Publisher: South Peak Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studios
by: Marc Allie
As a card-carrying geek, I've spent plenty of time in game stores, tossing cards onto a table, rolling dice, and generally doing nerdy stuff. Many times, I noticed a group of.. shall we say, overzealous gamers, yelling and screaming at one another over a table full of miniatures. My curiosity was piqued, but these guys were the nerdiest of the nerds, and so I kept my distance, much as a young lion stays away from feasting adult males on the Serengeti. What was this game that caused such an emotional response? Blood Bowl, a Warhammer-themed, turn-based, bloody miniatures-based version of American football.
My game store days are few and far between lately, so I was definitely interested in checking out Blood Bowl for the Xbox 360. After all, playing a game like this in video game form would be cheaper and easier to store and set up, and I thought a good tutorial would acclimate me to the rules more quickly than would learning from a rulebook. After spending several hours with the game, my experience with the video game version of Blood Bowl has been decidedly mixed.
The tutorial is not very helpful at all. Instead of a narrator walking you through the rules slowly, building on previous knowledge, you are presented with a clunky text overlay atop the playing area. There are several tutorials, and it is not immediately clear which should be only viewed first. The interface of the game is easy enough to figure out, but the actual game mechanics are not. This was quite intimidating to me, even with my limited background knowledge of Blood Bowl. It was far easier to figure out what was going on by just playing matches against the AI set to easy. Still, it is tough to get a handle on the core game mechanics, which really work behind the scenes in this version of the game.
The presentation of the game itself is much better. You can switch between manual and automatic camera on the fly, zooming in and out to any level. The grid based movement is hidden until needed, which helps to immerse you in the brutal gameplay. Character models are well done, depicting huge, scary orcs, nimble elves, and knight-like humans. The varied races all play differently, as you'd expect, and you quickly learn to avoid the big nasty green guys who will make your poor little human runner end up with a broken neck, or worse yet, pound him into a spray of blood. This is something you can't really get in the table top version, other than in your imagination, and is where the game really shines.
Once you have honed your skills, you can take on friends or play ranked matches online. I don't consider myself good enough to even try these modes yet, but I did notice one glaring omission. There are no online leagues, which is really a shame, and could have worked very well. Building up your team's stats by playing against others online would be far better than the offline campaigns against the AI.
Blood Bowl isn't a perfect adaptation of the "real thing", but it is certainly passable. The core game elements are well balanced, which is why the game has remained popular for so long. While the Xbox 360 version is far from flawless, it does deliver a visceral, bone-crushing experience, once you get past the questionable tutorials and less than ideal interface issues.