Looking at creator Games Workshop's impressive legacy, it should come as no surprise that Blood Bowl was originally a tabletop role-playing game
- Crazy mash-up of Warhammer fantasy violence and football strategy, plenty of RPG goodness, dwarfs look silly when kicking balls.
- Tutorials both lacking in content and presentation smoothness, feels like a somewhat sloppy PC port
Games Workshop's Warhammer franchise doesn't immediately seem like the most ideal fit for an American football game, but if Mega Man can have a soccer game, why can't Orcs and Lizardmen toss on some shoulder pads and throw around a pigskin laden with spikes?
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A fantastical rendition of one of America's favourite pastimes, Blood Bowl is significantly more RPG than it is a sports game. The moment I began looking through its playable teams I knew this game wasn't about to apologise for being what it is: a crazy turn-based fantasy RPG set in a universe where wizards, warriors and apothecaries attend football matches and go berserk. Whether you're levelling up one of your players -- each team gets various "classes" that represent a position on the field -- or rolling dice to see how a tackle turns out, everything oozes that classic tabletop role-playing essence.
Looking at creator Games Workshop's impressive legacy, it should come as no surprise that Blood Bowl was originally a tabletop role-playing game of its own. As someone versed in the world of tabletop gaming, I instantly recognised where the game borrowed various pen-and-paper concepts such as dice rolls that determine passes, tackles or interceptions. From classical role-playing conventions to rowdy audience members that will openly disrupt your game by casting spells, all sorts of cool fantasy mayhem can, and usually does, occur.
Unfortunately, as fun as the game can be when you're aware of all that's happening, I found the tutorials to be severely lacking. Basic concepts like game flow are assumed to be known by the player and explanations of important visual cues are missing as well. It's really a shame, because a few more tutorials with better implementation would've gone a long way towards making Blood Bowl a delightful experience. Take the concept of a turnover, for example: a turnover, as the name implies, ends the player's turn, and trades off to the opposing team. Typically, when you make a die roll to attack, pass an enemy or do anything with the ball and fail, it results in a turnover. This is a core rule, but the game doesn't communicate to the player why or how a turnover takes place.
Whether the insufficient tutorials have to do with the restraints of development time or actual developer oversight is a moot point. The effect is that any RPG fan (or even tabletop fan) approaching Blood Bowl is bound to come away slightly confused and potentially frustrated -- the same thing likely goes triple for someone assuming the game is more football than fantasy role-playing. Of course, Blitz mode feels more like a traditional football video game, but the real meat of Blood Bowl feels like it lies in the turn-based mode.
This learning curve isn't entirely without merit. If you're able to get past the near opaqueness of certain game mechanics like game flow and can handle the several sub-menus found throughout the game, there's plenty of fun to be had. I'm talking about the kind of fun where your friends are wondering why you're yelling at a television about Elves and turnovers at three in the morning. Come to think of it, considering the lacking AI, it isn't a bad idea to get a friend or two to play with you. After you've got a grasp on the game, you'll be looking for an opponent that doesn't roll over from the most obvious of aggressive tactics.
Blood Bowl is like two good flavours henceforth combined into a sloppy sandwich: even if the sandwich looks tasty, and you can't wait to enjoy it, it's still a little hard figure out exactly how you're supposed to eat the thing. Tabletop fans will probably enjoy playing it when a flat surface and friends aren't available for the pen-and-paper version. For everyone else, it's best to go into Blood Bowl understanding that it's best played with others, and largely a brow-furrowing affair when played solo.
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