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Blood Bowl 2 in-depth review: Sports, strategy, and fantasy collide on Xbox One and PC

Sports games come in two basic flavors: simulation and arcade. But what if there was a third option? French developer Cyanide Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive have made that happen.

Blood Bowl 2 for Xbox One, Steam, and PlayStation 4 takes a completely different approach than typical sports games. Players select from a variety of fantasy teams and compete in a football-like sport. But this one plays like a turn-based strategy game, with each side taking separate turns and dice rolls determining the outcomes of each action.

Will sports fans or strategy fans cheer for Blood Bowl 2? Read our detailed review to find out!

Talk about fantasy football

Blood Bowl is a fantasy sport set within a darkly comedic version of the Warhammer universe. In this world, teams of 11 players consisting of humans, orcs, dwarves, elves, and other races meet on the gridiron and battle for victory – sometimes to the death. The sport itself closely resembles American Football, though it differs in several ways.

Each game begins with a coin toss, followed by a kick-off. The offensive team attempts to run or pass the ball to the end zone, whereas the defensive team tries to stop them. If a team succeeds in scoring, they get a single point and then have to kick the ball back to the former defenders.

While Blood Bowl clearly uses American football as its foundation, it simplifies several rules in order to streamline gameplay. For instance, the team on offense can't punt or score extra points. Each team can score a maximum of one point per turn.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

Instead of breaking turns up into downs, a turn continues until either every player on the team has moved and/or performed an action, a turnover occurs, the human/AI player decides to end the turn, or the turn timer expires. I like not having to worry about downs – you just achieve as much as you can during your turn, and then the other guy gets to do the same.

And rather than lasting for a set duration of time, the game consists of 16 total turns per team. After both teams complete their first eight turns, a brief halftime show occurs. Both teams' positions on the field get reset at that point, and knocked out or injured players can sometimes return to the field. But just because Blood Bowl games only give each team 16 turns, don't expect games to be over quickly. They typically last anywhere from 1-2 hours, because this is also a strategy game.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

Sports strategy

During your team's turn, you can initiate a variety of actions with your players, including moving, blocking (tackles and pushes), fouls (hitting a downed opponent), picking up the ball, and passing. Most players who move can't block during the same turn. But you do get one Blitz action per turn, which allows a single player to both move and block during that turn.

Moving players is simple enough – each player has a movement range based on his position, species, and level. The movement range includes a safe distance within which the player can move without the need for a die roll. The player can also move at least two spaces beyond the safe range by "Going For It." Each of these "GFI" spaces requires a successful die roll, adding some risk to going for that extra yardage. Fail the die roll and the player falls over, causing a turnover.

Movement also carries a risk when an opposing team member stands adjacent to the player who tries to move. While the enemy can't directly attack you during your turn, adjacent opponents have a chance to knock the moving player down, leading to a turnover. Whether the player succeeds in moving away from an adjacent opponent is of course decided by dice rolls.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

The "Blood" in Blood Bowl mostly comes from blocks – attacks against enemy players. During your turn, you can command any member of your team to attack an adjacent opponent. A number of factors determine the likelihood of success, including each member's strength rating and the proximity of other teammates. Adjacent teammates provide a strength bonus to attackers and defenders.

Depending on those strength calculations, the attacker gets to roll 1-3 dice to determine the outcome of the attack. If the dice appear in red before you roll, then that means the defender gets to pick which of the rolled dice actions will actually happen – so you usually want to just avoid attacking with red dice. Why the dice are red sometimes but not others, I don't know – some formula, surely.

The face of each die represents a possible outcome of the move. These can result in the defender getting tackled, the defender getting pushed back one space, the attacker getting knocked down, or both players falling down. You'll normally pick the best outcome from the die faces. If your attacker goes down while attempting an attack, a turnover happens, and your turn ends.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

Attacking players successfully knocks them down and has the chance to stun them (making them stay down for an extra turn), knock them out (taking them off the field until halftime or the remainder of the game), injure them (temporarily or permanently reducing stats), or even kill them.

