How To Make The Pro Bowl Fun

As a gamer and strategy junkie, I have a high-octane love for the sport of American Football.

That probably surprises some people that are used to hearing me talk about Dungeons and Dragons and the Fallout franchise. But the truth is, football is a real-time strategy board game using the most dynamic pawns imaginable: humans.

There’s a stereotype that football is only for meatheads, jocks, and Average Joe’s, and no self-respecting Geek would associate with such a brutish display of <gasp> physical competition.

But listen, haters: Football is cerebral first and physical second. The field is a chess board. Player positions mirror class systems in an RPG. And if you’ve ever planted a bomb in your enemy’s base in an MMO, you’ve scored a Touchdown.

You might not see it if you only read the headlines about off-field behavior, or catch highlight reels on accident when the news comes on after The Orville. But there is a depth to this game that only true brilliance can comprehend (Go). There is beauty in its play-calling, personnel groupings, and situational theory (Final Fantasy). It’s a game of math and statistics (D&D), and physics and wit (Portal). It’s outsmarting your opponents (Chess), supplanting their expectations (Werewolf), and matching up skill sets in order to eliminate threats (Magic: The Gathering).

But it’s human. There is heart, and RNG, and chaos. It’s the ultimate 4X/Roguelike mash-up.

Okay. Now that we have that bit of business out of the way, let’s get to the topic at hand.

Let’s talk about the NFL’s greatest failure as an organization: The Pro Bowl.

There are very few things that the Pro Bowl does well, so we’ll start there. The highlight (sadly) is Scheduling. Fitting the game in on the otherwise vacant weekend between the Conference Championship and the Super Bowl is the right move. Before 2009 the Probowl was played AFTER the Super Bowl, which encouraged its irrelevance. The Super Bowl is a natural bookend to the season, and fans can mentally and emotionally decompress when it’s over. Playing one more “just for fun” game afterwards doesn’t make sense, and besides, there’s an empty week just sitting there between the conference finals and the Big Game. Kudos on their recent scheduling placement, it should remain.

Likewise, moving the game out of Hawaii has been the right move. Football should be played in its relevant market, and although the fine denizens of Hawaii probably enjoyed getting a taste, it felt too removed from the action for most NFL fans. (Take note International Series schedulers!)

This leads directly into our first area that needs to change:

1. Location. Orlando is not a traditional NFL market. Let an NFL stadium have the honor of hosting the game. Let it be played in a city that has an established and excited fanbase. Make it Super Bowl Junior.

2. Skill Challenges. The Skills Showdown is the most exciting and interesting part of the event. So it’s completely baffling that they show it on Thursday evening when nobody is around to watch it. This is fun, relaxing, entertaining tv; It’s Saturday afternoon programming. Move the skills section to a reasonable time slot on the weekend and watch the ratings climb.

3. MORE Skills Challenges. While we’re on the topic, let’s just say it: The actual Pro Bowl game is boring. So let’s spruce it up by adding more of the fun and excitement! Add more interesting events, trick catch competitions, showcases and rivalries. Hell, throw some Combine events in there, let us see what these All-Stars can really do. This should be the focus of the event; a fan-friendly entertaining circus of hijinks and next-level competition. Think Slam Dunk Contest with footballs.

4. Rules. We all know why the rules are the way they are in the Pro Bowl. Nobody wants to see their favorite player get injured in a meaningless game. But remember that this is an exhibition match, it only exists to entertain fans. So if the players aren’t going to be going full speed, let’s give them something fun to do. Add 4-point Field Goal zones near the sidelines. Allow Holding and Pass Interference. Let each team forward lateral once per down. And as far as making the players themselves more in to it, I propose…

5. The Swap. The highlight of this year’s game was seeing offensive players on defence and defensive players getting carries. Instead of just peppering this in for a couple of plays, let’s bake it right into the game: In the second half, offense and defense switch. It would turn the game on its head, fill the arena with cheers and laughs, and give fans something special to look forward to. And plus, what defensive back hasn’t dreamed of being placed out wide on offense and burning the competition for a receiving touchdown?! Maybe the Tight End has a sack-dance all queued up for a wild occasion. This is the type of thing that can create memories.

