Players: 1-2 Ages: 8+ Game Time: 10-20 mins
Z-Ball is a game for 1-2 players from Stone Sword Games in which you control a team of Z-Ball players hoping to be the first to get five strikes (goals, scores... insert sports term of choice here) or to have the most strikes at the end of the game.
The game plays very quickly, with a single round lasting around 15 minutes, meaning it is easy to sit down and even start your own league at home playing best-of-three (or more) in an evening.
With simple, easy to learn rules and language independent design it's easy to teach and suitable for kids and families.
The game is played by fielding the characters in your deck. When you do, you activate their abilities in order until either all abilities are completed or your team successfully completed a strike action.
The five main abilities are:
Focus: focus remains in play, stacking until your next strike attempt
Defence: defence also stacks and is used to counter opponent's strikes
Strategy: drawing more players into your hand of cards
Pass: play another card from your hand (or deck if you have no cards remaining)
Strike: This makes an attempt to score, which will be successful with a modified score of 6+ on the standard D6.
So, to win you need to Strike your opponent, and the tactics in this game come from timing your plays to optimise the use of your Focus against your opponent's Defence. Strike requires a high die roll, so having a good Focus stack (which improves your roll) when your opponent has no Defence (which reduces your roll) is the key to success. Sometimes you will want to make a Strike just to use up your opponent's Defence to make it easier next time.
If you manage to get all the way through your deck twice without one side scoring five strikes, then the game is over and the player with the most strikes wins that round. And that's it... simple but effective!
The base box contains three decks: two for human players, and one for an automa to allow this to become a solo player game. The solo player is on of the better implementations I've seen, with an adaptive model that uses the current game state to determine your opponent's strategy.
I just hope they will remain fair and not extort their followers
Additionally, the rules suggest you can look to have higher player counts playing as pairs. This could also include an automa player, extending this to become a four player game. However, this would require additional decks which are not included in he box currently. It is certainly something to look forward to as it also hints at alterative players becoming available to customise your decks. I just hope they will remain fair and not extort their followers using the trading card business model.
Using the box lid as a die tray is not a new concept, and personally I think I would have preferred a little more effort in the artwork to make the most of this. However, in general the artwork is simply stunning which is so enticing and just pops.
One aspect of the design I love is that (other than the rules) this game is totally language independent and accessible, because everything is done through the use of iconography, the only card text being card names.
As the copy we have received is still a pre-production copy I can't comment on the component quality too much, but based on what we've seen so far I have high hopes.
Z-Ball feels like a cross between martial arts and American football. Skilful and heavy all at the same time. I did however find that after playing a couple of rounds, whilst you could employ tactics, it felt too random for there to be any real strategy involved.
That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Certainly, as a simple, easy to transport card game, it's a nice family friendly game that makes a nice light opening or close to a game night. An "amuse bouche" as we like to say at DOALG.
Good fun, just not my taste as I personally prefer heavy Euro games. Nonetheless a solid game worth adding to your collection.
Your friendly DoaLG rules lawyer
George E Ohh