by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Hut, Hut, Punch
Sometimes the strangest combinations in life are also the best. Fried chicken and waffles? A sweet and savory delight. Coke and beer? An oddly appetizing refreshment. American football and bloodthirsty monsters? A match made in heaven. If youíve never played the original Blood Bowl tabletop game by Games Workshop, nor their first attempt at a digital re-creation, itís a combination you never knew you wanted.
While I love video games dearly, tabletop board/wargames hold a very special place in my heart. Thereís something endearing about getting to move the pieces around, satisfying about mastering the (normally absurdly complicated) rules, and even a bit exciting to out your fate in the hands of the dice gods. Given that, Iím extremely happy that Blood Bowl goes a long way to ensure that itís as faithful of a re-creation of its physical counterpart as possible in a digital medium.
The basic premise behind Blood Bowl is simple enough to understand.
Take American football, a sport already filled with angry, giant and monstrous men. Add in the races of the Warhammer universe. Of course this isnít Madden: Warhammer. While turn timers keep the game frantic and anxiety-laden, youíre not going to be calling set plays, reading zone coverages or adjusting a depth chart. You are trying to run, pass and smash your way into the opponentís end zone to score, youíll be individually moving players one at a time, grouping players for stat boosts and picking targets to try and permanently remove them from the game.
From the Tabletop to the Desktop
Like I mentioned earlier, tabletop games are known for their deep, complicated but ultimately rewarding rules, and Blood Bowl 2 is no exception. However, unlike most sport-oriented titles, itís near impossible to just pick up and play. Thereís a lot going on, the UI can be confusing and despite clearly being inspired by football itís not similar enough for a knowledge of the real life sport to help much. Luckily this is where the campaign comes in. I wasnít really sure I expected from a campaign in a game like this, but what it ends up being is a long-form tutorial, which only partially serves its purpose. While the campaign does a nice job of easing you into many of the mechanics, there is still a (literal, if youíre interested) book-load of rules to learn if youíre truly new. I know some people love the rules. They love diving in and really trying to master something complicated. Iím one of those people to a certain degree, but even I digress that there has to be a better way. I hate to point out an issue without providing a solution, but Iím really not sure what the better way is. As it stands I donít see Blood Bowl 2 being a very enticing package for people to come in on fresh.
One aspect of the game - and itís a pretty central element - thatís important to understand before jumping in, is that almost everything is based on dice rolls. As a tabletop gamer Iím used to it, but itís definitely something that rub a lot of people the wrong way. Especially given how complex the rules are, it can be endlessly frustrating when youíve finally put things together to execute your strategy only to have it fall flat on its head because of a bad roll. That being said, itís definitely not something the game should be penalized for. Itís a design choice thatís different from many games for sure, but I appreciate the dedication to maintaining the tabletop feel.
The last thing worth discussion here are the players themselves, which are at the same time fantastic and a bit of a letdown. Itís definitely a blast to just watch the different characters on screen. Itís true fantasy football, and Iíll never tire of watching elves get pummeled and tossed into the stands. Itís also cool to see the way each team, the Humansí, High Elvesí, Orcsí, Dwarvesí, Dark Elvesí, Skavení, Chaosí and Bretonniansí racial personalities come through. I do wish there were more teams - after all, the original Blood Bowl game had over 20 - but thereís enough diversity here to satisfy. What I donít quite like so much is that a few of the teams are hard-locked into a playstyle. While some teams have every unit type available to them, others only have some. I totally get that this is supposed to be a ďjack of all tradesĒ vs ďmaster of oneĒ thing, but to me it doesnít seem to balance out. Itís cool if teams have specializations. After all, real life sports teams certainly do. However, even specialized teams should have options, even if theyíre severely underpowered. In my experience so far itís much easier to play against the more limited teams since youíre free to completely ignore even the possibility of them doing certain things. Thereís nothing to keep the other team honest.
Iíve been waiting for a long, long time to see more tabletop games make the jump to digital. While I understand that companies donít want to hurt the sales of their physical wargames, I also yearn for them to realize how great of an experience could be brought forth my mixing the best of the physical world with the best of the digital. Blood Bowl 2 simultaneously proves both the pros and cons to bringing these games to life on the screen. Itís awesome to see characters running around with full animation, acting out the violence that would otherwise only be present in your imagination. Itís cool to be able to play a game like this without investing hundreds of dollars in miniatures. However, itís also frustrating to have no control over being matched up against people who donít know the rules, disappointing to not be able to alter rules you donít like and a bit lackluster to not be able to customize the look of your team like you would on the table. Blood Bowl 2 may not quite be the long drive into the end zone, but itís at least good for a few first downs.
Very faithful re-creation of the tabletop game, complex rules allow for rewarding depth once mastered, and the violence is satisfying to watch.
Complex rules are very hard to learn for new players, and some teams feel underpowered.