Players can level up in Blood Bowl and gain useful new skills, so permanently losing a player usually hurts pretty badly! Also, any knocked out, injured, or dead player can only be replaced at halftime, so your team can end up with way less than 11 players on the field if things go poorly.

The normal result of a knockdown is that the player must be stood up during that team's next turn, preventing him from moving or attacking in that turn. The controls for standing a player up are a bit cumbersome – you have to select the player with A, hit X for the action menu, and then hit A on 'Stand up.' This gets even more annoying when you have to stand up several players in one turn. The game really needs the ability to stand all downed players up in one action.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One story

Campaign of Cruelty

If Blood Bowl 2's gameplay sounds complex, at least the game eases you into things gradually. Over the course of the 14-game campaign, new rules and mechanics are gradually introduced to the player. For instance, you won't have to worry about player deaths or turn timers early on. Eventually, you'll be limited to four minutes per turn (which is fairly generous).

The campaign is both the best and worst aspect of Blood Bowl 2. It features an actual fully voiced story that develops before and after every game – something you just don't see in most sports video games. Most of the narrative comes from the two commentators, a hulking ogre and a diminutive vampire. Even though everything happens either in the sole studio location or on the field, the story ends up pretty interesting thanks to witty writing and lots of humor.

On the downside, the commentators' cartoonish voices can be irritating at times. And some of their play-by-play lines repeat far too frequently. If I ever hear about getting "so close you can see the bugs in their teeth" or "the famous story of 'Nurgling and the Great Unclean One'" again, it'll be too soon. An algorithm to prevent lines from repeating during the same game would ease the repetition.

The real problem with Blood Bowl 2's campaign, though, is its difficulty – and that goes for single-player League games outside of Campaign as well. See, you can play as strategically as you like, but the outcome of every action comes down to one or more dice rolls. When those dice go against you, you might find your turn ending before you even accomplish anything. Or worse, you could lose a player temporarily or permanently.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

Owing so much of your fate to the dice works fine in a real-life board game setting against another player, or even during Blood Bowl 2's online multiplayer games. When I play a one-on-one game against another person, I don't expect to win every time. But when I go up against the computer in a campaign, I actually do want the win!

Campaign games last a minimum of one hour, and I've had them go all the way to four hours. You get absolutely nothing for losing, so imagine the frustration of losing a campaign game after one or more hours. Not fun and the Xbox One version's excessive loading times at start-up and before each game don't help.

Cyanide could reduce the frustration factor in some ways. Really, all three of these would improve the game in tandem:

  • Add a difficulty selection for single-player games! Let us make it as easy or hard as we want.
  • Let players earn rewards even when they lose single-player games. Don't waste our time spent playing against the harsh computer.
  • Allow players to save and resume games at any time. We can currently 'Save and Quit,' but you lose the save upon resuming (unless you know a trick we'll share shortly). That way, we needn't be so beholden to unfortunate dice rolls.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

The Save and Quit Trick

Normally, you can only resume a save once after choosing to Save and Quit. But having resumed the save, you can then push the Home/Guide button and kill the game from the dashboard. You can then resume your mid-game save as many times you want – it sticks around until the next time you Save and Quit.

The strategy to build from this is saving every time anything particularly good happens for your team, such as an enemy player getting KOed or Injured, scoring a point, or completing a mid-match objective (like getting a Foul or Pass). Also just save periodically after that, usually at the beginning of your turn.

Whenever anything bad happens like an early Turnover on your turn or one of your players getting knocked out, you can just dashboard, kill the game, and resume your last save.

The downside to this Save and Quit strategy is that it's very time-consuming! You have to go through several minutes of loading time just to dashboard and resume. But it's better than losing hours of time on a lost game, and the campaign would be nearly impossible at times without the technique.

Once again, the developer could improve the save feature and save us all a lot of time and trouble.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One level up skills

Team Management, Leagues, and Multiplayer

Outside of the punishingly difficult but still entertaining campaign, Blood Bowl 2 also offers strong team creation and league features. The actual visual customization of your players is rudimentary, but building and balancing a team and then leveling up your players over time can be truly satisfying.

