as many disparate groups involved as there were did bode very well though.


Why It Isn’t a Problem

A couple of comments focussed on the imagined problems of getting everyone together to sort out next league games and auction MVPs. I suggested that you can use one of the many communication forms available such as Twitter, email, text, Skype, phone, etc, which is true. But what if you can’t even do that? Well, herding the happy gamers about is always the biggest problem any league (or campaign) organiser has, and there is no reason why DB will be any different as the real world humans will be the same. Even so, I don’t think there’s a real issue with DreadBall per se.

I think it’s fair to assume that you can get most of the people in the group together at once (otherwise how are they ever going to play any games?) on some sort of regular basis. Those people can go through the between matches sequence as written. Physical absentees could join by one of the comms methods mentioned. Any that could not manage that simply tell the league sponsor in advance (a) who they will pick to play against next, and (b) how much they will bid for each MVP they are interested in (remembering that this need not be any if they haven’t the cash or the inclination).

The sponsor keeps these notes to one side. When players are choosing their opponents, he reads out the relevant answer when it comes to an absentee’s slot in the league table. If they have provided no note or their preferred opponent is already booked, then they simply get the next highest ranked team available to play against as their next round opponent.

The MVP bids are exactly as happens at an auction house. The sponsor uses the maximum bid provided to bid up to, joining in the bidding as their proxy. If he wants, he could get an uninterested party to bid for each absent player, which might be more fun and would engage those who were sitting out of that bid for themselves.



Having said the above, and explained why I don’t think it’s hard to adapt the existing league rules to varied circumstances, it’s still obvious that they are not the only way a league could be run. I did consider and reject a number of other options as lacking some of the inbuilt control mechanisms that this version has. Runaway leaders is a problem faced by many leagues, and whilst this does not remove that issue entirely, it does mitigate some of the unpleasant issues that arise from it.

In DreadBall Season 2 and Ultimate I’ll come back to leagues and offer some variant styles which you could try. A more free-form option will appeal to sponsors who want less to do, though at the cost of some entertainment, a lot of story and almost guaranteeing the most prolific gamers will win (seen it happen time and again). I’m not fond of that way of running things as you can tell, but some will be so I’ll write that up.

One last thought. Meeting up between rounds is not just a mechanical function of the league – it’s a social one. This aspect doesn’t appear in the rules though it is just as important, and can provide a lot of entertainment. It’s a chance to brag and boast, to meet the other coaches and swap trash talk and tall tales. How this Coach fluked a win, or got a landslide in his second Rush. How this Striker survived 6 Slams from Orx Guards, then fell over in his first hex, why your lead Striker is now known as “Fumblefingers”. You know the kind of thing gamers do between games (and during them too), and giving them a venue for it with everyone assembled to hear the stories and the lies is just plain old fun 🙂

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22 Responses to DreadBall Design Notes – Leagues Again

  1. Lionel d'Lion says:

    You say “I think it’s fair to assume that you can get most of the people in the group together at once (otherwise how are they ever going to play any games?) on some sort of regular basis.”

    This suggests that participants in a league are only playing Dreadball. Members of my club play a wide variety of board- and wargames.

    What I can be sure of is that Dreadball won’t be the only game to have a league/campaign running. The club already has leagues running for Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40K, Bloodbowl (up to 3 round-robin leagues/divisions running at any one time as well as an open league for “friendlies”), Malifaux, Warmachine/Hordes and Freebooter’s Fate as well as separate campaigns for WFB, 40K, Malifaux, Saga and (soon) Necromunda. Not every club member plays in every league or campaign but those who’ve said they’ve bought into the Dreadball KS all play in at least one and most play in two or three (and not the same two or three, of course – that would make things far too easy).

    The issue I’m facing (and, I’d imagine, anyone else who’s in a club is facing) isn’t one of gathering players together to play games, it’s one of finding a single meeting each month in which all participants would be available to play Dreadball.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Sounds like you’ve got a great games club there!

      I don’t think I explained myself properly as your situation doesn’t sound hopeless at all.

      The key thing I can’t have explained clearly enough is that a league round is as long as you want it to be, so you only have to get people together for 5 minutes once per round to sort the MVPs and next matches. As I said before, that can be done with proxy bids and so on if you can’t tear them away from their other commitments for even a moment, or over Twitter, text or whatever. The between matches sequence is pretty quick.

      Once you’ve decided which teams need to play for the league games, then the length of a round is up to your league sponsor. It could be a day, but unless you’re playing a tournament is more likely to be a week, a fortnight or a month depending on how often your club meets.

