The middle age football board game for 2 players...
Bladder the root of all football matches ...easy to learn and yet devilishely tactical, Bladder is a revolutionary new chequer board game...
"the medieval englishe footballe"
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Bladder, subtitled "The Root of all Football" is an abstract strategy game for two players. The name of the game, along with the box art, is certainly enough to raise an eyebrow or cause a grin. Back in the days of yore it was common to inflate a pigs bladder for the ball. I would say that took a lot of Gaul, but the game originated in Albion. The box shows a bunch of peasants evidently gathered on the village green for a match; the one in the forefront looking amazingly like a young John Cleese. Bladder is published by Purkass Brittain Games, which just happens to be the last names of the two designers.
Inside the Box
The components are of high quality, which is something that cannot always be said these days. The board is mounted, and measures just shy of 16" x 16". In appearance it resembles a checker/chess board with a couple of exceptions. The exceptions are the goal areas, two squares on opposite side of the board, and two extra squares outside the pattern, on each neutral side of the board. The latter make little sense until you actually play the game. The rules are a small 4-page booklet (the rules are also summarized on the back of the box) and also enclosed is a competition sheet, assigning a numerical value to the faces of the peasants on the box. You enter the contest by picking ten rugby or football players whose likeness you recognize. Personally, the all look like Wayne Rooney as parodied by Setanta Sports, if you ask me. The playing pieces are what stands out, and are wonderful. You have two teams of 14 players, white and red (Light and Dark per the rules) made of hard plastic. Each stands about 1¼" high and is cross between a peasant and a gargoyle, or so it seems. They are so ugly they are cute, as more than one person has commented on. The bladder is a leathery piece of brown that resembles a stitched ball and fits on top of a players head when in possession. An extra bladder is enclosed, which would be handy in real life for some of us.
Playing the Game
The game begins with the bladder in the middle of the pitch and each team on the last two rows on their side of the board. Object is to grab the bladder and put it inside the opponents goal. Do this once and the game is over, that player wins. The goal area on each teams side is unoccupied at start but once play begins pieces can move into them. The bladder is placed a special diamond in the center of the board.
Players alternate turns, with Dark getting the first turn of the game. A piece may move one space and can never go backwards, it can move forward, forward-diagonal or sideways. Only if a piece reaches the end of the board on the opponents side is the piece turned around, thus changing its facing. At this point it can still move, but the direction of movement is toward your own side of the board.
To initially pick up the Bladder a player must have three pieces adjacent to the center diamond. Once picked up the bladder cannot be placed down again and the center diamond has no further effect. Before the bladder is picked up you cannot lame (more on this in a minute) a piece diagonally across the diamond. Picking up the bladder can involve the one rule that is somewhat mystifying at first. Like chess, the player going first (in this case Dark) has a one move advantage. If Light is the first to pick up the bladder, then they get an immediate extra move to even things out. If Dark picks up the bladder first play goes on as normal. This rule is called "halftime".
Football can be a rough sport, and its ancestor is even more so. Laming can be done in addition to tackling the bladder carrier, though both use the same mechanic. To lame an enemy piece you must have three of your own pieces adjacent to it. Remove the lamed piece from the game and transfer possession of the bladder (if the lamed piece was carrying it) to one of your attackers. You can also Tackle the bladder carrier. This just requires two pieces next to the bladder carrier and as before you transfer possession, but the enemy piece is not harmed. An important consideration is that you cannot passively lame or tackle a piece. If your opponent moves the bladder carrier into a position next to three of your players, you don't get an automatic lame. You have to actively move one of your pieces into a laming position to do so.
The bladder carrier thus leads a precarious existence! Moving just one space a turn makes the goal seems far away. Instead of moving the piece it can pass the bladder up to three spaces in any direction to a friendly piece. These are the two methods of winning the game. Advance into the opponents goal area with the bladder carrier or pass it to a friendly piece in the goal area. Once that is accomplished the game is over.
My first game of Bladder was a free for all brawl. Neither myself nor my opponent knew what we were doing except having fun. The match reminded me somewhat of Blood Bowl! The second time around was much better played on players parts. The significance of those extra squares on the sides of the board made some sense. The game can become somewhat linear in midfield and use of them can get around a line. It was apparent even during the first game that picking up the bladder too early is not really a good move. You want to position your players somewhat before that, and the halftime rule was invoked in the second game. Tactics are hard earned and learned. Since you can't move backwards it is impossible to stop your opponent if he breaks through to goal and you are too committed forward. Always keep some pieces back for defense, sliding sideways with some of the pieces that start on you back row to block the goal is recommended. Remember you will need two to tackle. Passing is another nice tactic for the offense to utilize. You may not be able to move a piece backward but you can pass backward if the situation requires it.
Bladder is a fun game. It looks weird and may not be everyone idea of how to spend a gaming session. Since the game only takes 30-45 minutes it is a great filler game while waiting for the rest of your lads show up. Don?t expect a simulation of any sort; this is an abstract game. On that level it works very well. I recommend it wholeheartedly, though finding a copy on my side of The Pond proved difficult as none of my local retailers could get a copy. BGGs own marketplace proved the welcome solution to that little problem as I was able to buy a copy through Brascogames. With the graphic art and the pieces Bladder invokes a nice period feel. This game is a refreshing change of pace from my normal fare.
Review courtesy of W. Sariego.