So I paid the stupid amount (£40!) for the early digital distribution of the Blood Bowl game. I had to. Iím impatient and was incredibly excited for this game. You knew this, weíve already talked about this. You see, I know Blood Bowl. I love Blood Bowl. Iíve long been a fan and player of the board game on which the new videogame is based. The board game is a mix of American Football and the miniature wargame, Warhammer. The game is also set in the Warhammer world, albeit a more comic interpretation.
Itís probably the best game that Games Workshop has ever produced and it most definitely my favourite. There are a wide selection of teams available and i tend towards the Orcs. Iím not going to post a picture of my Orc team, as Iíve been using the same one for many years and the paint job is a bit crappy. Iím halfway through painting up some Lizardmen and have recently purchased a themed Human team from a different manufacturer. I wanted something a little different, so I got myself a team of Nuns from a small Australian company.
You may have gathered by all this babbling that my expectations from this digital interpretation of my true (gaming) love would be rather high. Would the game offer a faithful translation of the classic board game? Would it allow me to relive the tabletop experience with geek friends who consider tabletop wargaming one nerdy step too far? Would it work?
Now, I should qualify this. I stumbled into the Ďreal timeí mode. This is quite a big step away from the board gameís turn-based origins and I wasnít really ready to try that out. I gave it a shot and it left me disappointed. It wasnít until a couple of days later that I would have another chance to play and to try out the classic, turn-based mode, based entirely on the official Blood Bowl rulebook (available for free for any who are interested). I had a quick shot as a Human team to try it out.
Yes. yes! A thousand times, yes! I am impressed. I am relieved. I am in love. The game is not an innovative re-imagining of a classic franchise. The game does not move Blood Bowl in exciting new directions. The game gives what it says on the tin. It is the Blood Bowl that I know and love, right down to the letter. I lost that first game, by the way, which further demonstrates the authenticity! I was actually surprised by the faithfulness of the translation. Although I lost the first game, I did score a touchdown with my Ogre, the dash for which I have captured for posterity:
So far, so good, right? The thing is, although one-off Blood Bowl matches are fun, the real enjoyment comes from fostering a team through a league. As the league progresses, you add players to your roster, level up and get skills for existing players, use the money you earn to pay cheerleaders, apothecaries and mercenary players (and to bribe the ref), and develop your team from a cookie-cutter mob of whatever race into a unique and personalised squad.
For my first campaign, I decided on a team Iíd never tried in Blood Bowl, though I do play them in Games Workshopís other games, Warhammer and Mordheim: the Skaven. Skaven are vicious mutants: Half man, half rat servants of the Great Horned Rat, ruled over by the Council of Thirteen. They are fast and fragile, though able to hire out a fearsome Rat Ogre, the foul creations of the Master Shapers of Clan Moulder. The bulk of my team would be made up of clanrats pressed into service as Linemen, backed up by a Catcher, two Stormvermin and two of Clan Eshinís swift and evasive Gutter Runners:
Iím not far into this campaign, having won only the first cup. I have played numerous matches, however, and have noticed that AI is somewhat brutal. The tactics it employs donít seem to differ much from race to race, however, and I found myself facing diverse teams (such as slow-and-steady Dwarfs and another Skaven team), all employing the same strategies.
Visually, Iíve heard complaints from some parties, but I donít see any issues. The graphics are great and the models are well detailed. There arenít many extra effects though, and although I admit that weather, motion blur or similar tricks would have been nice touches, they are not necessities and the target audience, used to playing with pieces of metal on a cardboard pitch, can probably cope without them.
The music is good, and fits the game well. It changes based on whatís happening too, most noticeably when a player is nearing a touchdown and the crowd really starts to cheer on their team. The real highlight sound-wise, however, is the commentary.Sure, you might get a little tired of it as there is a rather limited selection of phrases, but it adds a lot to the feel of the game and is genuinely funny.
The game is a bit buggy. There are a number of small bugs, but the biggie is the crashing on load screens. In a recent patch, all players had their resolutions reset to one the developers though to be optimal. I really donít see why I shouldnít be able to play the game at 1920◊1080, which is offered in the menu, but until itís fixed, a lower resolution will be ok. Thereís also the issue that if someone drops (or crashes) out of an online game before it loads (i.e. before the game starts), the game considers this a draw, which I guess would be quite annoying if youíre on a winning streak and the other guy drops out. Hopefully this will be addressed too.
Overall, I am delighted with the game and the faithfulness to the source material. Itís not perfect though. In terms of bugs and a lack of more advanced visual effects, the game could use a bit more polish. As flaws go, one is fixable and the other is most likely unimportant to the core fanbase the game is clearly aimed at. The real time more is an odd beast and although Iím steering clear of it for now, I could well see myself dipping back in and trig to get the hang of it. This is a game I intend to play for a very long time, though it will not replace the board game in my affections. This is as close an emulation as I could have hoped for, but it does not replace the feeling of painting and using your own miniatures in games against other painted teams, fielded by similarly enthused collectors. I am delighted by this game, but Iím not packing away my board just yet.