Review by Andrea Ligabue
Designer: Marco Fuini & Bevan von Weichardt
Publisher: self published
When all the world’s fans are watching the World Cup in New Zealand, it is easy to chat about Rugby Union: Samoan tackling, French flair or All Black rushes are on the television and it is great to see countries like Japan, Canada and the US also playing great rugby.
I played rugby from 13 to 31, finishing my career in the Italian second division. I have always been on the lookout for good rugby games over the years, but have never found a boardgame that conveys the emotions of a real rugby match. This year I was lucky to stumble on Crash Tackle, a self published game from two South African designers, originally launched in 2001.
The rules in the box are version 2.1 but the official web site has a quite active community with new rules constantly being developed, tested and then approved: there is everything here you need for a true rugby experience. However, in this review I’ll talk about the rules supplied in the box!
First, Basic Training, the essential and easy rules, then Pro Training, to get a little more from the game. The game is for two players and a match can be played in less than two hours, which compares broadly to the 80 minutes of a real life game.
Crash Tackle is played on a hex gridded board and you control a full team of fifteen players. There are dice, used to perform basic actions and also cards, used to make exciting game-winning moves. The board shows a rugby field complete with all the expected lines: try, 22, 10 meters, halfway and so on. The game is played in alternating turns, just like a classic hex wargame: first one player, then the other.
During your turn you can move all your players and perform actions as long as you don’t fail in something … nothing unusual here for gamers used to Blood Bowl. Each player on the field has two stats: move (how many hexes can be moved in a turn) and ball skill (used for almost all the dice rolls). There are four types of player: Forwards (move 5/8 skill), Backs (7/8), Wings (9/5) and Fullback (8/9). Having played more than half my career as a wing I’m not so happy about the low ball skill, but it works in the game since wings are quicker than all the other players on the field. The team ‘quarterback’, the Scrum-half (nr.9), is also special because he is awarded a free pass every time he gathers the ball.
You can move all your players and you can pass the ball during movement. To pass (five hexes or less, and not forward), just roll two dice hoping for equal or less than the passing player’s ball skill. If you fail you get a turnover keeping the ball. Gathering the ball is the same. You can pass and gather as many times as you like, but you can move each player only once, and you have to finish a player’s move before starting to move another.
Tackles are automatic (and this is, I think, the great twist of the game) as long as the ball carrier enters an opponent’s Zone of Control. Both players involved are laid on the ground and the turn continues with the ball free to be gathered up. Of course you can also kick the ball (up to fourteen hexes) but you can’t regain the ball in the same turn: that actually means giving the opportunity to the other player to gather the ball and use the possession. Fourteen hexes is a decent distance and so kicking is not a bad strategy. The basic rules are exactly that, but offer an idea of the game. As often happens, to get a better experience you need the Pro Training rules.
The main difference between Basic and Pro are the pressure cards. You are dealt two cards at the beginning of the game and draw an extra one each turn. The cards all bend the rules in some way, giving you the possibility to break tackles, make longer, or flip passes, move quicker and so on. You don’t ever have many cards so you have to play cleverly to create the right opportunity to score.
Worse, there are also cards that allow your opponent to steal cards from your hand, or to make you discard all your cards; so don’t wait too long preparing your big attack. The card mix is common and known to both sides, and you don’t shuffle until a score or the end of the deck. So, after a few games, you gain an idea of what is going on and which cards are still in the deck or in your opponent’s hand.
In Pro Training you get also rules for scrums, touches, kicking for penalties, referee activity and more. They offer you a better simulation without making the game much more difficult.
What I really like about Crash Tackle is how well moving, passing, tackling, gather and pass and then move, tackle … it all works well and fluidly. You can play close and tight with the forwards or try open play for the wings, especially if you have the breakaway card. I really recommend Crash Tackle to all players wanting to have a game experience close to a real rugby match, even if it takes a bit longer…. Of course rugby addicts can go to http://www.crashtacklerugbygame.co.za/ and look for all the extra rules, including rucks!