Cardboard Children: Blood Bowl

By Robert Florence on April 29th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.


Hello youse.

We haven’t talked about Blood Bowl properly yet, have we? Let’s correct that shit right now. What kind of board game column is this if we haven’t even talked about Blood Bowl?

You want to talk about all things Blood Bowl? Cool. Me too.

BLOOD BOWL

“Have you played Blood Bowl?”

There’s a reason why everybody who enjoys board gaming is eventually asked that question. There’s nothing like Blood Bowl. Nothing quite so exciting, and so full of thematic crunch.

Let’s just state what everybody already knows. Blood Bowl, Games Workshop’s game of brutal American Football in a skewed version of their Warhammer Fantasy universe, is one of the greatest board games ever produced. This is not in question. We will not debate this in the comments section. To play Blood Bowl is to love Blood Bowl.

In Blood Bowl, each player controls a team of fantasy archetypes, and tries to lead them to victory. Each half of the match is broken up into turns. In each turn, every player on each side can take an action, but if an action fails there is a Turnover, instantly ending the turn and passing momentum to the opponent. Turnover is the thing that makes Blood Bowl shine. With the Turnover mechanic, every single decision is filled with tension. If you want a player to make a risky pass, you have to decide when to try it – fucking up can end your whole turn early, and that can often be devastating. In Blood Bowl, you never feel like you are going through the motions. Every single action is valuable, and most actions come with the possibility of failure. It feels like a sport. That’s the thing. It feels like you’re playing a sport.

And then there’s the violence. It’s an acceptable tactic in Blood Bowl to just maul your opponents into submission. Indeed, for some teams, it makes more sense to fight than to run and pass. The game is about playing to your team’s strengths, and if your team is slow and can’t pass for shit, you better make some hard and meaningful tackles. That’s some basic management shit, kid, and it works in every real-life team sport that matters. Again, though, attempting to kill an opponent can sometimes put you in a coffin instead – it’s like what happened to Paul Gascoigne, remember? Long before the media reinvented the rich wife-beater as a loveable victim, Gazza tried to “do” Gary Charles and “did” himself. You can recreate this dramatic moment of thuggery-meets-karma in Blood Bowl!

Here’s what I really love about Blood Bowl though – it’s an entry point. Everything Games Workshop produces is an entry point. Many people criticise the company for this. “Oh, they just want you to buy more miniatures!” “Oh, they just want to sell stuff!” And sure, of course that’s the case. But there’s also something beautiful about a game that allows its players to dig right in, expanding the world of the experience.

You want referees in the game? Sure, we have miniatures and rules for that. You want cheerleaders on the sidelines? Go right ahead – we have miniatures and rules for that. You want a wizard on the coaching staff who fires off spells at opposing players? Not a problem – buy one of our wizards and have at it. You want a giant league full of teams competing for trophies? We have the teams – come buy them. We have the rules to support that kind of play. We even have the miniature trophies.

But here’s the thing – you don’t HAVE to buy any of it. You’ll want to buy it, but there’s no real necessity. This game is great right out of the box, and you could make a cheerleader out of plasticine if you wanted to. So go ahead – make the roll to see how the weather is, roll to see if any fans riot before kick-off, and then fling yourself into Blood Bowl.

Or maybe you don’t want to be a player. Maybe you want to be a Team Manager.

BLOOD BOWL: TEAM MANAGER

Fantasy Flight’s card game Blood Bowl: Team Manager is a different kettle of fish from standard Blood Bowl. But what a shiny kettle it is. And those fish are really tasty.

In BB:TM, each player takes control of a team – a deck of cards full of players. The week’s match highlights and tournaments are laid on the table. These are cards too, showing the rewards that a team can expect from participation and victory. Then, the team managers commit players to the highlights and tournaments.

The game is really difficult to explain, but so elegant in play. It’s an abstraction of a season of Blood Bowl, and yet it still manages to hold onto all of that lovely theme and crunch. You have to decide where to place your players, and which skills to activate when you place them. As you add players to a “highlight”, your team’s Star Power rises, and the team with the highest Star Power at the end of the match-up gets the reward.

Watch this video – it explains the meat of the game really well.

I love this game. I mean, I really love it. There are six teams in the box, and they all play really differently. The Chaos team I hang with can barely pass and are terrible cheats. In BB:TM cheating is a mandatory skill you have to use whenever you place a cheating player. You draw a cheat token and place it without seeing what it is. At the end of each week you flip it over and it can give you bonuses or have you ejected from the match. It is SO exciting. I love the tackling in this game too – it really has that Blood Bowl feel, where a die roll gone wrong can have you on your back instead of your opponent. Pulling Star Players into your team is always a thrill, because they come with some amazing game-changing special abilities. But where do you place these players? IT’S HARD BEING A MANAGER.

