Turn based strategy games are a rare beast on consoles and it’s a nice treat to get this solid entry to the genre, especially on new gen systems. On the surface it looks like a mashed-up fantasy football game. But under the hood is a clever brain strainer, which requires luck, planning and a bit of time to master.
Blood Bowl’s origins are in the dice and cardboard world of board games. This was my first experience with the series, but suffice is to say, there is not a lot of narrative canon to worry about. It’s simple really, Blood Bowl is a spoof version of NFL football. Teams are based around fantasy monster races such as Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins, Elves and of course Humans. As the coach, you take charge of a team with a minimum of 11 players. The game is purely turn-based, each game has 16 turns and the goal is to beat up the other team, take possession of the ball and get it to the try line. But beware, EVERYTHING comes down to dice rolls.
As with any strategy game, on the surface their objective seems pretty straight forward, but Blood Bowl is surprisingly complicated. To that end, Cynaide Studios made a pretty well paced Campaign which serves as the game tutorial. As a new coach to the Blood Bowl League you are given the abysmal human team, ‘The Reikland Reavers’. Each new game puts you and your team against a different race, all the while slowly introducing the mechanics that need to be understood before taking on serious trophy games or online multi-player matches. The tutorial covers most things, but will at times have required tasks to be completed on top of just winning, like killing two particular enemy types. This happened to me and I had to replay a match five frustrating times, to just tick that box before moving on.
Each player or ‘unit’ has stats for movement, strength, agility etc.. and some possess all important buffs or bonuses. There is no sportsman-like tackling in Blood Bowl, it is visceral, bone crunching battle. This really is a war game set on a sports field. The two teams square off and beat each other up, to create the space needed to pass or run in a touchdown. The grid pattern on the field is not well explained in the tutorial, but is key to playing successfully. Each player has tackle zones, essentially their surrounding squares. To increase the chance of a successful move, tackle or defence, you must create plays with overlapping tackle zones, this increases the chance of a favourable dice roll or ideally the number of dice.
As the games roots are in a board game, dice rolls affect everything. This is actually my major complaint. The best laid plans will go to rubbish just on a dice roll not going your way. Movement outside of tackle zones always goes smoothly, however as soon as you order a tackle, ball pick-up, pass, or dodge -luck has to be on your side. That’s why staking players into each others tackle zones is so important, to push luck your way. Perks can be purchased pre-match, such as the invaluable ‘Re-roll’. It acts like a rewind feature when a dice roll doesn’t go your way, but their use is understandably very limited. ‘Apothecaries’ cards can be used to save a valuable levelled player from death – after an Orc has stomped on his face etc. Cheer leaders, your home stadium and assistant coaches can be hired pre-match and all have an effect on other game elements. Like I said, there is a lot going on.
I had no idea what to expect going into this game. The box-art is a hand-drawn picture which looks ‘B’ grade at best, the mock NFL commentators come off as cheesy and the games overall graphic quality is good, however certainly won’t be pushing these next-gen consoles. But….. and it’s a big BUT. The game itself is very well designed and more importantly is brilliant fun. Creating a monster-team, buying players, levelling them up and literally smashing other teams to score touchdowns is really rewarding!