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Blood Bowl

Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Southpeak Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ Sports (Football)

Graphics & Sound:

One of my all-time favorite Genesis games is EA's Mutant League Football. I'm a football fan, and the idea of stopping running backs with land mines or mashing the QB into a red spot on the field only made the game better. Unfortunately, the Mutant League games seem destined to never make another appearance, leaving Blood Bowl as the only viable alternative. It isn't the best alternative, but it fills a void.

Blood Bowl isn't much to look at, but still manages to capture the basic look and feel of the tabletop game. Characters are authentic to the Warhammer universe and look like digital versions of the game's miniatures, at least when you zoom in. Stadiums are just as unique and incredibly colorful. At the same time, Blood Bowl fails to deliver a "true" Blood Bowl experience by stripping out all elements of player personalization. You can design your own logos, but that's about it. You can't choose team colors or add you own twist. This would have gone a long way in helping attach players to the game, maybe even keeping them around a little longer.

Sound is throwaway. Commentary is grating and repeats phrases too often.


Gameplay:

Like Mutant League Football, Blood Bowl takes the concept of football and throws away nonsense like rules, penalties and nearly everything that makes the NFL (that's NO FUN League) the NFL.

Blood Bowl is based on Games Workshop's tabletop game of the same name. The tabletop game is a grid-based, turn-based game featuring players like orcs, elves and other fantasy creatures. The game throws away most of the rules of football, like downs and penalties, instead creating a game that's a little more like rugby. But it isn't rugby, it's Blood Bowl. Though turn-based, games are hectic and go by pretty fast -- at least as tabletop games go, which can be excruciatingly slow.

Gameplay includes both a "classic" turn-based mode and real-time mode. Turn-based is closer to the actual tabletop experience and, at least in my opinion, the best way to play. During matches, you're given a set time to maneuver players around the field. The end goal is similar to football (or any team sport), only here you have more options to stop opposing players. Unnecessary roughness is encouraged and you can pull maneuvers like tossing teammates downfield to gain yardage. It's fun and games are incredibly tight; it's just that the mechanics are so hard to crack, the game will only appeal to a handful of dedicated players.


Difficulty:

Blood Bowl is in no way a friendly game for new players. One of the game's major failings is the lack of a decent tutorial. There's a basic gameplay tutorial, but it already assumes you know everything about the gameplay and just need to know how to control things. I've played Blood Bowl, so I know how things are supposed to go, but I could imagine a newcomer who picks up the game because it looks like a "Madden with Monsters" toss it in frustration.

The first hurdle is just getting used to game terminology and rules. Touchdowns are one point, turnovers are just that - your turn is over - and there are no downs. With that out the way, expect to lose several matches before coming close to winning one. The manual offers a good introduction into the underlying mechanics of how things work, but if you really want to learn the game, I suggest heading to your local board/ card game shop and picking up a manual or checking the link below. Then again, experience is the best teacher.

Even when you get a hang of the mechanics, the menus and general interface will throw up a number of roadblocks. Navigating through menus is confusing and features a number of unnecessary clicks and button presses. Even the smallest of actions are overly complex.


Game Mechanics:

Each "side" features different fantasy creatures with their own skills. Blood Bowl is still very much about the luck of the roll, but a player who knows what they're doing can actually find ways to turn even bad rolls into good ones. For instance, orcs are bruisers and elves are fast. However, certain subsets of each race are better at certain roles. Some can throw, others can block. It's possible to simply play up a certain race's overall bonus, but knowing how to use the subsets is at the heart of every strategy and will quickly separate a good player from a dominant one.

Blood Bowl's strategic element isn't just about knowing how to use player's talents; you also need to use its many outside elements. You can bribe officials, buy potions, and cheerleaders actually matter during games. There's a lot to every game and as stated multiple times, Blood Bowl is a game you just have to play a lot to really figure out.

Real-time play is an interesting twist, but it becomes really clear early on that the mechanics don't translate well. Blood Bowl is a game of stats. In turn-based games they make sense, but when brought into real-time gameplay, they don't translate the same way. Movement is mucked up and even negates some racial traits. If the turn-based gameplay isn't appealing, there's a good chance the real-time play won't appeal to you either.

I've only played the tabletop game a few times (and wasn't very good at it), but Cyanide has done a pretty good job at taking Blood Bowl's core concepts and translating them into a videogame. However, gameplay is still rather complex and doesn't flow in same way as traditional sports games. While an interesting concept, only long-time players are likely to find Blood Bowl appealing.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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