Monday, May 16, 2011

My Fantasy Football Has Orcs and Wizards. - Blood Bowl

I've played quite a few miniatures wargames over the years, leaning in the direction of “fantasy” over “historic”, and I prefer playing the games to the hobby/modeling/painting process. This is probably why I've leaned in the direction of what Games Workshop calls “specialist games” now, though I've collected multiple armies for their core lines at one time or another. The first of the specialist line of games for me was Blood Bowl, a game of American Football as played (expectionally violently) by classic swords and sorcery races from the Warhammer Fantasy Universe.

I don't think steroids would be controversial in a game where turning the opposition into a toad
is a legitimate 2nd-half tactic.

At its heart, the game is a lot like a football game, where two teams struggle physically to get a single ball into the “end zone” in the opposing team's territory. The ball can be carried by a runner or thrown forward, providing whoever is controlling the ball is capable of doing so while the opposing team is attempting to take it away from them. Without the structure and control of rules concerning “downs”, the ball is moved by whichever team can get their hands on it, by whatever violent means they can manage. This means that each fantasy race has its own style from “passing game with speed and grace” to “Kill everyone on the field who isn't us, and walk down there and score once.”

Single matches of Blood Bowl tend to play quickly by the standards of minis games, and fit the theme of “fantasy races trying to kill each other and kinda play football” very well. This is one of the few miniatures games that has a structured “board”, as opposed to homemade or purchased terrain to make up a battlefield, and a scoreboard, appropriate counters, plastic footballs and a range ruler for passing are needed for play, as well as the custom blocking dice. Turns avoid bogging down too much with the “turnover” rule, which says that if you ever fail an action you've attempted on your turn, your turn is over. This forces players to prioritize actions, and a run of poor luck can swing the game very quickly. Individual figures can be stunned, knocked out, injured or killed on the field, and opponents can specifically try to injure a downed figure at the risk of being sent off by the officials for fouling.

Somehow, I've ended up with three copies of this box from 2 editions on my shelves.

The real strength of this game is in League Play, where individual characters gain experience and new skills, teams earn money to purchase a wide variety of advantages and life is breathed into the teams as they develop personalities all their own due to these RPG elements. Team cash can be used to replace players, hire cheerleaders, wizards, healers, spend coin on dirty tricks and bribes, or on marketing the team to its fans, which affects a number of rolls throughout the match. The insult added to injury when an undead team kills a loved player and then raises him as a zombie to play for their team, and the thrill of a Star Player making another perfect catch in an important match really make this game something special.

The little touches, special events and cards that add a lot of flavor to the game keep it from bogging down into “gang up on those guys, move the ball, try to knock anyone else standing down” for a few hours. Secret weapons, dirty tricks, even the crowd getting involved by storming the field, killing the referee or throwing objects make each match exciting. Elves nimbly hopping over players, skaven (rat-men) dashing down the field, Chaos teams with mutants with multiple arms and even dwarves riding steamrollers (a not-too subtle illegal weapon) as team wizards blast the field with supportive magic keeps the game exciting without feeling too random or breaking with the sports theme.

Some races have better-looking Cheerleaders than others.
Don't you wish this was an elf?

The disadvantage to having a game that is at its strongest in league play is that you have to have enough people with teams and the time to devote to matches to keep a league healthy. I've played in three Blood Bowl leagues, and when everyone is engaged and regularly playing their matches, it has resulted in some of the most fun gaming I've ever had. Eventually, though, a few key players fall behind, and it is difficult to keep a league going with fewer than 6 or so teams actively playing. Fortunately, there is another option for Blood Bowl fans who don't have access to a large multiplayer league.

Games Workshop has been involved in multiple projects to bring Blood Bowl to computer screens over the years, and the most recent PC game has been the most popular. Despite a few technical glitches that mar its surface, the 2009 version of Blood Bowl (and subsequent 2010 Legendary Edition) developed by Cyanide Studios is a pitch-perfect translation of the board game to the computer screen. Many different options are available in structuring single or multi-player seasons, tournaments and one-off matches are present in the game, and it strikes the appropriate “feel”. Teams can be customized, stats are automatically tracked and matches can even be played out online.

Even though the game runs a bit slow even on beefy machines, I appreciate the work that went into it.

After four published editions of the basic rules, Blood Bowl has moved to an online “Living Rulebook” to account for changes that have grown with the community out of years of rigorous playtesting, resulting in the Sixth and most definitive version of the rules, which is largely stable now. Tournaments are held worldwide using these rules, including the Chaos Cup here in Chicago in the US, the Dungeonbowl in Germany, and the Blood Bowl itself at Games Workshop HQ in Nottingham, England. A 2007 “NAF World Cup” event hosted 272 players, making it one of the largest fantasy miniatures events of any kind ever hosted.

Personally, I've run Dark Elves, Humans and Orcs in leagues, and someday I may try an Undead team as well, but I think I'll give them a go on the PC version before buying and painting another team. Anyone else out there with any Blood Bowl experience/stories? Even it you aren't into minis, the PC game has been on Steam for a bit now.
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BigMike said...

awwwwwesome..... This is the kind of thing that would get me to working on Minis....

The Angry Lurker said...

A long time since I played this, memories flooding back along with tears.

Dave said...

That 3rd from the top is an ugly sucker lol.

Conspyre said...

I've got the PC game on Steam, I'm usually up for a game.

Also, since LRB5 or so, the league rules have been cleaned up to reflect a change in the fluff- rather than large set leagues, a la the NFL, teams travel around and pick up matches where they can. Basically, they took the already quite nice balancing system for unequal teams, and made it the norm, so if you have a couple players in a group that get a lot of matches in, they can play as much as they like, while other people play when they can, without appreciably breaking the system. Makes it a little harder to figure out who's the most skilled team in the league, but it promotes the growth and development of teams without forcing everyone to play on a regular schedule.

Bard said...

Your idea of using the computer version of the game to test out teams before buying and painting them is excellent.

G said...

This was my favourite table top game - I had such a great time playing this with the boys...
great post!

Come At Me Bro said...

This is great!

Alpha said...

/Now/ I can get into Football.

Solsby Kid said...

Great read! Love the blog, definately following! :)

Fantasy said...

Long time ago plaid with this kind of toys.But now love is Fantasy Football.

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