Normally, when you see dwarfs, wood elves, and orcs in a game, they aren’t swigging down pints of beer on a football field. But that’s exactly what sets Blood Bowl apart from its fantasy competition, as these carnivorous creatures have dropped their swords and hammers in favor of some good old-fashioned gridiron.
Blood Bowl takes mythical characters from the WarHammer universe and throws them into a specialized version of American football. Each race has their own strengths and weaknesses, as the wood elves are physically weak but great at passing while the orcs will crush the opposition’s defense but aren’t terribly reliable on offense. Each squad features the same basic player positions that are found in the NFL, though some of the added rules of Blood Bowl make things more interesting.
Blood Bowl lets you choose between real-time and turn-based play, a thankful addition that should appeal to many old-school tabletop fans. You are allowed to move each of your players a certain number of spaces each turn, pulverizing opponents and inching ever closer to the coveted end zone. Your turn ends once a player is knocked down or all of your characters have been moved. A roll of the die decides the fate of your opponents, and if they will be mangled, injured, murdered, or moved back a space. Beat that, Madden!
Further exploring the series’ RPG roots, player performance in Blood Bowl nets them experience, allowing them to eventually level up and earn new abilities. This adds a degree of reward to football that has never been there before, as each play can possibly lead to a greater advantage over the opposition.
While Blood Bowl’s unique spin on the rules of football can be very entertaining, some of this originality can lead to problems. For starters, the turn-based battle system takes some getting used to, and the complexity of the rules might turn off impatient sports fans who aren’t eager to learn. Sadly, the tutorials do a poor job of outlining the rules, forcing the player to figure things out on their own most of the time. This inevitably leads to frustration, and eventually, a controller being flung at a wall.
Also unfortunate is the the presentation, as it fails to live up to its ambitious concept. The camera utilizes some very odd angles, making it difficult to see the whole field and plan out your next move. The stadiums range from traditional, grassy farms to the hellish landscape of a burning city, but the blocky visuals do little to make these environments look interesting. The sound is equally mundane, though some humorous commentary does give the game a bit of personality. At the very least, it’s a far cry from the staid monotony of John Madden, and will give you some welcome auditory relief as you watch your orcs get clobbered into oblivion.
So while Blood Bowl’s conversion from board game to console experience is mostly successful, it might be a bit too complicated for most football fans. If you’re willing to stick with it however, Blood Bowl offers a fist full of bloody, gutsy fun, and a welcome change of pace from the EA Sports lineup.