DreadBall Design Theory: Why 3 Player Roles?

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.





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54 Responses to DreadBall Design Theory: Why 3 Player Roles?

  1. moocifer ( also in Nottingham ) says:

    “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.”

    Looking forward to the JUDWAN’s special rules ..

  2. Buhallin says:

    In general I agree with the concepts you present. But in practice, Jacks are so underwhelming there is absolutely no reason to have them when you can have specialists in their place. It’s not just that the die makes them do things worse – but the movement restrictions on their actions mean it’s often better for me to run a Striker from halfway across the pitch to get the ball, because I can do so much more when they’re in place. Slamming is even worse – the movement impairment means that you have to essentially be lucky enough to be in position to take a Slam in the first place, and the +dice for a running Slam means you’re again better off bringing a Guard from halfway across the pitch to take the hit.

    And that’s even before we get to the outright liability of a Jack who happens to have a ball scatter on to him.

    So they’re immobile players in a game which encourages mobility, who take extra actions to accomplish things in a game of limited activations, and are a constant threat to end your rush on a bad scatter. Their only visible strength is the general “If all your strikers are knocked out/mispositioned you won’t have anyone else who can pick up the ball”, but that feels very much like giving up ability for your primary game plan in order to have a panic button.

    We keep looking for a use for them, but still have found almost nothing. There’s no situation where you’d design a play to intentionally make use of a Jack if you could avoid it. They have some interesting fast advancement potential (50/50 to 2/3 chance of any given stat increase you might want, depending on the player) but it’s hard to see them gaining XP quickly enough for it to really matter.

    So again, I agree entirely with the goal of the 3 roles – but Jacks to me fulfill exactly what you said: “Either the player is so penalised for trying the “opposite” role (Slamming Strikers, Throwing Guards) that he might as well not have the ability,… is pointless and a waste of time.”

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Obviously if you have a vanilla team and a choice between a specialist and a generalist, the specialist is going to do a better job. However, we are not concerned with only vanilla teams, and we are not concerned with only situations where you have a choice. I’ve tried to design the game to cover the myriad possible combinations and to address some of the issues that teams and leagues have as they grow more experienced. Part of the function of Jacks is to deal with these longer term issues.

      Also, you have bypassed the notion that the 3 tier split allows a variation of teams that is much harder (and arguably less effective) without them.

      I want to discuss each role separately, and this article was really aimed at setting up those more focussed and detailed posts so I won’t discuss the details now. In brief though, I think you’ve missed three very important benefits that Jacks bring, quite apart from the fact that for many teams without both specialists they are the only option.

      Finally, I think you’re looking at this as a “glass half empty” issue rather than one half full. Jacks are not intended to replace the specialists on a team when the specialist is present. To expect that is to misunderstand their function. Instead they are there to step in when the specialists are not present. The fact that they can step in for either one of them is one of the benefits I’ll go into more later.

      • Buhallin says:

        “In brief though, I think you’ve missed three very important benefits that Jacks bring, quite apart from the fact that for many teams without both specialists they are the only option.”

        I’m not entirely sure how “The team doesn’t have any better options” qualifies as a benefit for the Jacks. Obviously, if you have a team like the Orx where nobody else can carry the ball, you use them as best you can… but honestly, that has driven several local players away from the Orx completely.

        I’m curious what you see the strengths of the Jacks are – why I would choose to put one on my roster, much less the field, rather than balancing the specialists and ensuring they’re available. Why we should treat them as anything other than desperation scrubs who you only put on the field when you don’t have any other choice.

        Maybe that really is their role, but I was honestly hoping for more. As it is, we don’t think the Jack glass is half empty… we think it’s just plain empty. I’m very much looking forward to deeper details and advice on how to use the Jacks.

        • E°r°i°c°k, alias Silence Indigo says:

          I haven’t played the game yet, only studied statistical analysis with the probabilities, but I would tend to go with Buhallin’s view in regards to the Trontek 29ers’ jacks. I’d rather have 3 strikers and 3 guards on my pitch than jacks, who’ll be much worse than the specialists in whatever they do (especially because they lack the free move with Throws or Slams). From a Trontek coach perspective, I am hard pressed to see why I’d want a jack on my team, I’d rather have specialists on the pitch and make them run for proper positions. Except, of course, for MVPs such as Logan whose reroll abilities and good stats makes him exceptional.

          However, from a game designer’s perspective, I do understand the need for variety stated by Jake to make teams different so I think Forgefather jacks might have some potential (with their Strength) and likewise goblin Jacks (if only for lack of an alternative). If every team had the same options, that’d be bland indeed.

          So, to make things short, I think that Buhallin may have a point, but maybe only from a Trontek coach perspective. I still, however, tend to see the Trontek as far superior to the other teams on paper, if only because they appear to have the easiest time scoring 4 point strikers and winning the game by a landslide. Can’t wait to verify that on the pitch!

