If you set out expressly to make a game for uber-geeks, you might well end up with Blood Bowl 2. We don’t mean to be rude, but it rather improbably combines two, shall we say, somewhat specialist interests: American Football and Warhammer. It has all the credentials that a true geek could ever ask for: it’s based on a board game made by Games Workshop and to cap it all, its gameplay is turn-based.
If that sounds like the ultimate turn-off, look away now. But otherwise (and remember, unless anyone sees you playing it, your guilty pleasure can remain secret), it proves to be rather fun to play. Board game mechanics have always translated well into videogames, and Blood Bowl 2’s gameplay is tactical, absorbing and often hilarious to witness. However, beyond the core gameplay, it doesn’t lack glaring flaws.
At least Blood Bowl 2 is easy enough to describe: it lets you enact games of American Football at the controls of a team of characters from the Warhammer universe – so the players are orcs, ogres, goblins and the like. The campaign mode pitches you straight into a series of games, in which you take the helm of a team of no-hopers called the Reikland Reivers; after your first match, all the players are sacked, which introduces you to the team-building aspect of the game. As you win money, you can draft in new players – which is pretty essential, since it’s possible for your players to sustain season-ending injuries and even death.
The series of games you play in the single-player campaign is stitched together by the narrators of TV station Cabalvision, Bob and Jim, who are, respectively, an ogre and a vampire. They come up with some mildly amusing banter which sets the game’s general tone: as bloodthirsty as you would expect, given that it exists within the rather unreconstructed Warhammer universe. As you progress, there are plenty of shenanigans with duplicitous owners and sponsors to negotiate, which provide some semblance of a storyline, but really it’s all about playing a succession of games, punctuated by team-building and a bit of general resource management.
Particularly in its initial stages, the single-player campaign is intended to operate as a glorified tutorial, but that doesn’t quite excuse the pathetic nature of the computer-controlled AI. The gameplay broadly adheres to the rules of American Football, with the ridiculously arcane system of designing and setting plays mercifully excised. Thus, each turn lets you move all your players, instruct them to attack nearby opponents, pick up the ball, pass it and ultimately score touchdowns. Unfortunately, the computer-controlled opposition shows no inclination to do anything much beyond moving its players round and attacking yours. While the comedy violence is amusing for a while (as are little touches such as certain referees’ propensity to attack your players), it would be nice if the AI ever actually tried to score touchdowns, but it doesn’t. Even in the later stages of the campaign, when the AI’s stats have been ramped up, you’re still more or less guaranteed to win by a large number of touchdowns. And the repetitive nature of Bob and Jim’s in-game commentary, which swiftly becomes very annoying, doesn’t help matters.
Which is a shame, since the gameplay is generally absorbing, and pretty tactical. You often start a turn with a number of players prostrate on the ground, and you can instruct them to return to their feet, but only one of them can be instructed to attack an opponent, so it pays to plan before you start making moves. Every move you make is subject to a dice-throw, so even simple instructions such as running down the field or picking up the ball can end in an embarrassing trip to the turf. So you find yourself moving players around to compensate for such eventualities.
Blood Bowl 2 properly comes into its own when you play it online, though, against human opposition. Setting up and joining leagues is gratifyingly easy, and acquiring the right blend of players (which include linemen who are all-rounders, runners, throwers and giant, lumbering tacklers), with decent stats becomes paramount.
So, if you like American Football as played by ugly, obnoxious non-humans, and prefer to play games online rather than solo, you should find Blood Bowl 2 pretty satisfying. Otherwise, it probably won’t be vying for the top spot in your must-have Christmas list.