Blood bowl

01 Mar 10

Oh dear. I wanted to like this game, I really did.
After following the development for some time and getting excited about the classic Games Workshop visual style, I thought Blood Bowl on a console could work. To be honest, developer Cyanide has done a stellar job of recreating the structure of the game and has interpreted the rules well for this purpose. But therein lies the problem: they have done too good a job.
Blood Bowl, for the uninitiated, is essentially a cross between American Football and Rugby in a fantasy setting, created as a fun diversion from the Warhammer tabletop game. The board version has an army of devout followers; even I spent a good portion of my youth painting the lead figures essential for a quality game. Replace the rules with violence and the players with the cast from Lord of the Rings – surely a winning combination? The idea has potential and should you take the plunge with this title, you will find that the idea itself is the most exciting and romantic notion about this game.
First impressions: graphically there is an abundance of Games Workshop style. The animated cutscenes bode well at first, but then the game starts to feel cluttered and old pretty quickly. The game’s user interface and design tend to swing between the ‘okay’ to ‘messy’ and the in-game screen is just so overdone, with so much useless information, that you just stare straight through its horrible font.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, there are two main options: ‘turn-based’ (the classic way to play) and a semi real-time mode.
Turn-based games need to flow well and give the player opportunity to employ strategies. Sadly, the Blood Bowl rules do not give the player enough freedom to get the game flowing. The reason for this is the absolute reliance on dice rolls for any and every type of action: throw or hand off a pass, receive a pass, make a tackle, run too close to a player, stand up and move. They all need a dice roll and you will soon start to feel that the odds are not in your favour. You could plan to throw a pass out wide, your receiving wide man then runs up field, he hands off to the next player, who skips a tackle and finishes his run by bursting into the scoring zone. This will require at least six dice rolls, and failing any one of them will end your turn prematurely. You will soon begin to feel that your rolls are penalised and the AI is bulletproof. The more I think about it, this is the very reason I stopped playing the board game all those years ago: it just didn’t feel fair, and when things are not fair, they stop being fun.
The Blitz mode offers a real-time version of the Classic mode. The twist, however, is the ability to pause the game and give players orders to follow. This seems to work well in the tutorial, but in an actual match it leaves the player swamped with action and no room to play in. The chaos on the pitch is only exacerbated by the horrible user interface, and it will take some perseverance to get any pleasure out of Blitz mode.
There are plenty of options, league and cup campaign games to play through along with training and star players. There is of course the alternative of playing a human online, but on the whole the experience still holds that unfinished feeling.
You can see that a considerable amount of effort has gone into the development, but the gameplay frustrations that come from the rulebook in use ruin it for me.
I would hope that the game feels better to play on a PC or PSP, but I really cannot recommend Blood Bowl to anybody. It hurts.

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