      In you meet once a month, say, and set a round at that length, there’s no reason why people even have to play their league matches at the club itself. You could use the club for a 5 minute between matches meeting and then play every single game outside the club time if you wanted. The system is designed to be flexible, and the length of a round is set by you, not me. I would even recommend changing the length of a round as necessary to fit holidays and so on. For example, you could have a bumper session where most or all committed to play a couple of rounds in a single evening to kick off the league, then revert to a fortnightly game if that’s when your club met. Over Christmas you might decide to have a month’s gap to allow for holidays and then do another double session to welcome in the new year. Whatever you like. The whole thing is very mutable and you should bend it to fit your circumstances.

      Another thing about DreadBall is that it is fast, so you could also play something else quick in a single evening if you want to 🙂

    • James K says:

      If you can’t all get together an auction MVPs for some reason, you could consider using a sealed-bid auction where each player submits a single bid for each MVP (if they want), and the highest bidder pays a sum equal to the second-highest bidder (or the reserve price if there is only one bidder). This system would be less exciting, but could be performed by e-mail.

      • Lionel d'Lion says:

        I think I’m the one who didn’t make himself clear. Sorting out the fixture challenges and MVP auction shouldn’t be a problem. The problem I’m anticipating surrounds what to do after the league match is played (i.e. how to fill the rest of the evening) if there are only two Dreadbowl players playing DB that evening. It’s not a problem if there are 4 or 6 as opponents can be switched to play friendly games.

        One option would be for players to run two or more teams in the league (everyone should have at least two teams, after all). Coaches would issue their challenge from one of their teams to determine the first game of the evening and would then sort out an opponent for their second game based on which opponents are available on the night. An added bonus would be that increasing the number of teams in the league without increasing the number of MVPs available should keep the auctions keenly contested.

      • Quirkworthy says:

        @ James – That’s kind of what I was suggesting above. If you have some people who are remote and others who are present then it also allows you to deal fairly with that.

        @ Lionel – OK. I see. Well I’m used to playing evenings of board games, and often play several different games in a session. You could, for example, try out my other (*ahem*) brilliant designs from Mantic (DKH and Pandora). That’s one option. You could just play friendly games of DreadBall, even against the same opponent (though you’re right that swapping opponents might be more challenging). You could, as an amusing and educational variant, swap teams with the guy you just played, just to see how it looks from the other side. Just a thought.

        Running more than one team in the same league has some advantages as you suggest. It does build in the car crash of what happens when they inevitably have to play off in a final or what-have-you, but that’s not impossible to overcome. As long as you use the suggested way of selecting opponents for each round then you won’t have to play yourself normally. The main issue here would be ensuring that the player involved could get double the number of games in on a regular basis. That, of course, depends on the individual involved and isn’t something you’d want a rule about.

        I’m a little unclear on your MVP comment. The number available has nothing to do with the number of players in the league. It is set by the league sponsor at the start of the league and can be whatever he likes (though fewer is generally better IMO).

        • Lionel d'Lion says:

          I was just wondering whether there was any “rule of thumb” for the number of MVPs. You say that fewer is better, but in a league of 10 teams, for example, does that mean 3-5 MVPs, 6-8 MVPs or 10-12 MVPs? I was just wondering what sort of MVP frequency seemed to be “about right” based on the playtesting.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Good question. It does depend on your players, their teams and on which MVPs you have picked. For example, if you pick a Veer-myn only MVP then most of their time will be divided between that race of team. If you only have 1 Veer-myn team in your league then it is probably a mistake to include that MVP as that Coach will get the MVP cheap all the time. Unless, of course, you intended that to happen because they were an inexperienced Coach in need of a boost.

          MVPs who play for a wider selection of teams are more versatile and their economics are better controlled by more people being inclined to influence (bid for) them. There is an argument for focussing on the more flexible MVPs for this reason. Personally I prefer a mix of overlapping degrees of flexibility because this creates more variety and more opportunities for skulduggery.

          You will learn what works best for you and your fellow Coaches with experience. As a starting point I would advise no more than 1 MVP per 2 Coaches, with each Coach being able to field perhaps two thirds or three quarters of the MVPs. Remember that you can still hire an MVP you can’t use in order to deny them to your opponent 🙂

        • Torkel says:

          Hi, question regarding the faction specific MVPs.
          If I wanna run a league with 6 coaches*, the faction specific MVPs arent ideal. However, almost all of the MVPs we get with the initial kickstarter shipment are faction specific. I’m wondering about the relative strength and benefit of these MVPs, and if it could make sense to collectively auction off “Faction MVP” where the winning coach gets his faction’s MVP.

          *Side question: As it seems the norm is leagues with way more than 6 players (or?), what are some issues we should be aware of when our group is so small?

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Of the 8 MVPs in the initial box, 4 are faction specific and the other 4 will play for several different teams. Can’t comment on others as I’m not sure what’s going to be in each shipment yet. Still, that gives you 4 to pick from, which is plenty for a 6 player league.

