Blood Bowl Review: No Fun LeagueS

Nearly 25 years old as a board game, Blood Bowl has a strong history among fantasy gamers for presenting quasi-football in a turn-based, strategy framework set in the Warhammer universe. But does any of that translate well to a console?

Short answer: No.

Loved
The Release Date: The fact Blood Bowl came out a month after the holidays drives down the likelihood someone's aunt will buy this game, thinking it's an action-packed Lord-of-the-Rings Madden, and give her nephew a very disappointing Christmas.

Hated
Flunked Tutorials: It doesn't portend much confidence in a game when the publisher sends it to you on a blank disc with no case and no instruction manual. If possible, Blood Bowl's in-game tutorial was of even less assistance. A staggering mess of text, esoteric terms, intricate rules and, best of all, an A button that both advanced to the next text card and performed actions on the field. I had to go through the tutorials four times just to grasp how to execute the most basic acts of the game. Larger strategic concepts are completely absent, leaving the complete novice at a loss to do anything other than play a dozen unsatisfying games in hopes of developing some kind of intuition. I never did.

Bland Visuals: Graphics often take a backseat to gameplay with me, and as a turn-based strategy game, I didn't expect much of Blood Bowl. But it was noticeably last-gen in its presentation. The game smugly boasts bone-crunching, blood-spouting brutality and the animations are no more sophisticated than smashing two action figures into each other to simulate a fight and laying down the loser to signify his death. Then again, this game is rated T. The announcer commentary is trivial and repetitive. Blood Bowl's visuals and extras don't extend your imagination of what's happening as much as they get in the way of your comprehension of it, making the necessity of bringing this board game to a console an unanswered question.

A Graduate Level Course in God Dammit: I'm here to play a video game, not study tax law. Blood Bowl has a very complex rules system that, for much of its history going back to 1987, is easy to follow because it's in a printed manual. And for newcomers, human opponents spread the basic knowledge of rules and tactics to novice players. Blood Bowl puts that all on you and, as mentioned above about the tutorials, the game provides no assistance. All I'm trying to do with this is move my pieces to protect my ball carrier once he picks it up, and I forget that even running in the opposite direction of the line of scrimmage at kickoff I have to make a dodge roll if there's a defender adjacent to me, so the whole play is over before it even begins. The most basic expectations of this type of sport - even, simply, running to a football, much less picking it up - are still subject to attribute rolls and random results that kill any semblance of fun before it begins.

Any Port in a Storm: This is a straight up port of last year's PC version; nothing has been optimized for Xbox 360. Better yet, this port left out online league play and some customization aspects found in the PC version. So the mercenary reason for Blood Bowl's console existence is pretty transparent: Rig up a console edition on the cheap a year later, don't support PC components that cost money, and sell it for $10 more.

I went to Wikipedia to get some background knowledge of the game's history and learned this fun fact: The game's developer, Cyanide Studios, made Chaos League in 2004, which bore a heavy resemblance to Blood Bowl except for the fact it was in real-time. Thus came the lawsuit from Games Workshop, the creator of Blood Bowl. That led to a settlement, but also a license to Cyanide to create the PC Blood Bowl. Since Games Workshop also got the rights to Chaos League in the settlement, I'm wondering if Blood Bowl's PC and console versions are either a tribute payment to Games Workshop or an attempt to defray the cost of one. Either instance would explain a lot.

After a few hours at this, I never won a match I played. In fact, I never scored a touchdown except in the tutorials. And I don't even care. Ordinarily when I fail at a game, a good game will at least make me want to play better. Blood Bowl's completely happenstance structure might deliver balance on paper, but it makes a video game pointless. Cyanide already built a fun game with orcs, goblins and dwarves rumbling on a gridiron, and it did so in real time, which is what this concept needs on a console. It's just not allowed to make it anymore.

Yes, Blood Bowl still has a legion of fans. For them, I suppose this game could provide some satisfaction. But you need to have played Blood Bowl before and enjoyed it for this game to be anywhere near a justifiable purchase. For that class of players, yes, this might be an engaging strategy game that's always ready to play you even if no one else is around. For all others though, Blood Bowl is a waste of time.

Blood Bowl was developed by Cyanide Studios and published by SouthPeak Games for the Xbox 360 on Jan. 26. Retails for $49.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game types in both single and multiplayer modes.

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