Blitzing into view is this year’s second greatest American Football game. If Madden’s photorealistic simulation isn’t your idea of how a pigskin should be used, then maybe gridiron mixed with Orks is more your thing with this faithful recreation of the classic and ultra-violent board game, Blood Bowl.
Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl is a fantasy, turn-based interpretation on America’s favourite sport. Given a team of hardy individuals each with their own special skills, you must block, tackle and foul your opponent into submission and carry the ball into their end zone. The victors are the side with the most touchdowns, whether that be after the allotted number of turns or because one team has been battered into submission.
Every action is taken with dice, with the success based on an individual character’s attributes of agility, strength, armour and movement. Stronger players will survive better in the rough and tumble of tackling, whilst the more agile can skip through defences and will be more adept at catching passes. The key is knowing your team’s strengths and your opponent’s weakness in order to exploit them to create gaps in their defence.
It has, however, been many, many years since my ratty Skaven team have been pulled down from the loft and forced on the field of play. Whilst I had a vague recollection of what was required, I felt it safest heading directly to the tutorial to refresh myself. What is presented is woefully inadequate. Most rules, even the very basic concepts of the game, are presented through reams of tediously, lengthy pop-ups. The amount of information that bombards the player is overwhelming and presented very inefficiently. Just one case in point is that when reeling off the dozen or so ways a player’s turn can be ended it is displayed in twelve separate pop-ups rather than a simple list. Worse still is that much of the information cannot be accessed from anywhere else, so any vagueness on the rules can only be righted by inflicting the tutorial on yourself again. This is at odds, however, with the welcome foresight of putting the bewildering array of a team member’s special skills in an encyclopaedia on the pause menu.
Thankfully there is a training match that offers you the chance to play a simple game of Blood Bowl that at every opportunity explains just what you and your opponent are doing. This definitely helps pull the separate parts of the tutorial together and adds a lot more context to the numerous pop-ups.
Outside of this learning curve, the actual recreation of Blood Bowl is very competent. There seems no omissions or compromises in bringing it to the DS and those who have played before should feel at home. It can be summarised as “angry chess” and is a very tactical game where you must weigh up the odds of success against each action you take in your bid for the end zone. The dice rolls are all hidden, which can lead to minor consternation at times as you try and work out just why your star player is face down in the mud but is clearly done with the intention of speeding up play.
Opponent AI seems well rounded, providing a good test even at the base Rookie difficulty, with victories earned rather than given. The downside seems to be large pauses during play for no perceivable reason. Whether it is the DS’s limitations or not, I very much doubt the Blood Bowl equivalent of Deep Blue has been included and it always prompts me to question whether the rival coach is deep in contemplation or has just crashed.
Those willing to sink time into the sport can head to the game’s main mode, the Championship. Based on a normal league format, you start at the bottom of the third division and aim to play yourself to the top, buying in a team of players and then building them into stars as your rise through the standings. The long term depth of Championship – again pulled directly from the board game’s team building – may not be enough to win over those fresh to Blood Bowl, though, as it seems very much a title that will only find success with those who already have prior experience with Games Workshop. There are just too many barriers preventing the uninitiated embracing the game and many will not be able to get passed the stuttering tutorial and the constant minor annoyances of an unresponsive UI.
As a faithful recreation of a classic board game it should be commended but the final verdict is a missed opportunity to bring in new players.