Blood Bowl 2 Is Beautiful, Brutal And Improved

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Blood Bowl [official site] until I got my hands on a preview build of the sequel to Cyanide’s digital version. The concept is immediately appealing to me – a violent sport in the Warhammer Fantasy universe – and each match is a condensed tactical battle, short enough to burn through in a short lunchbreak but capable of plugging into a long-term season or tournament format. But does this sequel make the most of the robust ruleset and does it improve on the flaws of the previous attempt? Yes. Sort of. Mostly.

The few hours I’ve spent with Blood Bowl 2 have involved a bunch of matches against the AI, to familiarise myself with the eight races included, and a few forays into the online mode. I’ve learned that as much as love Skaven, they don’t suit my playstyle at all, and that I am not as smart a coach as I thought I was. And I can’t even blame a troublesome headset for my troubles, as I normally would when failing so dramatically in an online game.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the specific tactics for each race, which is the heart of the game, I need to clear up a misconception that I unwittingly nourished a couple of weeks ago. The current beta for those who’ve preordered provides access to four races and the initial relase will contain an additional four. I’ve been playing with all eight of the launch races – that’s Humans, Skaven, Orcs, Dwarves, High Elves, Dark Elves, Chaos and Bretonnia.

However, preorder customers can also choose an extra race, either Lizardmen or Wood Elves. I thought these races were exclusive to preorders but they will be available as DLC after release, at exactly the same time they’re given to those who preordered. It’s a free piece of DLC rather than an exclusive.

That’s important because it’d be a damn shame if any races were unavailable. Each of the eight available has a distinct set of tactics so that playing with High Elves, for example, is a completely differnet proposition to playing with Orcs. They look beautiful as well, with stadiums and players alike far more detailed and colourful than those in the previous game.

The graphical flourishes are important not only because they help to give character to individual players and stadiums, but in providing an easy read of strengths and weaknesses. Even with a human team, the difference between a Catcher encased in padded armour and a rough and ready Blitzer is obvious at a glance. That one of the blitzers in my West Hammers team has an enormous moustache while another has an eyepatch and bandana is also pleasing, although I’d like to see even more variation.

If Blood Bowl 2 were just a layer of visual improvement it might seem more like a downgrade than an upgrade though. The original game is cheaper and has 23 teams in its Chaos Edition. So what does the sequel bring to the digital tabletop other than prettier punch-ups?

There are two key improvements, one of which I have direct experience of – that’s the AI. While I still find beating computer opponents remarkably easy in comparison to my online tribulations, it’s pleasing to see the AI adapt to the strengths of its team. I’ve seen dwarves score a single touchdown and then huddle around the ball on their next possession, showing no interesting in moving it up the field at all. When they’re turtled like that, protecting their lead, they’re a bastard to deal with.

The tactic makes sense for the particular skills and traits of a dwarven team and there appears to be detailed custom scripting for each race, allowing them to use unique units and star players to their best advantage. They seem to react to my plays more effectively than in the original game as well.

Problems persist, however. The main issue, infuriatingly, relates to the turn limit for each half. Eight turns for each team make up a half and if you’re in possession of the ball but nowhere near scoring a touchdown on your seventh turn, you’ll most likely minimise risks. There’s no point in putting important players in harm’s way, or risking a turnover granting possession to the opponent, when there’s little to be gained.

The AI doesn’t seem to understand that. I had a Skaven team give away a point on the final turn of the first half by rushing my formidable line of black orcs and losing the ball. The ball-carrier could have stayed out of reach, his team-mates could have protected him, he could have scarpered back toward his own line – anything but bringing the ball closer to me when there was a clear path to the goal-line.

On the AI front, things are improved but imperfect then. But the second major boost in this sequel is much more convincing, even if it’s not quite flashy enough to attract a great deal of attention. It’s the interface, and not just in-match but in the wider structure of the game as well. There are Cyanide-managed multiplayer leagues to join and you can create multiple teams to drop into multiple leagues. In singleplayer, there’s a substantial story mode but that’s not available in the preview build. Nor are customised singleplayer leagues and tournaments, just exhibition matches, but it’ll be possible to set up whatever sort of league system you fancy in the final release.

