Board games which simulate real-time activities, particularly sports, are sort of a point of fascination for me. On paper, sports, like any game, fit a pattern that board game fans will undoubtedly find familiar – rules, goals, limitations, strategies, tactics, it’s all there. But the challenge of distilling a physical game into cardboard and plastic is a unique one, since at best you take out one of the defining characteristics – physicality – while trying to retain some of the core essence of what makes the game ‘itself’. And that is definitely a design challenge – one which I believe 11 from Nestor Games rises to quite admirably.
We received a copy of 11 for review from Nestor Games
In 11, two players will face off in a strategic, almost chess-like interpretation of a football game – ok, look, despite the fact that I’m American and definitely want to call it soccer, I kept getting corrected by my non-American friends while we were playing, so I just give up at this point.
But as I was saying – in 11, each player will control a team, which they will use to try and move the ball across the field in order to score in their opponent’s goal – like, you know, football. The board is a neoprene mat and the pieces are simple plastic discs with player numbers – a common feature of Nestor games – which lends a simple elegance to the presentation of this austere game.
On your turn, you will roll the die, and that will give you the number of ‘movement points’ you have for the turn. By spending a point, you can move one of your players one space along the arcing network of interconnected field spaces. The player with the ball can move it with them at no additional cost, but taking the ball from an opposing player costs 3 movement.
The other option you have once per turn is to kick the ball as a free action. The ball can be shot one or two spaces ahead of the carrier in order to set up your other players to pick it up and run, or you can pass directly to another player who is on an adjacent space. But the brilliant aspect of the gameplay in 11, the thing that really brings the strategy to life, is the fact that a ball passed to an adjacent player can be immediately passed to another adjacent player, an unlimited number of times.
That means that if you’re clever (and if the dice cooperate), you can make chains of players which make it possible to move the ball huge distances across the field all at once, all the better to break away from defenders and move into prime scoring position.
Your goal (hah) is to get as many points as possible before the end of the game, and that brings up one of the oddities in 11’s design – there is no timer, no mechanism in-game, that determines a winner. Like the game it’s based on, it is suggested that you simply play 11 for a number of real-world minutes, after which you decide a winner (the rules suggest 2 20 minute rounds). For those with less time, though, one could easily instead play to a certain score or number of actions, to keep the game from dragging.
All in all, I was genuinely impressed with the simple elegance of 11’s design and appearance. Despite the lack of a real-time or dexterity element, it does retain some of the flavor of the sport it simulates. You have to move your team in a coordinated effort, blocking off advancement routes and creating chains of passers to move the ball around your opponent, and it feels so incredibly clever when it works. On the downside, when the dice give you 1 action and your opponent 6, it can feel like a really random kick in the teeth. But the brevity of 11’s gameplay means that a moment later, you could be up just as far, racing across the neoprene field, kicking the ball ahead of you as you close in on the goal.
11 is produced by Nestor Games, a small, Spain-based publisher. You can order games directly from their website for worldwide delivery, and most if not all come in an incredibly portable canvas pouch which, paired with 11’s gameplay, makes this an absolutely perfect game to take on the go.