Blood Bowl (Xbox 360)

Review – Blood Bowl

American Football, Turn-Based Strategy

Balls for the Blood God, more cups for the Throne of Khorne!

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Mark

It’s a cliché to say “be careful what you wish for” and I’ve been wishing for a great online Blood Bowl game now for almost two years. So long in fact that it was one of the very first news stories we reported on Peoww, you know back when we thought press releases and that kind of stuff was interesting and not just publishers looking for free advertising and hype. So it’s with some trepidation that I’m reviewing this as I’ve been playing the tabletop version of BB since the first edition way back in 1987 and have over the last twenty years coached dozens of teams from the humble cardboard figures of the original through to the current Living Rulebook v5 edition with it’s twenty plus different races each with their own tactics, abilities and star players.

Pick the bones out of that one.

For the uninitiated Blood Bowl (to be referred to as BB from here on) is at its core a turn based faux simulation of American Football played by different races from the fantasy world of Warhammer. Two teams of eleven players face each other on a pitch and try to attempt to score touchdowns in the opponent’s end zone by getting the ball to the opposite end of the pitch. Sounds simple no? Well when the teams range from short-arse goblins to ten foot trolls and
ogres with star players that use chainsaws to attack opposing players or pogo sticks to get around you just know even a quick match will be anything but simple.

You can play a quick one-off game, settle in to a BB league or elimination cup or challenge any number of friends or random players online with the choice of using a fresh team or using your campaign team with appropriate handicappers applying based on the teams rating that takes into account the experience of the teams and any extras they might have like cheerleaders, re-rolls etc.

For those players who don’t like turn based play there is a real-time mode you can play but doing so pretty much removes every unique feature of BB rendering it pointless and to be fair a waste of time and money. BB was made by Jervis Johnson to be a turn based beast and has been refined as such for over a decade so trust me when I say the real-time mode is shit, so much so that if you’re only interested in the real-time play knock about thee points off the final review score.

Still built quicker than Wembley.

The game replicates the tabletop version for better or worse right down to every dice roll and move available with the standard game being made up of two halves of eight turns each. After setting up the receiving team moves first with each player on the team able to move, attack, throw and blitz (moving then attacking) depending on their pre-determined stats. These stats help make every team unique and follow the racial archetypes you’d expect with chaos and dwarf teams being slow but strong with elven and skaven teams lacking muscle but lightning fast speed and human teams being a good mix of both.

To further help maintain the game’s balance every team has to field eleven players each of which is bought before the game from a strict budget with any remaining monies going towards purchasing re-rolls, apothecaries (medics than can lessen serious injuries to your players, vital during campaign play), cheerleaders or more despicable uses like referee bribes. Extra money is given to weaker teams before a match based on their team rating so they can help tip the scales in their favour by purchasing said bonuses or even hire a star player Star players are unique team members who’s skills and abilities are often far in excess of a standard ‘off the shelf’ player but need a huge cash investment to use with the risk of draining your resources for a single player who might get stomped a few rounds into a match.

So even before the first die is rolled during a game there’s a huge amount of planning and forethought needed about what kind of tactics you’ll use and how best to deal with your opponent. Will you use run and throw tactics and risk an enemy team members intercepting your passes or maybe you’ll use the old ‘cage’ ploy and surround your ball carrier with allied players at the risk of getting bogged down on the way to the end zone with endless skirmishes and delays. The more you play with or against a particular team type the more you’ll start to anticipate how the game will play out but at the beginning it can be hugely overwhelming to a new player.

Lurk

Lurk

If you’re a geeky person then there’s a good chance you know about Blood Bowl in its original form. In which case if you’ve played it and enjoy then you should buy this game. For those of you who haven’t played Blood Bowl before, then you really need to figure out if it is for you. This is because the game is very much made for the hardcore audience.

As someone who hadn’t played the game for nearly 15 years playing it for the first time was very difficult to get back into it. So I can imagine it would be nearly impenetrable for a newbie, if it wasn’t for the large manual and tutorial within the game. Even then the game doesn’t let up, I’m still having difficulty winning matches even on easy.

On the technical side of things the graphics are nice, if a little low res once you get close up. The sound is good all round apart from the very repetitive commentary. Its not bad and quite funny. For the first time at least once you’ve heard the same phrase a dozen times you soon learn to turn the commentary off.

If you enjoy a slower paced tactical game then this is for you. Just be warned it does have a steep learning curve and the AI doesn’t let up. Its never unfair, but it is tough. If you’re a fan of Games Workshop games then this is fo you.

Secondary Score: 7/10

Unfortunately this isn’t help by the game often failing to explain vitally important aspects of the game both in the tutorial sections and even during gameplay so if you’ve not memorised what every player skill is or the dice probabilities of some actions like dodging and ‘going for’ extra squares be prepared for frustration or just keep the manual to hand. For veteran players like me it’s not such a problem but even I can appreciate the need for something like a glossary in the pause menu or a clear display of the odds of your thrower making a game winning pass.

That’s not to say that Cyanide hasn’t put the required effort in as the game looks great with every team looking just like the original miniatures and the game locations having just the right amount of detail from rural fields with wooden fences and painted lines to the huge ten thousand seater stadiums come castles of the Bloodwiser finals. The in game dialogue while repetitive nicely conveys the BB atmosphere of Madden meets Gotrek and Felix and the in game music would do Basil Poduris proud.

As the first entry in what will hopefully become a long running franchise it ticks all the right boxes for fans of the original tabletop game but requires a lot of faith and patience from new players so much so that I’d recommend waiting for the next incarnation of digital BB as it’ll hopefully perfected its tutorials by then and added all the missing teams like my beloved High Elves and Undead teams that I’ve been craving for since I began blitzing through the BB league mode. So it’s the old cliché of ‘easy to learn and difficult to master? Well more difficult to learn and easy to master but once it all starts to make sense you’ll be hard pressed to find a better action/strategy game that doesn’t involve cod military pretensions or isn’t another boring Tower Defence variant.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

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