Review: Blood Bowl II
Six long years have passed since the original Blood Bowl, the adaptation of the board game created by Games Workshop in the 1980s. From its link of the cutthroat world of American football and the bloody Warhammer was born a perfect archetypal niche game: faithful to the original material, roughly solid, but heavy with a dose of incorrigible prompt obscurantism. For Cyanide, Blood Bowl II was to be the result of reason, the story of the passion finally channeled, capable of uniting old and new apprentice coaches in the same celebration of this jaw-breaking game.
This sport revered throughout the Old World, Blood Bowl pits two teams of eleven players in an “american football” themed match set between two halves consisting of eight runs. In the center of the conflict are a bunch of fantasy world teams, such as orcs and elves outfitted with medieval armors and spikes on a football, which their goal is reach the opponents’ end goal and score a touchdown. But don’t expect to play Madden NFL with orcs, Blood Bowl II is more a turn base strategy game, with a strategic goal of positioning your players on the field, roll the dice to tackle an opponent as well as successfully dodging opponents.
Blood Bowl is better defined as a tactical fighting game arena, accompanied by a football that needs to be secured to advance between runs. To do this, each team is divided into three classes of players, with a quarterback, runners, blitzers and a special over-sized class. Each side plays in turns and has several types of action, whose success or failure are determined by a roll of two dices, set against the classes and characteristics of the players. Send a nuisance to the mat, pick up the ball correctly, lob a pass, extend the length of a sprint or tackle a runner: everything is a sharp management of random variable and strategic positioning. With one click, percentages appear to give you a the odds of success of an action, which separate the risky and defined suicidal decisions. Finally, contextual representation of the characters traits and levels show on the side of the screen like a collectible card, giving you great knowledge to build strategy and live up to potential consequences.
Because the slightest failure of one of your teammates during your turn – randomly, a player can counter and stun your player during a blitz and breach your whole line of defense – can affect your whole turn to whole game ending. And even if half of your players are still lying on the ground or innocently trotted next to the touchdown line, things can change drastically because of a bad decision. The 100% success probability does not exist in Blood Bowl II, and the game was and remains one that, like any kind of leisure, can turn the odds at any moment. The player should anyway abandon the innocence and put the odds on his side before rolling a die, which can accommodate the ridicule of failure with the smile of one who knew what he was risking. If I were to give any advice: resist the temptation to do too much in one turn, saving yourself a fiasco.
You’ll understand throughout the game that since the mechanics are based on a random odds, it does not prevent the formula of taking many layers of complexity that could terrify newcomers. Fortunately, Cyanide did the effort of teaching everyone the basics in Blood Bowl II. For if all these subtleties were part of the pain and failures six years ago, the studio here delivers a full single player campaign dedicated to learning the rules of this butcher sport. The career mode follows the return of a disgraced human team, over a series of games that open up very gradually player to different rules. As the league grows, uncertain odds endanger perfect passes and interventions of the crowd starts, after which the game introduces the principles of turnover and low blows eviction. Then comes the training of aspiring coach to manage a team, with random events and the principle of economy of different bonuses (such as consumables that allow the revival of a dead player).
One of the major shortcomings of the first game is finally filled, but also serves as an outlet to the studio in terms of universe. First, because it allows to get acquainted with all Blood Bowl II races (Humans, Orcs, Dwarfs, High Elves, Skaven, Dark Elves, Chaos and Bretonnians) which we discover or rediscover through their defined gameplay traits and highlighted stars. You should excuse the heavy screenplayed story around this competition even if it is cretinous as hell – and therefore consistent with the spirit of the game – as there’s a willingness to supply more than just a tutorial. The staged sports channel with commentators before and after each games are full with jokes, and witty comments, but there’s a certain lack of effort in the lip animation of these characters.
If I were to give any advice: resist the temptation to do too much in one turn, saving yourself a fiasco.
Once you’re done with the career mode, the addiction factor of Blood Bowl II will be the league modes, which can be online or offline with the AI. This is a great way to discover and test your management by picking a race, building a team, depending on the strategies your prefer. You could count on the agility and the passing game of the High Elves which manage to clear safe paths, or the speed of the Skaven, although fragile are difficult to tackle, allowing them to take a half-court run in one round. In addition to basic characteristics that impact drastically on their philosophy of play, each of the eight factions begins with classes more or less well off in special abilities. It’s up to the player to develop the characters (unless beaten to death) and open up more versatility, and extra traits that will help in the league.
Before you start playing online against players, start off by playing against the computer. Even if the AI is not that much of a challenge, it’s good enough to understand the approaches of the different races, in a fairly academic way and rarely inclined to follow an experienced player in improvisation. It will help you get very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each faction, how to prioritize risks, organize and plan an attack or defense in the long term (except perhaps the passing game, which needs practices)/
On the other side of the spectrum, there is always a local multiplayer, but mostly online championships, which will soon welcome much of the Blood Bowl fans to test their might. Much, of course, but it’s not for all. For if the technical architecture proves stable and matchmaking based on an interesting duo of your Team value and disability (the weakest camp will receive a grant to buy bonuses or invite a star player), Blood Bowl II suffers in its current form a limitation that could well cut a part of his community. With only eight basic factions, their stars players and only two DLC confirmed for now – Wood Elves and Lizardmen – it is very little for the regulars of the first game in the final version, which had a full twenty-three playable races.
But even without the completeness factor, the leagues are greatly improved in structure and with a particularly pleasant interface to convince the returning fans to buy the game. The question is whether the community will follow sufficiently and soon enough to encourage Focus Interactive and Cyanide to continue the development of game content, or if this second episode will remain a great product to appeal to the console market and newcomers on PC. It’s a pity, but that’s the trend of modern games nowdays.
Blood Bowl II was reviewed using an Xbox One copy of the game provided by Cyanide Studios. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• The perfect legibility of the UI
• Great upgrade in visuals compared to the original
• Risk management tactics
• The faction's defined traits
• Freedom of changing players
• The Warhammer-like theme and the quirky ambiance
• Good voice acting
• Easy AI
• Commentary can be a bit repetitive in the long run
• Only eight available races for now
• Team and other creation interface could use a facelift
• Weird character lip animations during cutscenes