In 1987, Games Workshop decided that football didn’t feature enough Orcs with spiked armor. So, it transformed the old gridiron sport into an ultraviolent tabletop game of war. Over twenty years have passed since the birth of Blood Bowl - and even though there’s lots of strategy for newcomers and veterans of the tabletop game to enjoy, the 2009 edition of Blood Bowl for the PC falls just short of the gory touchdown it deserves.
As you alternate turns with your opponent, you’ll try to score touchdowns or take down the enemy ball carrier. Players in movement are automatically attacked by adjacent opponents, and one targeted tackle is granted per turn. The basics are simple, and you’ll need to build some strategies to succeed, but your players’ fates are ultimately determined by die rolls.
You’ll need to properly balance a player’s stats against die rolls if you’re going to successfully slip through an enemy’s tackle zone or defend against an attack. The unpredictability of random rolls leads to a lot of tension during each turn, and we were constantly wondering if we’d make a killer play or just get killed. It’s deeply satisfying to succeed, and soul-crushing to fail. But what’s life without a little risk? This tension adds a bit of a gambler’s high that’ll keep you on your toes with strategies to hedge your bets and the occasional Hail Mary where you lay it all on the line.
There are some unnecessary frustrations, though. Veteran units should be able to defend against the AI’s foolish cherry picking and risky moves, but even the best tactician can’t beat the AI when Lady Luck herself is cheering for the other team. There are times when the AI gets so lucky that we wonder if it’s luck at all. Seeing the other team make miracle passes that span the entire field and perfectly dodge four consecutive tackle zones had us cursing and crying foul.
It doesn’t help that Blood Bowl has a rough learning curve to begin with, and feels inaccessible at times. The terrible tutorial does an atrocious job of teaching you to play, leaving you with the wild strategies of the extra-lucky AI as your only mentor to model your own tactics after. With eight unique races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, it’s tough to wrap your head around the finer points of the game.