        • Buhallin says:

          That’s indeed pretty much where I’m coming from, Erick. We have 3 Jacks right now: Goblins a coach has no choice but to use. Humans I can’t see why you’d ever use them. And Forge Fathers I’m seriously considering using, but it has nothing to do with the strength of the Jacks, but rather the utterly hideous nature of their Strikers.

          I ran some more numbers, and a good assisted 3+ Slam against a Forge Father Striker has a 23% chance of KILLING them. I’m looking at playing Forge Fathers primarily for the challenge in them, but I think the Forge Father Strikers are without question the absolute worst player in the game.

        • Doug says:

          I’m actually thinking that the FF team needs more starting skills. If the FF striker started with Grizzled it would make them suck less, or rather, make them slightly less easy to kill than every other striker on the pitch despite their bulging muscles.
          If the stats have to stay identical for each position, then skills are the only way to mitigate the problems.
          IMO the FF would be easier to play if they had 4+ Speed, without necessarily making them unbeatable. The only reason for them not to is for difference sake.

        • We’ve played a few games with the FF and all agree their Guards are exceptional. Their Jacks and Strikers we’re yet to fix an opinion on. At first the strikers were looking utterly useless. Then we saw them perform vital desperate sprinting to the ball, complete with a perfect throw down the pitch.

          Who do you want waiting for that throw? Ideally you have another striker, it certainly maximizes your chance of scoring. More likely you’ll have jacks waiting down there. They’ve got the skill to handle the ball combined with the muscle to stop other players simply marking them.

          We were always impressed with FF Jacks, it’s only recently that we’re seeing the Strikers as useful players as well.

          Corp Jacks on the other hand are rather weak. Clearly this is a team where Jack are deliberately intended to fulfill a secondary role.

          It’s worth noting that I’m yet to play a game with the correct rules regarding failed catches and turnovers. It could be Jacks turn out to be less useful then we’ve experienced.

        • Doug says:

          I’ve found FF guards to be conditionally exceptional. Get slammed from behind and they suck big time. I’d prefer orx guards over FF ones as they have better speed and Move. Staying standing is only advantageous because their speed is so bad – orx will generally get up quickly and a double effectively means they weren’t really on the ground anyway.

        • We’ve found FF Guards rather hard to slam in the rear. Any sensible FF player positions a Jack protecting that weak spot. Naturally this results in the FF covering very little of the board. We find dominating the center line to be sufficient.

          Also Orx Guards struggle to stand when marked by 1-2 Jacks. With the Guards on the ground those poor goblins don’t stay on the field much longer.

          The trick with FF is making all your players work twice. You can’t re-position, so you have to plan ahead. Try to use a single Jack to assist a Guard in slamming a vital player, then marking that player so they don’t get up and all the while being ready to pick up a stray ball.

          We’ve found FF Strikers are best kept as reserves. Bring them into play once both teams have taken a pounding. Having 6 players all capable of slamming on 3+ is quite intimidating. No other team can match that.

        • Doug says:

          These work in isolation, but there are only 6 players on the field. You’re saying that to fix the gaping downside of the FF requires a third of your team, or that it’s ok if Orx guards have good speed rolls because a third of the opposing team is going to be stopping one of yours.

          You need your players to gang up in order to be effective, but you need to cover the entire field to try and slow down the opposing strikers and get the ball. You can’t do both.

          Marking players takes your own out of the game too and it’s not guaranteed. Every team except FF has at least a 50% of standing up, and that’s assuming they’ve been marked by two people. Marking does very little as you can slam on a stand up. Orx guard rolls 2D6 to stand up (unless you’ve sacrificed a third of your team to keep a sixth of the opposition down), gets one success. Then slams with the next action. On two successes, gets a free slam.

          The only games I’ve won using FF involved lucky slams that took out players in the first rush. Staying in the centre line is fine until your opponent misses a strike, then you’ve either got to let them get it and score, or disrupt your scrimmage line to go and get it, which itself is a big effort due to extremely slow speed of the FF.

        • “You need your players to gang up in order to be effective, but you need to cover the entire field to try and slow down the opposing strikers and get the ball. You can’t do both.”

          We tried doing both. It didn’t work. Forget about covering the field, it can’t be done with FF.

          FF looked weak until we switched tactics. Bunch up, Utterly dominate the important sections of the field and let your opponent have the rest. When they run past your line (not if) let them strike. If they miss; ignore the ball and let them try again. Use all the actions you’re not spending on chasing the ball to damage their team. If they’ve still got 5+ players on the field by turn 5 something has gone horribly wrong.

          It’s a scary way to play, totally unlike any other team, but we found it works.

          Note: When it goes wrong it really goes wrong. Expect some 7-0 losses, it’s all part of the process.

        • Doug says:

          tried that, hasn’t worked once. Slamming is stacked against the slammer, even with 3+ the chances of sending people off aren’t high. Most of the time your’re just pushing them around or knocking them over. It only takes one striker to make two strikes to instantly beat you and everyone else has such great move that they’re always going for the 3pt strike zone.

  3. James says:

    I really like how versatile the jacks are. In basically any team sport you have a similar role: someone that fills the void between offense and defense.

