Blood bowl for the uninitiated is a product of Games Workshop, the developers of the hugely popular Warhammer fantasy battles and Warhammer 40k. Blood bowl is set in the fantasy realm but instead of murderising your foe with ranks of spears, hails of arrows and powerful magic, you instead form a team of a specific race and play a good old game of American football with many twists. Being based on a board game this you would think might be a bit tricky to make interesting for new players and fans of the tabletop version alike but Cyanide have given it a go.
Blood bowl features nine of warhammers finest species for players to coach to fame and glory. You can play it either in the traditional tabletop manner or in a more fast paced real time version. Traditional involves all of the core rules of Blood bowl with players moving their teams around the field on a grid for the authentic play of the games workshop product. Real time has players giving orders to one or more team player directly while the game plays out, with the computer controlling all of the other players on both teams. Modes wise you can also play a campaign which has numerous leagues and tournaments to take part in with your chosen team. Singleplayer types which involve quick one off matches. Multiplayer is also on their if you want to trounce a friend or learn the ropes by being schooled by better players.
The main campaign of Blood bowl sees you picking a race from the list and then choosing colours for their kit, naming the team and setting up sponsorship deals to increase your team funds. After that you enter the lowest league in the land and try to earn some experience and cash, so you can improve your players and setup bigger sponsor's for later leagues. Team management is a big part here. You have a starting amount of cash to buy players with. I started with a Chaos team who focus mainly on beating the crap out of the opposition and getting the ball as an after thought. As a result of this I bought a Minotaur as my big hitter, some Chaos warriors to back him up and lastly some beastmen to actually get the ball and score some touchdowns. I chose to play my first league in real time and it was pretty fun and hectic. Players are constantly beating each other while you try to navigate a player to the ball, pick it up and run like hell for the endzone. Fortunately you have the ability to pause the real time game to give your players individual orders, so you can say switch a player from defensive to aggressive and vice versa, or get them to try and occupy a defender while you move up the field.
Controls are simple with left clicking being the main method of selecting players, changing tactics and activating skills and the such. When you want a player to tackle, attack or pick up the ball you simply right click. The same goes for moving a player with the ball or moving defenders to try and trap a running player, or pass the ball by right clicking another team mate.
As I said earlier this is American football with many twists. Being set in the world of Warhammer fantasy battles, Blood bowl features all the brutality of that world. When a player is down you can stomp them with your big hitters, although this might get you sent off it can potentially kill or injure an opposing player. Oh yes deaths are a regular occurence in this game, I have been holding my head in my hands after seeing my up and coming players beaten to death by an angry Orc Troll on more than one occassion. Cheating is also big in Blood bowl, pre-game you can bribe the referee, give some of your teams fans magic scrolls to cast fire balls from the stands, dope your players to increase perfomance and bring hooligans along to beat the opposing teams fans to a pulp before the match. All of this costs money though so you need to plan ahead.
After a match your players gain experience, and with enough earned they level up allowing you to roll a dice and see what list you can choose a new skill from. My Chaos team could choose from standard skills like being better able to tackle fast moving players, or gaining the ability to pass like a pro, but the best part was the mutations. Having a team of players with prehensile tails, grotesque faces, three arms, claws and other handy warp inspired alterations is pretty cool. Your player looks more unique and you start to build a core team of specialised tactics and strategies around these stronger players. You can also purchase better kit for players, but this is again expensive, and maybe I was doing something wrong but I never had enough money to do half the things I mentioned like bribes or doping. One gripe for me is that after spending some hard earned cash on new kit you find that it only lasts for a few games and then goes back to the starter kit. I would have liked the option to keep this equipment permamently, so your investment wasn't so quickly wasted.
Teams can also for a limited time hire star players for a match or two to really give you the edge you need. Again this is a costly choice but if you have the spare change it is worth it. Each team has a unique star player to hire, but sadly no Thrud the barbarian.
Multiplayer allows you to either take part in one off games either online or Lan, but the real challenge is the tournament play. Players can create tournaments with their own rule sets and bring it online for others to test their mettle. Cyanide at the time of writing have been running a Blood bowl world cup online, so hopefully that will be a regular thing with the developer. Myself personally didn't try online but if you enjoy playing multiplayer with your other titles then this will still offer a bigger challenge for you than the AI.
Cyanide since release has added the Dark elves as a new race, but strangely the High elves and Undead are missing. With the dark elf addition their is hope that Cyanide will again add them as another free download to keep the game fresh and community happy.
Graphically Blood bowl gets the job done. For a game based on a tabletop sports game it captures the look of the Warhammer world and its creatures rather well. Orcs look suitably brutish and muscular, Elves lithe and athletic, Dwarves short and.....er well you get the idea, if you've seen warhammer artwork then this fits the bill. The arena's are well designed to fit certain races, such as the dwarves who have a stone field with runes along the side lines. While the Chaos field is a cracked lava filled area. Altought these have no effect on the game it still adds a nice atmospheric touch. The crowd on the other hand is pretty bland with muddy textures and about five variations of crowd members in all. This is a minor gripe though to be fair to Cyanide who have done a pretty good overall job with the look of Blood bowl.
Player models do animate a little awkwardly, with punches looking the same every time they are thrown, and knock down animations being the same for all races regardless. This does detract from the combat going on, but you can look past these for the business of scoring touchdowns. Touchdown animations also repeat but they are pretty good the first time you see them.
Sound is where I feel the game could have been a little better. The music does nothing for the atmosphere what little there is of it anyway and the races themselves have little memorable sound wise to distinguish them player wise. A beatsman will roar, a human will laugh heartily like a viking in Valhalla and Lizardmen will hiss but thats it. During play the players make little noise if any. Looking at Relics Dawn of war which had the Orcs down pretty well sound wise, you think how much better the teams could have sounded. To make up for the lack of player dialogue blood bowl has two announcers, one who sounds like Jesse the body Ventura, the other reminding me of Lord Alfred Hayes (for those of you who watched WWF back in the day) who have some fitting and amusing dialogue. Sadly though the dialogue begins to repeat very quickly with the lines about tackles and passes being over used to the point that you begin to phase it out so you only hear the thuds and cheers from the game. A shame really considering the announcing as it is does a good job, but they needed more lines. Maybe Cyanide could get them back in one day to add more but its unlikely.
Overall though this is what Blood bowl boils down to. If you are a fan of the tabletop game, and you fancy playing without the cost of the models and assembling them then its worth it. Its a faitful adaptation of the games rules, and Cyanide deserve praise for that. If on the other hand you have no knowledge of Blood bowl or games workshop in general this might be difficult to justify as a purchase. But if you do then you will get a few laughs with the humour throughout the game and you will get a long rewarding sports game with some RPG elements to spice things up.
7 / 10