With two players, the game plays really well. With three or four, it’s an explosion of colour. The tournaments become fast-paced four-way bloodbaths, with players flinging tackles at each other and using clever card combos to try to gain possession. There are roars and cheers and thumps of fists on tables. Rivalries start and end and start and end and start again.

Last night, my very last act of the game was using a special team ability I’d earned to place a cheat token on an opposition player. A risky move, because that cheat token can provide a bonus. But the player I played it on was about to win the whole game for an opposing manager. It was a last-gasp attempt at trying to change a seemingly inevitable fate. If the token flipped and it was a sending-off, eliminating that player, then I had a chance of coming first.

WAITING FOR THAT TOKEN TO FLIP WAS ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING THINGS TO HAPPEN TO ME IN MY LIFE.

It wasn’t a sending-off. Oh well. It would have been AMAZING though. Next time…

I can’t really recommend this game enough. I’m sorry I’ve struggled to explain it, but you have to trust me that it’s a game that sounds dry and complicated in explanation. I don’t want to turn you off it. I want you to buy it, play it a few times, and feel it all click for you. Feel that excitement.

I’ve gone way over my word count here. Let’s just finish off by saying:

BLOOD BOWL.

ALL GOOD.

ALL REALLY FUCKIN’ GOOD.

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56 Comments »

  1. MOKKA says:

    Speaking of Paul Gascoine, I remember him breaking his own arm while trying to throw an elbow at one of his opponents during his time in Middlesborough. I could be wrong on that one though. Watching british football was somewhat of a last resort to escape boredom back in the late 90s for me.

    In regards to Bloodbowl: As with Warhammer 40k, I only realised its appeal when I already stopped spending money on miniatures. This and I’m also lacking a group of reliable people to play with.

  2. kimvidard says:

    How many memories! Blood Bowl!
    I started playing quite late while doing my degree and have never had so many moments of pure adrenaline rush watching sport.
    My Dwarves were unstopable, until the friend I used to play with put together his fancy-jumping-tights-wearing-mofo Wood Elves.
    DAMN YOU Blood Bowl, I want to play again now.

    • Grey Poupon says:

      The newest iteration of Cyanide’s ones-and-zeros version of Blood Bowl is actually pretty good and has almost everything in it that the TT version has. If you don’t have any friends to play the TT version with, it’s a decent substitute.

      • RakeShark says:

        It does, however, come with its own set of issues and mind-boggling design choices.

        • Grey Poupon says:

          Some skills are somewhat clumsy to use, other than that I’ve been able to play it just fine. The UI isn’t *that* bad. Considering how awful some TT->PC ports have been, Blood Bowl’s pretty damn good. I’ve never found the “set of issues” to be as big or bad as some people claim. Granted, the first iterations were a bit lackluster.

          • Screwie says:

            Indeed, it’s arguably the best adaptation yet. Which is a little sad, but… progress!

          • Everblue says:

            I know we always say this, but there’s a very friendly (and increasingly large) league being run by our very own RPS forums. Come join us – we have cookies (and DEATH).

          • Malibu Stacey says:

            When you have the entire game design already spelled out for you (aka LRB) and still manage to put bugs in the most basic elements of the game, you should be called out for how pathetic a product you produce.

            Yes Cyanide’s 3rd version (4th if you count “Dark Elves Edition”) is noticeably better than the earlier ones but it’s still full of bugs.

  3. Pangalaktichki says:

    Games Workshop games always felt like something unreachable for me (well, compared to my sallary) – the money and time investment was never an easy thing to swallow so I ended with only attending tourneys as audience. I never understood how WH 40k or Blood bowl are played but I always enjoyed watching people play them.
    Speaking of Team manager, those instructional videos really sold it to me. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive during this week and can’t wait to play it. It’ll be my first taste of Blood bowl :)
    Love this column btw, though it didn’t serve any justice to my wallet.

    • Delixe says:

      Blood Bowl, Necromunda and Inquisitor are actually some of the cheapest ways of getting into GW’s games as after buying the game and a team pack that’s pretty much it. Extra players and Star players can be bought individually via GW online. It’s certainly more affordable than WH40K and especially WH.

  4. RakeShark says:

    I always looked at Warhammer-esque miniatures as something of a nerd pursuit that I would never apply myself to, but Blood Bowl is my only exception. Just like collecting old baseball and football cards, a set of Blood Bowl players comfortably straddles that line between extreme nerd-dom and sports zeal.