Long-term appeal comes from participating in single-player or multiplayer leagues with your custom teams. We don't have room to go into depth about Leagues, but I will say the multiplayer league features are fairly robust. A group of like-minded Blood Bowl players can create a league, track everyone's progress, trade players, and much more.

Blood Bowl 2 supports local and online multiplayer. I didn't try local, but the online multiplayer is super fun. You'll generally want to pick pre-made teams of similar strength, but you could also just mash your custom teams against each other to see who comes out on top. Talk even one friend who likes strategy and/or board games into picking up this game and you'll both gets tons of hours out of competing together.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One

Achievements

The Xbox One version of Blood Bowl 2 has 30 Achievements worth 1,000 Gamerscore. At eight games and many hours into the campaign, I only have nine of them. Several require random or extremely challenging conditions to be met during single-player games – most players will never get those.

Nobody has completed Blood Bowl 2's Achievements yet, but hopefully more guides will trickle out over time. Just don't buy this one for the Achievements.

Blood Bowl 2 Xbox One touchdown

Rough but rewarding

Blood Bowl 2 is a tough game to recommend. By its very nature as a sports-strategy game, this was always going to be a niche product. But the developers also made the single-player game sadistically hard, seemingly unaware of the potential for frustration. So you have to like sports, strategy, and being kicked in the junk to really get into this one.

On the other hand, if we ignore the difficulty issues or rely on the tedious Save and Quit Trick, the game can be so rewarding. Mechanically, Blood Bowl 2 is a fantastic adaptation of the board game (other than not being able to stand all players up at once). I don't care for traditional sports simulations, but the strategic gameplay and fantasy theme totally hit home for me. Even as I write, I wish I was playing it.

Hopefully, Cyanide Studios will update Blood Bowl 2 over time to ease up its difficulty. All the clever gameplay mechanics and production values in the world don't matter if half the people who try your game give up over its punishing difficulty.

See on the Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

This review conducted on Xbox One with a review copy provided by the publisher.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

