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You'll discover that what works on a real football (soccer) pitch also works in Pila (Latin for "ball game"). This is an abstract strategy game that effectively simulates a real soccer match. The box contains high quality wooden pieces (produced by the BRIO factory): 10 blue and 10 red players, a ball, 2 dice, a sturdy board, a nice cloth bag and the rules.
Football (soccer) simulation games are becoming a common breed, and Pila adds to this set of games with a beautiful looking, fast playing, and highly tactical boardgame. The team members are sturdy wooden cylinders, nicely painted, made in the same factory that produces Brio trains. The box, board, and rules are all of high quality. Underneath this luxury package is a basic abstract strategy game that uses a die to settle some pretty important issues, though it is far from completely random and the random elements are consistent with the theme.
The game plays much like a real soccer game, with each player setting up their formation as desired on their side of the pitch. The start player gives the ball to a player they lined up within the center circle. The ball is very slick in this game; it is a "half ball" with a hole in the bottom that sits perfectly on top of any team member. From here, you trade off turns and are allowed to do what you'd expect:
- Pass the ball
- Move or dribble (dribble is with the ball, move is without)
- Attempt a shot on goal
When moving, a single piece can move to an adjacent field, defined as another field directly connected by a field line. Passing is a little more complex and creates one of the nice features of the game. You can pass directly to a teammate or to an open field, but to lob the ball over an opponent's piece requires symmetry. Symmetry exists when the spaces between the passer and the receiver have a balanced set of spaces and opposing team players. Using a shorter version of the example in the rules, any of the following are symmetrical:
Red Piece - Open Field - Open Field - Open Field - Red Piece
Red Piece - Blue Piece - Open Field - Blue Piece - Red Piece
Red Piece - Open Field - Blue Piece - Open Field - Red Piece
Red Piece - Blue Piece - Blue Piece - Blue Piece - Red Piece
The first red piece could pass to the ending red piece in any of the above formations, but could never pass over another red piece.
If pieces share a field and the ball is involved, a tackle occurs. Like everything in the game, the process is logical and practical. Tackles are determined by a die roll with a simple higher roll winning when neither player has the advantage. You gain advantage if you are positioned in the field when your opponent dribbles into that field, allowing you to win the tackle on a tie.
When the ball is controlled on a numbered field on the opponent's side of the pitch, you can attempt a shot. This also uses the die, but unlike the tackles you can manage the probabilities much better here. Basically, you must be able to follow a clear path into the goal, and the farther away you are the higher you must roll versus your opponent to score. If you tie, you can try one more time unless you are covered. Having to shoot around other players is modeled by needing to cross lines on your path to the goal, increasing the variance required to successfully score. While the scoring rules are logical and take little time to learn, the rules include a nice table that cross-references every possibility.
Along the way, you can be called off-sides, get back quickly on defense with a nicely designed rule feature, and attempt a tackle from behind with penalty consequences if you fail. Often, the game begins with a player passing the ball back into their own goal area, then using the next series of moves to set up their pieces in a way that will allow passing and scoring fairly quickly. You cannot win this game playing only offense or defense, though, and this is where the nice strategic balance comes into play.
There is a good flow to the game, and it feels like the decisions you would make in a real match. This is an abstract strategy game, rather than a simulation, in that players never get tired, and positioning of the pieces and out-maneuvering your opponent is what wins more often than not. The "not" comes from the fact that even a dead-on shot from close in can fail because of a poor roll, or your opponent can pull out a miracle shot while covered by getting a six against your one. There is certainly frustration in meticulously setting up for a high probability shot, missing, then scrambling back and hoping for a good roll the next time around or on defense. The game would be better if it could accomplish the scoring without the die, but as in real life even the easy shots don't always work and the hard ones do happen at times. Over several games or within a timed game, this should even out with the winner being the better player.
English rules for Pila, along with a nice description of the game, can be found on the Tellus website at www.tellusgames.com. Played poorly the die will dominate, but played well it is a nicely executed and perfectly themed abstract game and should appeal to any fan of the genre or the actual game. The game is overproduced for what it is, but it is so nicely done that it is worth its relatively hefty cost and probably gets more play as a result. Check out the site and decide for yourself.