Luck and lack of depth leaves this promising turn-based sports game sitting on the bench.
Blood Bowl 2 might have one of the most innovative set-ups for a game I’ve ever seen. Take American football, throw in a bunch of supernatural creatures, make it ultra-violent, have two humorous monsters commentate on the matches, and make the whole thing a turn-based strategy game.
Blood Bowl 2 is a sports game, kind of. It’s based on American football, but seems to be closer to rugby in its rule-set. Surprisingly, the game isn’t played like Madden, for example, rather it’s a turn-based strategy game not too dissimilar to Wasteland 2 or Shadowurn Hong Kong. There’s an invisible grid on the field, and you can move all your players a set number of squares each turn. Players can move one or two squares past their natural limit, but if you do, you risk them passing out and falling down for that turn. Like any sports game, whoever has the most points after each game, consisting of 16 turns, wins.
What you do during these turns depends on if you’re on offense or defense. In theory, while on offense you grab the ball and move up the field, using your other players to cover the ball carrier so he can score. If you’re on defense, you need to evenly cover the field and stop the opposing team from scoring. That’s just theory though, in practice, if you’re on offense you don’t need to bother using your other player to defend the ball carrier, and on defense you only need to send one or two players after the ball carrier and you’re good. That’s because the AI, more often than not, ignores the ball. If they do get the ball, the last thing they’re going to do is even attempt to score a touchdown. The AI is more interested in fighting than actually winning the game.
"Although the different races have their own looks and abilities, they all have basically the same move set. It would have been nice if their animations or attacks were more varied."
That’s where the violence comes in, because instead of simply tackling opposing players, you beat the crap out of them. Attacking consists of rolling anywhere between one and three die, depending on that player’s skill, and picking the best option. You can simply push an opponent, knock them down, stun them for an extra turn, or KO them to get them out of the game for several turns. This dice system works for you and the AI, and if you’re unlucky, the dice will come up negatively and the attacker will end up getting knocked out. This is a good system in that it ensures the team with the better stats doesn’t win every match by knocking out the weaker players. But if you’re the one with better players, then it can get frustrating getting knocked out on a bad dice roll, or being tripped up and knocked down before you have a chance to do anything.
In the campaign mode, you’re stuck playing as the Reikland Reavers, a human team. Outside the campaign however, you can customize your team including their race. Available races include humans, elves, goblins, ogres, and Lizardmen. They all have their own unique abilities, the humans being the “jack of all trades” type, but what that means exactly is left vague. You can customize your team name, team motto, and uniform options, though you can only select from premade uniforms. There aren’t many customization options available there, or with your team’s stadium.
Although the different races have their own looks and abilities, they all have basically the same move set. It would have been nice if their animations or attacks were more varied. Maybe the goblins can climb on top of one another and jump on humans and hit them really fast, several times over. Or perhaps ogres knock opponents down and stomp on them, and vampires could suck your player’s blood. It would have added a lot to the rather dull fights, and watching 11 players on both teams slowly move to their destination.
"Between fans invading the pitch, refs being paid off, players randomly fumbling the ball, players being knocked down on your own turn, the randomness of the dice, and turnovers, whatever element of strategy added by buying re-rolls or lining up your players in certain formations is rendered useless."
Speaking of which, there’s no skipping your opponents turn, so you have to sit there and watch the whole thing. Which brings up another good point, the matches tend to go on far too long. Both teams consist of 11 players, and moving every single one of them every turn can really take ages.
That’s one of several small annoying mechanics this game has to offer. As I mentioned earlier, players will try to knock down opposing players even when it’s not their turn. Your players will be knocked down way more often than opposing players, and while it displays the odds of dodging a trip before you start an action, I’m pretty sure that feature is glitched. In all the matches I played, it never read anything other than “67% chance to dodge,” and more often than not, my player didn’t dodge.
What makes this annoying is the turnover mechanic that’s introduced after the first three matches. With a turnover, any time you fail an action, like dropping the ball after trying to pick it up, or a dice roll not going your way, your turn is automatically over, and your opponent gets to go. This goes both ways, but it’s not a very good mechanic, because it discourages you from taking risks. With the AI constantly starting fights, every time they roll a bad set of dice, they forfeit their turn. This could be viewed as a great way to balance it out, but frankly, you never need to take risks anyway.
