We’ve already seen my choices for video game of the year and comic book of the year (and established the rules: my choice isn’t necessarily one that released in 2021, but one that I enjoyed the most during the year!), but what of my favourite tabletop game in 2021?
Well, ladies and gents: let’s get ready to RUMBLESLAM!
Yep, despite generally being put off miniatures games by reams of rules, in-depth lore that I couldn’t hope to catch up with and the actual process of building and painting miniatures, which I’ve always been intimidated by (despite having acquired and painted a handful of Warhammer minis a few years ago to a reasonable standard), my choice for the best game I played in 2021 is indeed a miniatures game.
Rumbleslam is a tabletop miniatures game based around wrestling in a fantasy world; where orcs, trolls, ogres, halflings and countless other fantasy creatures battle it out with humans to establish dominance in the ring. It’s a colourful game with lots of really cool mechanics, giving you everything you need to get going in one handy Starter Box (which includes two teams of five miniatures each), aside from paints, glues and tools to tidy up and coat your little wrestlers in the colours of your choice.
This is the one caveat I’d insist on imparting before recommending Rumbleslam to a complete minis/wargaming noob: you won’t be able to just pop the box open and get started on playing immediately – even if you don’t intend to paint the miniatures (and they’re all very distinctively individual, so if you wanted to just use them as grey figures there is nothing stopping you doing that), you’ll still need to file off sharp bits of resin and glue them to their bases. It does take time to even do that.
That said, once I’d got a few pointers/reminders from YouTube painting tutorials (remember, I do have a small amount of experience with painting minis so I’m not a complete noob, though I’m still a novice when it comes to even intermediate painting techniques), I got all ten of the Starter Box’s wrestlers painted within a week, to a standard I was happy with (though far from the professional standard you’ll see the minis presented with on publisher TTCombat’s website). Another important piece of advice to remember at this point: you’re not going to start painting and suddenly be able to create these high level, perfectly painted characters with all of the minuscule, flawlessly applied detailing that you’ll see online. It’s ok to get them into a state that you’re comfortable with and move on. Perfectionism can lead to real stagnation with something like this and you’ll lose your motivation to continue, perhaps never even getting the game to the table in the first place!
Now, I found the process of painting so incredibly absorbing and therapeutic that it truly elevated the game to a level I’ve rarely experienced. Putting the minis together and seeing my skill improve so quickly over a number of weeks was extremely rewarding. I must confess that I have only actually played the game itself a handful of times and, though I’ve had an absolute blast each time, I’ve spent countless more hours putting together and painting the miniatures themselves.
Back to the game then: Rumbleslam doesn’t come with a complicated universe of warring factions, with battles taking place on huge battlefields featuring armies of enormous sizes. The genius of Rumbleslam is in its small scale – allowing players to have a satisfying game in a small, clearly defined space with a handful of miniatures each. The time investment to get up and running is significantly smaller than for almost any other miniatures game I could name – and the theme makes the rules a breeze to learn too; you take your team into the ring for a number of rounds, either pinning or throwing opponents over the top rope (and out of the ring) to eliminate them. The team with the highest total value of wrestlers left at the end of five rounds wins, unless one player fully eliminates the other team prior to the end of five rounds – in which case the last team standing wins at that point.
The custom dice and the smart way they’re used to represent the different strengths and effects of character attacks and defence, as well as the crowd dice (representing the audience’s reaction to attempted ‘crowd pleaser’ special attacks, dirty moves or thrilling developments such as pins) all add a great layer of clever mechanical theme to an already nicely thematic game.
Though the art can sometimes be a little too dark in places, it’s very colourful in comparison to many wargames – which can often be very drab, based as they often are around grim sci fi or fantasy warfare. The game’s characters are all wonderfully diverse, with lots of clever, witty references to real life wrestlers and other very recognisable pop culture icons amongst the more generic fantasy creatures – there’s wrestlers based on characters from TMNT, Street Fighter II and classic WWF/WWE wrestlers for example, along with many more besides. It becomes a real addiction to collect familiar, iconic characters and put your own spin on them with your painting too.
Rumbleslam is a fast paced game that’s straightforward to learn and teach, with plenty of well designed, visually appealing wrestlers to add to your collection if you do want to venture past the contents of the Starter Box – which I did almost immediately. Finding space and time to play is significantly easier than with other tabletop miniatures games, which often require big battlegrounds, lots of minis for your armies and a significant volume of rules and lore to become acquainted with. Most miniature games also take themselves far too seriously; the tone being relentlessly grim and dark. Not so with Rumbleslam, which leans into its daft premise and kooky characters with a real sense of humour, much like real wrestling does!
Having been an on/off fan of wrestling since first watching the WWF in the early 90s, I may be more in tune with the game’s theme than some people, it’s such a unique and understandable theme for a miniatures game that I don’t see how the appeal wouldn’t be pretty much universal. With the theme lending itself to such a diverse and ever growing cast of fun characters too, it’s a game which players can pick and choose their own favourite themes for, before facing off against opponents who will most certainly have their own favourite, unique teams.
Rumbleslam is a superb experience that has become much more than that for me – it’s not just a game, but a compelling, addictive and even therapeutic hobby that’s been brilliant for my mental health, easily marking it out as my favourite tabletop game of 2021.
You can purchase the Rumbleslam Two Player Starter Box from the TTCombat website here. Check out the huge, impressive range of Rumbleslam figures, accessories and expansions here. My own review of the Starter Box can be found here. Happy gaming everyone!
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