          Part of the fun of having the faction MVPs is that you can still bid for them to stop their faction getting them. They won’t play for you, but you can stop them playing for anyone else.

          In terms of relative values, that depends on which teams your Coaches are using and what their tactics are. The recent series of comments here about the Forge Father team shows a couple of the variations possible, and in each case they would have found a different MVP “most useful”. This is one reason why an auction system for MVPs works better than a flat fee – they’re worth different amounts to different Coaches at different times.

          Of course, if you wanted to auction a Faction MVPO as you suggest that would work too. It would pander somewhat to the Coaches and take some hard choices away, but you know your players. maybe they don’t like hard choices.

          As to 6 player leagues, I think they’ll work just fine. If anything, small leagues can be easier to run. it all depends on the reliability of your Coaches. It’s also usually easier to get everyone together for between round sequences with fewer players.

  2. jonahmaul says:

    A lot of comments and the articles to a certain degree assume that all the league matches have to be played on the same day. It would be very easy to have each round of the league take place of a week or two (or more if necessary depending on number of players, other commitments etc.). If all the players are regularly at a gaming club you could sort out fixtures then leave them to it for however long you’ve agreed until all the results are in. Pretty much everybody has access to e-mail/FB etc. so it would be easy enough for someone to take responsibility and sort out the fixtures this way. If people don’t play their games in the given time period then they lose out. You could create rules for this, if one person was available to play and the other wasn’t then their team forfeits (or if there was a good reason you allow them to play catch up and play during the next round). If people are interested in playing in a league they will make the time. Especially as it doesn’t take that long and is pretty easy to play anywhere.

  3. Sirolf says:

    Hey any news of God of Battles? When is it coming out?

  4. Monkey's Blood says:

    Sorry to prolong the off-topic… but goddammit! I’ve been staying away from mass battle games, but I google Gods of Battle and there’s only a picture of an army with a giant crab! Why do you tempt me so?

      • tornquistd says:

        Amazon made me update my order today to tell them I was still interested in Gods of Battle. It is my understanding the books have been printed?

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Foundry asked me not to talk about God of Battles. However, before their regime change it had been announced that the books had been printed, shipped to the UK and were clearing customs, so it’s not news to say that yes, they have been printed.

          When they might be releasing them is anyone’s guess. I am getting a steady trickle of information from people saying that they have asked Foundry and been told that they didn’t know. It’s not the answer either of us want, but it is consistent.

          As soon as I know any more I’ll pass it on. Mind you, given the amount they talk to me you may well hear first.

  5. Just another Peter says:

    In this post you state “I think it’s fair to assume that you can get most of the people in the group together at once (otherwise how are they ever going to play any games?) on some sort of regular basis.”

    I don’t think this is a fair assumption – as I stated in my first comment, I belong to a Blood Bowl league where this does not occur. All you need in order to play games is to know who your opponent is and arrange a time and location to play with them. If you do belong to a club where your assumption occurs, there is no problem with your proposed league structure – I was pointing out that it won’t necessarily happen and its absense would cause major problems with the proposed league structure.

    Another advantage a round-robin league structure has over your proposed one is that you don’t have to wait for all games in one round to be completed in order to start the next round. In a round-robin league you can play a round 2 match as soon as both coaches have completed their round 1 matches, even if there is still a round 1 match to go. As a more extreme example, if somebody goes on holidays/gets majorly injured/has an emergency they have to deal with for weeks, your league structure would force them to forfeit any matches they would otherwise be playing during that time or hold up the entire league. In a round-robin system, they can rush through some matches before a holiday, or postpone their matches until they are available again and not hold up the league.

    I am not adamantly opposed to the proposed league structure – I’m quite willing to give it a go, especially in a small- to medium-sized tournament (large tournaments should, I feel, stick to the more tried-and-true Swiss pairing method). I just don’t think it should be listed in the rulebook as “this is how you must run leagues”.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I don’t think there is one correct way to run leagues, and would encourage gamers to change whatever they needed to make the game work for them (rules included – not just leagues). Working in playtesting means that it works, not that it is perfect for all situations. Leagues, in particular, are always a complex process to run smoothly and are very dependent on the individuals involved and the situation(s) they can game in. If you want to run a round robin league then go for it! You will, of course, have to replace the MVP and Free Agent systems if you do so because they are tied into the way the league is currently structured. So whilst there are upsides, there are plenty of downsides too.

      I was intending to explore other league structures and options in Season 2 and Ultimate, but in the first iteration I think is clearer if a single system is presented. There’s also an issue of space. More burbling about leagues means less rules explanation, less teams fewer MVPs and so on. Got to draw the line somewhere 🙂

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