    Yes they arent as good at slamming as guards but inarguably they are better than strikers at it, and they are inaruably better at throwing than guards even if they arent as good as strikers. They aren’t so bad at any one thing that they dont deserve to be on a team at all (unless that is the teams gimmick like Veer-Myn). This is especially true in human teams given their across the board average stats.

    Given that i’m definatley going to play Orx im going to be using them a lot.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on the Robot team, which is essentially all jacks (from what i hear).

    • James says:

      I also see them as a great balancing factor.

      Orx have amazing guards, if they had a bunch of strikers too it would make them pretty broken.

  4. moocifer says:

    Anyone dismissing JACKS as useless needs to sit down and re-read the DREADBALL rules as clearly they have forgottten about or perhaps not fully understood the “RUNNING INTERFERENCE” ability.

    • James says:

      good point moocifer

      However i also feel they have more utility than just access to that one skill

    • Buhallin says:

      I have read Running Interference, and do understand it – I even understood it before the gratuitous deployment of the caps lock. We’ve even PLAYED with it, if you can believe it.

      You’ve got a 1/3 chance of getting the skill once you level the Jack, and it’s once per game. When you use it, you get to move one hex and take a Slam. Unless you double your opponent – which will be VERY hard since you won’t be able to set assists – he’s just going to go on his merry way and complete whatever he was planning to do.

      It’s not exactly useless, but it’s certainly nothing that’s worth taking the hit that Jacks bring to the rest of your team just to have it available after 5-6 games worth of development. The one unknown here is the cards, and how common the Running Interference cards are. If there are enough of them in the deck that they provide a common trigger for the ability, then that might change things.

  5. moocifer ( also in Nottingham ) says:

    “We’ve even PLAYED with it, if you can believe it.”

    Actually I’m not entirely sure I do believe you as you have completely failed to mention that RUNNING INTEREFENCE occurs as an interrupt during your opponents go -AND- that by merely winning the JACK SLAM you end the target player’s action. You don’t need to DOUBLE SLAM and force a ball drop, just stop them in their tracks.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Now, now. Let’s keep this polite folks.

      It’s just a game, and differences of opinion are entirely allowed.

    • Buhallin says:

      So unless I provide a full treatise on every advantage and disadvantage of Running Interference, and those happen to match to yours, I’m a liar? Nice. For the record, we’re well over 20 games played, with all the teams, and with skills included in a number of those. So we’ve got the time in to have at least a basic feel for it, thanks. Can we get back to disagreeing about Jacks now?

      Yes, if your once per game, probably-even-odds shot wins, you end their action. What happens if they have another one ready to go? They continue on their merry way, exactly as I said. The problem is that an opponent can control that.

      Running Interference has the potential to be useful. But it’s once per game, its sphere of influence is very small, and the odds of accomplishing anything with it are typically around 50/50. All that adds up to an interrupt which is largely controllable by your opponent. Simply staying three hexes away makes it useless, and a single player can both force an Evade and provide an assist for the Slam at the same time. The scope of what you can do with it is so limited, your opponent can rather easily account for it. There are idealized exceptions to this, of course – a Goblin moving to just put a threat on a FF to force an Evade, for example – but generally speaking we’ve found it useless. In probably a half dozen games played with players having RI, we have yet to see a single notable play develop because of it.

      And that’s assuming it makes an appearance at all – I’ll be very surprised if it turns out to be a popular choice compared to stat increases, which means you’re looking at a 1/6 chance to end up with it on an advancement roll in the first place. Assuming you hit a choice option on the Jack table, would you really take RI over a Skill or Speed increase? I certainly wouldn’t.

  6. Doug says:

    If I look back on all the games we’ve played currently, I realise almost none of the team actions were spent on jacks (in human and FF teams). At one point the jacks stayed in the same place for ~half the game, as we spent all our actions on guards and strikers.
    The only time they were used was when one of the others wasn’t there to do the same job, often because they’d been taken off the field. That or we had spare actions to give a jack to move them up for a slam assist.
    Maybe that’s why i found the veer-myn so easy to play, all my actions were playing guards and strikers anyway.

    • Buhallin says:

      This has been our exact experience as well, which has led to the view of Jacks as complete scrubs. They’re used to provide assists, and not much else.

      IMHO the biggest part of the problem is the move limitations. As you say, “when one of the others wasn’t there to do the same job”… but a Striker six hexes away is there to do the job that a Jack 2 hexes away can’t. This is why they work fine for assists, but not much else. Anything that requires an action is something they can’t do on the move, so you’re literally better off running a Striker or Guard halfway across the pitch to do it instead.

  7. James says:

    If you think of Jacks in wargame terms they are the cheap disposable troops on those teams that have both specialists. Would you rather have Buzzcut murdering your guards/strikers or your jacks?

    also when fouling, do you wnat to risk losing your Guards when instead you can risk losing a jack?

    lets say your opponent has a thing for sniping your strikers in the back of the head with the ball. Are you going to want to screen them with a specialist or a Jack?

    all these come into play.

