Competition is a compelling thing, and sports give us a safe, entertaining and regulated way to participate and spectate as two teams or individuals compete against one another. Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl is based on these same principles, minus the safe part, instead murder, loose refereeing and brutal violence – from both the teams and the crowd – allows Blood Bowl to truly earn its name. And with this ultra violent take on gridiron amongst a high-fantasy setting comes a fascinating and even more compelling competition, one where frustrations can be unleashed on opponents with bone crunching tackles and cerebral tactics and strategies for a highly satisfying challenge. Indeed the board game Blood Bowl is a superb game, and fortunately the digital version portrayed in Blood Bowl 2 is as well.
Blood Bowl 2 allows you to take a team to the field from a selection of eight races – a couple more if you pre-ordered – and play a facsimile of American football with a heavy dose of blood soaked mayhem. Each half is made up of eight turns, with each team moving characters around the pitch with the goal of retrieving the ball and scoring at the other team’s end zone. This is anything but simple, but thanks to the brilliant core mechanics from the board game paired with the visual and audio splendour of the videogame, it’s a wonderful challenge with some excellent humour and potential for emergent gameplay.
Your movement is limited by your character’s stats and a grid that lies on the field during a turn. Within this movement grid is a safe area you can run within or you can risk it and ‘go for it’ adding a square or three of movement to your run but having to face the possibility of a trip knocking your character down for a turn. Indeed the majority of actions you can take are determined by an element of chance, often dictated on the grid as percentages. A ‘go for it’ run often has a success rate in the 80s, meanwhile, if an opponent is opposite you at any point during movement then you also have to deal with dodging their attacks, which sit in the 60s. Positioning your players next to each other also boosts stats and lowers those of nearby opponents, and this all comes together to help you strategise on creating clears runs for the ball carrier or blocking them, which is the crux of the experience.
Positioning alone isn’t your only weapon though, a tackle, which essentially boils down to a fight between players, is another way to temporarily – and sometimes permanently – take a player out of action. When knocked down a player is no longer a threat, if you happen to stun them then they’ll miss a turn as well, meanwhile, an injury takes them off the pitch until they recover, and a death removes them permanently and hurts the team further along in the league.
Tackles once again play off chance, with your player’s stats and abilities modifying your odds. Dice are rolled on-screen to determine the result of a tackle, with more dice thrown in for larger discrepancies between the players’ strength stats. Abilities such as block can prevent your player being knocked down, encouraging you to think tactically about which players you use to attack and defend. Further strategies can be built on the other abilities and specific rolls your players have within your team, with some players more suited to catching a pass whilst others are better suited to blitzing opponents. Taking it all into consideration and the element of chance that seemed so prevalent can be minimised, yet enough of it remains to keep the game unpredictable and fun whether you’re winning or losing.
The crowd like to get in on the action occasionally and will cheer on teams, which improves their stats, or storm the pitch knocking out and stunning random players. Push a player out-of-bounds and the crowd will descend on them, injuring and sometimes killing them. Additionally, tackles you perform or suffer from can injure or kill you. Meanwhile, negative abilities like an ogres stupidity can strike and take out your powerhouse player for multiple turns. It’s terrifically intractable, and can turn a one-sided game on its head at the snap of a neck.
Figuring out how to form strategies and understand the rules and UI is aided by the single player campaign, which sees you coach a team from rags to riches in a Mighty Ducks kind of fashion. Each game gradually introduces new elements and shows you the ropes as far as team management goes off the pitch, with buying, selling and transferring players as well as improving stadiums. It’s a fairly lengthy campaign as well, largely due to matches tacking a long time to complete. 16 turns can run for a good 40 minutes or so, which, when playing against the AI, can get a little frustrating.
For the most part the AI is smart and aggressive but doesn’t seem to be concerned with the number of turns left, often setting up a touch down play that would come to fruition a turn or two beyond what’s available. Certainly human opponents offer a better experience, and thanks to leagues and persistent teams Blood Bowl 2 offers a superb multiplayer component, one that’s especially enjoyable amongst a small group of friends playing in a private league.
Indeed Blood Bowl 2 is a brilliant sports title, one that brings together cerebral strategy with mindless violence in a beautiful Warhammer themed package. It’s a fair few races short of the monstrous amount from the ultimate version of the previous game, the animations frequently repeat, and the commentary can get on the verge of insufferable, but the satisfaction of beating an opponent into the ground and running the ball into their end zone with a superbly formed strategy is utterly fantastic and can overcome the minor issues splendidly.
Thanks to Xbox and Cyanide for their support
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