Fantasy American Football with a whole bunch of dice rolls, and an abundance of violence.
When I was young, American Football did not have the coverage in this country that it does now, with it mostly being relegated to late night Channel 4 television. So most of what I know about American Football actually comes from playing the Games Workshop tabletop game Blood Bowl. This game is played on a board representing the field, all laid out in a grid, and two fantasy teams represented by plastic or metal figures, or in my day cardboard counters. It had been many years since last playing the tabletop game, despite having two boxed sets in the house, as my spare time is now taken up with videogames.
But then Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive released their first videogame version of the tabletop game. This was a few years back, and was followed a couple more releases which added extra teams and refinements. Now though, we have reached the point when Blood Bowl 2 has launched for PC, Xbox One and PS4. Get ready to roll the dice…
Blood Bowl 2 is a game of American Football played with teams made up of different fantasy races. The races themselves come from the Warhammer universe, so there is plenty of material to draw on, and each team brings their own strengths and weaknesses. The Humans, for example, offer a jack of all trades approach with a range of specialists, while Orcs are more suited to beating down the other team than the fine art of actually taking the ball into the endzone. Yes, that’s right, there is plenty of opportunity to violently attack the other team members, and I can’t remember ever watching a game of Blood Bowl that didn’t feature knock outs, injuries or even death.
You may be thinking “I don’t remember this level of violence in American Football”, and you would be right. Blood Bowl is set in a violent fantasy universe. And it doesn’t matter if you have no knowledge of American Football as the Blood Bowl videogame plays more like a turn-based tactical game than any sports simulator.
The pitch is divided into a grid and the supposed goal is to get a ball into the opposing teams endzone to score a touchdown. As already suggested, some teams are better suited to this than others. Play begins by setting up you team in your own half of the pitch, then each player takes it in turns to move their entire team, or take any actions they may be able to. Each player on the pitch has a tackle zone around them, and moving out of an opponents tackle zone will require some nimble dodging without being knocked to the floor.Starting a turn in a tackle zone will allow the player to perform a block, in the hope of putting the opposing player out of commission and bunching players together increases the chance of this. Each turn, one player on the pitch can also pass the ball, or do a running tackle known as a blitz.
Once a player has finished all of their moves, the other player gets to respond, and this continues until a touchdown is scored, or the match reaches halftime or the end. Each half is made up of eight turns each, and the team with the most touchdowns at the end is the winner. It can be incredibly tactical, especially if playing against other human players rather than the AI. But there is also an incredible amount of luck involved.
Nearly everything that happens in Blood Bowl requires a dice roll. These mostly happen in the background, although the results are listed along the bottom of the screen, and can be seen in what happens on the pitch. If one of your players wants to run past an opposing player, a dice roll is needed. Throwing the ball requires a dice roll, as does catching the ball at the other end. Even picking up the ball will require a dice roll. The total score of the dice roll differs depending on the skill of your player and the circumstances, but one thing is for sure – fail the dice roll and it is a turnover. This means you turn has ended and the other team gets their turn. Once the player has grasped the basics of the game, playing Blood Bowl quickly becomes a game about risk reduction, saving those risky moves until each other team member has made their less risky moves, and with a timer set to each turn, it is easy to make mistakes.
As the team coach, it is down to the player to manage all aspects of their team. Winnings from matches can be spent of all manner of enhancements, from simply replacing a fallen player or purchasing a shiny new specialist or big guy, to hiring staff such as cheerleaders, apothecaries or assistant coaches. The home stadium can be upgraded for further bonuses, and buying plenty of re-rolls to have another chance at a failed dice roll is essential. Managing your team is a tough job, as the money doesn’t seem to come in quite as quickly as the players die, and with some teams having particularly expensive players, it is not always a guarantee that you will have a full team.
Journeymen can make up the numbers if you happen to have less than eleven players available for a match, and you can hire them into your team full time if you have enough funds. If not, then they leave after the match, along with any experience they may have gathered. When a team member does something especially impressive on the pitch, such as scoring a touchdown or killing another player, they receive points which will lead to the leveling up and being able to pick a new skill. Even the choice of skills comes down to a dice roll, but the skills are important and can lead to a relatively simple team member to become something really special.
There are a lot of rules in Blood Bowl, such as when it is possible to push an opposing player into the crowd so they can beat him to a pulp, or when it is safe to kick an opposing player who is already on the floor. There is a fairly hefty rule book for the player to read, if they are that way inclined. But Blood Bowl 2 comes with a decent sized campaign that does a fairly good job of teaching any player the intricacies. It even comes with a story about returning a famous team to its former glory amidst gangsters and other intrigue. The campaign starts slowly, handicapping the game so the player can learn certain basics before moving onto the more complex stuff.
The campaign is great for the beginner, but most players will pick up Blood Bowl 2 for the multiplayer options. There is plenty of choice here, playing against other real humans or the AI, creating or joining a league or championship, or just a simple one off match. The average match seems to take around an hour and a half, so it is a commitment and you can’t just leave a match half way through without conceding defeat.
Blood Bowl 2 comes with eight different races to build teams from, with another two in the form of Wood Elves and Lizardmen available already as DLC. Whilst this is much less choice than the last version of Blood Bowl to be released, I would expect other races to be added over time. Blood Bowl 2 takes the game back to the basics, but allows the player to enjoy this fantasy American Football game with greatly improved visuals. The game is stunning to look at on a decent PC.
Blood Bowl 2 is not for everyone. The reliance on multiple dice rolls and luck will turn away the more skill based gamers, and the reduction in available teams at this early stage could leave veteran Blood Bowl coaches sticking with the last version until more races are added. But neither of these points stop Blood Bowl 2 from being a gorgeous, faithful videogame representation of the tabletop game, and it is so much fun to play. Sure, there will be times when a bad dice roll will lead to hair pulling and swearing, but could there be a better feeling than winning 4-1 against a tough Orc team with only two Wood Elves left on the pitch? I don’t think so…