    I think the key strength of a Jack is that they arent a specialist

    • Buhallin says:

      1. Buzzcut won’t pick my Jacks to hit, and with a 75% chance to Evade away from the Jack you tried to pin him with it’s not likely to keep him there. That’s assuming he doesn’t just hit the Jack first, then take his second action to hammer someone else.

      2. We’ve only seen one Stomp so far, and that was when I had a FF Guard completely pinned in and about to take a backshot so I wanted him sent off. If I felt the need to try and foul, I’d honestly want it to be a Guard – potentially steep consequences, the extra die is important, and Guards have a much better chance for Does This Hurt? which makes them much better foulers if you plan to do that sort of thing.

      3. You cannot screen players to keep your opponent from beaning them. The rules for determining throw paths are far too permissive.

      I’d rephrase your “key strength” for Jacks as “They suck enough to be expendable.” I can’t really disagree with that sentiment, but I think we may have different definitions of “strength”.

      • Fenrir-Oton says:

        “1. Buzzcut won’t pick my Jacks to hit, and with a 75% chance to Evade away from the Jack you tried to pin him with it’s not likely to keep him there. That’s assuming he doesn’t just hit the Jack first, then take his second action to hammer someone else.”

        Well, at least he had to spend and action and can’t hit three Strikers in the same turn. ;-P

      • James says:

        Then don’t use them. It’s your copy of the game dude.

        Play Veer-Myn or Judwan.

        Just bear in mind though that, like Jake said regarding the issue around scatter, by not including them you will be missing part of the game.

        We obviously have a very different outlook on gaming.

        I’m more about using whats available with the rules as written and letting the game show me how its played rather than getting myself upset because i dont like a rule or a model.

        But thats cool too, it would be pretty boring if we were all the same.

        • Buhallin says:

          What do you think I’m trying to do here? We’re TRYING to use what’s available. I’m not bashing on Jacks just for the sake of bashing on them or because I don’t like them, I’m trying to figure out exactly when you would intentionally use a Jack.

          We don’t expect people to avoid every team that has a Jack, that’s just dumb. What we are seeing is people ignoring the Jacks on their team in favor of the specialists, and teams like the Orx that force Jacks on people are unpopular and hard to play. Given that Jake’s post is all about the importance of having a third player type, which I agree with, I’m desperately trying to find something to convince us that Jacks are indeed useful. If you’re enthusiastic about hamstringing yourself because you’d be missing out some part of the game in doing so, then that’s awesome for you – pull your Strikers and Guards, and play as many Jacks as you want, and see how it works. But expecting players to intentionally handicap themselves by taking crappy players is not good design.

          I want Jacks to have a purpose and utility of their own, and they don’t seem to. You even agree with this – you said earlier that the Orx with real strikers would be too good, and all your suggestions for what to do with Jacks are to use them as expendable cannon fodder. Ignoring for the moment that the opposed dice system makes that an unwise choice, I’m not content with that being all they are. I’m looking for a situation where I would actually have a task to complete, and faced with a choice between a specialist and a Jack to do so I would choose to spend the action token on the Jack. I’m looking for a reason why a team with a choice (i.e. developed enough to have backup players) would ever put a Jack on the field instead of a mix of just Guards and Strikers.

          Again, I agree with Jake’s theory on why you need 3 player types. But none of us are convinced that Jacks aren’t such a waste that they might as well not exist, thus failing to meet the design goal.

  8. Quirkworthy says:

    @Buhallin – I think you’ve slightly misunderstood my goal here, or are perhaps focussed too much on a single element. I don’t want to go into all the details here as I’m half way through the Jack’s article, but let me burble for a bit and see what comes up.

    Firstly, the teams are very well balanced overall. That is my own experience and the feedback I’ve had from several hundred games, and was the unanimous verdict of the playtesters. Regardless of the details of stats and player role mixes, overall they’ve very close indeed.

    Some teams are easier to understand than others – which is always the way with any game that has an array of factions. Nothing wrong with that. What is interesting here is that it is the Orx who are most often described as easy to understand and play. I have to say that I agree here. Of the four initial teams, I find the Orx easiest to start with, followed by the Veer-myn, with the FF and humans tied in last place. That’s not in terms of potency, but in terms of feeling like I know what I should be doing when I start out. As it happens I’d also suggest that even though the Veer-myn look fairly easy they turn out to be anything but once you get into it.

    So your fellow Coaches who are ignoring teams with Jacks are, I think, missing the point. The teams work as a whole, and as such they are balanced. If some players are weaker than others, then that is to be expected. You can’t have the best of everything in every side and still have them different.

    “expecting players to intentionally handicap themselves by taking crappy players is not good design.”

    There is no handicap: this is called game balance. Would you argue that nobody should play any side except Germans in WWII games because nobody else gets Tigers? Of course not.

    Let’s look at the Greenmoon Smackers for a moment. They have a starting roster that includes 3 of what are arguably the best Guards in the game. SHould they also have the best Strikers too? How would that be balanced then? Would that be “good design”? I don’t think so.

