There’s a bit of a cliche during the holidays that it is better to give than to receive. I’m not sure I buy into that sentiment based on the simple fact that it is super cool to get free stuff. So when we were looking at gifting each other an item, and the work to go with it I pulled my best Grinch grin onto my face and rubbed my hands together mischievously. I got Jordan as the target of my gifting, and the thing about Jordan is that unlike me, he didn’t grow up loud and proud with his inherent geekiness but I’ve noticed that he’s game for things that I throw at him. At the same time he misses sports metaphors like the Atlanta Falcons miss the playoffs (which is to say- much to my amusement). It was these 2 bits of information, along with a need to give him something that I’m sure he wouldn’t like, which led me to giving Jordan Blood Bowl 2. It combines fantasy, a shockingly nerdy turn based system and sports into a weird hybrid, um, thing. Honestly, I figured it would be a perfect storm of making him hate me deeply and sincerely for the holidays. Merry Christmas, Asshole.
The famous last words of my good friend and fellow writer, Eric Carr, ring in my ears as I play through Blood Bowl 2 for the holidays. Having squandered what could have been a good chance for a thoughtful gift, my friend bought me football and grim-dark fantasy instead. Blood Bowl 2 is a new Ps4 game that follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, cornering the very small niche market of NFL and Warhammer crossover. The basis of the game is football that functions like a tabletop adventure. There are dice. There are great potbelly ogres and dwarves riding spike covered motorcycles, and there is a football that needs to be slammed into the endzone. The different parts and pieces sound like building blocks for fun. I mean part of my beef with sports in general is how rule laden and dry the whole affair has become. The idea of a lawless sports game that draws on the Forgotten Realms for inspiration sounds halfway decent. Despite Carr’s holiday wish for misery, I went into the experience hopeful. I mean, maybe, just maybe, Blood Bowl 2 might be different.
I was wrong.
From the very moment I fired up the game, I knew Carr got me. All my well wishes were for naught and this was indeed my worst nightmare come to life. The game begins by introducing two sports commentators named Jim and Bob. They are literally the worst. Everything from the voice acting to the drawn out jokes about blood (because the game is named Blood Bowl! Ha!), kills me. Bob is a stereotypical sociopathic meat head and Jim is vampire nobility. Together the rag tag duo forms a commentary team that is akin to nails on a chalkboard. Bob talks about how fun it is when people die, or are maimed, and Jim plays the straight man. While their jokes are bad the real problem is that they actually do a good job sounding like your everyday ESPN correspondence. In other words, they don’t ever really talk about anything useful. They serve no real purpose other than to create white noise that I wish wasn’t there. This is a problem especially true for the campaign. Where they narrate everything from the tutorial to the tragic backstory of the game’s main characters, the Reikland Reavers. Jim tells us a dreary tale about how the once prestigious team has fallen over time, their once flawless record tarnished. He says that the only way for them to return to their former glory is for a change in team management. Which is where I come in. As the new head coach of the team I have been tasked with their complete rehabilitation. A fact very quickly glossed over as Jim and Bob joke about how they hope there is a whole lot of blood in the upcoming matches (once again, real genius commentary). After the very short, down and dirty introduction, the whistle blows and I am playing Blood Bowl.
How it Plays
Honestly, Jim and Bob are not even the worst part of the game. The real problem with Blood Bowl 2 is the gameplay. Nothing is really explained to the player. Aside from the larger, game breaking issues, the minor rules are completely lost or glossed over. As a turn based game inspired by a tabletop rule set, there are dozens of things I didn’t understand or was confused by. If not for my brief experience with Dungeons and Dragons, I don’t think I would have ever been able to decipher the strategy behind dice rolls and status effects. The game essentially assumes you already know what you are doing and doesn’t even attempt to teach you how to play.
Take attacking for example. The very first turns of the game are narrated, the game tells you what to do with small chat bubbles. They tell you where to run and how to attack, what the main objective is. Except they omit small details like Moment of Opportunity. MoO is the concept that you cannot simply run right in front of an enemy player to get beyond them. That gives them a Moment of Opportunity to hit you and knock you down. So when you attack, you have to be careful to avoid any paths that cross the aggression radius of enemy players. Seems important right? The developers sure did’nt think so. Then, once you get to the enemy player dice form above your character and the enemies characters head, these determine who wins the brawl. Each side has different symbols or numbers and they all mean different things. These are an integral part of understanding and playing the game and yet I still, weeks later, do not understand what a lot of them mean. In other words, before you can even begin to enjoy playing the game you have to hop online and read guides about how the rules work (one problem with my dwarven team took me nearly an hour to figure out). These constant questions bring the game’s momentum to a grinding halt. By the end of my time with the game Blood Bowl 2 really started to resemble the commercial ridden landscape of Sunday night football. Every few plays I would either stop to look something up or I would mess up and my characters would get slaughtered. Either way it really was not any fun.
Ultimately Blood Bowl 2’s mechanics don’t quite fit its grim dark fantasy appeal. The over the top commentary of Bob and Jim and the bloody fist fights on the field hint at action and mayhem but never fulfill the promise. Going into my time with the game I expected something similar to the now infamous NFL: Blitz, where the goal of the game is the other team’s utter destruction. What I got instead was something far similar to the sport I have grown to hate. Blood Bowl 2 was tedious when it needed to be intuitive and it was slow when I wanted it to be fast. I suppose Carr knew all of this in advance, which is why he gleefully chose to gift me it. And, if I am being honest, the game wasn’t quite as terrible as I make it sound. For the right crowd, this game is quite polished and well done. The tabletop rules give a dimension of depth to an otherwise tired archetype of video games. Blood Bowl 2 managed to create a form of football that I could actually stand which is an accomplishment in it’s own right. Still, after two weeks of listening to Bob say: “I am ready for some blood, Jim,” I think I am quite done with this holiday surprise.