The game offers little in the way of pre-game strategy. Induvial player stats don’t seem to rise the more games they play, and there’s no way to train players. Free agent players don’t have any better stats, just a different distribution of points per category. You can buy things like re-rolls which allow you to essentially rewind the last move and try it again, or cheerleaders and medical facilities that help your team in very small ways.
"The gameplay tries to be deep and strategic, but falls flat on its face. It can be fun to run up the score in the single player mode, and the chaotic mess of multiplayer showdowns can get intense if the score is close, but it would have been so much better if some of the elements of luck were cut down some."
There’s a lot that can happen within matches. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, so fans can invade the pitch and randomly knock out several players from both teams, and refs will be bribed and knock out players. Other things can go wrong as well, such as players dropping the ball, not being able to pick it up, and your opponent having re-rolls as well to fix their mistakes.
This leads me to what I’ve been building to, the game’s biggest problem.
Luck is an integral part to any turn-based strategy game, how big a factor it is goes a long way in determining how good the game is. The level of luck versus strategy in the genre is always going to be subjective, but here luck plays far too great a role. Between fans invading the pitch, refs being paid off, players randomly fumbling the ball, players being knocked down on your own turn, the randomness of the dice, and turnovers, whatever element of strategy added by buying re-rolls or lining up your players in certain formations is rendered useless.
Yet somehow the luck factor is never more than an annoyance, the game is far too easy because the AI never bothers even attempting to score.
Now I know what you’re all saying: the real test of the game’s mechanics comes in the online mode. Well, that’s where the luck goes from minor inconvenience to game breaking. Matches are a total free-for-all, with neither side using any strategy other than a mad rush for the ball and then the opponent’s end zone. More often than not, my opponent would ignore all the players on the field except the ball carrier, and I would do the same, because there’s no need to pick fights with anyone else.
The gameplay tries to be deep and strategic, but falls flat on its face. It can be fun to run up the score in the single player mode, and the chaotic mess of multiplayer showdowns can get intense if the score is close, but it would have been so much better if some of the elements of luck were cut down some. Getting past that, there isn’t much to the game other than these matches either. There’s no training mode, no dynasty mode, no team management, there’s only playing an endless number of matches over and over again. It’s a shame, because on a technical level, the game is well made and presented.
Blood Bowl 2 has a lot of heart coming through in the commentators, Jim and Bob. In the game’s cutscenes, they explain the rather barebones story of the campaign mode to you. You’re a rookie coach on a once great team and you have to bring it back to its former glory. Nothing too exciting there. However, the banter and jokes between the two add a level of humor and charm to the otherwise brutal and bloody gameplay.
"Blood Bowl 2 is one of those kinds of games where just when it starts to show how good it can be, it does something stupid that reminds you that the game isn’t all that great after all."
It’s a shame they don’t have many lines in game. They rarely speak during matches, and whenever they do, they often repeat themselves several times throughout the course of a game. It’s also here that we see some of the game’s humor falter. Expect to hear side-splitting “jokes” such as mentions of “Game of Gnomes,” and other hilarious knock-offs such as the “Wolf News Network,” and social media favorites like “Twerper” (featuring “Smashtags”) and “FaceTome.”
Although stadiums are actually empty, they do at least play crowd noise. You can’t see into the stands too well during gameplay, so it does a good job of at least creating the illusion of being in a packed, bustling stadium. Given the bloodthirstiness of the announcers, fans, refs, and opposing players, the atmosphere really does a great job of establishing this hellish feeling of a dangerous, monstrous game.
Blood Bowl II is one of those kinds of games where just when it starts to show how good it can be, it does something stupid that reminds you that the game isn’t all that great after all. It’s let down by its lack of strategy, too many random elements, and a lack of overall depth. But when it’s at its best, it’s good chaotic fun that actually has me wanting to play more, and immerse myself in the unique atmosphere.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Matches can be good, chaotic fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the graphics are pretty good, and it has a very unique and intriguing concept. It can be a lot of fun to see traditional monsters like ogres and goblins suit and play some American football.
Matches can be too chaotic give the random elements of luck, meaning there’s a lack of depth, and outside the matches there isn’t much to do. The humor can be hit or miss at times, especially with the pop culture references.
A strategy game that offers little in the way of strategy, Blood Bowl 2 at least has dumb fun going for it.