If you’re like many wargamers, you’ve seen Blood Bowl bandied about lately and are thinking – why would I want to play that?
Let’s begin by discussing the elephant in the room – Blood Bowl is not a wargame. No, it’s a board game. And, though it’s a Games Workshop (GW) game, it’s not really canon to any of their main universes. Since it’s a game of fantasy football, obviously it’s not set in the Warhammer 40,000 (40K) universe. But it’s not set in the Age of Sigmar, either. So the Old World then, I hear you thinking? Ehhh, not so much. I mean, it’s kinda the Old World, but the Blood Bowl universe really just uses the trappings of the Old World (the various fantasy races, names of cities, nations and continents, etc.) and then layers over that some crazy, distorted vision of Western sports culture.
So, if you’re still with me, I can hear your next question — it’s this goofy, tongue-in-cheek distortion of the Old World where the players control fantasy football teams instead of armies, then? Why would I want to play that? I mean, that’s the real question isn’t it? In all my years of gaming, I’ve noted that many gamers of various genres, but particularly wargamers, take their hobby very seriously. Honestly, so do I. It’s a huge part of who I am, and I dedicate a staggering amount of time, energy and general thinking to gaming, especially 40K (Praise Tzeentch!). But there is room for both, and sometimes it’s fun to just let go and embrace something a little less serious.
Rumored Head Coach for the Lowdown Rats next season.
As wargamers, we all invest a lot of time into our armies – painting, plotting and playing them. Many players seem single-minded in this pursuit, and I count myself among them to some extent (for example, I love 40K and I’ve just never had any temptation to play any other similar system, no matter how good others tell me it is). So it should be no surprise that I’ve encountered resistance in my pursuit to spread the Blood Bowl word (it being out of print for a decade and more hasn’t helped much either). When mentioning Blood Bowl, I’ve encountered shrugs, dismissals and sometimes even eye rolls.
But, my friends, just give me a little of your time. Let me show you the wonders that can be yours.
Rumored prospective thrower topping Coaches’ lists in the upcoming Draft.
Embrace the Goofy
If you’re still with me and I’ve piqued your interest, yes, Blood Bowl is goofy. Aside from the typical football tropes of star players, coaches and cheerleaders, you’ll find tons of fantasy races (the real ones, without the heavy handed bashing with the Mumbo-Jumbo Hammer), dirty plays, secret weapons (from chainsaws to steamrollers), magic spells, exploding players and much, much more. Blood Bowl is filled with many hobby elements that we all know and love, but stems from seemingly, completely different worlds. It’s like a high school jock walking past a big gaming convention with his buddies talking about the football game last night, crashing into a couple of nerds out front furiously debating the finer points of Game of Thrones the TV series vs. the novels. Bam! You get zombie linemen. You get orc throwers that can hurl a squig-ball half way downfield. And you get ogre blitzers that can do the electric slide in the end zone after bulling their way to a touchdown. You get all the familiarity of these two disparate interests, and twice the weird.
We’re weird? You’re weird!
Oddly, Blood Bowl is also one of the last refuges for those wishing to flee the political correctness of our own world. Like all wargames (which this is not; it’s a board game), violence is accepted and condoned of course. But the violence in Blood Bowl is stepped up a notch. It’s hyper-violence on a personal level, mono y mono. You can use chainsaws and poisoned daggers, bombs and pogo sticks, the crowd might throw a brick at the players, and will certainly beat them up if they’re unlucky enough to get pushed out of bounds off the pitch… You can kick a man while he’s down…well, technically that’s cheating. But there’s another thing, cheating is built into the rules. There are a number of things you can have your players or team do, such as kicking that afore-mention downed man, that while technically against the rules, are totally okay in Blood Bowl – unless you get caught by the refs. But don’t worry, you can bribe the referees too! Even racism is, if not necessarily condoned, present in Blood Bowl. Certainly many of the ‘evil’ races (like goblins, for example) hate many of the ‘good’ races (such as elves), but some teams are even composed of races that are racist towards one another! Such teams’ players might decide not to cooperate with each other, and often at the most inopportune time, no matter what their coaches say.
Come over an sayz dat to me face ya purdy purdy elf…
But beyond the strange setting, Blood Bowl really is an elegant board game (not a wargame). Assuming of course that the upcoming rerelease of Blood Bowl 5th edition sticks at least mostly to the current ruleset (and from the rumors I’ve heard and what I could glean from watching GW’s unboxing video, this will be the case), the game is small in scope, quick and fast-paced. The rules are not too complex, utilizing only two d6 dice and the core blocking dice (simple dice with pre-determined outcome symbols used whenever you block or bash the other guys), but a mind-boggling number of things can happen over the course of a game, especially once you begin to really understand and use tactics or play your team to its strengths. It’s easy to play a game, but there’s more. Blood Bowl also layers additional rules over the basics of playing a single game that allow you to play a series of games, over the course of which your players can earn experience and gain new skills, you can add new players to the team, buy the temporary services of famous Star Players, and more. While these rules do add to the complexity of the game, overall they are not too complicated (especially for wargamers), and can add so much to the overall experience of Blood Bowl.