    Goblin Jacks are not as good at scoring as Strikers by any means, but they are not as abysmal as you are making out. They are only poor in comparison to the exceptional skills of dedicated Strikers. I have scored many, many times with Goblins, and have the same done against me. They are a long way from being “crappy players”.

    Having said that, if you have a team with both Strikers and Jacks in it then you will usually take a Striker in preference. However, remember that specialists are utterly rigid and cannot adapt. I’ve seen skilful Coaches take advantage of this. Jacks can often make the same play as a specialist, but will typically take an extra action to do so. Individual players don’t get access to infinite actions, and so you may want to save a specialist to finish the play.

    So why not just take specialists? To start with they are rigid predictable and can be played by skilled opponents. Secondly the Jacks generally last longer than Strikers. Finally, the Jacks have more room to improve than either specialist, and so are a better deal in the long run. That only applies in leagues, but is a worthwhile consideration of you’re playing in one.

    Anyway, I’ve got to go and run another playtest. I’ll see what’s been added when I get back.

    • Buhallin says:

      Our own experience has been that the Veer-Myn are incredibly easy to play – their straightforward tactics are pretty obvious, their speed makes them very, very forgiving, and their skilled dodging makes them the most resilient team out there. Sure, they’re going to miss a fair number of actual strikes, but there’s very little choice involved in how you deal with that. We’ve found Humans to be the next easiest, primarily because their strikers can so easily generate extra actions. Orx are harder because the lack of mobility on the Goblins means you really have to plan to exploit them. The Forge Fathers… honestly, none of us have gotten anywhere near figuring out how to win with them. They’re very crunchy because of the pathetic Dodging, even with good hitting power they can’t exploit it because they’re too slow to provide reliable assists, and their Strikers fold or give up the ball so fast you simply can’t expect to hold it for more than a turn.

      I’ve never directly questioned the overall balance of the teams, although I think the difficulty spread between them is one of the most extreme I’ve ever seen. With only four teams to play, the difficulty spread is such that it’s taking a great deal of faith to trust that the balance really is there.

      Your quoting me about handicapping, and game balance, was directed at James’ assertion that not playing with intentionally weaker players is somehow wrong and denying yourself the full experience of the game. I freely acknowledge that the Goblin Jacks are poor-man’s Strikers as a balance to the impressiveness of an Orx Guard. But even then, they’re barely “Jacks” in the sense of what the position theoretically is, because their poor Strength makes throwing a Slam with them a dumb idea. Same goes for the FF – I’m not sure yet that you’re not pushed to them as poor-man’s Strikers as well, just so you have some ability to Slamback when your ball carrier gets hit, rather than folding faster than laundry on a Sunday afternoon.

      As a side note, we’re all still adjusting to the fact that the Veer-Myn are the hardest team to hurt in Dreadball, while the Forge Fathers are the easiest. It’s a reversal that’s creating quite a lot of cognitive dissonance in our group.

      Maybe I just really do have the wrong expectation for Jacks. I’m looking for a player position that has its own unique strengths, that has some reason for me to choose to them even when there are alternatives. If they’re just a desperation fallback or a handicapped Striker then they are what they are, but I was hoping for more. But I notice I’m getting stupidly wordy now, so I’ll just wait for the Jack article 🙂

      • James says:

        “Maybe I just really do have the wrong expectation for Jacks.”

        I think you have the right of it here

        “I’m looking for a player position that has its own unique strengths”
        There strengths is their flexibility ( despite their weakness that they aren’t as good as either of the specialists at their specialisation)

        “…that has some reason for me to choose to them even when there are alternatives.”

        I dont think you would in general but they are there for when you dont get that choice, whether by design (orx) or not (injury)

        “If they’re just a desperation fallback or a handicapped Striker then they are what they are, but I was hoping for more.”

        Think you may be dissapointed.

        Hopefully Jake can assuage your fears with his ‘Jacks’ article but as he’s already gone through a fair amount of info with you and it hasn’t really helped i can’t see it.

        I think we’ve hit an impasse. So lets wait for the article and see where that leaves us.

        Just as an asside, i do enjoy these discussions as you really know your stuff. Hat’s off to you.


        • Buhallin says:

          “There strengths is their flexibility”

          This seems to be the common refrain, but I have to keep disagreeing with it.

          Jacks are only flexible in that they can fill either role once all your specialists of a certain position have been knocked off the pitch. If I have even a single positional player left, I’m generally going to be better off moving the positional player to accomplish what I want to accomplish. Consider a simple exercise: You want to throw a Slam. You have a Jack 4 hexes from the target, and a Guard 9 hexes from the target. Which do you throw the Slam with?

          That’s the sort of situation that SHOULD show the “flexibility” of a Jack. You choose to use the closer player, even though they might be less effective. But it doesn’t work that way – both players will take two actions to accomplish the Slam.

          That’s the core of the problem we’re running into. Because the specialists can move but the Jacks can’t, it’s going to be a rare case when a specialist isn’t available to do the job. Kinda like my first year in college, it’s a short hop from falling asleep in class to not bothering to wake up and go in the first place. How many times do you have to put a Jack on the board and realize that you’re never spending actions on him before you just stop playing them in the first place?

