Blood Bowl Review: No Fun League

Nearly 25 years old as a board game, Blood Bowl has a strong history among fantasy gamers for presenting quasi-football in a turn-based, strategy framework set in the Warhammer universe. But does any of that translate well to a console?

Short answer: No.


The Release Date: The fact Blood Bowl came out a month after the holidays drives down the likelihood someone's aunt will buy this game, thinking it's an action-packed Lord-of-the-Rings Madden, and give her nephew a very disappointing Christmas.


Flunked Tutorials: It doesn't portend much confidence in a game when the publisher sends it to you on a blank disc with no case and no instruction manual. If possible, Blood Bowl's in-game tutorial was of even less assistance. A staggering mess of text, esoteric terms, intricate rules and, best of all, an A button that both advanced to the next text card and performed actions on the field. I had to go through the tutorials four times just to grasp how to execute the most basic acts of the game. Larger strategic concepts are completely absent, leaving the complete novice at a loss to do anything other than play a dozen unsatisfying games in hopes of developing some kind of intuition. I never did.

Bland Visuals: Graphics often take a backseat to gameplay with me, and as a turn-based strategy game, I didn't expect much of Blood Bowl. But it was noticeably last-gen in its presentation. The game smugly boasts bone-crunching, blood-spouting brutality and the animations are no more sophisticated than smashing two action figures into each other to simulate a fight and laying down the loser to signify his death. Then again, this game is rated T. The announcer commentary is trivial and repetitive. Blood Bowl's visuals and extras don't extend your imagination of what's happening as much as they get in the way of your comprehension of it, making the necessity of bringing this board game to a console an unanswered question.

A Graduate Level Course in God Dammit: I'm here to play a video game, not study tax law. Blood Bowl has a very complex rules system that, for much of its history going back to 1987, is easy to follow because it's in a printed manual. And for newcomers, human opponents spread the basic knowledge of rules and tactics to novice players. Blood Bowl puts that all on you and, as mentioned above about the tutorials, the game provides no assistance. All I'm trying to do with this is move my pieces to protect my ball carrier once he picks it up, and I forget that even running in the opposite direction of the line of scrimmage at kickoff I have to make a dodge roll if there's a defender adjacent to me, so the whole play is over before it even begins. The most basic expectations of this type of sport - even, simply, running to a football, much less picking it up - are still subject to attribute rolls and random results that kill any semblance of fun before it begins.

Any Port in a Storm: This is a straight up port of last year's PC version; nothing has been optimised for Xbox 360. Better yet, this port left out online league play and some customisation aspects found in the PC version. So the mercenary reason for Blood Bowl's console existence is pretty transparent: Rig up a console edition on the cheap a year later, don't support PC components that cost money, and sell it for $US10 more.

I went to Wikipedia to get some background knowledge of the game's history and learned this fun fact: The game's developer, Cyanide Studios, made Chaos League in 2004, which bore a heavy resemblance to Blood Bowl except for the fact it was in real-time. Thus came the lawsuit from Games Workshop, the creator of Blood Bowl. That led to a settlement, but also a licence to Cyanide to create the PC Blood Bowl. Since Games Workshop also got the rights to Chaos League in the settlement, I'm wondering if Blood Bowl's PC and console versions are either a tribute payment to Games Workshop or an attempt to defray the cost of one. Either instance would explain a lot.

After a few hours at this, I never won a match I played. In fact, I never scored a touchdown except in the tutorials. And I don't even care. Ordinarily when I fail at a game, a good game will at least make me want to play better. Blood Bowl's completely happenstance structure might deliver balance on paper, but it makes a video game pointless. Cyanide already built a fun game with orcs, goblins and dwarves rumbling on a gridiron, and it did so in real time, which is what this concept needs on a console. It's just not allowed to make it anymore.

Yes, Blood Bowl still has a legion of fans. For them, I suppose this game could provide some satisfaction. But you need to have played Blood Bowl before and enjoyed it for this game to be anywhere near a justifiable purchase. For that class of players, yes, this might be an engaging strategy game that's always ready to play you even if no one else is around. For all others though, Blood Bowl is a waste of time.

Blood Bowl was developed by Cyanide Studios and published by SouthPeak Games for the Xbox 360 on January 26. Retails for $US49.99/$AU89.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game types in both single and multiplayer modes.

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    Gotta say I disagree with you on this one. I've never played the board game but I found that within my first match i had picked up pretty much all the rules easily. I won probably 3 of 5 games on average.

    I found this game didn't really need much inthe way of a tutorial because it was a rather simple board game. My only gripe was after 50 of so matches against the AI it became kinda boring.

      QFT. Awesome game.

    I'm going to disagree as well. Never played blood bowl, but have played Warhammer 40k way back in the day.

    If you can't handle the old skool dice roles for any action and the slow pace of the classic, then you really should be playing on the Real Time version of the game.
    Additionally to that, most achievements will require you to play with the Real Time version.

    As a long time player of the board game I found the graphics and rule implementation pretty good and the rest of the game complete shit.

    No online leagues (the very reason I bought the thing in the first place), no character advancement for online multiplayer, no team customisation, single minded AI that uses one tactic regardless of situation or team strengths and blatant cheating of the dice rolls as a difficulty level modifier all make the rest of the game a big box of disappointment.

    I tried this on DS and PSP looking for something to entertain me on long train trips.

    The DS version was lacklustre at best, and showed many of the flaws mentioned here, the tutorials were simply uneducating, even as someone with some familiarity with the table top game I found them unhelpful as a refresher. While the graphics can be forgiven for being 2d, what wasn't acceptable was that you had a choice with those 2d graphics of being either so zoomed in you can only see a single player and the tiles immediately surrounding them, or a blurry mess, which, while you can recognize what is what, is definitely not fun to look at. The AI was bland, with no option for difficulty and a tendency to, regardless of the race, use a single tactic of surrounding the Ball Carrier as soon as they had posession, this would later turn out to be the easy mode on PSP. They also try to make sure you don't know enough to make decisions for some reason, for instance, when throwing a block, and having a choice of dice results, the results are indicated with pictures, but no names, you have to memorize what each picture is, which while standard for tabletop, is something a videogame can afford to eliminate.

    Speaking of PSP, it makes up for alot of the flaws, offering significantly better graphics, a significantly extended campaign mode, and tutorials that actually tutor, if someone were looking for a portable version of Blood Bowl as a fan of the tabletop game, it's hard to go past. It does have the unfortunate tendency of at times zooming through the events of an enemy's turn, and despite there being a console showing the results of rolls etc. they foolishly did not allow you to scroll back through it.

    Having not experienced the Console/PC versions of the game I cannot really comment on them, but I feel the PSP game is almost perfect in what it offers, with the flaws being fairly minor.

    The PC version of this is amazing. It could use some tweakings, but its easy to play, easy to pick up, and extremely fun. Made me want to start playing the table top. Lack of online leagues would hurt the xbox i can imagine, though i just use the public league on PC.

    They did a great job of staying true to the table top, but could use some interface tweaking.

    IMO this review seems biased and poorly done.

    Never heard of the game, only seen the 360 game on a shelf about a month back and thought it was an older game at that stage so am suprised to see such a new review of it. I was intrigued by it because i love football, after seeing this review i see football has very little to do with it- regardless i'm still intrigued, but only so much that i would get it on the iPhone if it came to that platform.

    This game is a pile of crap, it relies on luck, there's no strategy, the AI always gets better rolls and never fails. I hope Cyanide gets bankrupt if it's not done yet.

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