And finally,

6. The Fans. It’s no secret that most great hobbies (and cultures!) are ruined by the very people that Stan them. There is no greater enemy to the NFL than the fans themselves. By giving them a third of the votes you can be guaranteed to see the likes of Jason Garrett on the sidelines even if his team goes 4-12. Why? Because the fans, especially in big markets, just vote in their guys instead of the actual best and most deserving players in the league. It devolves into a popularity contest, or a war of populations. Neither of these things are conducive to accurately producing a best-of-the-season lineup in the so-called All-Star game. Give them, say, a fifth of the vote. Or let a qualified committee whittle it down to two choices at each position and let the fans be the tie-breaker. This isn’t Prom, it’s a reward for outstanding play.

Do I think any of these changes will someday be implemented? Probably not. But there is nothing outlandish or unreasonable here (except maybe that forward lateral thing.) But one thing is certain: Something’s gotta change, or this game will end up being just a footnote in NFL history for the next generation.

*Matty usually writes about board games, video games, and scifi/fantasy media. He only devolves into a football troglodyte for 5 months out of the year.

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51st State – or – Why I Won’t Survive The Apocalypse

51st State is all about building an engine. And like the post-apocalyptic world it represents thematically, building things that you want to build will be difficult and not always work without a little bit of ransacking and raiding.

You see, to create one thing you’ll need to produce another thing, and to get that other thing you’ll need to produce a third thing that can be turned into a fourth thing that can be exchanged for the second thing…It’s a pretty standard engine-building game in that way. Each playable faction will have their own strengths and weaknesses as far as what they can produce. They’ll have a bit of technology leftover from the old world, or they just know how to scavenge for certain items. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to destroy a building in order to get to the salvage you need. Sometimes it’s better to use force to take what you need from another player.

Most of this is happening only within the thematics, of course. Take away the post-apoc pictures and descriptions and it could be a game about matching colored squares or numbers to produce mathematical equations. But the theme of industry after the fall of civilization goes a long way in this one, and every action and outcome is brilliantly matched with visuals and representations that help you transcend a basic engine-building game and really experience the struggle of post-apoc living.

What I’ve found with 51st State is that you may not know what your strategy is until you’re halfway through the game. Items you were trying to produce take a backseat to others because you suddenly discover a little combo that you’d like to exploit. Or perhaps you’ve looked up and realized that you need to go raid your neighbors tableau, and that’s so fun and easy that you decide building your own salvage yards aren’t worth your time. The cards that become available to you will drive new strategies, much like a wanderer in the wasteland making do with only the scraps they can find.

51st State has some of my favorite game pieces of anything I’ve played in recent memory. It’s not the standard wood and stone of most Eurogames. Instead there are guns, and gears, and gas cans. This adds a refreshing new element that helps it stand apart from similar games, and the themes are so realized that they will immediately burrow into your brain. You will be that mutant scavenging for scrap. You will be a post-apoc entrepreneur.

You aren’t going to get the exploration feel of Fallout in this game, and you won’t be simulating combat like in Dust. But for strategy lovers, deck building enthusiasts, and anyone with a taste for the post-apocalyptic, this game is going to have a permanent rotation in your game collection.

Next Generation

Finally got a chance to introduce my nephews to the glory of tabletop gaming!

I have been feeling that it was time, as they are now 11 and 8. The oldest has been ready for a while, but knowing that I’d never be able to play with him without the younger one joining in, I’ve been putting it off as long as I could.

I let them pick the game, and of course they went after Agricola with its farm theme and colorful pieces. I bought a full aftermarket set of meeples complete with farm animal and resource/produce pieces because they’re a lot more fun than colored discs and paper chits, so they were instantly drawn to it. This worried me; I’ve seen experienced adult gamers recoil at Agricola’s rulebook.

