To Put It in laymen's terms, Blood Bowl is American Football meets a bar brawl - players have to get the ball into their end zone (their end of the field) while avoiding getting blocked, injured or killed.
But playing Blood Bowl isn't as fluid and intuitive as that. While it may have the same goal as classical sports games (get the ball in the right place) it runs like Risk or Baldur's Gate, depending on your play style. Despite how this sounds, Blood Bowl can be a lot of fun. It's just sometimes it requires you to excavate a deep mine to find it.
The rules are simple. Each team is made up of 16 players, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The initial kickoff has the ball landing in someone else's half, and any player .can pick up the ball and throw it. However, the success of every action - dodging, picking up and throwing - is based on the result of dice rolls, and so you have to be careful how you allocate players. You'll want to use your beefier players to block the other team (as in start a fight with them) and clear a path for the player with the ball to run into their end zone, or pass it in.
If you're on the defensive, the same applies - except you're trying to hit the player and take the ball from him, or get a player in the line of his throw so you can intercept. It gets even more confusing when you consider players can get knocked over, injured and killed; be sent off for hitting a man when he's down; and even cast spells.
Football Is War
Depending on the mode you choose, these rules are either invisible or painfully obvious. Tiie real-time mode - much like Dawn of War II - allows you to control one player at a time, with the AI helping you across the field. You can pause too -like in Baldur's Gate - and issue a series of commands, such as sending three linemen forward to create a hole that your player with the ball can run through.
If you think this seems a bit intimidating, you're correct. But the game is immensely satisfying when you get things right. Depending on the team you pick - for example, the Chaos are very physical and run a lot, while the Wood Elves like to weave, throw and catch - the whole game can be different. I preferred the Ores' game - lots of careful blocking and creating holes, knowing that my team was better at creating a hole than finding one through the air.
However, this becomes rather more difficult in the turn-based game. It takes a radical re-imagining of what you think the game will play like to even wrap your head around it - such are the slings and arrows of being faithful to the source. Turnovers are frequent, and a seemingly innocuous move can completely ruin your game plan. Blood Bowl isn't illogical, stupid, or unfair - it's just bloody hard to get to grips with. Even when you do, little mistakes will punish you painfully, especially when you play online veterans.
Strangely enough, there is some real depth when you delve into the game's campaign setting. Usually the last thought in a sports game, the singleplayer mode in Blood Bowl is engrossing: an endless Franchise campaign where you create your own team, level it and lead it to stardom.
Players all individually level and can be built in your own image - to the point that I'd advise not touching it until you're comfortable with your play style. Each player levels depending on what they do in a match - such as passing, blocking or scoring - forcing you to keep an eye on what everybody's doing. Each time they level, they can pick a skill, such as Sure Hands that gives them an extra dice roll if they fail to pick up the ball.
Even the campaign itself is interesting: tournaments can be gambled on, players can be bribed to be less effective, and your own players can be trained and injured in the process. You can organise sponsors for your team, promising particular goals (such as a certain percentage of victories) in return for fat bonuses. The depth is something to be appreciated - though it could have done with a lot more explaining, and preferably by someone who's fluent in English.
For all the positives, however, there are a few deep-seated problems that limit Blood Bowl. The first is the distinct budget feel of the game. Sounds are repetitive - especially the unfunny and monotonous commentary - and the menus are written with all the flair of a bad Half-Life 2 mod. Worse still are the little things: loading screens, tutorials, tool-tips etc are riddled with grammatical errors and confusing language.
A Tough Game
The basic animations lack the complexity expected from a Warhammer game. There are only a few stadiums, which becomes painfully apparent a few hours into the campaign. There aren't really that many player models. And if you score more than two touchdowns in a match, you've seen all the animations for your team. While the core of the game is sound, the overall package lacks the finesse that one demands from such an awesome license.
The final, and more personal problem, is that the real-time mode is not what the game needed. If it required another year or two to develop it, so be it - but a truly real-time Blood Bowl would be akin to the console game Blitz: The League.
That said, Blood Bowl isn't awful - in fact, there's a lot to like if you're willing to dedicate your time to learning its complexities. If you're a fan of the board game, you'll like this adaptation - but if you're not it's not going to sit well with any logical imagining that you've ever had for a Blood Bowl game.
Download Blood Bowl
The Problem With Blood Bowl if you're one of those who insist that everything has to be playable the second it lands in your lazy hands - is the manual. It's also the best thing about Blood Bowl - if you're the sort who likes to go behind the rules of the game and soak up the atmosphere.
At Games Workshop's HQ in Nottingham, there are plenty of that second group, with the number of journalists matched by the number of enthusiasts. One of them - a friendly gentleman who was too late to apply for beta access, and is getting his first hands-on - lets out a grumble of excitement as he sits down. This is not a world where the phrase "casual gaming" appears.
Blood Bowl-a board game that mixed rugby, American Football and Warhammer - was first released in 1987, and it hasn't remained static since: the rulebook went through four editions, before becoming the Living Rulebook (currently available at Games Workshop's site at games-workshop. com). Cyanide are long-term fans of Blood Bowl - their 2004 homage, Chaos League, has been bought and buried by Games Workshop as part of the deal that's seeing Blood Bowl developed. The evolution, fine-tuning and honed balance of the board game has been preserved perfectly in the classic version of the new videogame - which faithfully reproduces the latest version of the Living Rulebook.
But there's also the Blitz version -which will let you tweak the rules to play a unique league more to your tastes. And if the couple of hours spent in a full board game is too sedate for you, there's a realtime version that lets you whip through a game in 10 minutes. If you're playing single-player, you'll be able to pause and issue commands, it'll pay to micromanage your players. But unilateral pausing wouldn't work against a human opponent, so it'll be chaotic action.
Online, you'll be able to play for free in the public ladder, and in the private leagues that people playing their Blitz variants will set up. Your team will be constantly changing - players age, and this being Warhammer, they get killed in the field. If you play a game against the Chaos horde, then you're going to have to be prepared to lose some players permanently - you might even decide not to put on your best players, in case they're singled out for a stomping, beating, beheading or eating.
So there's no such thing as a perfect team. But if you've got something that you consider close you can take a snapshot, and use that frozen team in matches that'll earn you no experience. These matches take place outside of the official ranking system, so they're open to file-hacking and all manner of wretched cheat abuse. Both Cyanide and Games Workshop are philosophical about the inevitability of cheats; "if you want to cheat, you're welcome - it's only a game".
The game will ship with eight races. All the usual fantasy races - dwarves, humans, ores, goblins, lizardmen and two kinds of elves - will be present, as well as Warhammer's races. The popular Skaven cheese junkies will be playable, as will members of the Chaos Horde. Each race has a different balance of stats that makes a different style more appropriate. Lizardmen are fast, and can make heroic runs to score. Ores are slow, but strong -and Goblins have the chainsaw-wielding Looney, who stands a better chance of permanently mutilating a player. It's a genuinely great balance between the different styles of play.
Blood Bowl may have a serious set of rules, but it's the most light-hearted iteration of the Warhammer universe. It's a spoof in the same bloodline as Speedball (some of the GW enthusiasts go so far as to suggest Speed balls animations were inspired by Blood Bowls artwork), and if you've ever played the board game - or attempted to - this is a great way to shift the emphasis away from memorising tables of stats. It's difficult to imagine how it'd appeal to anyone with no experience of the game, but the appeal of blood, guts and sports should make it attractive to gamers.
A Futile Attempt..
To explain the rules of Blood Bowl in 100 words
The point is to move the ball to the opponent's touchdown area. Players take it in turns to move. A turn lasts until an action fails, or until you've issued orders to every player.
An action can be to move, pass the ball, attack a neighbouring player, but it's complicated by a player's "tackle zone". A tackle zone are the eight squares around a player's piece, and to enter or exit a tackle zone, you have to dodge - failure ends your turn. Playing Blood Bowl well is a matter of managing these tackle zones, and playing to your team's strengths.