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2-player strategy game combing the best of chess and football (soccer). Players attempt to be the first to move the "bladder" (the ball) into the goal. Maiming and killing is allowed (and encouraged). (Did we say "best"?)
I have visited the annual British International Toy and Hobby Fair--the UK's toy and games trade show, for almost as long as I can remember. My main hope, but not expectation, is to discover some of the types of games which we take for granted we will find from the smaller independent companies each year at Essen. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find two games at this year's fair, Mirador and Bladder, that I felt sufficiently motivated to write about. Purkess Brittain's first game was Hell for Leather in 1998. Wittily illustrated by cartoonist Paul Sample, creator of Ogri and also known for the cover artwork on many of Tom Sharpe's novels, the game was based on the Isle of Man TT motorbike races. Their second game, Bladder, is another 'sports' game, this time based on the medieval game of soccer. Think Ron Atkinson and that Carling Black label advert and you've captured the look and, impressively, the feel of the Bladder game. Apparently the Bladder concept preceded the advert by some eight months, but I wonder if there weren't any tie-up promotional opportunities here.
We are advised by Bladder's creators that the earliest forms of 'The Beautiful Game' became so popular that, by the mid-fourteenth century, numerous decrees had been issued forbidding the subjects of England to play the game. It was considered then that 'footeballe' was just an excuse for a punch-up, with many deaths caused, for example, by people cast over hedges at the hazard to their limbs--not much change there then!
Bladder imitates this violence, which is increased to Rollerball proportions on a chess-like board. The board is eight spaces by eight, but with the two middle rows being extended to ten squares by an extra space on each side. Straddling the four centre spaces is a diamond space into which the bladder is placed at the beginning of the game. The king and queen spaces (as in chess) are the goals.
There are two teams of 14 playing pieces, in dark and light. In my copy they are maroon and cream coloured. Each piece depicts a robed and stocky Marty Feldman look-a-like character with his hands raised in order to carry and support the bladder. The pieces start on the back two rows, facing forward, with the goal spaces left empty. The bladder (in 'real life' a blown and stitched up animal's bladder) looks like a deflated rugby ball and sits comfortably on top of the playing pieces.
Dark plays first, play then alternates. Pieces can move one space per turn sideways or forwards in any direction into any empty space, including the goals. (If a piece reaches the opponent's back row it is turned around and continues to move 'forward'). The object at this stage of the game is to manoeuvre your pieces in order to pick up the bladder, but at the same time to develop a strong 'field position'. The bladder can be picked up once it has been surrounded by one of the player's pieces on three of the four squares adjacent to the diamond. The bladder is then placed on the head of any one of these three pieces. Do not to be in too much of a hurry to pick up the Bladder however, as it is best to develop a strong 'field position' first.
Once a team picks up the bladder it is half time. At this point light is awarded an extra turn to compensate for the disadvantage of starting the game second. We now enter the 'rollerball' phase. To win the game a player must score the first goal. This is achieved with an ever decreasing number of pieces. To score a goal the bladder must either be carried into the goal by the bladder carrier or passed to a piece which has already successfully manoeuvred into the opponent's goal. Each turn a player may either move a piece or, if they are in possession of the bladder, pass the bladder to another piece. The bladder is passed by being 'thrown' to another piece a maximum of three spaces in distance. This action gives the sensation of playing a mini game of American football.
Possession of the bladder can be gained by tackling an opponent. Tackling is achieved by having two pieces on any of the eight spaces adjacent to the bladder carrier and the bladder is then transferred to one of the tacklers. Players' pieces can also be lamed and, as a result, permanently removed from the game. Laming is achieved by surrounding an opponent's piece by three of your own pieces. Laming the bladder carrier automatically transfers possession of the bladder. In practice laming often involves tit-for-tat moves and the removal of several pieces in a short space of time.
Bladder is very much a game of two halves. The positional manoeuvring of the first half preceding the picking up of the bladder, followed by the more fluid passing and piece elimination action of the second half. Bladder is fairly quick to play and, as a result of the theme, quite good fun, which is unusual for an abstract game.
Bladder's release is being timed to coincide with Euro 2000, although as Bladder is clearly not a typical soccer game the link is a little tenuous. The publisher's website, pbgames.com, contains variations such as 'Real Time Bladder' (Bladder Diplomacy style where players write down their moves which are then revealed simultaneously) and Murder Bladder (where the object is to 'kill' your opponent's 'king' piece by hitting it with the bladder). Recommended.