          I’m looking for a reason to WANT to use a Jack. Maybe I’m coming at it from more of a minis wargaming perspective, but IMHO if I only put them on the field when I’m forced to by team structure or circumstance, they’re not a well-designed model.

        • James says:

          I think maybe we are coming at this from disparate perspectives.

          As you’ve said you’re looking at it as a Human coach. Honestly i get where you are coming from. By and large I wouldn’t use a Jack to accomplish what a specialist can unless that specialist weren’t available. I agree with you there.

          I, however, am coming at it as an Orx coach. I have no choice in the matter. Does that mean I’m just going to lose all my games? I don’t think so, and if i do i imagine it will be my play that will determine this rather than my choice of team.

          I know from play experience that my Jack can score on rush 1 using 2 action tokens. Now, I realise that your human striker can do the same in 1 action. This, though, leaves us at the same place; a score and the end of a rush. Given that how many actions are used rush to rush do not alter how many you have available for your next rush (a bit like the Focus mechanic in Warmachine) I don’t see how it makes much difference.

          There may come a rush where I simply don’t have enough action tokens to do what I need to, but that’s just the way the game goes. If it has gotten to that point then I imagine, for the most part, that I’m either being outplayed or I’m playing badly. Neither of which revolve around the game nor rules really, just my ability to work within their confines.

        • Buhallin says:

          Goblins are a bit of a different bag, since they’re essentially gimped Strikers. Their poor strength means they really aren’t at all flexible – if you’re trying to throw Slams with them, you’re doing it wrong.

          While a Jack can potentially score in one turn by themselves, it relies on doubling the pickup. You spend your first action to get to the ball and pick it up. If you don’t double that, you can spend one more action with him, but are too far away to get to the Strike Zone before throwing. Done.

          I also think your evaluations of “You take one and I take two and we both end our rush when we score so it doesn’t matter” is (sorry for saying this, but I don’t know how else to put it) very bad play. If you’re scoring before your final action, then you’re wasting actions. Whether those actions are throwing Slams (which you should be doing every chance you get with your Orx), drawing cards, putting threats on opponents, whatever… those actions still matter. And a Human Striker doing it in one turn means they’ve got 4 other actions to use, while you’ve got 3.

        • James says:

          Yeah i realised after i’d hit send that i’d made no mention of doubles. Obviously my example relies on this but given that you only need to roll 2 4+’s on three dice its not exactly out of the question (i’m sure you know the probabilities better than me). If i dont double the pick up then ‘thems the breaks’, it wont ruin my day.

          And yes i agree the Strike attemept would be the last thing to try (i’m not a total maroon ya know 😉 ) but i was just reducing my argument down to its basics.

          Ok the Gobbo’s arent as good at slamming as say a human Jack but they are better at it than your human strikers and there is no major downside (exept that i’ve used an action) to me slamming your strikers as even if you double me it doesnt hurt me. Plus given your reluctance to use the humble human jack its more likely i wont need to worry about slambacks on my gobbos.

          Not sure about you but i think we’re both pretty settled in our repective view-points and i dont think either of us is going to persuade the other out of them.

          so lets wait for the Jack article to see what ammo that gives us 😀

    • Buhallin says:

      “Secondly the Jacks generally last longer than Strikers.”

      I ran some quick numbers on this (brute force via software), and I’m not sure this is the case.

      Assuming a big hitter (5@3+) the average hit is going to be 4 successes. Using Humans as an example, a Jack (3@4+) generates 1.8 successes, and a Striker (4@4+) generates 2.4. The Armor check for a Jack is the same, so another 1.8, but the Striker (3@5+) manages 1.2.

      So both total out to 3.6 “countering” successes between their dodge and armor, but the Striker’s total on the initial Dodge means they won’t get doubled as often, so won’t have to roll armor as much in the first place.

      Running actual direct head-to-head Slams bears this out as well. With no assists against a bit hitter, a Jack will average 1.07 turns out, while the Striker is 1.02. Putting assists on makes things a little better for the Jack (1.85 vs. 1.83) but the Striker is still more durable.

      It’s possible I’ve got a bug somewhere, but the logic is pretty simple so I doubt it. All tests are brue-force averaged over 500K runs.

  9. moocifer ( also in Nottingham ) says:

    And there you go again with your numbers ..

    ““Secondly the Jacks generally last longer than Strikers.”
    “It’s possible I’ve got a bug somewhere, but the logic is pretty simple so I doubt it. ”

    Could it be the JACKS last longer because everybody goes for the “superior” STRIKERS, with their specialist skills, first ..

    • Buhallin says:

      “There I go again with my numbers”? I’m sorry, is it supposed to be an insult that I use actual numbers?

      Yes, Strikers are going to be a more important target, and get hit more. I’m not entirely sure how “Sucks enough to not be a priority target” is really a motivator to choose a Jack over a Striker. Why don’t we game it out?