There’s a transfer market to replace inferior or dead players, and a much greater sense of persistence about the teams you manage. Players age, not so quickly that they drop out of the game just as they’re levelling up, but with an increasing chance of retirement after their 96th game. That’ll prevent the transfer market from becoming overloaded with high level players and creates a need to refresh and change up your squad from time to time.

It’s in the matches that the interface shines though. There’s a better flow to the game, with available options clearly laid out and all manner of markers to identify who can move, where they can move, what it might cost, what the results of an action might be, and where the ball is at any particular time. It’s easy to get an overview of the status of a match at a glance, and almost impossible to make a move without fully understanding what the consequences might be. While purists might be upset by the new percentages that flash up to communicate how much risk is involved in each move before you commit to it, I read the numbers far more quickly than the old dice rolls. The actual calculations haven’t changed, the percentages are just a new way to display the information and Cyanide have made a far more legible game this time around.

I’m something of a lapsed player but I found myself back on form immediately and while the controls are certainly joypad-friendly, playing with a mouse still feels comfortable and there’s no need to cycle through options to find the one you want – selections can be made with a cursor. The camera is also easy to adjust to your liking and the short cutscenes that play after certain moves can be switched off. Essentially, the game’s great strength is that it is designed to be flexible and to fit the way you’d like to play.

I’d like more teams at release, of course I would, but I’m having a grand time learning the ones that I already have. There’s decent breadth, from the puny but speedy Skaven to the weird specialisations of Dark Elves and murderous brutality of Chaos, there are tactics aplenty to master. I haven’t even started to get to grips with the all-new Bretonnians yet – they seem a decent choice for a brawl against weaker teams but I have no idea how to beat a Dwarf or Chaos team with them.

The simple fact is that the actual game of Blood Bowl is so perfectly pitched to my sensibilities that I’m excited to play more. Every turn is a time-limited exercise in tactical shifts and second-guessing of the opponent, and there always comes a point when a risk must be taken if victory is to be seized. Luck always plays a part but this brutal sport is a brilliantly tuned exercise in creating the best possible odds, and then rolling with the consequences. I still haven’t found a single line from the commentary funny though. Maybe next time.

43 Comments

  1. Iajawl says:

    Not happy about day 1 DLC in a game which has already stripped the race count down so much.

    • Stargazer86 says:

      It wasn’t supposed to be Day 1 DLC. The game was supposed to launch with DLC scheduled for a few months afterward. While working on it, though, the game suffered delays and the released was pushed back. The DLC would be finished around the same time, so they decided to offer one of the races to Pre-Order customers as a sort of bonus.

      • asmodemus says:

        You really believe that Wood Elves (one of the classic base races) weren’t finished well before the decision about release plans?

        If so I have a bridge to sell you…

        • MisterFurious says:

          And I have a nice, shiny tin foil hat to sell you. The game got severely delayed. It was supposed to come out in February. Wood Elves and Lizardmen were going to be the first DLC races but they got finished before the game was done because of the delay. It’s pretty simple.

      • dode74 says:

        I’m not entirely certain I buy the explanation for the day 1 DLC policy and why PC players get to choose. My suspicion is that MS/Sony wanted something XBox/PS4 exclusive so Cyanide decided they would split their next DLCs among them. This caused the delay because the races weren’t ready, and they then had to offer PC players only one or the other so the console crowd wouldn’t feel they were being sold anything less than the PC players. This way every company gets what they want.

  2. Kharn says:

    Only 8 teams on the base game is a big NOPE for me, especially when most of the ones I’m interested at are the excluded. Yeah, yeah, developing time, costs and all that jazz, but I will not fall again on buying the game multiple times to have all what I want, nor buying 5145 DLCs.