28 Comments
  • Im not one to play many sports games. But if I was this would be on my list fir its unique look. Im sure someone will enjoy this.
  • It's alright but I'll pass good job Paul another great review
  • I'll have to remember to read this when I get home. I'm disappointed the game launched at such a high price, to be honest. To niche for a $50 game. I'd play it in the rare occasion, if I could convince a friend or two to get it. Hopefully it hits $30 around Black Friday. I'd jump in for that price, but too many big-ticket games for me to get and play right now.
  • What date was black friday in usa again??
  • The day after real Thanksgiving! ;)
  • I already had my thanks giving ;P
  • To be fair, I think I end up giving more thanks for the Black Friday deals than the chaotic family gatherings the day before.
  • November 27,I think
  • If you are a PC gamer wait for a Steam sale and then buy it then. Probably will be down to $20 in 6-8 months on a steam sale. And include better updates and whatnot. But this game looks great. I am excited to play it.
  • Not a game I'd want for PC. My brother-in-law (who I'd most likely play with) doesn't have a gaming PC really, so I'd probably get it on my One. Also, the update comment is pretty funny, given how horrendous PC ports have been lately (Arkham Knight STILL isn't back up on Steam because of quality issues, I don't think).
  • I've always thought of this series as PC games that get ported to consoles. Not sure which is actually the lead version, but I bet it's PC. But a few bad ports like Batman doesn't change that most PC versions of multiplatform games run better than their console counterparts. Not that I lose any sleep over it.
  • This has definitely been PC-first in the past, but that's also because the games weren't released on home consoles until a decade after they started on the PC. I'd also say that the second part of your statement isn't really indicative of developer focus, and I'm not even sure if it's indicative of more-recent releases. PCs have the benefit of throwing gobs of raw power at them (yes, they have more overhead, but not to an extent that it outweighs the superior hardware). If you locked down PCs to hardware equivalent to what the consoles are on now, and you tried to push them at the same rate as the console games, it'd fail (because of that increased overhead and often-inferior optimization). Also, don't underestimate the ability to tweak settings on a PC game. It's easier to squeeze better frame rates out of a game on PC because you can drop things like view distance, particle density, and resolution to make up for inferior hardware. None of that is to say that this game isn't PC-first, I don't know the development team's intentions with this. However, we HAVE seen some instances where porting gets offloaded to a secondary team, and I think that's where Arkham Knight got screwed. I wouldn't say I expect a developer with a history of making these games work on PC will encounter the same problems as Arkham's port studio, but I'll just end by saying that developers seem to favor console very heavily now, specifically the new consoles. It's simply more-lucrative, so I expect devs to put their best foot forward on that side of the market.
  • A little pricy for PC,but cool game
  • Graphics look awful.
  • I don't know why you'd say that. They're not amazing, but quite good, with fairly high quality character models, 3D crowds, and detailed stadiums. I guess the colors could be prettier though... But my real point is that hyperbole is bad when used non-poetically.
  • wen as universal app for win10
  • Never. It's a Steam game, and will run on any sufficiently powerful PC or tablet.
  • Should have included a /s with that comment ;)
    On a real note, I miss the grid from the original Blood Bowl and my Wood Elves! Hopefully they'll be there soon
  • Ohhhhhh ho. Well then. Wood Elves are available as paid DLC on Xbox one at least... Lame that they weren't included by default though.
  • Really a bummer. Been playing Woodies for 15+ years, so they are my team in BB
  • An interesting game, i would like to try taking down all opponents, see if you can win by total knock down
  • That would be fun! I've taken out 5 enemy players in one game, so far.
  • Was always interested in the first game, but not so sure now after seeing how turn based this sequel is
  • It seems too slow paced for me. It is an interesting concept but I can't justify that price tag. Thanks for the article, Paul! Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Finally got home, did my homework, and had a chance to read the review for real. Paul, we just seem to have fundamentally different desires for games, haha. I don't think that time spent shoudl equate to rewards. It might suck to play for 1-2 hours (or more) and end up with nothing, but as logn as that system is consistent, I don't mind it. I'd actually kind of like to have something where I don't get rewarded for screwing up. Participation rewards in games are kind of annoying. Call of Duty's ranking system is the perfect example--level and Prestige rank in there mean nothing but that you have played the game a lot. So, to me, not having rewards for losing is totally cool in my book, though I could see wanting there to be some of the RPG player progression involved (do losing players have a chance to rank up?). The other thing I care about is that online league option. I'd totally aim to NOT use premade teams. Instead, this is a very targeted game I'd end up playing. I'd have a couple of folks I'd play against, and I'd basically limit my gameplay to the solo stuff and playing them. As such, our teams shoudl stay fairly balanced (neither grinding more games against randoms), so long-term team development comparisons would interest me more than single-game samples based on chance (which this game ultimately becomes, in many cases, if the teams are premade and balanced). Like I said, the price of entry is just higher than I'd like. It's something I'd play as a rare change of pace, and it's extremely niche, to me. So, I'll have to wait on a sale, which I'm fine doing. If it gets down low for Black Friday, I think I'll pick up two copies--one for myself and one for my brorther-in-law as a Christmas gift, so we can play against each other. I think this game is a great chance for rivalry building, which sports/racing games seem more adept at giving us (with fighting games also good at it).
