Review: Blood Bowl II: Legendary Edition

Ryan 2017-09-05

Before Warhammer 40k was first published some time in the late ‘80s, someone at Games Workshop took a look at its fantasy IP, and (I can only assume) asked “Why don’t these orcs and humans channel their rage towards each other into sport?”

In that moment of bizarre brilliance, two things were born. One was Games Workshop’s line of “specialty games,” which take elements from their parent setting and build a tightly focussed game around them. These tend to focus on small groups of units, and have persistent levelling mechanics that have made them perfect for computer adaptation – I’ve reviewed, and had fun with Battlefleet Gothic and Mordheim while writing for INN.

The other creation in that moment was Blood Bowl, and while it took a while to evolve into the game we see today, it is amazing. The combination of diverse teams and fantasy species, American football, rugby, RPG mechanics, and a dash of violence somehow comes together to form a really fun game.

Blood Bowl II: Legendary Edition is the latest in a long line of digital adaptations stretching back to the MS-DOS era. After a long history with the franchise, including being sued by Games Workshop for creating a similar game in 2004 before being granted a license, French developer Cyanide has finally nailed adapting Blood Bowl to the PC.

Fundamentals of Blood Bowl

At its core, Blood Bowl is about trying to get the ball into your opponent’s endzone and score touchdowns. This is complicated by the fact that not all units and factions are created equal – ogres and goblins share the same pitch, and are far from the most exotic creatures to play the sport.

For a quick overview, the twenty-four different teams are roughly split into strength and agility focuses, with more exotic factions throwing in little curveballs of their own. A strength team is more likely to succeed by physically dominating the pitch, knocking down and potentially even killing opposing players as they bulldoze their way towards a touchdown. Agility teams are all about technique, making use of handoffs and passes to send the ball flying down the field.

Player skills add another layer of strategy, making units better in ways that go beyond a raw stat increase. This helps specialise units in the early game, and makes skilled, successful characters all the more valuable – they’re better on the field, and you’ll feel their loss a lot more than that of a rookie.

All of this is condensed into a single-player tutorial campaign that introduces new mechanics step-by-step, so don’t worry if it sounds a little overwhelming here.

Solid Presentation

Cyanide has reduced this complexity through an easy-to-read user interface. The game clearly illustrates what each move will involve before you commit to an action, and how likely each step is to succeed. If any special player skills are involved, those are shown as well. While this is pretty simple stuff, it is fundamental to how players interact with the game.

Creating a team is also a breeze. Each potential team has their pros and cons listed in a way that novices can understand, and the auto-create function spits out a competitive roster without the need to delve into detailed fan wikis. One of my few complaints is that you need to buy units one at a time in order to custom name them, instead of being able to rename existing units. Part of the fun is pitting units with a fun naming scheme against each other, and I know that my Skaven (rat-people) team felt the loss of The Great Ratsby more than that of another Skitterscamp Greentooth or what have you.

Getting your newly formed team into battle is pretty easy, too. Joining a ‘league’ (basically a matchmaking pool, although you can fight against AI opponents if you’d prefer) and searching for an opponent is pretty painless. Facing up against dozens of other players went flawlessly from a technology standpoint. Given that I was playing a beta for an updated all-in-one version of a game from late 2015, the matchmaking was surprisingly healthy, and I hope that continues well into the future.

It’s also worth addressing that the game is absolutely gorgeous, a huge visual step up from Cyanide’s last Blood Bowl game. The units look great, plus the animations (especially those for violent blocks and players tripping over) are incredibly satisfying and convey the action well without overstaying their welcome. A few seconds is enough to build excitement over the results of some dice without breaking the flow of the action, or digging into your turn timer.

Cyanide has also leaned heavily into anachronisms when creating the world framing Blood Bowl II: Legendary Edition. Little details like mechanical billboards flipping over, goblins carrying cameras twice their size, and stands packed with a variety of fantasy species putting the ‘fan’ in fanatic really help to sell a sense of excitement with each game.

There’s also a pair of sports commentators who will chime in whenever significant events happen in the game. I’m surprised I haven’t gotten sick of them yet, but they’re easy enough to turn off if you want.

The Takeaway

If you like competitive player-versus-player action and the chance to nurture a team on its way to the top, Blood Bowl will appeal to you in any of its forms. If you’re looking to get into it, Blood Bowl II: Legendary Edition is the best digital adaptation of it that I’ve played. It’s gorgeous, apparently well-populated, and friendly to new players. The fact that my only complaints have to do with not being able to easily name your team has to say something, and I’m a pretty grouchy person.

Legendary Edition is also probably the best way to get into Cyanide’s adaptation. All the teams are included in one package, and going up against wildly different teams is a lot of fun.

Lastly, if you’re interested in the idea but would like to try the game for yourself, you’re in luck. FUMBBL is a free multiplayer implementation of Blood Bowl made by fans. You will need to put in a bit more effort to build a team and find an opponent, but the community welcomes new players, and the core gameplay is identical to that in Blood Bowl II: Legendary Edition.

If you’re already a fan and would like to play a more modern adaptation, or you like the idea of finding out who’d win in a sporting match between Amazons and the undead, take a look at Blood Bowl II: Legendary Edition when it arrives on Steam on September 5.

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  • Alot

    Once upon a time there was a glorious game. That game was called Chaos League. It was a game about fantasy races trying to get a ball to the other end of the field, mauling other species while getting the ball to the end of the field and, on occasion, forgetting about the ball entirely and trying to kill as many opponents as possible before the closing whistle rang or the ref knocked the remainder of your team off the field.

    An expansion was advertised and, epic though the expansion was, Games Workshop noticed some dev group had shamelessly ripped off their IP to make an awesome computer game and payed them a call. The Developers, Cyanide, immediately canned the Chaos League initiative and instead started developing a bloodbowl franchise for Games Workshop – the Chaos League expansion, though released, never made it to global distribution.

    Years later I traveled to Britain and managed to find a single copy of the Chaos League expansion while I was there. It was a good extension but had started to lean in the direction of bloodbowl – namely focusing on restraint based team management rather then forging the ultimate killing, ahem, scoring team.

    Bloodbowl is fun but I found the conversion of a sport to a tile/turn based game to be more jarring then tile/turn based combat games. Fun conceptually but there are just flat out better games to play on boards – digital or otherwise. Chaos League on the other hand was an amazing evolution of a board game where the rules of a table top hobby were beautifully re-imagined into an organically flowing sports bloodbath – may it RIP in peace :<

    Though I'm not sure why its left to a discus gutter dweller to bring to light the tragedies of the Bloodbowl PC Game's dark founding. Bad author -.-

    September 5, 2017 at 2:07 pm
    • Moridin Mandarb Alot

      Thanks for saying what type of game it is. When reading, I was thinking that it might be the spiritual successor to the old great Mutant League Football. But this appears to be a strategy-type game.

      September 5, 2017 at 2:51 pm
      • Thomas Hagan Moridin Mandarb

        I wish there was another Mutant league football, that was an amazing game!

        September 5, 2017 at 9:14 pm