Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Frank Crittin & Grégoire Largey


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Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Is Switzerland a land of gamers? Until recently I did not know. But over the last years more and more publishers from the small country have come to the SPIEL convention to present us wonderful games. The newest Helvetian publisher HELVETIA GAMES was only established in march 2012. Helvetia Cup is their first game, so consequently it is marked with a the Roman number "I" at the side of the game box. At the convention in Essen I learned that HELVETIA GAMES has decided to apply strong concepts to all of their games. The first one concerns the design of the game material and the game boxes, and so all games come in equally seized boxes which are of the same colour, a dark green. Although the pictures on the front of the boxes differ due to the various game themes, they have a very distinctive design with a high attractiveness to collect the games. Another concept is to create all games with two sets of rules, one as a family variant and one for the geek player. Other than in comparable games HELVETIA GAMES does not want the family rules to be a lighter version that is only the step short of the full rules, but instead both variants should work as complete games. And finally a concept of HELVETIA GAMES is to build all of their games around the mythical land of Helvetia, which - oh wonder - has remarkable similarities to modern Switzerland.


Helvetia Cup is a game of soccer. But apart from the title which could be connected with this type of sport, at first sight there are no signs that this is really a very realistic implementation of real soccer. The game box shows us a picture of a stadium, but instead of football players you see a wild dragon hunting a crazy guy with a ball. Most likely you would think about Harry Potter's Quidditch but not about soccer. In the box, we find lovely miniatures of dragons and freaks. And in fact, in Helvetia Cup two fantasy teams compete against each other, but - as you will see - in the end it is still a game of soccer where one team is made up by small dragons, whereas the other is herd of freaks. This seems to be unusual, especially due to the fact that the rules do not equip the teams with supernatural powers, but instead you follow more or less the regular soccer rules. So no spitting of fire for the dragon player and no additional moves for the freaks, although their captain rides a broom.

As we are the coaches, the game begins with the choosing of our players and their substitutes. Both players get four players and a goalkeeper and can choose two substitute players. All players have individual values for their physique, defensive and offensive competences. In the family variant there is only an attacking and defending value, in the geek variant each player has an individual value for playing a long pass, dribbling, shooting and heading and for the defending it is stealing the ball, tackling, pressure and clearance. In this review I will concentrate on the geek variant, but I will also say some words about the family variant at the end of the report. So let us start:

The game is played in rounds. First thing to do in a round is to move the players. The attacking team always begins. One step of each player is for free, if you want to run longer, you must spend of your player's boost ability. For this all players have between two and five boosting markers. For beginners it is sometimes hard to decide when it is best to spend their boost markers. In fact this choice is one of the most important ones, if you want to reach good shooting distances for your players. Like in a real soccer game, you must wait for your chance to get rid of your opposing players and then, in the right moment, you must risk a burst of speed. This waiting attitude needs getting used to, although you should know it from the real sport. Boost markers should be spent carefully, because once spent, they are permanently lost and if the ability is reduced to zero, all other abilities of this player are reduced to the half of their normal values - indeed a great loss.

After the movement phase it is time for defensive actions. If the defending team has a player on the same hex-space as the ball, he may try to steal it from the other player or just tackle him. To see if either of these actions is a success, you must roll against the abilities of the player with a D20. Like in real soccer there is a chance that the other player is the stronger player in dribbling. And so, after a successful stealing of the ball he may "answer" with a counteraction, again by rolling a die. If your opponent can dribble like Lionel Messi, you maybe better try to tackle him. With this action there is only one roll, the one of the defending player. If it is a success, the attacking player surely loses the ball, but it is a failure, there is a risk for the defending player to get a yellow or red card or even an injury may happen to both players. As each player's dribbling ability differs from the tackling ability, and because of the attacking player's chance to do a counteraction after the ball has been stolen, you are always confronted with the agony of choice. In the end it is all a question about where the action takes place. Like in real soccer you should risk a tackling if there is the danger that the attacking player breaks through your lines. So it is more an action you will do in your own half of the field. But, of course, there is also the risk of a penalty, if the tackling is a failure and ends with a card in the penalty area.


If the defensive phase ends with the attacking player is still in possession of the ball, he may try to shoot or to pass the ball to another player. The difficulty of the shot depends on the position of the player, the player's offensive ability and the distance to the goal. If a shot is aimed for the goal, we first have to check if the goalkeeper is able to seize the ball. For this both the attacking and the defending team secretly choose one of the six squares of the goal. The coach of the attacking team always chooses one square, the defending coach may do so for as many squares as the distance from the goal to the attacking player. Then the choices made by both coaches are revealed, and if the goalkeeper did choose the right square he will have caught the ball. If not, the attacking player still has to roll against his ability for shooting to see whether the shot is really successful. Quite a simple mechanism, but I liked it and in fact it is not far from reality. The bigger the distance, the better the chance to catch the ball, isn't it? After a pass there is also the possibility to do a direct kick or a header. Both alter the chances of the Attacker to control the ball (it alters the bonus of the roll) and the chances to catch the ball for the Defender. Here quite interesting combinations can be done by the attacking coach: as long as the ball is moved from one player by short passes (1-2 hex-fields) and finds other open players, he may continue with his attacking actions.

As is right and proper the game ends after 90 minutes. But you cannot surely know when this time comes. In the geek variant, time passes whenever it comes to a change of ball possession. Then a special D6 is rolled and according to the indicated number, the time marker is moved forward 6, 9 or 12 minutes.

What you do not expect after the first sight of the game is the fact that Helvetia Cup includes a lot of details of a normal soccer match. So, for example, you must consider the offside rule. For most players the fantasy miniatures arouse suspicions that the game is only loosely connected with soccer, but then they are surprised how very realistic the game develops. Indeed some fellow players of mine said they would better like miniatures of real football players then those fantasy figures. Surely that would fit, too, but I think that those crazy miniatures do the game no harm. Quite the contrary I think they exert a huge attraction and bring a nice atmosphere along. The game works very well and is a lot of fun, if you accept that it is really a soccer game. So you must not be disappointed when a lot of games ends 1:0 or 2:1 and not with high scores like 10:6. The playing material is of high quality and especially the miniatures of the players are pretty funny. This probably justifies the high price of the game. A point of criticism are the thin outlines of the hexes on the game board. In twilight it is very hard to see where the players exactly stand. Also, the numbers on the miniatures could be a little bit bigger. With the exception of the keeper and the captain, all miniatures of one team are of the same shape, so that they only differ in the number on the shirt. But again, in twilight this is sometimes hard to read.

As promised I now come back to the family rules. With these simpler rules you have only one attacking and one defending value for every player. All actions are rolled against these values. This works fine, too, and I was able to play a game against my six year old son (although the rules recommend Helvetia Cup for the age of eight). The rest of the rules mainly remain the same, so you get a perfect exercise for the geek variant without feeling that something is really missing. A game lasts only about 20 minutes, so there is no reason not to play a revenge-match after you were defeated.

For those you cannot get enough, the rules also describe a Cup game, in which several teams compete for the Helvetia Cup. During the competition players can improve their teams by winning special cards that give them extra powers. This provides additional attraction and some new game situations. For example, if a player has bet that he will shoot a header in the right corner at some time during the match to win an extra power card, the opponent has some hints where to send his goalkeeper, right?

Helvetia Cup comes as a good simulation of real soccer, bearing some superficial similarities with older editions of Blood Bowl but without any fantasy-related rules. All in all, Helvetia Cup is a very promising beginning for the new publisher HELVETIA GAMES.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany