Blood Bowl Review

   27/12/2009 at 13:39       Tom       6 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Blood Bowl, THQ, Warhammer, Games Workshop
Game manuals are a sore point for some these days. More and more often I hear people having a good old moan on the Internet about how manuals these days are thin, unimpressive and undetailed. Outside of the Grand Theft Auto games and No More Heroes, I can't remember a time when reading a manual was necessary - or desirable for that matter. It's a far cry from the days of the latest Microprose sim game that would come with a book rather than these roughly stapled leaflets we've been getting recently. So normally when a review copy of a game turns up, with only basic packaging and no documentation I don't bat an eyelid. The tutorial will show me what I need to know.

So it's a shame Blood Bowl really needs a manual. After booting up and playing through the tutorial I didn't feel any the wiser. Sure, I got the real basics - Blood Bowl is a turn-based strategy game that is a direct copy of the Games Workshop board game of the same name. You know Games Workshop, I'm pretty sure every town has one and they're all the same - impressively painted figurines in the window and spotty oiks with no social skills reading rule books and browsing strangely named paints on the inside. They did that Warhammer thing, which comes in two varieties, normal or the 40k version which is Warhammer IN SPAAAAAAAAAAACE.

Errr... Anyway... Blood Bowl is set in the Medieval version of the Warhammer universe. So it's Orcs and steam punk rather than Orks and cyber punk. The game of Blood Bowl is a stripped down version of American Football. So no downs, no stopping and starting for elaborate plays. Just teams of different races stomping each other into the mud in order to transport the ball to the opponent's side of the pitch. A bit like Rugby with forward passes then.

So we've got the humans who like every other game are the jack-of-all-trades. We've got the fast Skaven, agile Goblins, the passing game elves, the strong Orcs, the aggressive Dwarves and the Chaos team who apparently don't give a shit about the game, they just want to break some bones.

Not that you get jack for breaking bones in Blood Bowl. Sure a downed opponent won't be a bother for a turn or two, and you can put team members out of the game permanently but if the opponents have more touchdowns than you then it's a mark in the loss column for you.

Taking a Bloody Turn

Each team gets 16 turns each to do their worst. That's 8 turns each half of course. A turn ends when all players on the team have moved or attacked. One team member per turn can "blitz" and do both. Or alternatively the turn can end on a turnover - which occurs if a player fumbles the ball, fails a pass, the ball is intercepted by the opponents or one of your number is tackled to the ground (which can also result in a KO/injury/death). Turnovers are actually more common so turns tend to fly by quite quickly.

Part of the reason for this is each team member has a "tackle zone" in the 8 squares surrounding them. Every time a opponent passes through one of those squares a dice is rolled, and if the result is unfavourable the opponent is downed. As a result you can't just zig-zag between defenders without getting very lucky, you may survive one or two dice rolls but you're testing your luck beyond that. It works both ways of course, so moving your men next to an enemy is a good way to "cover" them.

But this brings me round to my little tangent about manuals earlier in the game - I found I struggled as it's not made clear what the different player types are meant for. It's easy enough to figure out with the humans who have such roles as "thrower" "catcher" and "blitzer" but then you'll come across roles like the Goblin's "pogoist" or the Orc "Dark Orc" which leave newbies like myself scratching your head.

But for players who are fully familiar with Blood Bowl I'm assured that it's very faithful to the board game. It uses the Living Rule Book 5.0, although you can play "Blitz" mode where any of the rules are editable and you can even play as a real-time strategy game, which admittedly doesn't work so well thanks to the stupidity of the AI and the awkward controls. Again, the tutorial doesn't exactly go into detail on this mode either, so guess work is necessary for the first few games.

Creature Creations

One of the better features of the game is the ability to create your own team. You start a competition by naming your team, choosing a race then buying 11 or more players with available cash. They then level up through play so you can add extra skills or enhancements to their existing abilities. There's no ability to create your own strips, or even change the colours - the teams are either red or blue in each and every map. Considering fellow Games Worshop game Dawn of War II had an excellent painting feature it seems a bit of a let down.

It is possible to use your custom teams online as well, not that it seems worth it. It seems the only way to play online is single matches. There's no way to set up leagues or cups, which is surprising as one of the tips on the loading screens says the best way to play is in a league with friends. A missed opportunity there it seems. There's also a fair amount of lag, which doesn't matter a jot when playing turn-based, but still results in players warping around when moving. There's also no lobby after the game as well, so you get dumped out to the menu with no opportunity to select a rematch.

The game's graphics are nice enough. They seem to have a fairly low poly count but still look good, and fit the character of the game very well. The backgrounds as well are a good fit and have a nice battered, dirty look about them. There's a severe lack of fancy effects, little to no post-processing and the animation is jerky and awkward which makes it feel like it's something from the last-gen upscaled to high definition. The interaction between characters is poor. Think of a game like Final Fantasy or maybe even Pokémon. The attacker will play their one attack animation, a dice roll then determines if the opponent falls over, takes a step back or completely ignores the blow. I know it's down to the fact it's based on a board game but this all takes the "organic" feeling out of the game and highlights the stiffness of the source material.

Sound too is very much on the basic side. You get the requisite epic fantasy music on the menus, but beyond that there's the standard crowd noise, a dice roll sound and the expected crunches and bangs. Also present is commentary which while initially funny very quickly gets repetative and often has absolutely no bearing on what is going on in the game. Overall the sound could be described as functional but unspectacular.

Functional but unspectacular describes the game as a whole really. It still plays a good game, and could never be described as terrible. At full price I couldn't recommend Blood Bowl, it feels low budget, the type of game to be sold at a budget price point rather than the full whack they appear to be asking for it.

No amount of dice rolling is going to save the game from that.
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