    Fool me once…

    • Ejmir says:

      +1
      The UI is also worse than in BB1, and there are some specific actions who are very hard to perform because of it… including pass, because there is now no difference shown between long and short pass.
      Everything is more beautiful, with less texts, but less practical.

  3. raiders says:

    I wish I could play, mates. Unfortunately, I pre-ordered from GreenManGaming and can’t get my bloody key. I don’t mind they added the percentages since I roll for luck regardless, LOL. But I have heard others complain about the cut-scenes being too long and too often and it makes the game drag on too long. I’ll be looking forward to checking that out for myself. And I’ll be getting the Lizardmen on release day too. I picked the Wood Elves for my bonus race.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      The beta is out and certain people have access to additional content (reviewers, Youtubers) so have a look on Youtube or Twitch. Also, the animations can be turned off.

  4. Warduke says:

    It’s also not encouraging that there are several long-standing and well known bugs in the original that never got fixed. Doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the future of this one..

    • wyrm4701 says:

      That’s the deciding factor for my avoidance of BB2. Rewarding that along with the predatory pricing and terrible AI is a very bad idea for fans of games and Blood Bowl.

      • Ejmir says:

        It seems that they have been working on the AI, which now should adapt its play depending on the team, the player team and how you play.
        So now the AI will try to make a touchdown on the last turn, and it won’t always make cages with wood elves, passes with dwarves and dodge with khemri (wait… there is no khemri).

  5. mcnostril says:

    Dunno, been watching people playing this, and the interface seems full of steps backwards.
    No grid and no player/position names are kind of baffling.
    The way cinematics are either on or off is a also a little strange, considering they had a good system before; on for injuries was pretty good, you’d see the cinematic and immediately start stressing over the injury roll, so it’s a little weird that it’s gone back to a binary on off thing (especially since they are rather long and slo-mo when they’re all on).

  6. Freud says:

    My problem with this game is that Blood Bowl already had the full rules and a lot more races. I don’t really need this game and certainly not until they’re done adding races and release a full edition.

    • Everblue says:

      It’s far worse than the current edition of Blood Bowl, to the extent that none of the three large leagues I am in are likely to switch (that’s about 600 players total).

      Aside from the lack of teams, there’s no online lobby so you can’t easily arrange games versus friends (this is apparently a concession to consoles), it’s hard to see what skills players have, setting up and running leagues is extremely difficult and counter intuitive.

      They have also made some baffling changes to the rules – they’ve introduced an aging rule which means your players eventually get worse, not better, and there is a player marketplace that will ultimately (we think) unbalance the game in favour of bash teams. There is also a change to the way that team values are calculated for the purposes of winnings which, again, virtually nobody who plays the game actually wants.

      There are also some changes to the rosters which we think can only have arisen by mistake – changes to the cost of orc blitzers, for example.

      All of this means that Blood Bowl ‘purists’, ie the FUMMBL and tabletop crowd, simply will not buy the game. The rest of us, who grew to love the buggy old Cyanide version, which at least played a game approximately similar to the board game, may only buy it if we have to.

      Ultimately there’s a massive sense of disappointment here from the online BB1 community.

  7. Ace Rimmer says:

    The previous version’s one major failing was the pitiful AI, so significant improvement on that score would be the minimum requirement for a new iteration, but at the moment I’m afraid that’s pretty much all it has going for it.

    The team selection is lacklustre and judging solely from a few videos I’m not too keen on the new interface, which seems to have found new and interesting ways to clutter and confuse to replace the old ones.

    • Aetylus says:

      If the AI is only a bit improved then it doesn’t bode well… somewhat better than woeful doesn’t sound like a satisfactory challenge.

      • Voodoo says:

        I’ve beta tested BB2 and, believe me, the AI is NOT improved (yeah, I didn’t think that was possible either). I really don’t know how comes the writer found it improved (and, believe me, I’ve played quite a few games vs AI out of boredom on trips in places where online gaming was not feasable

  8. MiniMatt says:

    Surprised at the wary tone in the comments on this one.

