If Darwin was still alive and working in the IT department on floor 5, would this be his defining moment? An evolution of species, albeit Greenskins and Ratmen, transcending from classic board game into the modern medium we understand as digital media.
Blood Bowl is a long running product from the depths of Warhammer's gritty and yet darkly comical fantasy universe. It turns the well known, high impact game of American football into a bloodthirsty, anything-goes brawl, where supercharged Tolkienesque creatures fight to reach each other's end zones.
The creation of this type of game was attempted by Cyanide a handful of years ago with Chaos League. The product was published without the Games Workshop licence and so faced their wrath, legally speaking. Somehow Cyanide walked away from an out of court agreement with the rights to develop the actual licensed version of Blood Bowl. Some say Cyanide used Dark Elven witchcraft; Game-Debate believes we shouldn’t meddle with stuff we don’t understand. So we didn’t ask.
With blood dripping from the package I stand, welder at the ready as the long awaited Blood Bowl is locked into my disk drive forever.
Ok that last bit was exaggerated. Cus how could I have a disk, right?
You see, the guys at Focus Interactive, the publishing house for Blood Bowl, are releasing the physical retail version (disk, box etc) to the US and UK in September. Yet they are passing the disks out to our European cousins in France and Germany right now. It’s not that strange to have a staggered launch, I hear you say. Fair point. But it gets a bit weirder when Focus tell us that the game isn’t up for review until September’s launch and then in the same breath say that the whole world can download it right now for a staggering £40 or $50 (in English I might add and with an undisclosed number of activation attempts). Our thoughts on this have been expressed in our recent news article here.
Having never paid such a foolish amount of money for a PC game I swallowed hard and thought of all the nasty things I would say in my review should the game be anything but exceptional. Not the best way to start, but after a fiddly download the game was ready and Blood Bowl began to happen.
Familiar 1990s BB art adorns the menu pages, which are fairly easy to navigate, although some of the texts are mistranslated. Fortunately in almost all cases, they remain understandable. The menu systems are a tiny bit clunky due to slow load times but enable intuitive progression.
With the board game requiring multiple people to play it, a simple feature that enables single player is an option that many fans are likely to be excited by. You can now set up a roster of BB players and take them through their careers without ever having to talk to another human. The AI is fairly well-rounded and capable of holding its own, offering a totally different set of strengths and weaknesses depending on the level and race of your opponents.
As the powerful orcs I battled head on with the armoured dwarves and fared well but as soon as the Skaven turned up, their incredible speed and agility forced me to try another approach; I still came away 6-4 down. Expanding on this emersion, Cyanide have done well in fleshing out the depth of the campaign world. Plenty of tournaments open up as you progress your team and it’s a real treat being able to stat crunch all players, just as you find in the less physical NFL.
My lads, Skrogg’s Hoons, had an exceptional combined tackle record and Gurg Facebiter was leading the running plays with 455yds this season. All the rules are faithfully recreated, with a ticker showing you the die rolls and maths in game, if you need that.
BB has always been played via a unique turn-based gaming system, which has reached its fifth revision, known as The Living RuleBook. Very few titles, aside from the Heroes of Might and Magic series, dare risk a turn-based structure when the market is catering for fast twitch gamers.
For example, Sins of a Solar Empire takes 4X a step away from its roots by making it real-time. Blood Bowl does similar, with an option to turn on real-time action. For those who have played the game before, I can almost hear you scratching your head as you ponder how this could be possible without the game turning into absolute anarchy.
Firstly, let me remind you that the game is meant to be chaotic, and secondly let me reassure you that they have something in place. Pressing the space bar pauses the action in single player. You can then take your time giving individual orders to each of your players. If you do not care to micromanage you will quickly notice that each of your players has one of three states applied. These are: keep back in defence, hold the line, or push forward. Again, the AI does a pretty good job of supporting you, leaving you free to take control and switch from individual to individual whilst putting in passes or blocking key opponents.
A fair amount of extra stuff has been put into the game, which Focus Interactive could have held back and charged as a first bolt-on DLC (downloadable content). As it stands the Undead and Nurgle’s Rotters are missing but a lot of important supporting features are in. These inducements range from potions to armour upgrades, cheerleaders to magical scrolls, bribery to poisonings, and if things get desperate you can even hire the fabled star player mercenaries, for a huge fee, before a game.
The real longevity of the game will of course come from its multiplayer experience. As well as a Hot Seat option, where a couple of people can play a friendly game of BB on the same computer, you will find customised leagues being built online at a good rate. Unsurprisingly the majority of these leagues are turn-based, but expect real-time leagues to even out a little as total newcomers purchase the game.
Finding a game/ league to your liking should be fairly easy at the moment and this should last over the coming months with the protracted release period, but largely due to the hardcore fan base that existed for BB in the first place.
Speaking of the hardcore fan base, it is almost rude not to give mention to fumbbl , an unofficial fan-built web-based version of the game, which can be played for free. It has been going for many years now and is (was?) home to a thriving community of fans. Whether it can or will continue remains to be seen. We would be happy to hear from them if they care to drop in.
Graphically, BB is a bit shaky with some terrible cut scenes and definite cracks, which I am sure Cyanide are hard at work polishing up, getting the game ready for its...release. But despite this, it is still a pleasure seeing the figures come to life. The animations are clunky, but fit perfectly with the turn-based nature of the game.
Special mention should be given to the commentators. They should be turned off as part of your option set up, once installed. Don’t hurt your mind or ruin your game by letting them screech and drone garbage at you.
It’s been fairly hard to score BB because there are clearly two points of view. I have to take the more universal stance and so the mark given reflects the broader audience. I believe a higher score would easily be accepted by the many fans of the board game. We will revisit for an updated review in the future.
So, to answer the question: is it worth the huge amount of cash they want for it? I would ask: did you ever go into Games Workshop and buy the same board game for a fist full of dollars and never bother to learn all the rules, or maybe your friends were too lazy to come over and play for three hours at a time? Because if the answer is yes then this game is definitely for you and as my article title suggests, BB sticks faithfully to the tabletop ruleset. For all newcomers unfamiliar with the franchise, the lasting appeal may run dry quickly as the bugs rear their heads and the game mechanics mystify, so be warned: it’s a lot of money.
Me? I have no friends. I love it.