      A. All Strikers – you hit one, I’ve got more.
      B. All Jacks – Jacks are going to be the ones getting hit
      C. Mixed – You’re going to hit the Strikers until I have none left, then go for the Jacks.

      Swapping a Jack for a Striker would only work if the Jack were somehow an effective decoy, which they’re not. Your opponent will try to take out your most effective players, regardless of what they are – a Jack with a Skill increase will almost certainly be a higher-priority target. Whatever that target that gets hit is, whether Jack or Striker, the difference in survivability is minimal but gives an actual advantage to the Striker.

      Putting in a less-effective player and then bragging about their durability because your opponent didn’t bother to Slam them seems a bit strange.

      • “Swapping a Jack for a Striker would only work if the Jack were somehow an effective decoy”

        That’s an awesome idea! What if jacks could be switched for an adjacent player when that adjacent is the victim of a slam or steal? Such the Jack is now the recipient of the action and gets their usual choice of slamback/dodge. That would open up all kinds of tactical play, and provide jacks with an important function not possible with the primary 2 roles.

    • Torkel says:

      that makes no sense

  10. Doug says:

    I agree with Buhallin in regards to ease of use of the various teams.
    The veer-myn are really easy to play because their move and speed allows them to make up for mistakes. Their speed also means it’s hard to double them. When the objective of the game is to score strikes, figuring out how to use the veer-myn isn’t hard – you grab the ball and attempt to score strikes. Stealing is easier than picking the ball up as it’s a Speed test. The ability to reliably Dash and Evade means that in most cases I’ve never needed to worry where the opposing players are, I simply move through them and attempt to score.
    I pretty much ignore my guards. You can actually play the veer-myn like the judwan – an all striker team. With out the limitations on strikers you don’t need to think about where to put your models, their move is high enough to get them anywhere and they all interact with the ball equally. So I just use which ever striker is closest to the ball/carrier and attempt to score.

    You don’t need to resource manage veer-myn like you do other teams because their strikers are plentiful and are all you need.

    The FF on the other hand are the opposite, they can’t make up for mistakes and positioning is EXTREMELY important. Get it wrong and you are at a severe disadvantage. The FF striker is also statistically (barring a slamback gobbo) the easiest model in the game to kill/take off. The FF require a lot of thought in order to play, the veer-myn don’t.

    The humans (due to their brilliant strikers) are the next easiest team to play after veer-myn. 2 guards, 1 jack and 3 strikers is the normal set up for us. It means you’ve got most of the board covered by a striker somewhere, enabling you to reliably make strikes.

    Marauders are harder to play than either humans or veer-myn, but easier than FF. gobbos dash and evade really well so that partially makes up for their inability to get free moves from ball handling.

    I think the issue is really the compounding effect of high speed/move for the veer-myn and low speed/move for the Forgefathers. Alone each of these is good; high speed gives good dashing and evading whilst high move gets you around faster. Combine the two and you get even higher speed. My veer-myn strikers regularly got 8 hex runs due to their high Dash success, whilst my FF rarely if ever even ATTEMPTED to Dash, let alone succeeded more than once a turn.

    Veer-myn may miss scoring strikes more than FF, but it is a HELL of a lot more stressful when you miss with FF. Or indeed, when your opponent misses against you because then you’ve got a free ball in your end zone and people with bricks for feet trying to get it to stop your opponent scoring.

  11. MadHatter says:

    So, I play with Buhallin and, despite what appears to be a really negative attitude, he really does love DB.! 🙂

    I typically play humans around here and I’m pretty sure I have the highest win % thusfar.

    my only problem with jacks is that the move limitation feels way too restricting to allow jacks to truly be multi positional. I wonder how game balance would be affected should jacks be allowed 1 hex @ +0 dice OR a run at -1 dice.

    That would make their positioning very important but allow them a bit more mobility/flexibility. For critical actions (strikes or important slams) you would typically still take two actions (or use a specialist) to increase your odds of success.

    • James says:

      now that, is a bloody good idea!

    • To be honest I think we’ve been allowing Jacks to dash in addition to their single step. Probably makes them a great deal more useful than intended.

      In regards to Buhallin, I certainly don’t see it as a negative attitude. Only someone with a great passion for dreadball would care enough to run the numbers.

      I think it’s great that someone is checking statements such as “Jacks survive better than strikers”. The truth in these matters is important.

    • Buhallin says:

      Hrm. I’d threaten to take that out on you on the field, Hatter, except my Forge Fathers continue to faint every time anyone sneaks up behind them and takes a cartoony surprise tap on their shoulder that they didn’t see coming 😉

      I’m really not negative on DB as a whole – but at the same time I don’t like brushoffs about things I see as problems. So when we get comments about how Jacks are more durable, or more flexible – neither of which are borne out by either the numbers or my play experience – I’m going to keep pushing the issue.

      And if you think I’M negative, you should see on of the other members of our playgroup who never posts 😉

      • Quirkworthy says:

        “I don’t like brushoffs about things I see as problems”.

