(High) Fantasy football goes mobile.
One of the far and away oddest mashups in tabletop gaming, Blood Bowl is in a league all its own. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically (American) football, but with Warhammer characters from Games Workshop’s high fantasy universe… and waaaaaaay less in the way of rules.
There’ve been a few incarnations of the game (which is super-fun in tabletop by the way) over the years, and I happened to play the hell out of the original on the PC, which debuted in 1995. The look was exceptionally simple and bare bones, but it was fun and stayed true to the actual game, which I also enjoyed.
The newest version of Blood Bowl to go digital, from Focus Home Interactive and developer Cyanide, takes a break from the PC and hits iOS on the iPad in what;s a very interesting little port. I have to admit that I haven’t played the latest PC release, and probably won’t since the sequel is fast approaching now, so I really can’t compare the two in terms of similarities or shortcomings.
What I can do though, is tell you whether Blood Bowl on iPad is worth your time or not, and the answer to that is a resounding maybe. There are a lot of points to this one, both good and bad, and I think whether or not you actually will enjoy it will come down to whether or not you’re a fan of the game. I am, so take what comes next from that perspective.
First things first, this is an adaptation of the tabletop Blood Bowl game. It’s not a fast-action, American football sim that happens to have Warhammer characters plugged into it. It’s mostly slow-paced and tactical, with a turn-based structure that you’re probably more used to seeing in a war game than in a sports title. This isn’t a bad thing though, as you can plot out your moves and execute them, complete with virtual dice rolls to see if you can make it past that gigantic orc lineman with your head, let alone possession of the ball.
It’s a departure form sports games in general sure, but it’s one that works well for Blood Bowl and has for years. Remember that I was a fan of the original game on the PC from the ’90s, so in a way I’m used to this. It did take me some time to get back into the groove though. Blood Bowl has something of a learning curve and can, at times, be somewhat unforgiving. It might take you a few games to get used to the controls and pace, and trappings of the game is what I’m saying, but once you do it’s fairly smooth sailing.
I really recommend you do the tutorial before you plunge into the actual campaign or attempt some multiplayer though. I know, it’s probably not something that sounds like fun, but it’ll crane up your enjoyment of the actual game and you’ll understand how almost everything works- and that’ll lead to you actually winning a few games right off the bat, probably not something that you’d do otherwise.
Graphically, BB won’t knock you over. It looks good enough, but there’s nothing especially great or standout about it. I don’t want to come across here as saying that it look terrible, because it doesn’t at all, it’s just not a stunner that you’re going to show your buddies to brag about the game-playing power of your iPad. The individual players all do look decent though and the stadiums are sharp, if uninteresting to a large degree.
Unlike the graphics, the sound design is pretty great, with some terrific music and voice work. The announcers, Bob and Jim, are great and a lot of fun to listen to as they call the action on the field. There’s some nice music as well, which is appropriately epic-sounding, and the crowd noise is decent (if a little on the quiet side).
Blood Bowl also sports a pair of multiplayer modes, both online and local. Online is more or less what you might expect, but the local is really quite a good time. It operates in the ‘hotseat’ style, which means that players one and two pass the iPad around between them as their turns come up in the game. This works fantastically since BB is turn-based and can really lend itself to some fun moments. I had a blast with it, though keep in mind that I love local multiplayer and think it’s generally way more fun when you’re actually in the same room with your opponent.
One last thing that I feel I have to mention is that you can only play as human and orc teams in the base game download. You can play against other races in the campaign mode, but not as them, as all the other races of the Warhammer universe are priced separately as in-app purchases. I can’t say I really care for that business model in any game, and here it’s particularly annoying as the many fantasy races are one of the best parts of Blood Bowl.
Blood Bowl on iOS is a very solid translation of a tabletop-turned-PC game. It’s not spectacular, but it really doesn’t have to be and does enough right to make for a fun time, and a way more strategic one than you might be used to seeing from a ‘sports’ game.
If you can look past some of the faults and the in-app purchases thing doesn’t bother you, then I think you’ll have a (spiked) ball with Blood Bowl. It might not be Super Bowl material, but it definitely makes the playoffs.