Sometimes, it is unfortunate that I have to title these reviews ahead of time. When I receive a game that may be lesser known, beloved, and revered than Blood Bowl, I can use the description to tease my way into an explanation of the pastime. However, when I got the opportunity to play Blood Bowl 2 – Legendary Edition, along with its new Official Expansion Beta, I jumped in, sharpened cleats first, like I was stomping an already downed Ogre behind the referee’s back. Yes, I said “Ogre”, as in one of the new races that I will allude to later. There are a lot of new Creatures!
In case you are unfamiliar with Blood Bowl 2 – it is a turn-based, American-football-like, strategy combination of humor with ultra-physical, brutal, yet very tactical gameplay. Then, to add damage to injury, the entire slugfest is set within Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy universe (from tabletop fame). Whether you are familiar or not with Warhammer’s lore (as I was not!), the crunching and vicious blood-splattering, calculated line of attack stands well on its own. However, while strategy is of the utmost importance, the game is also based upon dice rolls. Meaning that if you have ever played any board game before, you know that no matter what you ‘plan’ to do, sometimes the dice will bite you like an Orc dining on a Squig (or anything else they desire to eat). In Blood Bowl 2, the dice are hungry and they are not your friend.
While I had stated that it was based on American football (hereafter just referred to as “football”, and sorry, soccer people), there only a few actual similarities. Yes, there are eleven men on the field, you have a football, and you score touchdowns. There are even stadiums and a variety of race’s cheerleaders. It ‘feels’ like football. The game has blocking, passing, blitzing, and hand-offs. However, from this point forward, a lot of it is quite different.
First, even though there are two halves, each half is broken down into eight turns per team. While you might think that planning the moves for eleven creatures each go around, for each side, would take a long time, Blood Bowl 2 moves along at a pretty quick clip. I mentioned that it is turn-based, and it is, except that it is also on a timer! There are a few minor moves that you might make incorrectly, but if you make a major faux pas or get a bad dice roll, your turn could end abruptly. Anything that causes what they call a Turnover will immediately end your chance at taking risks for that segment. Turnovers officially happen when: “one of your players is knocked down or is sent-off; a ball that is passed or handed off is not recovered by one of your players; one of your players fails in an attempt to pick up the ball; a touchdown is scored; or your time limit runs out.” Obviously then, there are strides that you need to take to both make sure that you get all of your planned attacks/moves in during your turn, as well as do it in a timely manner. If (when) you make a mistake, the consequences are harsh and immediate. When you create a turnover, that is it. Your turn is over. The three guys on the left that you were ‘going to’ move, as well as your Thrower on the right—too bad, it’s now the opponent’s turn.
Each offensive turn, you are allowed one handoff and one pass during the course of moving your players, obviously in an attempt to get to the endzone. You are using the rest of your teammates to defend, block, push, detour, maim, disable, and/or knock out your opponents’ players. This where all of those crazy and wacky die/dice rolls come into play. On both sides of the ball, there are way too many variables for me to even attempt to list. Suffice it to say, that almost every move you make requires going to the dice for one reason or another. It is not limited to all of the examples I listed either, even while on offense. For instance, if your player is merely trying to move past an opposition player, and the path will take you through their tackle zone, there is a roll for that. They might trip you or knock you down as you attempt to simply run by them. If the ball is lying on the ground, with nobody else around, and you move a player onto it in an attempt to pick it up, there is a roll for that. Your guy does not automatically pick it up. Affecting all of these dice rolls are both your team, as well as each individual’s, statistics. In Blood Bowl 2, it is not a straightforward matter of big guys (or gals) being tougher but moving slower, while smaller creatures are the opposite. Each race, and individual, has qualities that will affect the outcome of dice rolls. There is a lot going on under the hood.
Defensively then, your goal is stop the enemy from scoring a touchdown – by any means possible. Your main weapon is the Blitz that you get to use, once per turn. This allows you to run up and into an opposing player. Otherwise, hopefully you have started the turn adjacent to them so you can grind them into the ground. If neither of those are possible, then you are trying to position yourself so that you can disrupt their attempts at scoring. Realize that you have tackle zones as well. They do not get the opportunity to just breeze by your players unscathed when they are on the offensive. What goes around may knock them down. If you do happen to have a slighter-sized team, then you will have to use your speed and tactics to outmaneuver your adversaries. If this is your case, there is no way that you are going to be able to stand toe-to-toe with your foes in a slug-fest, on either side of the ball. Remember as well, the game has taken all of the variables into consideration. Just like in real football, any team can beat any other team on any given (Sun)day. Your abilities to Dodge, as well as being able to cover more ground are to your advantage in the above situation. On both sides of the ball: know and exploit your own strengths to take advantage of your rivals! As the contest unfolds, you will learn their weaknesses as well, regardless of which team you happen to be playing as or against.
Throughout the entire game, it is always better to take them out rather than just knocking them back. Yet, you take what you can get, when you can get it. If the choice is having both players knocked down or simply pushing theirs back a space, I ‘generally’ prefer the latter, just to keep mine on his feet. No choice is always one way or the other, or ever written in stone. Depending upon what they are doing, the dice you are getting, the dice they are getting, and the situational problems of each down, you will be constantly on your toes. To add further headaches to the entirety of the mess, the players and referees all cheat! (it is rather disheartening to see a ref sprint onto the field and watch him take one of your guys out). Without giving away much, you also have to keep an eye on the fans.
Despite the brutality and subject matter, Blood Bowl 2 is a beautiful game. Starting with the two announcers at the beginning (that provide their brand of morbid humor and also provide commentary during the games), to the stadiums, and definitely to the players and their uniforms, all graphical aspects are highly detailed. I actually prefer to leave the cinematics all on for the enjoyment of the slow-motion action during each part of every play (maybe I am just a sucker for blood-spewing, spine-bending, limb-flailing, cringe-worthy hits, even though a lot of the time it is my players taking the brunt of the ferociousness). There is something extra special about watching a frail ‘looking’, Amazonian girl knock the snot out of an monster three times her size. Of course, you can turn these extra animations off for faster gameplay (or just have them set to Touchdowns only). Then listening to the fans, the moaning, grunting, and especially the bones shattering and breaking only adds to the overall immersion.
For those of you that are already familiar with Blood Bowl 2, you are in for a treat with the Legendary Edition and/or Official Expansion. There are new stadiums, a new type of league, a new mode, and so many new teams that I am not going to even list them all. Also, for the first time ever, you will now have the ability to have mixed, custom teams of multiple races! Instead of diving in and explaining all of the new races and their characteristics, I will just post pictures of all of that information for you to peruse at your leisure, including the teams that came with the original game, starting with the Humans:
Like with any computer game, there are some things that hopefully will be addressed in an update. First, since I am old(er), I would really like the ability to turn the timer off completely. For me, it would be easier to learn the intricacies of the game outside of the tutorial. Then, I would also be able to play each confrontation like a true turn-based strategy game, while also being able to take my time with each move. Second, since the game is played on a grid, it would really be nice to have the ability to toggle the grid on or off when I wanted to. Finally, Blood Bowl 2 really needs a freer camera. Right now, there are only three camera choices (in addition to simply zooming in and out). More camera freedom as well as the ability to rotate it around would be a huge overall improvement, as sometimes you cannot see the player in front of your own, friend or foe.
Lastly, this is not a beer & pretzels, just pick-it-up-and-go kind of game. There is a rather uphill-sloped learning curve to it. As a connoisseur of turn-based strategy, one never can tell about campaigns when acquiring a new turn-based game. Often, they are the longest, most intense, hardest part of what you are playing. You familiarize yourself with the game in order to get to play the campaign. I will give some rare advice about this one though: do not be a pinhead like me and avoid the campaign! This is actually the tutorial to ease you into playing Blood Bowl 2. After getting stomped, knocked-out, bloodied, and even killed – and I mean a lot – trying to learn how to play, I finally gave in and clicked on the “Campaign” button (a famous Simpson often says, “D’oh!”). Only after doing that did I feel like less of an idiot. Plus I finally started to understand why I was getting slaughtered, and not in the humorous or good ways.
Overall, I have extremely enjoyed my small amount of time with Blood Bowl 2 – Legendary Edition. While I have no background in the Warhammer universe, and did not play the first PC Blood Bowl, I do love football, strategy, and especially turn-based strategy. This is also a game that is very much as fun to watch, even on the enemy’s turn, as it is to play. Not many sports-themed games give me this much pleasure and enjoyment. Yes, it was a tad overwhelming at first, but the more I play, the more I learn. Next game, at least I will be more prepared for when a guy from the Kislev Circus stomps on my head.