I'm writing this article on September 1st 2009. That means here in the United States, football season is just around the corner. The problem is, watching football is really boring. So someone, a long time ago, came up with this concept where people can build a fictional team of real players. The team scores points based on how the various players perform each week. They call this game Fantasy Football. Unfortunately, it doesn't make football any more exciting to watch. Fortunately, some one has got “Fantasy Football” right and wrapped it up in one awesome tabletop game. Of course I am talking about Blood Bowl by Games Workshop.
Blood Bowl is a stand alone game set in a spin off of the Warhammer Fantasy Universe. While each of the fantasy races has a team in Blood Bowl, the game itself is not set in the universe of Warhammer Fantasy. Many of the races(especially the Lizardmen and Skaven) would prefer to never see each other, let alone play a sports game together. The play style of the game is a mix of American Football and Rugby. Each team has 11 players or less(depending on the causality count) on the field and the object is carry a pig liver across the opponents goal line.
The gameplay certainly feels like a sports game. Movement tactics play a prominent role in the strategy of the game. It also has an area of control aspect to gameplay as the objective of a team is setup itself up to best protect the ball carrier. The usual aspects of football such as passing, catching, hand offs, and blocking are all present here and add extra options for players to use. I find that some actions, especially passing, take a few too many dice rolls and therefore limit their usefulness.
Not only does each team look different, but each team plays different and employs different tactics. My team, the Lizardmen, primarily run the ball with the fast little Skinks while the large Saurus Warriors keep them protected. On the other head, the Orcs and slower and are all about smashing their opponents to the ground. Each team is composed of three to seven different positions. In most cases, any position can fill any role, but each position has bonuses that encourages it to stick a specific role.
Stand alone games of Blood Bowl are fun, but the lack of diversity between matches can limit the games re-playability. Games Workshop addresses this issue with a fantastic league system. Players create a team and then work to turn the team into a Blood Bowl Dynasty. A mini-RPG system allows team members to gain new abilities and improve stats. Also, the real possibility that my favorite character can get killed affected my tactics in an individual game.
The starter set contains 24 plastic figures, a game board, the complete rule book, tokens, dice, templates, and quick reference sheets. With a retail price of $70, the starter set simply can't complete value-wise with other games. Both the 40K and Fantasy starter sets have a much better value. Except for starter set, the entire miniature line is metal. The models look good, but they are older sculpts and don't have the same quality as GW's newer lines. It is possible to assemble a full 16 player team for under $100, but even then, other games certainly score higher in the value department.
Randomness plays a huge role in this game. In addition to what I mentioned above, a number of crazy events can occur. Fans can rush the field, rioters can throw rocks, players can cheat, and the weather can change throughout the game. While fun, some of these events can really mess with a player and destroy their strategy. I tend to look at these situations as a reason for why a player must act aggressively because there is no guarantee another turn is around the corner.
While Blood Bowl has a few annoying and frustrating faults, I still had a blast playing this game. Good luck trying to find another game which contains such a detailed and awesome campaign in the starter box. From the disappointing moments of defeat to the adrenaline pumping “Final Countdown” moments, Blood Bowl brings all the excitement of a sports game to the tabletop....Just with a lot more violence....And that can never be a bad thing in the tabletop gaming world.