Designing your own team and guiding them through tournaments or whole seasons (depending upon which model GW embraces in 5th edition) is really where the wargaming and Blood Bowl experiences intersect. The true fun is collecting your team, painting and/or converting them and then tracking their careers over the courses of your many games. Unlike most of the armies of most wargamers, a Blood Bowl team is quite small (typically 11-12 players). It is easy to name each player, customize his earned skills to reflect your vision of him, and feel truly sorrow when, or if, he dies or suffers a permanent injury. You’ll find yourself saying stuff like “Jereth von Splinterskull dodges past those two orc lineman, leaps over the prone orc Kaptin Dregzag and storms into the end zone for the touchdown,” instead of “this wight dodges away from the orc linemen, leaps over the orc blitzer and pushes one extra space for the touch down.” All this, and you can still feel the exhilaration of battle in a hard-fought game, particularly if it’s a play-off or actual Cup game. Certain players, event or games will become the stuff of legend in your own gaming circles. Man, the stuff I could tell you about many of my, or even my brother’s, players.
And the best part of Blood Bowl, from a wargamer’s perspective, is that it’s a small game, at least in scope. A team is going to consist of 10-20 miniatures (including coaches and cheerleaders) at most. The investment it time and effort to get a team running is minimal, even if you find yourself collecting multiple teams like me. There should be no real disruption working on your more serious armies. In fact, I personally use this to my advantage. Like many wargamers, I’m a pretty slow painter. I typically work on one army at a time, and it often takes me a year or so to fully paint it. For example, the last army I fully painted was my Mars Attacks ‘counts as Tau’ army, and this took me about ten months. I’ve found that painting one army like this can really wear you down, becoming even boring or a chore to complete. I can tell you that at times I really found myself tired of looking at silver or light blue. A Blood Bowl team is great for breaking up the monotony, particularly if the team colors are wildly different from the army you are currently painting. Finding yourself growing bored of painting a particular army? No problem, switch to the Blood Bowl team for a while to help maintain your painting enthusiasm.
The Road Ahead
It’s hard to know what GW’s plans are for Blood Bowl beyond the initial boxed game (it’s even hard to know when this is supposed to release), though the guys on their unboxing video drop some tantalizing clues – there is apparently a lot more planned and they’ve already made a website. Unlike my fellow blogger, Larry, in his article here, I’m far more optimistic concerning the game’s future. Based upon the grand success of the two Blood Bowl video games in the last few years, I think that GW sees that there is in fact a big Blood Bowl fan base out there that is hungry for a resurrection of the brand. GW just needs to better plan the releases and product support to keep it going. I don’t believe they will abolish any of the current teams from the background (Amazons are too risqué? Anyone else see the last models released for Dark Elves?? That wasn’t even so long ago), though I think some teams will get more love than others initially.
Raise your hand if you’re offended by Amazons.
Gazing deeply into my crystal ball, I personally think the Blood Bowl release will go down something like this:
- Initial release of Blood Bowl game, closely followed by releases of the six rumored plastic teams in the initial wave (humans, orcs, skaven, goblins, high elves, dwarves – just guesses there based upon rumors I’ve heard whispered).
- All current teams beyond the initial six will be website only, with no initial miniature support. Forgeworld will begin work on these additional teams as well as individual famed Star Players.
- Sometime after the initial first wave, say 3-6 months, the rulebook will be released on its own and the website only teams will be included. Personally, I hope I’m mistaken on this and that the rulebook, with all the teams, will be released alongside the rereleased game itself in Wave 1 (I just don’t think it will be).
- In 3-6 month intervals, GW will release additional boxed sets, featuring different plastic teams that will introduce new (well, for new fans anyway) mechanics, features and/or teams to the game. I predict these will probably be named after the more famous tournament Cups from the background, such as the Chaos Cup, Dungeon Bowl and the Spike! Open. I imagine that Forgeworld’s efforts will coalesce around these releases so that the appropriate teams and star players will be featured at the same time.
Thrudd. No school like the Old Skool.
Having made such a prediction, I hope that I’m wrong – at least about some of it. As a Blood Bowl super fan, I want all the myriad teams available from the very start, even if miniatures and Star Players are not immediately available. I’d even like them to fold the three ‘experimental’ teams (Chaos Pact, Slann, and Underworld teams) from the last version of the Living Rulebook into the regular rotation of available teams. And if it were me, this is how I’d do it. Blood Bowl has a ton of available material across its four editions and as a gaming company, you don’t want to blow your whole wad all at once. It’s a narrow tightrope GW needs to traverse, as they need to cater to the big, frothing, current fan base (making all teams playable via the website ala Warhammer: Age of Sigmar accomplishes this), but at the same time they need to make the game have staying power. Blood Bowl has a rich, if crazy, background, with a vast array of additional material (additional rules, teams, Star Players, expansions, etc.) upon which the new edition can draw and reimagine. If they do it right, the game can stay relevant for years, much like Warhammer and 40K have traditionally done over the course of their various editions.
So, have I convinced you? Who’s with me?? I know one thing for certain, if someone doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll be running a Blood Bowl league outa my local GW store. And writing lots of Blood Bowl articles – count on it. Hey, it wouldn’t be crazy to run a side Fantasy Football league based upon the roster players of all my league’s various teams, would it?