  • Yeah, buying two copies is a good idea since the real value of this title is playing against someone you know who also dedicates time to it. That's how we handled it with our two review copies, as the video shows. You said you don't want to be rewarded for losing and then said you think the players should be able to level up when they lose... They don't. You get no money or experience from campaign losses (not sure about single-player league games). It's a game with RPG-style systems that doesn't leverage them properly. My go-to comparison for the difficulty versus time investment, which didn't make it into the review, is to imagine an action game with checkpoints that are an hour or two apart. Some weirdo out there might think that's a good idea, but the vast majority of players would hate such a thing if there's any significant chance of losing. Many people enjoy a challenge (even me, depending on the game), but challenge balances with other factors to either please or frustrate the player. Appreciate you taking the time to consider and address individual points from the review - all reviewers wish more people would do that. :)
  • Good reviews deserve good comments, that's all I can say to the last part. If something (like this) interests me, I say what I want in a non-wasteful manner. I get your point about the progress thing, and it's something I'm often torn on. Beating your head against something trivial to get back to the part that's difficult 20 minutes later sucks. I think RPG games are unique in that respect, though. An RPG is built for player progression. You can fail and progress, though. A player (in this case, a football one) can get better at the game while his team loses. Dying in a shooter or non-RPG action gmae has a very different feel, in that respect, to me. The player experience, I could get on-board with expecting that from a loss. The money side (I don't recall a mention of money in the review, I assume it's for packs of card for players or something?), I don't think participation alone warrants that reward. My opposing example would be Forza. If you do a 5-lap race and lose because you spun your car on the last lap (I use this example because it's all too common for me), you can't opt to go back to where you had the lead on lap 3 or 4 and start from there. Granted, a 5-minute race isn't the same as a 2-hour game of this, but the issue applies when you do the endurance races (which are Showcase Events in FM6), and they can take up near an hour to complete (I assume; the FM2 ones did, I haven't played the new ones at all yet). I'll also say that with, for example, Halo, it's not quite the same story. You get checkpoints in that game, but if you're one to play on Legendary (or a high difficulty in another game that has the option), your game might only roll you back 5-10 minutes with a death, but the skill-based difficulty (as opposed to bad luck in BB2) can have you banging your head on that 10-minute segment of the game for an hour as well. I guess that really is just a point for giving people a difficulty option in the campaign of BB2, though. Perhaps the base game is the "Hard" difficulty, and then they have "Medium," where the player gets a +1 to all rolls, an "Easy" where you get to pick which die result you get every time (no red dice), and a "Very Easy," where your players can't get hurt. Basically stack human player buffs in that manner. Shoot, maybe they don't even have difficulty levels in a traditional sense. They could have all of those things as options and give XP/money bonuses, like how Forza handles rewarding players for turning off assists. It's probably too late for them to consider such things for this game (it doesn't strike me as a title to get serious post-release updates of that nature), but maybe BB3 in 2020 will have it, haha.
  • Money is used to buy new players (since they can be killed, and you'd also be able to trade for money in League play), buy upgrades for your team (Team re-rolls, Apothecary uses for healing injured players, Cheerleaders, Coaching Assistants, and Fan Factor - the latter 3 affect rolls for certain types of events), and buy stadium upgrades (these have effects too but I forget what they do). In the campaign, you're arbitrarily limited in what team upgrades you can buy based on overall campaign progress, and can't buy stadium upgrades. More info I couldn't fit in the review for space reasons! Forza's an interesting example. Definitely it would suck to lose an Endurance race (yes, they're a Showcase class in Forza 6). But players always earn money, driver XP, and (I think) affinity XP even when they lose. So you always do have something to show for your time - some measure of progress. True, even games with liberal checkpoints can still be frustrating. At least when you get stuck on Legendary in Halo or Insane in Gears of War, the player made a choice to play that harder difficulty level. On that note, I'm glad you see the value of difficulty selection where Blood Bowl is concerned. Letting players choose how tough they want things is always nice since it should basically please everybody. When I say players should be rewarded even when they lose in Blood Bowl, I do of course mean with experience for team members or money for upgrades. But like I said upgrades are limited within the campaign anyway, so in the campaign it'd just be XP. And no, losing rewards wouldn't be as good as winning rewards, but something to make the next try (or future tries) a little easier would certainly lessen frustration. I do fear this particular game might never get balance updates, but I could see a sequel that properly takes difficulty into account ending up as one of my favorite games of its generation. I really do like the core game here. :)