They got it immediately. I couldn’t believe it, even the 8 year old! So much for underestimating the capabilities of a child.

I’m so excited for the next holiday gathering when I can introduce them to some more games, indoctrinating a new generation into the board game lifestyle 😁

Pandemic Legacy

Super stoked to start a campaign of Pandemic Legacy!

If you haven’t played a legacy game, essentially there will be rule changes, special ability upgrades, map location changes, and many other game minutiae effects that carry over from game to game. Think of it as a “campaign” that continues each time your group pulls Pandemic out of the game closet.

We’re playing “Season 2” as the group I play with these days already played season 1 before I moved to town. I’ve played lots of Pandemic in my day, but this is my first legacy game of any kind. I’ve heard friends rave about Risk Legacy for years.

We had a blast playing, enough so that we’re planning a second game night just to devote to it.

The game plays very similar to the original, but sort of in reverse. Instead of traveling to locations to cure their viruses we make sure locations have supplies so that war and famine and disease don’t break out. It’s a new thematic approach, but it feels natural and familiar to veterans.

Pandemic is a cooperative game, which is why it’s one of my favorites. It’s also HARD. That fact hasn’t changed with the Legacy version, and of the two rounds we played last night only one was a success.

Next up we get to explore more of the map, as the game presents a fog-of-war mechanic usually reserved for video games. It’s masterfully done in my opinion, with changes to characters, the game board, and even the rulebook itself completed with stickers or markers, making it a “permanent” change. Each character even has a sort of life bar, hidden behind scratch-ticket silver. You won’t know who can take the most damage until it happens, and character death is permanent.

It took me a while to get on board with the concept of a game being “one use,” but it’s so seamlessly and naturally accomplished that I quickly saw the merit of a permanent option over a recyclable one. You’ll get your money’s worth. Yes, if you want to start a new game with a new group you’ll need a new copy of the game, but it will play so uniquely that it almost doesn’t matter, even to penny-pinchers like myself.

I’ll update as the campaign moves on, but for now my initial review comes with high praise and a strong recommendation to gamers of the genre and even role players and strategy gamers in general.

Shogun

Shogun by Queen Games (not to be confused with the 1986 game of the same name by Milton Bradley) is a resource management / zone control game for 3-5 players.

First, let me say, this game is a lot of fun for someone like me that cut their teeth on Risk and Catan at various times in their board-gaming life. The game board itself will immediately remind you of Risk with its Regions and Provinces and unit allocation. Digging deeper you get elements of Citadels and Kingsburg with turn order and special power selection. You will have to manage rice and gold properly while defending your borders (or expanding them) and erecting buildings that decide your eventual Victory Points. It’s like Risk smashed together with Catan, which is very cool because both of those games with their singular objectives become a bore after too many playthroughs.

This brings us to the most important and interesting part: Combat! A special dice tower is used for your units to “hit”, but instead of throwing dice into the tower you will throw the warring units themselves. The innards of the tower have maze-like paths and shelves with cutouts, making some units stay inside the tower and others find their way through. Your units may just push other units stuck inside the tower out, and on top of it all there are Farmer units that can battle for or against you seeded within the tower. It’s a fully unique and interesting mechanic that adds elements of luck, statistics, and meta-gaming. Most importantly, it takes trust in the hardware and the playtesters that helped develop it.

The theme of feudal Japan is a refreshing change of pace from fantasy and scifi tropes that overwhelm gaming, and although this may only be an aesthetic reskin that holds no true relevance to game play mechanics, it was a welcome element.

The game materials state that it takes about 2.5 hours for a game, but we played 4 hours in a five player game, and we tend to play fast, so add an hour or two for your group if you have slow or methodical players. There are lots of decisions to make and if you aren’t thinking ahead and adjusting strategies as new things crop up on the board you could get stuck in a sluggish drag.

There are 3 and 4 player options for the game, but 5 player seems to be the most balanced and what the developer intended.

Overall a great game, and one that I am super pumped to play again!