    • Asherie says:

      “comfortably straddles that line between extreme nerd-dom and sports zeal.” – thats what GW want you to think! ;) I jest. I love stuff like this, at some point in college/university you stop caring what other people think n just do what makes you happy. nerdish, sportish who gives a shitish.

    • sinister agent says:

      Sport zeal IS nerd. Football fans are the nerdiest people alive, just listen to the useless shit they have memorised. It’s incredible.

  5. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Blood Bowl’s turnover mechanic is a thing of genius. It turns it from a game of capricious randomness to a game of judging risk. You can play it safe and most likely finish your turn, or you can send your players on a dice-defying dodging spree across the field. It also means that a good game of Blood Bowl even works as a spectator game, with cheering and jeering fans on both sides.

    That, and of course the season rules are brilliant. Your players get history. You start to feel there are some you can trust with risky play beyond their stats and skills. There are stories of players who came out of nowhere, blazed with glory for a single game then tripped and broke their neck the next game. And the peculiar tale of Eyerack Ironbladder who was the only player on the entire team to not fall for a poisoned juice dirty trick (4+ to not be affected. Seriously, the dice were rigged!) will live forever in our gaming group.

    • Everblue says:

      And I will always remember my AG5 elven blitzer who, in a critical promotion-deciding game, dodged through a crowd of players to take down an opposing ball carrier at the very end of the game, picked up the ball and sprinted to safety, only to be killed by a lightning bolt on the last turn.

      Cheradenine Xakalwe – gone, but never forgotten.

      • President Weasel says:

        Although he’d already probably forgotten his own name and thought he was somebody else. Shame you weren’t playing a nurgle or undead team, it would have been a nice touch for him to come back to life playing for the other side.

        And Smingleigh, it may be a game of judging risk but I assure you it’s still brim full of capricious randomness.

        • Bluerps says:

          Also a nice touch would have been, if he had been killed with a chair.

  6. pakoito says:

    I have no memories attached to this game so there is no bias here. I tried to play last year with the RPS chums and it’s really putting off how, at the end of the day, it’s still a luck-based game. I don’t mind some stochasticity in my systems, but not at this degree. It was unfun and frustrating.

    Disclaimer: pakoito rolled 8 ones and a two in 3 rolls of 3 dice each after positioning his players perfectly for a tackle.

    • Everblue says:

      …and yet the best players win almost all the time. It’s actually about controlling space and minimising the number of dice you have to roll.

      I see players making 1 dice blocks, dodging with AG3 players etc, and then complain that it’s a luck-based game.

      • pakoito says:

        >Disclaimer: pakoito rolled 8 ones and a two in 3 rolls of 3 dice each after positioning his players perfectly for a tackle.

        The best player will win by reducing the amount of luck involved in the game. He’ll roll less. Concept understood before I started playing, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see it.

        It’s still a heavily dice (luck, statistic, stochastic) based game and I don’t want to have a 16% chance my mastermove fucks up because lol dice. See disclaimer for a 0.0000893061271148% chance roll that made me lose a game.

      • MisterFurious says:

        And sometimes people throw 1 die blocks and get stars and kill your players while they’re also doing 5+ and 6+ dodges, picks ups, and passes, meanwhile you’re doing 2 and 3 die blocks and getting nothing but pushes and double skulls and triple skulls and rolling 1′s on every single one of your 2+ pick ups even with a reroll.

        Blood Bowl is a lot like Poker. There’s a lot of skill involved but there is also a lot of chance and, unfortunately, when it comes down to it it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s also a game, much like Poker, that rewards bad play and experienced players that are doing everything right can get their asses kicked by a rookie that is playing like a complete idiot. It can be VERY frustrating and unfun when the dice simply roll for one guy and not another. It’s not fun winning that way and it’s definitely not fun losing that way.

        Playing with friends is probably much better than playing online because (I assume) it’s easier to laugh off bad dice when you’re hanging out with friends, but unfortunately for me, my friends are all obsessed with Magic: The Gathering (ugh) so I’m stuck playing that with them. They’ve resisted my attempts to learn Blood Bowl so I’ve only played online, but playing online, you really see the bad parts of the game because you don’t have that filter there. The game can be a lot of fun at times, but it can be a really torturous exercise in frustration, too and can often just feel like a complete waste of time when you just can’t seem to do anything because the dice keep saying “NO!”.

