Back in 1987 Games Workshop took the Warhammer universe to the football field, with the result being Blood Bowl, a tongue-in-cheek miniatures game that was easy to learn, play and get addicted to. In the mid-90’s a PC video game version of Blood Bowl was produced with disappointing results. In mid 2009 a new PC version was launched via digital download, but now, early in 2010, a boxed and patched version that includes a new, playable race is available at retailers. For those that have seen the new, boxed edition, the easiest way to describe Blood Bowl is a turn-based NFL Blitz with Orcs, Elves and Dwarves.
"…a heck of a lot of fun in some areas, and a heck of a lot of frustration in others."
Cyanide, the publisher of this latest version of Blood Bowl, has produced a title that is true to the board game, a heck of a lot of fun in some areas, and a heck of a lot of frustration in others. It’s outlandish and over the top: a very faithful adaptation to the board game that features a reasonably workable multiplayer component. It is also unpolished in some key areas and doesn’t seem to be well balanced. Players that have a fondness for the board game or for an off-kilter game that is strangely addictive will find enough to like here to make it worthwhile. Those that will be frustrated by its telling warts will be better off spending their money elsewhere.
Single-player gameplay boils down to two options. The first option is a turn-based game that offers a faithful adaptation of the board game and is the best Blood Bowl presents. The second is a real-time game that is, charitably, a mess. The real-time selection devolves the game to a button-mashing exercise, as the control scheme is identical to the turn-based component. That turn-based component is a lot of fun, however. The player models look great and have some interesting animations. Since the models are different, you can tell just by looking which players are skill players and which are linemen. The pitches the teams play on are excellently rendered and bring the game to life. The game performs well once it is loaded, so, overall, the core engine gets a hearty thumbs-up. The ambient noises are well done and contribute to the atmosphere, and there’s even a smart-aleck play-by-play team to go along with the play on the field. Career mode is a blast. You have to create a team and level it up, as in a traditional fantasy game, but leveling the team up really has an effect on the game play and allows the patient player to start dominating. If you are looking for something that captures the pure fun of playing a miniatures game, but does it in a video game, Blood Bowl is for you.
"The entire game outside of the core engine lacks polish."
That being said, there are some serious issues with the title. The entire game outside of the core engine lacks polish. This may be due to the release date slipping once and a slap-dash last minute effort to ensure it wouldn’t slip a second time. The tutorials are just awful, highlighting small, obvious gameplay items while ignoring vast swaths of rules and minutiae. One tutorial even references a button that doesn’t appear in the game. This makes the learning curve, even on “easy” a bit steeper than it should be for a game that’s supposed to be all-out fun like Blood Bowl. Another issue that highlights the poor quality of the tutorials is the long load times. Even on a high-performance machine, loading screens take several minutes. This makes the tutorials extra-irksome because they are frequently shorter in length than the loading screen and then tell you virtually nothing.
The AI seems to be from another era. It tends to ignore differences between teams and really just runs a single strategy. This leads the AI to success, though, because it often cheats – or at least feels like it does. After several games, I can definitely say the AI gets better all-around die rolls (more knockdowns and injuries) than the player (who gets more pushes and stumbles). On top of this, there were also several minor annoyances along the way. The initial intro screens on the test machine were completely black, but two quick presses of the Enter key brought up the game menu anyway. The game includes two unlock keys, a serial number and an online passkey, but refers to those numbers using different names during the installation making activation a headache. The multiplayer, while really making the game by removing the AI element, is a bit kludgey in its execution. Finally, the commentators, while funny at times, can also be annoying – and after the fiftieth time you’ve heard the same comment you’ll be rolling your eyes.
The game can be fun and the game can be maddening. It is at its best playing in an online league, where the only downsides are the long load times and odd multiplayer interface. This is a perfect example of a game that I’ll pull out from time to time and play. I’ll have fun with it and overlook its faults, but it isn’t worth anything more
than the occasional diversion. An interesting side-note: it runs without the DVD in the drive so playing on the road, in an airport or somewhere similar, means you don’t have to lug the disk and case or have a spinning optical drive chip away at your battery life. Is the title recommended? Since Cyanide gave us a half-hearted game, I can only give it a half-hearted recommendation. I’m mildly happy with my $40 investment, but your mileage may vary.