    I know, there’s a fair bit to be wary about, but the key one appears to have been settled – extra races via DLC rather than three re-releases of the same game. I know it’s still not ideal, ideally we’d have all teams included at launch but it’s not the god awful setup they had in the last game.

    BUT IT’S BLOOD BOWL!

    Blood Bowl is RPS. (And it’s best community) And you get to stomp stoopid elfsies* in their stoopid ‘eadsies.

    They’d have to really fumble, like double skull fumble, for me not to get excited about this one.

    *ahem, assuming you have the elfsies DLC

    • Ace Rimmer says:

      There’s a difference between being wary and rejecting it out of hand. Blood Bowl is best game and it’s very tempting to go all out BLOOD BOWL BLOOD BOWL etc., but there already is a serviceable-except-for-the-AI PC version (with a history of some pretty questionable update/expansion practices), so I don’t think it’s that odd to be a bit more hesitant about this second version.

      I don’t necessarily object to releasing some teams (and esp. cosmetic stuff like stadia and skins) as DLC, but much will depend on pricing and implementation.

      • Everblue says:

        It’s not the DLC policy that most of us are worried about, it’s the fact that by making changes to the game and league rules they’ve ruined the balance of the game.

  9. BloatedGuppy says:

    I’ve been playing a bit with the four team beta, both against the AI and the humans. The former is still pretty limited, but does a reasonable job of mitigating risk at higher difficulty levels.

    The UI is much improved, surprised to see bitching about it in the comments. Frankly it’s night and day compared to the inordinately scruffy one in the original game, and will help the game appeal to a wider audience. The only really hateful element of it is the placement of the end-turn button and/or lack of a “confirm” when ending your turn, which can pretty easily be remedied.

    The major con is, of course, the much smaller team roster. Pretty hard to paint that anything but negative, as happy as I am to not line up against Khemri every other goddam match. And that’s a problem that will only be fixed by time.

    • Sin Vega says:

      The only really hateful element of it is the placement of the end-turn button and/or lack of a “confirm” when ending your turn, which can pretty easily be remedied.

      Jesus christ, seriously? That’s the first massive, obvious, easily fixed design flaw people will spot in the original, STILL, after years and multiple (paid) releases, and not only do they care so little that it’s unfixed, they’ve repeated the exact same flaw in the full price rehash?

      Fucking incredible. Cyanide really can do one, I mean, good lord. There’s making mistakes and then there’s just not giving a damn.

      • Replikant says:

        This. Even worse, not only was the end turn button placed squarely inside the playing field, the active area of the button actually extended (at least on my resolution) beyond the screen representation. Using a tilted camera angle you could try to select a player in the back-field, and without your mouse even touching the end-turn button you would activate it. That is beyond excusable.

        Not to mention the other bugs which never got fixed. Setting up 12 players on the field. Not being able to set all players on the field. Recently, a friend apparently rolled a 7 on a six-sided dice, when it came to match earnings. Not being able to reconnect upon lost connections, etc.

        Given that experience and seing the ridiculously low team count at launch in addition to the day 1 DLC, I am so not buying this game until it gets way cheaper in a discount.

    • Voodoo says:

      I can’t see the game appealing to a larger audience when you only get icons for skills on the player card. Even when you’re used to the game, it is irksome.
      And not showing the player’s name/class over him??? How can that help play the game?

  10. buzzmong says:

    I hope all the multiplayer support is better this time around, quite looking forward to having some mini leagues with friends of mine.

  11. namad says:

    the ui and controls are flat out worse, why? you cannot toggle a grid or player names making it much harder to see where who is.

    however those are both very easy fixes and all the other ui improvements will leave blood bowl 2 being an amazing sequel after it’s possible to overlay a grid of squares on the pitch.

