Today is a double review day... sort of. Since this Elball game review is more of an update than a whole review, I went ahead and reviewed Oregon, too (the game, not the state). So after you read this one, stick around and read that one.
My original review of Elfball (you can read it here) was titled a 'Miniatures Game Review.' It was kind of hard to decide what to call it, exactly - there are elements of board games, and elements of miniatures games, and a whole lot of sports game. The guys from Impact! Miniatures talked with me at some length after that review, and discussed how Elfball could be made a little more palatable for the board game crowd, as opposed to the minis game people. I made a few suggestions, but hadn't really thought more about it until just recently, when they sent me an updated, introductory ruleset for Elfball.
The introductory rules are still very Elfball. The rules are basically the same, the action is just as chaotic (maybe a little more so), and you'll still hate to see that black 'X' pop up and ruin your die rolls. You still roll challenges to throw, catch, tackle, and everything else that rough-and-tumble football players do, especially when there's a chance they've got magical powers.
Rather than reinvent Elfball, or dumb it down, Elfball Lite hits that sweet spot between being not different enough to be considered introductory, and so insipid that the ideal player is a thumb-sucking retard in a padded helmet. The rules make the game a lot faster with just a few small adjustments.
The biggest and most important adjustment is the modified use of the star on the success dice. Instead of being a conditional success, requiring more die rolls (and maybe more after that), the star just counts as two successes. This means that where you might roll, then roll a few less dice, and maybe roll again for good measure, now you just roll and count up hits. It's way faster, and results in far more competent Elfballers. The standard game ends up causing dozens of flops throughout a game, to the point that the teams mostly remind you of extremely violent versions of Larry, Moe and Curly. Now they seem downright good at their jobs. Where they used to drop the ball more often than drunk clowns at a first-grader's birthday party, now they can manage to hold onto the pigskin long enough to get slammed into the dirt by opponent defenders.
In fact, that's one element of the game that just got a lot more interesting - tackles. Tackles depend on a lot of extra successes to get some really prime hits, but now that you're actually getting an average of one or two more successes per roll, the pain factor goes through the roof. Winning by attrition becomes a very real possibility - but not a strategy on which you can rely, because if you focus solely on slamming opponents into jelly, they're going to chuck the ball to someone fast and score while all your guys are making cleat-shaped patterns in the other team. Body count doesn't get you a win... but it doesn't help the other guy, either.
The other slight modifications to the rules really help speed up turns, improve your odds of success, and force players to rely on planning, strategy and positioning over crazy rolls. If you play Elfball, or if the last review made the game sound like too much trouble, just download the new rules and give them a shot. They're one page, so it's not like you're looking at printing a novelette. And best of all, these easy-to-remember rules modifications turn a chaotic miniatures game into an exciting board game.
By way of endorsement, I played this with my son, who was adamant about not liking the original. When we played the introductory rules, he said, 'man, I wish you weren't giving this away. That was fun!' So there you go. It must be good if my teenager liked it.
You can get your copy of the rules right here: