Blood Bowl is not a new game. It was first released back in 1986; that’s 30 years ago! It’s been through a few iterations with a new edition released late last year. There was even a period when the game was no longer officially supported. The fans stepped up and kept the torch burning. Leagues were held and rules were refined and for many years the game just kept going from strength to strength. Just what makes it so special?
The latest version of Blood Bowl was released without much fanfare at the end of 2016. The demand was so great that it sold out worldwide. I was lucky to get an initial copy and I’m so glad that I did.
For the TL;DR version click here
Opening the Box
Specs on the box:
- 2 Players
- 120 min (expect learning games to go longer)
- Ages: 12+ (my son was 10 when he first played and he enjoyed it)
In typical GW style the components in the box are of a really impressive standard, the rule book is well laid out with step by step examples and lots of pictures. There are nice chunky dice, including an unusual D16. The sturdy boards are also double sided, one for each of the factions in the box. The main attractions, the miniatures, are absolutely superb.
You will still need to assemble the models yourself but that’s so easy with these guys. The most complicated model is only 3 pieces. There isn’t really any need to paint them because they are in 2 different colours of plastic but it will really help when it comes to telling the models apart.
My only gripe with the components would be that cards that come with the game. They are an odd size so sleeving them was an issue.
I ended up using these for the cards. They are slightly too big but it’s better than nothing.
The general gist is that it’s a kind of American Football parody set in a fantasy universe. Teams range from mummies, vampires and zombies to orcs, ogres and humans (only Orc and Human teams are in the box). There’s a ton of lore behind the game. Famous teams, players and stories the game even has its own god (Nuffle) who takes pride in blessing and cursing your die rolls. There’s even dedicated sports casters and a hall of fame.
If you want to you can purchase a series of books written about the game or comic books and video games. It’s all very light hearted, violent and worth a few chuckles. Like the background the game does not take itself seriously, at first glance. It’s zany and funny and it just works, but you don’t need to know this in order to play the game.
As prep for a game you first need to build your team. I don’t mean building the models I mean using a starting pool of 1,000,000 Gold to hire/purchase players. Using the starter set it’s easy because you have only a handful of models to choose from.
After each player has his team selected it’s time to get the game going. First you roll off to see how many fans arrive to watch the match. This is important because the fans are a rowdy bunch and can (and often do!) impact the game itself. They can cheer the team on bolstering morale or throw rocks at the opposing team or even do a full blown pitch invasion! Naturally whomever attracts the most fans is usually on the benefiting side of this arrangement.
Then it’s on to the kick off. You flip a coin and the winner decides if he will be kicking or receiving. Once that is done the kicking player setups his team on the pitch then the receiving player can setup and the ball is kicked….
The game plays over 2 halves and in each half the teams will get to play 8 turns each. During a turn they will move and perform actions with each of their players until all of their players have activated or something happens that triggers a turnover.
A turnover essentially ends your turn and passes play to the next team. This usually happens if you drop the ball, one of your players is knocked to the ground or someone scores. This makes play very tricky. Almost every action that you perform will require a dice roll to see if it succeeds.
If you want to move one of your players, that’s fine he can move. However if that player was next to an opponent they he must dodge away. So you will roll a dice. If your dodge take you next to an opposing player then you get -1 to your die roll; for each opposing player that you are moving next to.
If you want to pass the ball then you have to roll a dice, if there are opponents next to you then they try to stop you, more negative modifiers. The same thing if you’re trying to catch the ball. Then if you want to tackle an opposing player you will need to make opposed tackle rolls, if you fail then it’s a turnover.
Now this sounds needlessly random, it’s actually not. Each player has stats and skills. Making them better at certain actions than other players. These stats (agility, strength etc) make the number that you need to roll lower (or higher if that player is bad at something) so you can plan what you want to do and which player should be doing what. Skills can help you to re-roll failed dice rolls or grant you actions that you would not normally have.
So if you want someone to catch a long bomb and duck and dive to the end zone to score, throw the ball to a catcher. If you want someone to grab the ball and push his way through all the opposing players then hand it off to a Black Orc Blocker or a Blitzer.
Play passes between players for 16 rounds. At the end of which the team that scored the most touchdowns is declared the winner.
Ok, so at first glance the game might seem very luck based and swingy. There are just so many dice rolls. Here’s the thing, that’s what makes it awesome. You see despite its predisposition to violence ( There’s a player who literally uses a steamroller on the pitch), the humour and the zany random events. Blood Bowl is actually a game of risk management.
It’s a really serious game of planning the optimum actions so that you can mitigate the risks involved. It’s all wrapped up in a glorious, diverse, funny and infinitely repayable package.
What really makes it shine are the League rules. That’s where the crux of the game lies. Testing your skills against various coaches with loads of different teams. After each game your teams fame will grow attracting bigger crowds, your players will level up gaining skills and abilities and you will get attached to them. Some of them will get injured and may even die! It all adds up to build a brilliant narrative that can last for months if not years if your league keeps running.
On its own the starter box is fun, with more than 2 players, it’s amazing. There are Leagues and tournaments running in both that Cape and Gauteng Provinces, which I know of, so if you’re a South African player and need to get in touch with other players; drop me a line and I’ll see how I can help. Most of them will even let you borrow a team for a learning game.
How does it play solo?
Surprisingly, it’s great. Solo won’t work with a league but you won’t need it to. I normally don’t like “playing both sides” but in this instance I did it once to learn the rules and the game just sparkled. The way it plays, I could play each side to the best of my ability, trying to figure out the puzzle of that turns best actions without having to worry about holding up another player. I recommend this solo.
Can I braai with this?
Unfortunately, only if you’re not actually playing. It’s just a fun and fast paced game that you will want to see every move and every die roll. Each game builds a story that will leave can leave you chuckling every time you play it.