Blood Bowl, a game of hard-knocks played by those who are more likely to be found rolling dice than picking up a pigskin. Blood Bowl, a game so brutal it makes rugby look like it’s played by young girls in plaits. Blood Bowl, a game that transports the world of the NFL into the world of fantasy.
For all those who think American Football feels turn-based, then this is an iteration of that concept. Originally spawned in 1987 by Games Workshop, the format loosely takes our American cousins’ favourite pastime and turns it into a highly strategic sport-come-war, pitting two classical fantasy teams against each other whilst the on looking crowd bay for blood. Orcs, humans, elves, the undead, dwarves and halflings all field teams, each with their own unique trait and vying to be crowned Blood Bowl champion.
Set out on a gridded playfield, eleven men on each side match up against each other. On the line of scrimmage the powerhouses face off, each looking to batter the opposition into a crumpled mess on the floor in order to break into their backfield and tackle the ball carrier. On the flanks the fleet of foot wait, either looking to blitz into the opponents or scamper through their ranks and await a pass from a skilful thrower.
Though it wears the trappings of a sports game, Blood Bowl is a pure strategy game where tactics are plotted, plays shut down in their prime, and control of the ball needs to be wrestled away from your opponent. At a basic level the concept is simple to grasp – angry chess with a ball – and for those unfamiliar with the franchise the tutorial does a decent job of explaining the ins and outs of how to organise an effective defence and launch a competent counterattack.
Players can only tackle those they begin their turn next to – with the exception of a single player a turn who can blitz – and so the game becomes a risk and reward strategy of throwing players into contact with the opposition and hoping they don’t get over powered before their next turn. Strength is key; for the stronger you are, and the more of you who gang up on the opponent, the more likely you are to dump them on their ass and create a vital opening. It’s all about placement and loading the dice in your favour.
For coaches looking for something more, at your disposal are a squad of players that possess any number of the dozens of special attributes that exist in the Warhammer universe. This can be as simple as being able to reroll dice, through to having the mutagenic quality of a tail with which you can trip up passing runners. The sheer amount of talents and combinations thereof can lead to highly unique teams, even within the same race. Are you going to be brutal and punch your way through the opponent’s ranks, or turn agile and skip through their tackles on the way to the end zone?
Conversely, that variety can also lead to sheer confusion for the uninitiated. Hovering over a talent will reveal just what it means, but don’t expect to have your hand held as with a play clock continually ticking down you’re liable to learn the hard way.
Although sports games as a whole tend to struggle with ways to engage the player much beyond leagues and cups, Blood Bowl expands upon this slightly. You can still lead a custom created team through a campaign to glory, but it also offers a Story mode which tasks you with completing secondary objectives, such as completing a total of X passes or dodging out of Y tackles. Not only does this force experimentation with different play styles, but the storyline itself continually switches the race you control meaning it’s the perfect place to start should you be unsure of which team to pick.
Although a much more capable and complete package compared than last year’s DS release, it does still suffer from a handful of niggles, including inaccurate player selection and the lack of an easy save midgame. Though they don’t take the shine off what’s not just a good adaptation of an old game, but a turn-based strategy title that should give non-tabletop gamers something new to ponder. If you’re willing to spend a few hours literally reading the rulebook, then you should find something that will prove a tenacious time sink as you declare “just one more game.”