Anyone who played games during the 16-bit era probably remembers a classic EA Sports title called Mutant League Football. That game drew inspiration from real-life board game Blood Bowl, which depicts a very football-like sport played by human and fantasy races. Blood Bowl takes place in a cartoonish version of the Warhammer fantasy universe.
French developer Cyanide Studio's first Blood Bowl video game won a sizable cult following a few years back. This September, Cyanide and Focus Home Interactive will follow-up with Blood Bowl II for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows. The new game promises a lengthy campaign, robust online multiplayer leagues, a spectator mode, and plenty of violent turn-based strategic gameplay.
We went through a game of Blood Bowl II at E3 2015 and came away impressed. Read on for our in-depth preview with developer interview and gameplay video!
Preparing for the Blood Bowl
Blood Bowl II gives players eight fantasy race-based teams to choose from, each with its own difficulty rating. These include Humans, Orcs, Dwarfs, Skaven, Dark Elves, Chaos, Brettonia, and High Elves.
After selecting a team, you'll choose from five stadiums for the team to call home. These can be leveled up and improved with the gold earned from matches. The upgrades can actually affect gameplay. For instance, beer stalls can cause the crowd to become unruly and throw things at sidelined players.
Having chosen your home stadium, you'll then opt between automatically or manually selecting a team roster. Blood Bowl teams have five positions and can consist of up to 16 players in total. You can name players, choose between several heads for them, and select your team colors and logo.
New players cost varying amounts of gold to recruit, depending on their abilities. Each player has three basic stats: Movement allowance, Strength, and Agility. He also has a unique combination of skills that will affect his performance on the field.
With a team locked down, the final step before playing is to recruit staff members. You can hire five types of staff, including Apocetharies (medics), Cheerleaders, and Assistant Coaches. All provide their own distinct benefits to your team. Staff members cost gold too, of course.
Strategy on the field
Blood Bowl games start with a coin toss. The winner chooses whether to kick the ball (play defense) or receive the ball (play offense). Before the kickoff, the teams go through a setup phase. Here you can place all players automatically or manually position them one at a time.
After the defending team aims and kicks the ball, one of eleven kick-off events will randomly occur. These can influence either team, making the match harder or easier for them. The staff members you have hired will affect the likelihood of certain events helping your team instead of hurting it.
Like American football, the goal in Blood Bowl is to run the ball into the end zone of the opposing team in order to score. But unlike traditional football video games, Blood Bowl II plays like a turn-based strategy game. Every action has a chance to succeed or fail – even picking up the ball. During my play session, the members of our high-difficulty dwarf team all stank at picking the ball up. A team with an easier difficulty rating and/or better players would fare much better.
Failing an action makes your team's turn end, so it's wise to perform easy actions first and save harder ones for later in your turn. Each player on the field can perform one action per turn, such as dashing into an enemy player to deliver an attack.
After choosing to attack an enemy player, the game rolls a special pair of dice to determine the outcome of the attack. If successful, the attacker can choose which direction to knock the target as well as whether to follow the target forward or remain in place. The camera zooms in for a dramatic view of the attacks and tackles, which look brutal.
After taking a hit, players can be stunned, injured (thus having to sit the game out), or even permanently killed. The team owner will then need to hire a new player after a game. Thus, the owners will want to manage the risk they put their players in and try to prevent them from dying.
You can also choose to hit a stunned player while he is down, which increases his chances of injury or death. But if the referee sees the illegal move, you'll have to either bribe him or allow the player to be ejected. You can also bribe the ref to allow a player back into the game after he has been sent off. Bribes don't always work, though; some of these refs have wills of iron.
The Blood Bowl II campaign will last around 20 hours, giving solo players plenty of strategic sports challenge. It features a story written by Andy Hall, who actually used to work on the physical Blood Bowl game at Games Workshop. Yes, the campaign has a real story unlike what you'd see in other sports games. You'll play as a particular team, the iconic Reikland Reavers.
One of the ways Blood Bowl II's campaign differs from regular matches is its unique kick-off events. Six all-new events will add dramatic impact during specific campaign matches (and only those matches). These have a greater influence on the match, sometimes changing the field itself and creating areas that will damage the players.
For example, the 'Cabal Copter's Crash' event starts out with the Cabal Vision camera flying over the field and then suffering a crash. The impact creates a hole surrounded by flaming wreckage. Both teams will have to maneuver around the flames, as touching or getting knocked into it will not feel good.
In addition to the campaign, Blood Bowl II will offer a deep multiplayer experience and some choice spectator features. The main menu offers the following modes:
- Play in a League: The primary multiplayer mode in Blood Bowl II. League Mode is persistent, with players and teams gaining experience and leveling up as they play. Those players can age and retire, or worse – get killed permanently.
- Friendly Match: Play friendly matches against another human or AI opponent, either offline or online.
- Team & League Management: Create and customize your own teams, just as we described earlier.
- Cabal TV: Watch your previous matches for fun or to learn more about the strategies you and your opponents have used. Cabal TV also allows spectating of other gamers' live matches. It doesn't just stream those games; spectators can access tactical information as if they were actually participating in the match.
Get ready to rumble
Sports-themed strategy games are nearly as uncommon as unicorns, so Blood Bowl II should be like no console sports game before it. I loved what I experienced at E3, but it remains to be seen how intuitive the game really is when you don't have a developer showing you the ropes.
We'll find out whether Blood Bowl II scores the touchdown when it arrives on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows on September 22.