Friday, 5 April 2013

The bigger they are, the harder we fall on them...

...was the motto of my brother's Blood Bowl team years ago which I came up with. Since I've had Blood Bowl on the brain for a while now (pretty much since starting watching youtube videos of the TGS Blood Bowl League), I figure I should write a blog post about it.

OK, so people may not be familiar with Blood Bowl, but I imagine they're more likely to have heard of Warhammer. Blood Bowl is basically a cross between Warhammer and American Football.
A tabletop representation of a fictional ball game which puts more or less equal emphasis on actually getting the ball and scoring touchdowns on the one hand, and beating up the enemy team on the other, set in a fantasy world which is incredibly similar to that of Warhammer, if not intended to be quite the same.

Blood Bowl, thinking about it, was actually one of my first ever regular gaming sessions, when I joined in a league with my brother and his friends. Though we house ruled some aspects of the game without (I think) realising we'd done so, which somewhat changed the dynamics of it, making it an interesting experience for me now coming back to it and observing how it works when you play it properly.

Of course, in considering my liking of Blood Bowl, I must inevitably compare it to that better known money-producing juggernaut Games Workshop game, Warhammer. But, leaving aside that I seem to recall there were some bits of Warhammer rules which simply didn't appeal to me, Blood Bowl is simpler and therefore both easier in some ways and more immediately strategic in others.
To explain, Blood Bowl obviously is easier than Warhammer in that you need less models, there's therefore less to keep track of (And pay for if you want the proper ones), the playing area is smaller, no need for terrain features, and so on. And then there aren't so many weird and wacky specific units with their own individual rules and restrictions - the basic stuff is simple. You can move, pick up the ball and throw it around, and hit the enemy team. There are more details, and there are some weird and wacky individual things, but you don't generally start with them. Oh, also to return to my comment on the expense, Warhammer is continually bringing out new versions of the rulebooks which you have to keep buying if you want to keep up. The Blood Bowl Living Rulebook has been updated a fair amount, but it's available for free on the internet.
As to the strategy comment, as I said, there's less to keep track of in Blood Bowl. Only 11 players on the pitch for each team. Because there is less to keep track of, it's easier to keep track of it, and you're generally free to move your players around to fit with whatever strategic considerations you feel are most important at the time. Now obviously I'm not saying Warhammer is too much to keep track of, or that you can't be strategic with it - obviously there's a lot of strategy there, in manoeuvring your units around the battlefield, trying to flank your opponent, pick your fights, etc. It's fairly complicated, which is my point really. Because it's more complicated, and seems to me to require more knowledge of the rules, I feel it must be harder to just jump into and have some idea of what to do, and I can't be bothered. Whereas Blood Bowl is easier to jump into, but does still have more to it, for someone looking for the learning curve and skill ceiling.
Oh, and you get to level up your players over time in an ongoing league. Much more interesting than picking units with fixed stats for each battle. So goes my personal preference.

I think I went a decent way there to explaining why I like the game. It seems to me sometimes that it shouldn't be too complicated, and I should be able to just figure everything out, but then it's never that simple in an actual game even without allowing for the ability of the dice to screw you over with bad luck. In the end, it all comes down to managing the risks you have to take, preferably forcing your opponent to take bigger ones, and quite crucially, doing things in the right order, because some things will end your turn prematurely if they go wrong (i.e. if the dice decide to screw you over).
Dice screwing you over is another important point I'm coming to consider now. I think when I was playing Blood Bowl regularly I took it too seriously and got too frustrated when I lost (Partly because of my aforementioned feeling that I should be able to just figure everything out). One shouldn't really be too serious and competitive and incredibly invested in a game where luck can make everything go wrong for you in so devastating a fashion. If you're less seriously invested, you can take it in your stride and laugh at the ridiculousness of it when the 1/46656 chance happens and your star Troll manages to kill himself trying to beat up a Halfling.

The game is clearly designed partly with the intention of being funny - in fact one of the more disappointing points about it is that there isn't scope in the rules to do some of the crazy stunts described in the fluff text - though obviously it would unbalance the game somewhat if it was possible to use explosives to blow up the opposing team's dugout with them in it, during half time... On the other hand, there are rules for fielding players with chainsaws, bribing the referee, hiring wizards to throw fireballs at your opponents, throwing your smaller team-mates around the pitch (Or in some cases, eating them, if you roll badly) and so on, so one can't complain too much on that count.

I'm not sure what else to say, since I'm not going to get into explaining the rules. Oh, of course the above-mentioned TGS Blood Bowl League which I've been watching is using the computer game version made by Cyanide Studio. I've never actually played it, and see little reason to, because I understand it's exactly the same as the board game, which I have in the house. I suppose it does have fancy animations, you get to see nice looking versions of the different players (Which is nice in some cases, since there aren't actually official Games Workshop models for some of them...) and one can play against the AI rather than having to find an opponent. So maybe I might get it if I have the money spare at some point. On the other hand, apparently it doesn't explain itself very well - not a problem for me because I already know the rules, but I understand it didn't try that hard to be easily accessible for new players. If you have a friend who plays the game (e.g. me), going for a tabletop game with them might be an easier way of learning it if interested.

...I wasn't entirely sure when I started this blog post what the point of it was. I suppose it's ended up as kind of a review of the game? But not a very clearly directed one, with the result that I'm not really sure how to conclude the post. I guess I'll just have to go for it.
Oh. Damn.

I am stunned, and therefore unable to finish this blog post.

(Going for it is a thing you can do in Blood Bowl to move further but if you roll a 1 you fall over and can potentially injure yourself it is a hilarious joke)

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