It’s the last few seconds of the game; your team has the ball and only 20 yards from the touchdown line your team captain falls and breaks his neck, while one of his teammates is introducing an opponent’s head with the grass by jumping on it, and the referee plots how to trip someone who’s running by. Sounds like an American football horror story? Nope, just a typical half-time in Blood Bowl.
If you’ve never encountered this series, Blood Bowl would be best described as fantasy American football. But not the version in which you pick your dream team out of the best players of today, but instead a league made up of the various races from the Warhammer universe. Originally a miniatures board game, Blood Bowl had a few digital iterations and today we have before us the latest one with a ‘2’ added to it’s title. At it’s core, this is a faithful adaptation of the board game. Two teams numbering 11 players fight over ball possession during 16 rounds (8 in each half-time) in an attempt to score by crossing the opponent’s touchdown line with the ball. Unlike the real sport that inspired the game, this nets your team only one point and there are no kicks afterwards. And probably the most important difference – fights are not only allowed, but are encouraged.
During the course of one round, i.e. turn, you’ll be able to command your players to un to new positions on the field, chase after the ball or engage an opposing player. Each of your players has four attributes that determine how far he can move, how dexterous he is, as well as how good he is in a scrap. Just like in the board game version, these attributes influence the die rolls that the game makes in the background and that determine if your runner manages to avoid getting tripped or if that Hail Mary pass will be a success. The only times when you can actually see the die rolls is when you attempt to tackle the opponent. Then, you’ll be presented with three specific dice that will determine the result of the clash – will you manage to uppercut his jaw to the stands or just push him away, or maybe he will manage to counterattack you, or even they both fall unconscious from a mutual head butt. The strength of the involved players determines how many dice are rolled as well as which side gets to pick the result, so in the case of a weaker attacker two dice will be rolled and the defender gets to pick the result.
This seemingly simple mechanic can get pretty complicated when we include the deep skill system that some players can have and the positioning on the field. While the six-sided dice and random elements might be integral to the game, you’ll still have plenty of ways to skew the odds in your favor and avoid turnovers that force you give up your turn (by dropping the ball or having your player tackled). The basic systems might seem complicated at the start and the game’s manual can only be read on the website. So, to get you started, there’s a campaign in which you lead a human team, Reikland Reavers, through a hilarious story of trials and tribulations of this once-great team and through which you’ll get to learn how the game works. Each match introduces one new mechanic, from basic passing to stadium upgrades. While the campaign is great, it’s tutorial part crawls fairly slowly because in Blood Bowl 2 the matches can sometimes take 20-30 minutes.
Once you’ve got the hang of thing, it’s time for the main course- the League. This mode will take away days and weeks from you as you take a slack-toothed team of misfits and mold them into pros that crack skulls and score touchdowns in equal measure. Before you begin, you’ll have to pick a race out of eight available choices that differ not just aesthetically, but statistically as well, as they all have different play styles. Some of the races have totally crazy mechanics, while others don’t even attempt to score, but rather focus on trampling the opposition and kicking them while they’re down. Over time, your players will increase their attributes and gain new skills and you can also sell them to other players in online auctions. Playing in the League brings with it serious hazards for your players, because there they can suffer injuries that can sideline them for the next match or even end their careers. The replay value of Blood Bowl 2 is crazy high, especially if you play online (AI can act silly sometimes). The main gripe that the players have is that the game came with less than 10 races, because the last title, Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition, had 23 of them. But even then, we should take into account that the previous game had several re-issues, each fully-priced, which divided the fan-base already. Besides, BB2 will get new races in the form of DLCs.
Compared to the previous game, Blood Bowl not only looks fantastic, but there are no obvious problems or bugs. The atmosphere during the matches is ecstatic, partly due to the kooky commentating duo of Bob and Jim (an ogre and a vampire) who comment for CabalVision in a typical TV style, but mostly for the excellent art style and high detail of models on the field. It’s absolutely tremendous when your successful moves get replayed in slow motion close-up, while the audience’s cheers drown out the commentators. The UI is improved as well and is uncluttered with useless information, so you can clearly see what each skill does and even features short animations of die rolls before you pick an action. The camera could have been done better however, for there is no option for free rotation, instead you have to pick one of the predefined angles with your mouse-wheel (luckily, there’s a bird’s-eye view).
Blood Bowl 2 is a game that is hard not to recommend, especially if the idea of rugby… erm – American football featuring orcs, dwarves, elves and other Warhammer races sounds like a great pass-time to you, and you don’t mind getting used to a somewhat complex tactical system. It’s a great starting point for anyone who’s not familiar with this universe and who wants a game that can be played for months, while those that own one of the previous editions will probably want to wait until a few more races are added before switching over to BB2. And us? Well, the orcs from Gouged Eye won’t lead themselves to winning the championship…
Author: Bojan Jovanović