If the rugby world cup has you fixed to the TV in a partner/wife enraging trance, or if your curiosity in the game has been peaked by seeing 30 grown, large and unpadded men hurling themselves at each other in abandon then fear no more – when the final whistle blows on the final match and you find yourself with rugby withdrawal symptoms there is something waiting on the sideline to fill the gap and it's a rugby board game called CRASH TACKLE.
I'd just finished writing a set of rules for American Football based on the mechanics used by Ed from the Two Hour Wargame stable when a friend suggested we adapt them to use for rugby. After a while of testing these I thought it may be worthwhile actually publishing them (even just through Wargames Journal) as to be honest they were working well and 'felt' like rugby, they took a while and you would probably have to be an avid fan to follow all the intricacies, but they worked well. I decided to look up if there was anything similar and came across Crash Tackle. Being made in South Africa the exchange rate made the game very reasonable and I thought even if I didn't get to play it much it may have some ideas to help out with my set so I sent off for a box. It arrived shortly after ... and out off the virtual window went my rules, I hear you ask ... why?
Basically Crash Tackle does everything I was trying to achieve but in a quicker more enjoyable way and a way that is far more accessible to people who are not BIG rugby followers or players. Plus it is all there in a box with excellent support and supplemental material on their web site, Facebook Page and Youtube Channel.
I am loath to call the game a board game – of course it is but let me explain what I mean. Although it is played on a board with dice and cards it is far more like a hybrid miniatures skirmish wargame than a traditional board game. The players are individual with their own statistics, which at a more complex level of the game can be 'tweaked' to give individual characteristics – you want a fly-half who plays like Johnny W. – well you can have one! The players activate as individuals and can do certain actions within their game turn – all of which will sound familiar to wargamers and not so much to sport board gamers who usually deal with the 'big picture' on the pitch, not individuals.
The core mechanics and rules are elegantly simple and can be picked up, even by non gamers, very quickly. If you have a knowledge of rugby you will be playing a 'realistic feeling' game in no time. Beginners to the intricacies of rugby rule wise will pick up the mechanics but need coaching through the 'why you can't do that' and 'it may be best to do xx' by someone that does. But saying that my daughter who likes to watch but didn't really 'follow' what was going on picked it up within one game and has since says that watching a match on TV makes much more sense. My younger daughter who has just started University was so impressed she went and joined the womens' rugby club even though she had showed little interest all her life!
The board is your standard pitch with a hex overlay, made of thick card the graphics are great eight pieces make up the large pitch which is just the right size for the coffee table. Players may move so many hexes in their turn and also perform actions - 'gather' (the term used to cover every means of getting the ball into your hands, ranging from catching, picking it up and getting it from a ruck or maul situation), pass or kick the ball. You can move all your players in your turn (so long as nothing goes wrong) and then play passes to the other team. Any of the actions you attempt are rolled against your players ball skill (a figure of 5-9 depending on the position of the player) where you must roll equal to or under to be successful. But if you roll over then your player 'hesitates' and play passes to the other side, on a double 6 something bad happens. This depends on what you are trying to do but includes a 'knock on' etc. this means you must plan your move carefully, you can be all gung ho and attack orientated but fail the first pass and you are left open etc. All this is relatively simple mechanic wise and the authors have kept tackling simple too. Basically all players have a tackle zone around them, move into it and you are tackled, if the opponent moves next to you then you are tackled at the start of your next phase. Once tackled you are 'grounded' and the ball has to be 'gathered'.
Now all this would turn into a slightly boring game reminiscent of chess on a hex board if it wasn't for one thing – the Pressure Cards. This is a set of cards, you get two to start with, pick one up a turn and can play as many as you like in a turn. These are the real engine of the game and inspired in their content. They range from 'hand off' (which makes you ignore the tackle) and flip pass (so you unload as you are tackled) which make your opponent groan as he tackles you, to cards which add extra hexes to your move, make a kick a miskick (especially painful as you go to relieve pressure) etc etc. As coach you choose how you want to play, save the cards up and use them to make an innocuous phase of play into a game breaker, but risk the opponent playing the 'pressure play' card, which makes you throw all your cards in! Or play the odd card each turn to keep the pressure on at a low level – play the odds.
The simple mechanics (supported by the 'advanced rules' found on the site which adds the detail real rugby freaks will want) means all levels of players can enjoy the game, the game play after the learning curve is very fast and the cards keep the game 'unpredictable'. The game plays in 'real time' once you are used to it (the authors suggest an hour a half to start with) and while you do not get the same number of phases as in a real game it is close enough to feel 'real'. Which brings us to the real crux – does the game reflect the 'real on field' action? In a word ... YES it does, you can choose how you want to play the game. The same tactics you would use as a coach will work on the field and it all 'feels right', you are in charge! Now I'm off to play a quarter final against Australia (my daughter was born in Australia and her mum is cheering her on), planning on using our 'Johnny' to keep putting those high balls up and maybe even slot some drop goals for good measure!
All I can say is that if you have any passing interest in rugby and enjoy playing games then you MUST get this game!