A lot of careful planning and strategy happens in sports. Coaches and their teams have to intelligently craft different positions on the court or the field, which they then must evolve based on the what the opposing team does. Moves and plays are drawn up, and they constantly have to be new or unique, so the other team won’t have an idea on how to counter it. And that’s only scratching the surface of how strategical sports are. Blood Bowl 2, the newly released part board game, part football game, takes all of those strategic elements to heart, and ends up creating a complex, yet fun, experience.
Time to Learn
I would be lying if I said Blood Bowl 2 doesn’t have a steep learning curve. Luckily, it also has a very long and playable tutorial, which comes in the form of the game’s main Campaign mode. Here, players take on the role of the Reikland Reavers, a human team that until recently, had lost far more games than they won. The Campaign consists of a large number of games, all weaved together through a loose story that seeks to tell the tale of the team’s past, present, and future. The first game begins with almost no features or controls available to the player, and every game afterwards adds one or two new features, allowing the player to gradually take in and absorb all the different rules and mechanics.
And there are a whole lot of rules and mechanics. The game is played like a board game, since it is based on the real life board game of the same name, but it also keeps the core rules of American football. The main goal of each game is to score more touchdowns than the opposing team, which will effectively give you more points and win the game. To do this, players must rely on turn-based movement and dice rolling.
Roll of the Dice
There are a total of 16 rounds per game, with halftime (and a halftime kickoff) occurring after the eighth round. Every turn, players can each take one turn, which allows them to move their entire team of 11 players. That means they can literally move the players across the field, tackle opposing characters, blitz characters, or even run with/pass the ball. Of course, being as it is a board game, most of these actions require dice to be rolled. Trying to tackle a player? Well, first a die needs to be rolled to see if you knock him down, or if he knocks you down, or if you both fall down, or if you just push him. Then, let’s say you do knock him down. More dice need to be rolled to see if you break his armor and stun him. Or, what if you are trying to make a player run further than he is supposed to run? Well, he will maybe trip and wipe himself out, based on if you roll certain numbers with the dice or not. Luckily, most of these dice rolls occur off-screen, with text appearing to say what happened.
But, the die or dice that are required when a tackle is being made is shown on the screen, and it will come up a lot. Blood Bowl 2 is a very physical game, even more so than real football is. Instead of normal tackles, punches and body slams are made, and they can cause some real damage. Not only can enemies be knocked down or stunned, but they can also be knocked out and taken out of the game, or they can be injured, or they can even die. If injured, players will generally be taken out of the game, and they can also incur permanent penalties to their stats, making them slower (they won’t move as many spaces per turn), or weaker, or something else. If they die, well, then they are permanently removed from the game.
Having a player die can be a real bummer, especially if he or she is a high level. See, besides containing a lot of strategy game elements, Blood Bowl 2 also has some RPG elements. If players do well during a game, meaning if they deal some damage or score some points, then they gain experience points. Earn enough, they level up, and you can pick out some new skills for them. There are a huge amount of skills to chose from, including ones that allow players to block certain tackles, incur more injuries, and more. This allows for players to be deeply customized.
Teams can also be customized. Since Blood Bowl 2 is based in the Warhammer universe, teams don’t simply consist of humans, but they also consist of orcs, dark elves, skaven, and more. Each team can only consist of players of one race, and each race has a different set of strengths and weakness. For example, one race might be great at blocking, but is slow, or vice versa. If playing one of the other game modes, League mode, players get to create their own team. That means a race, a team name, a motto, team colors, and more can be chosen and customized.
Blood Bowl 2 Review – Not Your Average Football Game (PS4)
Besides customizing those somewhat superficial things in League mode, players are also charged with creating their own team. Players need to be hired, sponsors need to be obtained, a stadium needs to be picked out, and people like cheerleaders and assistant coaches need to be hired to provide boosts. On top of that, before each game, players can used money that they have earned from previous games to take advantage of various perks, such as bribing a referee to give unfair penalties to the opposing players, or even having the referee attack them. There are a lot of these perks, making it difficult to decide where your money should go. New players always need to be bought, since not only can players die on the field, but they also age, and after a certain number of matches, they grow too old to play and need to retire.
Is It Broken?
Despite all the amazingly complex and strategic elements to Blood Bowl 2, there is one major issue with the game — the AI takes way too long to make decisions. Each turn has a time limit, and usually that time limit is set between two and four minutes. If a player does nothing but deliberate their move for two to four minutes, then their turn is over. On more than one occasion, the AI too literally over two minutes to decide what to do when the limit was four minutes, and over a minute when the limit was two minutes. The first time it happened, I thought the game was frozen. It said it was the AI’s turn, but nothing was happening. No players were moving and no actions were taking place. Then, two and a half minutes later, the first of the eleven players began moving around the field. If the AI takes two minutes each turn to pick what to do, and then another minute to do it, that means it will take the AI (16 x 3) 48 minutes of game time in a match. That doesn’t even factor in how long it will take you, the player, to make decisions. Thus, it goes without saying that many games take far, far too long, especially if you are forced to replay a game in Campaign mode (that happens if you lose a game).
However, if you can get past the long AI turns and the generally long matches, then Blood Bowl 2 is worth buying. Not only does it offer a fun, strategic take on American football, but it also introduces many unique elements, such as a permanent injury system and leveling up players, that allow the title to transcend past typical sport titles.
Blood Bowl 2 review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.