Before I start, I just have to say, I love me some Blood Bowl! I’ve been a fan since I was a teenager and still have the same set that I bought back then. I’m going to show my age a little here, but not in old way and say I just missed out on the kick ass foam board, and had to settle for card. This didn’t stop me and my high school wargaming group buying three teams each and running so many leagues we actually had promotions and relegations, with knock-out championships and a lucrative transfer market, even though we could only get together to play on weekends.
So I was more than a tad excited when one of my favourite producers of card/board games, Fantasy Flight Games, announced they were taking a swing at Blood Bowl. The first rumours were that it would be a deck building game, and since I’m also a lover of all things Dominion I was well up for this. The concept has since changed and is now a basic card game with each player taking on the role of a team manager and playing a season of several weeks against the other players.
Since this game was bought for me several months ago, there will be no un-boxing, but if you want to know what you get without a piece by piece breakdown, here you go. To start with, a lot less tokens than I usually expect from FFG, but it is technically a silver-line game and thus designed to be a bit more compact. You get some balls, some cheat tokens, and a few team tokens to track your star player picks. Along with that comes a nifty cardboard point tracker per player (four in all, as the game can handle 2-4 players).
Then you have the cards. A team deck for each of the six that are available at the start, plus an upgrade deck each too. there’s two big stacks of star player cards split between what are basically the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’. A nice touch here for fans of the board edition of the game is the addition of star player Morg N’ Thorg in each of the decks. He can only play for one team at a time, so he could be a waste of a pick, but well worth the risk as he is one of the best players in the game. Add to that a deck of other upgrade cards, the rest of the game is made up of Tournament cards and highlight cards that form the basis of the game play and a couple of tackle dice that will look familiar to the fans.
Right, so now we have all that, how do we use it? I’ll keep this simple, as if you want the full rules, they’re available for download. Each Manager starts with a team, and gets a few weeks of game play to earn the most ‘star power’ points by winning highlights and tournaments (and cheating of course), as well as increasing his team roster as the season progresses with star player picks and upgrade cards.
In a turn each Manager has his chance to commit a player to a match up; they can grab the ball, tackle another player who’s there or any number of other cool things they have the ability to do based on the card text. If the team member is a cheat, the manager has no choice but to take a cheat token, and although this is often rewarded with a roar of the crowd (fan points), they also run the risk of being caught out by the ref and sent off, so I wouldn’t advise relying on them too much. At the end of the week, the team with the most star points at each match up wins the rewards on the card (new star players, fan points, team/staff upgrades) and play continues until the end of the season. the winner is the Manager with the most fan points, with some very nice Blood Bowl themed ways of resolving a tied score.
I think that actually sums the whole game up quite nicely, but just remember, although cheaters don’t always prosper, they often do though so I say go for it!
One of my biggest questions when going into playing this game was whether or not it would capture the excitement I remembered from playing the original game as a kid. In my mind it actually surpassed it. Although Blood Bowl is supposed to be a fast and brutal game, the confines of the rules and the simple fact that it’s a board game mean that it can actually slow right down when playing, as each figure is moved and the manager takes the time to maneuver them all into place for one blitz and then maybe a throw or two. The card game lets you try out a cool move almost every time you play a card, with only the first few plays of each week being tactically thought out to give you a better chance later in the game. The tackle dice and the cheat tokens are a great way to add in the risk factor of the original game to most of the actions.One of the best things about game play though is not knowing which players your opponents will have on their roster each week. You may think you’re going to kick all kinds of ass at the Chaos Cup, but then the Riekland Reavers manager drops a treeman star player and rocks your world. And the ground under your feet.
Each week of game play is thoroughly exciting, and can be affected by a variety of things, such as the weather or the tournament of the week and where each manager wants to concentrate his efforts. Do you go for star player drafts, team upgrades or getting the fans on side? Each has a different effect on the remaining weeks and makes the game less predictable and a hell of a lot of fun.
So yes, I loved the game, but it isn’t perfect. My biggest gripe, and the only one that’s actually worth mentioning in a review of an otherwise stellar game, is how much the two player game sucks. Every time I have played with just two managers, the game has been decided by the end of the first week. One manager can get such a good draw on star players that they romp over their opponent in the second week and never give them the chance to recover for the remainder of the season. This happens due to the luck of the draw, and the fact that star players are placed on top of your roster deck meaning you’re going to draw them for the second week. If your opponent hasn’t been lucky enough to grab a Dwarven Death Roller, a tree man and an ogre, they’re going to struggle and then falter. With even one extra manager in the game the lucky player’s resources will be split and they will have fewer chances to dominate the game. Four players is just as good, but can require a bit more pace on the table than you’d think, and it doesn’t add much more than the third Manager in terms of game play.
I’m sure there are people out there who have a house rule to drop the huge advantage one player can get in a two player game, but myself and my better half – who bought me the game, thanks beautiful – have just not bothered playing it without at least a third player these days. I don’t want this to put people off, but when you look at what the company has done with some of its other Silver Line games (Elder Sign and Deathwatch specifically) that work with any number of players equally well, it’s a bit of a let down.
If I was going to give it a star rating, the failure of the two player game would drop it an entire star. But since I otherwise adore this game, it still come in at a four star review from this sports fan.