From the outset, DreadBall was intended to be a simple game to explain and understand. A big part of this has been refining and streamlining the options for the gamer so that he or she isn’t struggling through a vast rule set that is littered with exceptions and sub-clauses. Things need to be crisp and clear. All this starts with the game itself.
When you boil down the way the sport works, there are essentially two things you need to do on a DreadBall pitch. The first is to score strikes. This is, after all, how you win. However, without the ability to control the positioning of your opponents you’ll struggle to get into position yourself. This is the second essential.
You could argue for a third essential of blocking your opponent’s, and it is a useful skill. However, DreadBall is a high energy, aggressive sport and the majority of the time you do better by simply scoring more and more quickly than the other side. The best form of defence in DreadBall is often attack. In any case, being able to control the opposition works for defence too.
Controlling the Opposition
You need to be able to get to a the ball and then into a position to Strike. There is another team on the pitch who are in your way. What you need to do is control where they can go, and if they are in the wrong place for your plans you need to be able to move them somewhere else (a body bag will do nicely).
Without scoring Strikes you cannot win. You need to be able to collect, pass and score with the ball, and to do so as reliably as possible.
Why 3 Roles?
Controlling the opposition is obviously what Guards do, and scoring Strikes is the role of a Striker. But DreadBall has 3 roles. Why include Jacks?
Jacks have been part of my design from the very start, and serve a number of important functions. They are, in many ways, the unsung heroes of the piece, and though they are the least spectacular of the player roles they are probably the most useful in design terms.
In DreadBall’s early design stages there were some calls for Guards to be able to Throw the ball, and Strikers to Slam. The argument was that you might possibly be in a position where you wouldn’t have the right specialist available. I have resisted this stubbornly for a number of reasons, the main ones being:
- that it muddies a clear design
- Jacks already (partially) cover that problem
- allowing everyone to do everything is bland, dull and removes a load of tactical options and opportunities to demonstrate player skill.
With Guards ignoring the ball (Keepers aside), and Strikers never Slamming, each specialist has a clear and simple duty which they can finesse to their heart’s content without making anyone else redundant. Coaches can easily see what they need to do on the pitch, and the tools (players) they need for each job. Play can evolve past the struggles with the rules and into the tactical options and depth that I find more fun.
Jack are the glue that holds this model together. With only two specialists, there is little option but to include both in most teams. Teams must have Strikers, and all-Striker teams need special rules to cope. Essentially team variation goes out of the window with only 2 player types.
Specialists are also very good at what they do, for obvious reasons. This is a bit mono, again, and leads to less interesting team variation and so less interesting play.
By adding a generalist as a half-way house between the two extremes of play style it allows me to keep the purity of each extreme whilst also having a poorer version of each ability to add texture and variation to each team mix. A Jack is OK at Strikes, but not as good as a Striker. He is OK at Slams, but not as good as a Guard. The teams now have another variation they can include, and by mixing up the combinations of different player roles we can have teams with no Guards (relying on Jacks), no Strikers (relying on Jacks), etc.
If we look at the alternative to this, which is giving every individual the ability to do everything, we have a mess. Either the player is so penalised for trying the “opposite” role (Slamming Strikers, Throwing Guards) that he might as well not have the ability, or he is able to do it passably. The first is pointless and a waste of time. The second will quickly degenerate into a bland soup as players gain experience. If every player can try their hand at everything the differences start as minimal and get less as time goes on. I’m going for characterful here – for telling an exciting story – and “bland” need not apply.
The only credible alternatives I can see to the 3 roles I’ve gone for are either adding more specialists (which I think would be ungainly and is unnecessary) or making everyone the same. If all players were just players, then you could tinker with their exact abilities for team balance and character. That might work. However, it would be far more complex to play and balance and I don’t see any real benefit over what we have. Possible, yes. Worthwhile? I’m far from convinced.
So we end up with what we have: 2 specialists at the extreme ends of a spectrum, with Jacks in the middle. This gives us larger than life characters and a powerful set of archetypes (the solid Guard, the nimble Striker, the versatile Jack). We have a stark contrast of playing styles and an easy to remember set of rules to define them. Coaches can quickly understand and memorise the stats for role specific armour types and bonuses and then get on with thinking about tactics and winning the game rather than the rules.
And that sounds like fun to me.