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Warhammer and football. While at a distance these two things have nothing in common, they on closer inspection are revealed to be a match made in heaven. Football (we're talking about the American version here) is a sport in which two teams of men built like brick backhouses run over one another in an effort to carry a piece of pigskin into a small endzone, harnessing the primitive rage of millions of spectators. Warhammer is a fantasy game about men, and other creatures, beating the hell out of each other, harnessing the primitive rage of millions of avid hobbyists and gamers. The only real difference between these two groups of fans is that the spectators of football like to talk about engines and the Bud Girls' boobs, while the fans of Warhammer like to talk about RAM and Tricia Helfer's boobs.
The first recognition of the similarities took place over two decades ago and resulted in a modification of Warhammer table-top rules called Blood Bowl. Using the Warhammer universe and a set of turn-based rules, Blood Bowl made football appear interesting to some of the thinnest, most basement-bound waifes in existence. Now, Cyanide Studios of France brings Blood Bowl to the PC. Does this new virtual version do the board gaming classic justice?
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While Blood Bowl is a game about football, its link to the rules of real football is tenuous at best. This is not Madden '09: Warhammer edition. There are no field goals, no downs, and the only thing that sometimes counts as a foul is kicking an opponent in the gut after he's been smacked to the ground. The goal is still to run or pass the ball into the end-zone, of course, but comparisons end there. That said, the basic elements of strategy do have a resemblance to the real-life sport. Control of the territory around whichever player carries the ball is the key to victory. Like many good strategy games, the basic elements are easy to understand, but mastering the strategy takes a lot of effort. Just as the player understands the basics, they gain the chance to upgrade their players with special feats, adding to the strategic depth.
The core turn-based gameplay of Blood Bowl is a hoot, but it does require a certain frame of mind. As said, Blood Bowl is a very direct translation of the board game. Not much has changed, and this includes issues related to balance. Some of the races are without a doubt harder to play, but then fairness isn't what Blood Bowl is all about. There is always the chance that even a well-executed play well fail because of a die landing on the wrong side and causing a unexpected turnover. Which, by the way, literally means that the player's turn is over, not that the ball has been turned over to the other side. This randomness is both good and bad. While it keeps the game fresh and surprising, it also can lead to bursts of bad luck which can become extremely frustrating.
Besides the turn-based mode, Blood Bowl includes a sloppy real-time option. It is extremely hectic and frustrating. Why it was even included isn't clear, as it adds nothing to the game. There is also a significant team-building aspect, as players will level up over time. It works just as in the board game, and does a great job of bonding the player to the little guys on the field. However, there aren't that many ways to customize player aesthetically, which would have been a nice addition. As it stands, one linebacker looks more or less the same any other.
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Graphics and Presentation
Blood Bowl was developed on a small enough budget, and with a small enough team, that calling it an indie game would probably not be a stretch of the term. The graphics obviously were not a priority. Despite being new, Blood Bowl looks like a game that has been out for five or six years. This by itself is not really a problem, as technically inferior graphics can be made attractive by imaginative textures or great animation, but Blood Bowl obviously makes no effort. Having played the original Dawn Of War, which appears rather similar at first glance, it is disappointing that flavorful attack animations were not included. The death of a player includes none of the expected gore. The player simply drops to the field with a small Skull icon appearing over his body. Sounds are similarly serviceable. They're there, but they're far from interesting.
There are also some issues with the interface. Like the in-game graphics, the game's interface lacks flair. Worse, it is also confusing and clunky. Just going into a game can be a strange experience, as there area several different steps, including the purchasing of bonuses and the training of players, which are not well explained and which are marred by an interface which does nothing to assist the player in understanding. The multi-player interface is also poor. The listing of available players is inaccurate and understanding the league play interface is likely impossible without making a trip to the game's forums.
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Value and Verdict
Despite the interface and graphics problems, Blood Bowl is fresh enough that most turn-based gamers will find it both surprising and exciting. There aren't many games available for any platform which provide the same quirky, but strategically deep, sports-based gameplay. Blood Bowl also has a wild card in its favor - the community. The community has the classic "small town" vibe. Players generally behave well, and even spending a few days in public multi-player is enough to start noticing some familiar faces. In today's gaming culture it is rare to find such mild-mannered communities, making multi-player Blood Bowl fun even against strangers.
Unfortunately, there is an elephant in the room - the price. Blood Bowl is far from a triple-A title and the market for PC gamers offers consumers a lot of wonderful deals, even on big-budget titles which are only a few months old. This makes Blood Bowl's price of $49.99 feel quite steep. There is no doubt that Blood Bowl is a game that is better than the sum of its parts might imply. Yet it just doesn't feel like a game that is worth $49.99. And considering how off-putting the poor tutorials and unique gameplay is to new players, it is hard to recommend this game to just anyone. Veterans of turn-based strategy would be wise to pick this one up, but anyone else should wait until the game's price drops.