    • Voodoo says:

      Actually, the lack of grid overlay you get used to quite easily (this coming from someone who would ALWAYS turn it on in BB1).
      The player’s name over him I miss much more…

  12. Ethelred Unread says:

    I have set up an RPS Ladder, search for RPS Crest of the Earl.

    I’ll be honest, I have set the registration to be via ticket and as league commissioner I should get notification of when people join, but I have spent the last 10 mins after creating a new team and trying to join unsuccessfully – I cannot see where I get to validate new teams, so please bear with me.

    Also – please post in the forum if you want to join and say “hi!”

  13. dode74 says:

    The reviewer seems to have missed some points which will be important to PC Blood Bowl players:
    1. Roster and rule changes imposed by Cyanide.
    2. Many skills are not optional now (removing tactical options).
    3. Console-style out-of-match UI is utterly horrible.
    4. No grid or player names on the pitch, making it very hard to distinguish some players (humans in particular).
    5. No armour “upgrades” as your player improves as per BB1.

    Blood Bowl as a game is superb. This version of it is very, very pretty but that’s about it as far as improvement goes. If graphics matter to you then buy it (I can’t comment on the AI), otherwise BB:CE is a better deal.

    • Everblue says:

      I wish that Cyanide would sell reskins and stadiums for BB:CE. There are lots of us playing that game that would pay for reskins of our favourite teams, and it would be money for Cyanide for not much effort.

  14. Ufofighter says:

    The “turtling” tactic was already used in the previous one. In fact it was the only tactic used by the IA. With the variant of a couple of runners outside the cluster for the more agile races.
    If the IA is only a slight improvement: no thanks. Because everything else feels like a step backwards. And the UI is terrible.

  15. vlonk says:

    What might be a dealbreaker for me is how far this game is away from the BB ruleset in some places. I am not sure Cyanide are up to the challenge on improving a formula that has been “playtested” by the boardgamers for ages… Removing tactical play options is a big problem. If skills are not optional if players have changed costs if the leagues cannot be appropriately adapted to shape the ruleset… I pass on this BB beta rule playtest 0.7 and watch from the side until Cyanide come around.

  16. Voodoo says:

    I, for one, think that giving the human receivers AV8 is one good idea for the most pathetic receivers in the game.
    Can’t comment on the other decisions though but I think that doing something to alleviate the high TV gaming (something for which BB has never been made) might be a good idea overall (or might cause problems on its own…).

    • Everblue says:

      But why make the change at all? If you are new to Blood Bowl a roster change like this will mean nothing to you.

      If you are not new to the game then you might not care, which is fine, but I absolutely know people who will not buy the game because Cyanide are making changes to the rules like this. Yes it’s pretty, but they would rather play the canon.

      The further they go away from the playtested ruleset, the less money they’ll make. It’s a baffling decision from them and shows they don’t understand either the community or the game itself.

    • Everblue says:

      In terms of whether it’s a good idea? You’ll still probably only want 1 catcher on the field at any time because they only have ST2, and you’ll probably still build them as markers with block/side step/diving tackle or ball hawks with wrestle/tackle/dauntless. It makes them a bit more durable in those roles, which is nice, but they’ll still die like flies.

  17. EhexT says:

    If you watch videos by people who actually know what they’re talking about with regards to Blood Bowl you’ll find (if you can’t tell by yourself, for whatever reason) that the UI is worse than in BB1.
    The dice log is a mess, it’s harder to tell what happened exactly, there’s no grid or player overlay options, the out-of-match interface is atrocious (often not having a money display in situations where you’re buying something, or not showing costs when you’re buying something).

    The only improvement is that they’re showing percentages for more things during a match. Yay. And for that we’ve lost what little transparency there was, more than a dozen races, have to pay full price – and oh yeah, you can’t plan your entire move anymore if you’re planning to do anything with the ball during it.

  18. bill says:

    I don’t know how they do percentages, but in Space Hulk I found myself wishing they had on screen dice rather than just percentage indicators.