        • Syphus says:

          You’re right that the game is just like poker. However, you seem to completely misunderstand poker. In both poker and Blood Bowl, the bad player will of course win some of the time. Sometimes it’ll seem as if it “rewards” bad play, however these are anomalies and over a number of games the good player(s) will win much more of the time.

          Rather than putting this in Blood Bowl terms, I will put it in Poker terms. If you play six bad games and lose $100 each, then you play one great game and win $500, you are still at -$100. The good player realizes that this is not a good situation and may lose individually, but over the long run are far better off.

          The point is that the fact that luck exists in individual hands does not mean that skill and strategy are not more important factors of the game.

        • Dolphan says:

          ‘Better to be lucky than good’. This is somewhat true of Blood Bowl, but it’s not remotely true of poker (at least of hold ‘em etc. – draw poker maybe).

          • Everblue says:

            Just like in poker a good player will maximise the effect of any good luck coming his way, and minimise the effect of the bad luck.

            You roll a lot of dice in bloodbowl. What that means is that you’ll have short term variations in luck which lead to short term results, but it also means that a player that consistently gives himself a tiny advantage in luck through good play will have a material advantage in the long term.

  7. Kefren says:

    Surely it depends on the version of Blood Bowl? I bought it when it first came out. The board was different, like this http://www.bloodbowl.blueblood.de/history/1stedcontents.gif and I found that, despite many games and many variants of races, it was generally just quite boring. Most games seemed to just become big fights that involved rolling loads of dice and referring to tables. We always made an effort to play every boardgame loads, but this one became something we dreaded getting out. Instead we preferred Kings & Things, Warrior Knights, Talisman and Battlecars.

  8. Gwyddelig says:

    BB is ace and small-scale “Team” games like this (Necromunda being another) are something that GW does exceptionally well. YMMV and good luck to you but I called a halt to my GW-related purchase some time ago when I realised what a crowd of profiteering rip-off merchants they are.

    However, I have been delighted by the slew of W/W40K-based games in the last 6-7 years. Once they go cheap on Steam I don’t have to feel like I’m feeding the ravenous Nottingham beast (not Roy Keane – nice link withthe article there though!) overmuch and get to play BB and its ilk anew

    • Balanuir says:

      Indeed. Funny how their small-scale games are so often so much better than their main products. I enjoyed almost all of them. Such a shame they regularily discontinue them for no reason (well, except that the tabletops sell more miniatures).

      • Hypocee says:

        Hear hear, they’re way better at putting individual bodies into cardboard rules. I watched a few 40K games between friends in university and came away disgusted. Spend X amount of time setting up dozens of little dudes in trivially optimisable formations. Spend Y advancing toward each other. You are in range! Cast wizard-or-equivalent’s magic-or-equivalent! Roll a die! Did it hit?

        Yes: You completely devastate and stunlock the opposing army and will win.
        No: Your opponent will completely devastate and stunlock you and you will lose.

  9. President Weasel says:

    Stay Dicey, you beautiful bastard. Stay dicey.

    There’s a free computerised version of Blood Bowl called FUMBBL, and a not free but pretty cheap to buy version by Cyanide. Both have communities on the RPS forum if anyone’s interested.

    The Team Manager game has no computer version though; I may be forced to venture into the “real world” and actually talk to people.

  10. One Million Monkeys says:

    Another great thing about Blood Bowl which I didn’t see mentioned in the post is the attachment you get to your players, due to the continuity and evolution of your team.
    I can’t think of any other boardgames where you can be so devastated seeing one of your pieces leave the board being killed by another piece.
    The chaotic nature of the luck based nature of the game, also makes for great stories. Very few matches turns out as you expect. But even with all the dice rolling, there is still some gap between experienced and less experienced coaches.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      “I can’t think of any other boardgames where you can be so devastated seeing one of your pieces leave the board being killed by another piece.”

      Clearly you didn’t play Necromunda…. Damn you Juve Mothy of the Orlocks (Can’t remember the players name, sure as hell remember the characters…) , one stupid chancy lucky shot and you killed my Jools (As in Cannon Fodder), leader of my terrible spyre hunters…

  11. sonson says:

    BloodBowl and the Fellowship of the Ring skirmish game are by far the tightest and best rulesets GW came up with. It’s a shame that the brilliant lore and mythos of Warhammer and 40K is so poorly served in terms of gameplay.

    Edit: Forgot Spacehulk. SPACEHULK.

  12. Lemming says:

    Fuck this noise, I bought HEROQUEST the other day. That’s right, nerds! OLD SCHOOL THY NAME IS LEMMING!
    *ahem*

    No seriously, it’s still awesome.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Bought HeroQuest? I still have HeroQuest AND Space Crusade sitting in a cupboard at my parents house gathering dust.

      If you’d said you bought Space Hulk I’d be impressed.

      • Lemming says:

        I used to own Space Crusade years ago, not sure what happened to it. Always played HeroQuest round my friend’s house in those days. I’ll have to grab ‘Crusade again I think. It’s far less second hand than HQ is.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Advanced Heroquest or GTFO.

      • Azazel says:

        Warhammer Quest plus full expansions, which I played with myself :(

  13. Cinek says:

    I tried it, I read the review, but I’m still clueless what’s so exciting about this game. I don’t know… perhaps it’s just not my tape of “cardboard” games. but I didn’t find it particularly entertaining.

  14. Cunzy1 1 says:

    Coincidentally I just picked up Blood Bowl on the DS. It’s opaque to anyone not familiar with the board game and there’s a bug that will stop your championship in it’s tracks forever if you aren’t careful.

    But other than that it’s Blood Bowl that I can take anywhere with me and already I’ve probably played it more than I ever did the miniatures version.

    I play Skaven if you care at all which in itself is a little subgame of trying to score as many touchdowns as possible whilst you still have any players left. The DS game has also nailed this aspect too. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH APOTHECARIES.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      there’s a bug that will stop your championship in it’s tracks forever if you aren’t careful.

      Standard for anything made by Cyanide. There’s probably dozens other bugs too, you just haven’t noticed them (yet).

      • Cunzy1 1 says:

        The ‘bug’ in reference is if you do anything too complicated, including saving the game just before half time or knocking a player holding the ball over the touch line.

        The choices in The Walking Dead are nothing compared to the choice between saving the game so you don’t lose the 5-0 lead in the current match before it inevitably crashes vs saving the game and risking freezing your 20+ hour championship efforts.

  15. Radiant says:

    Is anyone else playing that Tekken Card Tournament game on the ios?
    My Xiouyu deck is deep.

  16. hardflipman says:

    I just got blood bowl on ebay the other day! can’t wait to actually play it.

    I must say though that the Blood Bowl Team Manager games is really difficult to get through the rule book. total nightmare in fact. I ended up watching a video on youtube (not the official ones) which helped a lot. I think i tried to read the rules about 5 times!

    • Shinan says:

      Yeah I’ve played the Team Manager game three times and every time we got something wrong. I guess one day we’ll play a game according to the actual rules.

  17. 4th Dimension says:

    Why have the screenshots been replaced by FarCry Blooddragon screen shots?!?!

    • Runty McTall says:

      Glad it’s not just me! Looking at the file names (“blood1.jpg” on the first one) it looks like there is great potential for a collision. Guess either the links point at the wrong folder or the images maybe got overridden by the FC3: BD ones. Weird that they changed though.

    • Quickpull says:

      I’m seeing this also.

      Screenshots of a board game???

    • chargen says:

      The Blood Dragon Board Game would need to be made by Parker Brothers, of course. And be pure, glorious Ameritrash.

  18. Random Gorilla says:

    ILLEGAL TURN PROCEDURE!

  19. grenadeh says:

    Blood Bowl is indeed fun but neither Blood Bowl nor Dreadball is actually that amazing,.

  20. Balanuir says:

    Pfft, youngsters these days. That isn’t Blood Bowl! The only true BB set is the one with the styrofoam/astrogranite board. Where the “Star Players Handbook” came extra. With the ridiculously overpowered large monsters and the ability to throw not only the ball, but a snotling holding the ball…

    Thanks for reviving very old memories. :-)

  21. drewski says:

    I love Blood Bowl, but I am absolutely terrible at it, so I hide away in shame and don’t play any more.

  22. OwMyKnee says:

    Blood Bowl, yes and I will force my kids to play it.
    BB:TM not so much, it has a fun grip for those that have played Blood Bowl, but it relies too much on the theme for me to find it really good.
    Oh yeah and : BloodFace!

  23. Hypocee says:

    The funny thing is that Blood Bowl’s so good it’s watchable as a spectator sport. I’ve had great fun watching TGS’ BB round-robin. If GW came up with Turnover it’s got to be the best thing they’ve ever created, even Overwatch if they came up with that. It does seem from the outside, though, that Lizardmen obviously need some serious hammer and have for a decade or two. Oh, that team? They win all the tourneys and they do so because all their guys can run anywhere and kill anything. They roll two dice one-on-one against Chaos Dwarves. Fwah fwah no skills fwah fwah fwah, they don’t need Block because they’ll roll two or more dice and they don’t need Dodge because they’ll just murder your guy and then run six next turn.