        You have assumed here that you are right and I (and others) are wrong. I don’t think that’s a helpful standpoint. Just because you see it as a problem doesn’t mean that it is globally. It might be, but it might not. Many other people do not have the issues you do with Jacks. Disagreeing with you is not a brushoff, it’s a difference of opinion.

        As it happens, I think there is some truth in what you say. However, I have also played quite a few games, and on points such as the survivability of Jack compared to other positions (when you measure survivability by the likelihood of being alive at the end of the match, which I do) I have to stand by my statement that they do pretty well. Better than the numbers might suggest (one would guess because other players are targeted preferentially). Why they are more survivable wasn’t my point – just the fact that I have seen many dead Strikers and Guards and rather fewer dead Jacks.

        Also, I’m not sure how you can say that Jacks being more flexible is not “borne out by either the numbers or… play experience”. A Jack can both Slam and Strike. No other player type can do both, nor can anyone else Run Interference. How does that make them anything but “more flexible”? Flexibility says nothing about your level of skill with a task, merely that you can do it at all.

        Which player role has “more flexibility” than a Jack?

        By all means keep pushing – you’ll find the door is partly open anyway (read today’s post).

        On the subject of your quietly negative friend. Is there any particular reason why he never posts? He doesn’t have to. I’m just curious.

        If people don’t like the game then that’s fine. There are tens of thousands of games out there and not every one will suit each individual. That’s only natural. As the man said, you can’t please all the people all of the time 😉

        • Buhallin says:

          “Disagreeing with you is not a brushoff, it’s a difference of opinion.”

          And I’m cool with the differences. But a number of the statements about Jacks just don’t hold up to me, to the point of sounding unsupportably cliche. If Jacks fold just as fast as Strikers when they take a hit, I don’t think they’re more durable just because they’re not worth hitting. If we look at it in Blood Bowl terms a Wood Elf Lineman is not more durable than a Blodging Wardancer just because they’re a lower-priority target. Claiming they last longer because they aren’t worth hitting may be true, but feels disingenuous. At the very least, it’s a statement that needs to be qualified for what it is.

          “A Jack can both Slam and Strike. No other player type can do both”

          The fact that they can potentially do both is not the same as actually being able to do both. Due to the movement restrictions, the reality is that for a vast majority of action tokens you plan to spend, a Jack can actually do NEITHER. That doesn’t qualify as flexibility in my mind. It’s the difference between theoretical flexibility – which they certainly have – and practical flexibility, which I feel they’re seriously lacking. To use another Blood Bowl analogy, Saurus theoretically have unlimited flexibility in their actions, but their AG is so bad that they can’t really do anything with the ball. Theoretical vs. practical.

          I also don’t think it really matters whether a given player has more or less flexibility than a Jack, because you don’t play a player, you play a team. Even if we grant that a Jack has some theoretical flexibility advantage, you can almost always get a specialist in position to do the same thing for, at worst, an equal number of actions. So whatever flexibility they might have is visible and used only during the most desperate of situations. So again, a difference between theoretical flexibility and practical flexibility.

          Don’t get me wrong – we really do love Dreadball (even my nonposting complaining friend 🙂 ) If anything, I’m trying to push you a bit on your own stated design goals and theory and where I think Dreadball fails to live up to it. I do worry that without a third position the game loses something, and I agree that a player who is so bad at something you’d never attempt it might as well not even have the ability. I think Jacks hit both of these head-on.

        • James says:

          Just to quickly pick up on something here,

          Jake said Jacks are more survivable, and you (rightly) pointed out that they aren’t more durable.

          These are different terms.

          Their durability is no better than anyone else, they get hit, they die as easily as anyone else.

          Their survivability is better. They survive more games because they arent a prioirty and so dont get his as often. If i have the option of slamming a specialist or a jack i’ll take the specialist as generally it will hurt my oponent more. This is especially true if the jack hasnt been moved for half the game, as i believe has been mentioned a couple of times, becuase the Jack is less likely to be getting in the way of a slam.

          I understand your point about not being worth hitting is not exactly something to scream about but it is an advantage if what you are looking for is longevity.

          just my 2p’s worth.

          Carry on


        • Buhallin says:

          One other thought that just occurred to me, it’s entirely possible that we’ve been talking about different things this entire time. If you’re focused on and happy with Jacks having theoretical flexibility, that’s fine. But especially as a player, I care about it where the titanium ball contacts the opponent’s skull – if they don’t have practical flexibility, they don’t have any flexibility at all. So maybe just different priorities, and what I see as dodging the issue with irrelevancies is central to you.

          I’m a software guy, and very touchy about this. The list of things in the software world that sound great in theory but absolutely collapse in practical application fills entire books. That defines a lot of how I look at the world when I’m analyzing anything, games included.

  12. Pingback: I’ve Been a Bit Naughty |

  13. MadHatter says:

    Slash you are hard headed. 🙂

  14. Doug says:

    If Jacks were allowed to Dash as part of a slam or throw etc then they’d be more useful. Moving 1 hex isn’t as good as your full move. but not being allowed to dash at the same time compounds the issue (there are quite a few ‘compound’ situations).

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