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 you’ve never played the original Blood Bowl tabletop game by Games Workshop, nor their first attempt at a digital re-creation, it’s a combination you never knew you wanted.
While I love video games dearly, tabletop board/wargames hold a very special place in my heart. There’s 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, I’m extremely happy that Blood Bowl goes a long way to ensure that it’s 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 isn’t Madden: Warhammer. While turn timers keep the game frantic and anxiety-laden, you’re 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 opponent’s end zone to score, you’ll 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, it’s near impossible to just pick up and play. There’s a lot going on, the UI can be confusing and despite clearly being inspired by football it’s not similar enough for a knowledge of the real life sport to help much. Luckily this is where the campaign comes in. I wasn’t 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 you’re interested) book-load of rules to learn if you’re truly new. I know some people love the rules. They love diving in and really trying to master something complicated. I’m 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 I’m really not sure what the better way is. As it stands I don’t see Blood Bowl 2 being a very enticing package for people to come in on fresh.
One aspect of the game - and it’s a pretty central element - that’s important to understand before jumping in, is that almost everything is based on dice rolls. As a tabletop gamer I’m used to it, but it’s definitely something that rub a lot of people the wrong way. Especially given how complex the rules are, it can be endlessly frustrating when you’ve 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, it’s definitely not something the game should be penalized for. It’s a design choice that’s 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. It’s definitely a blast to just watch the different characters on screen. It’s true fantasy football, and I’ll never tire of watching elves get pummeled and tossed into the stands. It’s also cool to see the way each team, the Humans’, High Elves’, Orcs’, Dwarves’, Dark Elves’, Skaven’, Chaos’ and Bretonnians’ racial personalities come through. I do wish there were more teams - after all, the original Blood Bowl game had over 20 - but there’s enough diversity here to satisfy. What I don’t 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 “jack of all trades” vs “master of one” thing, but to me it doesn’t seem to balance out. It’s cool if teams have specializations. After all, real life sports teams certainly do. However, even specialized teams should have options, even if they’re severely underpowered. In my experience so far it’s much easier to play against the more limited teams since you’re free to completely ignore even the possibility of them doing certain things. There’s nothing to keep the other team honest.
I’ve been waiting for a long, long time to see more tabletop games make the jump to digital. While I understand that companies don’t 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. It’s awesome to see characters running around with full animation, acting out the violence that would otherwise only be present in your imagination. It’s cool to be able to play a game like this without investing hundreds of dollars in miniatures. However, it’s also frustrating to have no control over being matched up against people who don’t know the rules, disappointing to not be able to alter rules you don’t 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 it’s 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.