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Review: Blood Bowl (PC)

By Ian Warner

Introduction

Blood Bowl is a computer game adaptation of the classic Games Workshop miniatures board game. Its stated aim is to capture the spirit of its tabletop equivalent and translate it into a violent sports game like no other. This it excels at.

Blood Bowl isn’t a regular sports title by any means. In fact I would be rather worried if another sports game involved kicking people while they are down, bribing the referee, doping and hiring wizards to cast fireballs from the stands upon your opponent! It does have its flaws though. The AI doesn’t go easy on you and starting players may be overwhelmed by the complexity of the tactics employed. Furthermore although the turn based setting is a brilliant adaptation of the board game the real time setting is a complete mess. These flaws aside though it is a thoroughly enjoyable game that really taps into the comedic spirit of the world of Blood Bowl.

Story

The story behind Blood Bowl is simple. In a parallel world to that of Warhammer a worldwide truce, of the sort that is impossible in Warhammer, has been declared. War has died away: Mighty armies have been replaced by teams of a few players participating in the extremely violent sport known as Blood Bowl. Blood Bowl is clearly inspired by American football only with more violence and underhandedness. There isn’t really a plot as such. The Campaign simply follows whatever team you pick through their exploits on the pitch. One welcome addition to the background is the inclusion of Jim and Bob the definitive Blood Bowl commentators but I shall discuss them later in Atmosphere.

Game Play

Each time you begin a game, regardless of what sort, you are given a choice between two general modes: Blitz and Classic. Classic is a basic play mode that sets all the defaults up for you. I’d recommend playing your first few games in Classic mode just to get used to the game.

Once you’re orientated you can try out Blitz mode. This unlocks a variety of options including playing in Real Time.

I don’t recommend playing in real time. It’s like playing an RTS with a ball. Only the AI controlling your players has even less initiative than a regular RTS AI. I didn’t think that was physically possible but there you go.

Turn-based is the way to go as it faithfully recreates the board game whilst adding brutally hilarious animation and sound effects that obviously you can’t get on the table top.

In both Classic and Blitz there are several ways to play. For single players there is a fully realised campaign where you build a team and take them through a league all the way to the top, an option for creating your own competition and one off matches. There’s plenty of choice here but it is slightly let down: The AI is tough as nails. Even on easy mode it plays Blood Bowl like a seasoned professional that makes the game difficult for complete novices, like me, to get into.

Multiplayer more than makes up for this difficulty. Rather than facing Robot Rick Priestly you are playing a real person who, unless you happen to be playing the real Rick Priestly, happens to fuck up on occasions. You can play with other peeps via LAN or teh internets or, if you can find someone in the vicinity of your computer interested, with two players playing on the same computer. This “Hot Seat” option is worth the game’s retail price on its own. If you’re a sad bugger like me you can also play with yourself on this option. In fact I’d recommend it at least once in order to get a feel of the game.

There is a problem with one-offs and Hot Seats though. You cannot create your own teams for some reason and have to pick from a list of pre generated set ups. This is however a minor flaw in an otherwise brilliant system.

Atmosphere

Again the board game is very faithfully adapted. All the violence and grim darkness of the world of Warhammer with the comedic twist that it is a rather silly ball game that does the talking rather than massive armies. As mentioned before the commentators Jim and Bob burst from the pages of the Blood Bowl rulebook into animated discussion of various aspects of the game. This further highlights the not so serious nature of the game and can stop you in the middle of a turn with laugh out loud wit.

Graphics

With the subject matter you’d expect the graphics to be cartoony and bright. Strangely they’re not. Most painted Blood Bowl teams I’ve seen look far cartoonier than their counterparts in this game. I suppose the new Games Workshop ‘realistic’ painting ethos has penetrated into their computer games as well. I’m not sure this is a good thing. It’s a lot harder to laugh at a Goblin falling on his own chainsaw when he spurts blood everywhere. The pitches themselves however are astounding even if there is a somewhat limited selection outside of the Campaign.

Conclusion

Overall Blood Bowl is a very faithful adaptation of its tabletop cousin. A lot of options are presented and they all have their merits but the Hot Seat setting alone would have made a pretty good game. The AI maybe a master that even regular Blood Bowl players have trouble with but you don’t have to face it unless you like getting clobbered. Real time was a disappointment. Perhaps if it took the FIFA series for inspiration rather than Warcraft III it would be more playable but as it is it’s a mess. There are, as you can, see very few gripes I have with this game. It is extremely faithful to its source material in spirit and letter and it’s lots of fun. What more could you ask for?

Scores

Style 4/5

Substance 4/5

Overall 4/5

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