    I must get back to Blood Bowl 1 – I’ve hardly played it.
    the main issue is that it’s very obtuse for new players…. I used to play real Blood Bowl back in the day, and I still had to go online to look up advice to remember what was going on with the blocking dice… the game doesn’t explain it at all.

    I hope the new game does a bit better at explaining that kind of stuff.

    • Ethelred Unread says:

      Nope, absolutely obtuse as it ever was.

      There is a single player campaign that isn’t part of the beta yet that *may* talk players through the basic actions and give some advice, but nothing in the MP.

      Seeing the % makes things a bit easier but the game still relies on you knowing the rules in terms of blocking, blitzing, fouling, hand-offing and passing.

      Seems a strange decision as the whole UI is geared towards the console and my massive sweeping generalisation is that console players won’t be inclined to read through a manual or The Rules before playing.

    • SebfromMTL says:

      bill: I started playing BB on PC a couple months ago and after reading the rules manual I get around pretty easily. I suggest you give it another try. But yeah it’s a lot of trial and error if you don’t read the rules first hehe

      I also really wish we had dice animations for BB1, or any game that simulates dice rolling. I feel that the people moaning about the RNG might whine less if they actually saw “physical” dice rolls.

  19. Wowbagger says:

    Will there be chaos dwarves eventually? They were silly looking and that pleases me.

  20. Titler says:

    As someone who played the original board game back in the late 80s/early 90s sometime, and played thousands of matches of Cyanide’s BB1, I’ve got a question for those who are still in the community, which they probably won’t like but I’m interested in hearing the answer too;

    Is the aging mechanic mentioned above designed to remove the horrible design misfire that comes from turning a Beer and Pretzels short term fun game into one based around long campaigns with tens of thousands of teams, and just ensures most teams go combat heavy and set out to kill and cripple the other teams and win through attrition?

    You see, in the end I loathed the ruleset that made sure there were “Tiers” of teams in order to provide “Difficulty Levels” in play, but when applied to massive online leagues, or just endless automatching in a computer game meant that if you took the lower powered teams, all you’d do is have your players killed time and time again. This in turn made your opponents even stronger the next time you faced them, as they’d gained experience from killing you, even if they’d not won the match itself. The player run leagues I joined ended up outright harming my mental health, as I was turning up just to sit there and watch my team be torn apart. Sure, I could have built a combat focused team too, but then all the fun was then sucked out of the game. Yet it’s hard to have crazy Goblin based malarky though when you can’t even afford to put the pogoer back on the team because you’ve just watched 5-6 of your roster be injured or outright killed in a single match. And why risk a Goblin on an Ork team, which the troll is more likely to eat when trying to throw for zany touchdown fun, and when he’s going to get stamped on by Chaos blitzers to put you one man down as fast as possible? You might as well take another standard Ork and cage with him to toughen up the rest of your team.

    But if your opponents are aging… Is that 5 skilled Chaos Blitzer not able to stay on the opposing team forever? Then that’s a GOOD thing! I know BB fans in the community loved the Living Rule Book 6 version of the game, but this is one change I’d welcome; players in an online competitive arena should be expected to win through superior skill, not that some teams start advantaged and can roll that into an eternal further advantage. By all means have LBR6 identical leagues and rooms, for those of you who like that… but if you expect the game to do well on consoles and PCs this time around, and one assumes Microsoft and Cyanide desperately hope it will do, then sorry to say LBR6 just isn’t designed well enough to do so, and I hope they are looking at ways of leaving non-Bash teams at least able to take the field, if not always win…

    • Everblue says:

      I think, with respect, that it may be your coaching? The large private leagues I’m in have mainly been won by elves, but with hybrid teams such as necro and lizards doing well too. Heavy bash teams do ok but don’t dominate.

      If you are playing big matchmaking leagues that match on TV, then I agree that you have an issue because TV based matchmaking was never part of the design and some teams are designed to be low or high TV in order to work properly. That evens out in private leagues though.