Cyanide Studios bring the table-top carnage of Blood Bowl from Games Workshop to the digital desktop leagues. (PC)
Warhammer has a huge pedigree when it comes to games, be they table-top or videogame. Blood Bowl is American football at its heart, but with all those fiddly rules and regulations replaced with fevered brutality and some real blood lusting. Where else could you order a football team to win by literally crushing the oppositions defence into a smear on the pitch? Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, Skaven, Lizardmen, Goblins and even Humans are all in to the sport of Blood Bowl.
Each of the races play into stereotypical strengths and weaknesses on the field, like Orcs favouring a ‘blitzkrieg’ style approach while Elves prefer agility and long passes to secure touchdowns. Much like the table-top game of Warhammer itself, Blood Bowl relies on progression of your team and its players to bolster success for future matches. However victory isn’t just a matter of hammering out a divine strategy and then unleashing it upon your foe. The whole game of course is subjective to the whims of dice, which means a beautifully crafted tactic being successful is down to chance alone.
The menu designs and UI were possibly trampled by Orcs.
The camera follows the action for you when a play is made.
If you’re an expert of American Football then don’t expect to be holding triumph every match. The game comes in two forms with the first being the traditional turn-based strategy that is Blood Bowl, and the second is a more chaotic real-time affair. Each match consists of 16 turns in total meaning each half of the game is eight turns. The coach moves each of his or her players around the pitch with tackles and blocks being initiated against enemies in adjacent squares. Some moves can give advantages in play but should you fail a roll of the dice then the other team gets their go in a ‘turnover’. Yeah it’s a real kick in the groin area when this happens, as you’d expect.
While the game is technically about the scoring of touchdowns and the like, focusing all your energies to destroy the opposition is a more than fair play style before actually looking to reach the end zone for a point. Unfortunately Blood Bowl is a little tricky to get into at first as you have to understand its nuances and what each of the races is best at, and this isn’t helped by the woeful tutorial that the developers included. Couple this with the lacklustre AI and you begin to spot the flaws quickly as you come to expect it to repeat the same moves a lot, except for the odd near suicidal wildcards it tries out. This is compounded by frustration when the computer actually manages to pull off one of its hair brain schemes, like flimsy Elves butchering Orc blockers – it’s all in the dice, the crux of the Warhammer universe.
This is the gift and curse of Blood Bowl, that while it does have rules to obey, they can be defeated by simple chance. As you progress through leagues you’ll be beefing up your team to help make them more lethal or agile on the pitch. The setback is that all your hard work on training and cultivating star players can be savagely brought to an end in the blink of an eye. Watching helplessly as your veteran stars get butchered because a dice roll decreed it so isn’t such a great feeling, but this is the spirit of Blood Bowl. No matter how prepared you are, just like in war, things can go south fast and hard. Undeniably the game shines more when you face off against another human player as tactics become more interesting to read and learn from.
Each turn is timed so don’t let your brain think too much.
Matches can get pretty tense, mainly through anxiety of chance.
Like in many sports games Blood Bowl has its own commentary system spewing its jabber over the pitch, though mostly they talk about non-pitch related happenings. The voices are great to hear but less so when you’ve heard the same lines over and over. The menus and general user interface are arguably the weakest point of Blood Bowl; it clearly shows priority was on the pitch and not in the coach’s office. Team customisation is there for the avid gamer who wants a personal touch but it’s limited and doesn’t let you have enough freedom to help certain players stand out enough on the pitch.
Real-time matches are a sprawling mess that don’t do translation of player attributes or abilities well, if at all. Where you spend a lot of time honing the skills of your team as they slowly progress through matches, it all seems to become pointless as the flurry of real-time Blood Bowl provides just chaos. To combat the player becoming overwhelmed each of the team members can be given AI behaviour stances but these do little to bring order to the game. The racial strengths and weaknesses tend to blur which throws balancing out the window, tragically cutting off at the knees what could have been a real interesting game mode.
What it's all about, perhaps the NFL should take some notes.
You can nurture your teams into real killers, providing they aren't killed first.
Online leagues are open to those who think they have what it takes to lead a Warhammer sports team to victory, but there are some extra things to consider. For one the players on a team will age over time, meaning you can’t build an unstoppable force that sends newcomers crying in the corner. It uses the Blood Bowl 5.0 rules and the most basic principles of the singleplayer game carry over to these online leagues. Annoyingly getting to these events is quite a trek through the trialling interface and clumsy design, like the lack of an easy option to square off against friends.
BLOOD BOWL VERDICT
Overall the Blood Bowl experience from developer Cyanide is going to be best experienced by actual Blood Bowl fans. The harsh void of an instructive and friendly tutorial is enough to send away newcomers within the first minutes of firing up the game. While graphically pleasing to the eye on the surface, the limited range of pitch animations and the woeful interface decisions rampant throughout the game make Blood Bowl one heck of an offender. More time should have been spent studying how other sports games deal with their fans off pitch; it’s not as if this is a new genre.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Showing up those damn prancing Elves with an eye watering long pass, made possible only by sheer statistical luck, and an Orc’s arm – the general premise of Blood Bowl itself.