Sports! I’ve got to admit, They’re not my favourite past time. However, back in the late 90s one sporting simulation did grab my attention. I used to play 40k in the local Games Workshop store, for the record I was an Ulthwé Eldar player. I remember one time there was a pair of guys having an absolute blast playing something that wasn’t any Warhammer I recognised.
It was a sports game based loosely off of American Football. But instead of big armoured burly men, there was a goblin with some sort of chainsaw cutting people down. And there was also some other orc thing bouncing about on a pogo stick. This was my first introduction to the world of Blood Bowl, and I was hooked.
So, for the uninitiated at the back, this is Blood Bowl. It’s a two-player sports game set in the Warhammer fantasy universe. There are many, many teams you can play as. Each of the teams can feel quite different from each other and will appeal to different play types. Orc teams tend to be heavy hitters who rely on bludgeoning their way to scoring. Other teams may rely more on the technical play, or just straight up cheating. More on that later though.
The second season box contains everything you will need to get started and take your first steps into the wonderful and weird world of Blood Bowl. You will find a lovely hardback rulebook, a double-sided pitch with dugouts, a pile of dice, some rulers, templates and tokens. And of course, some players. The two teams you will find in the box come from the Imperial Nobility faction and the Black Orc faction.
These are both fairly standard teams who have fairly straight forward unique rules to play. Be warned, however. These teams come on sprues and need to be glued together. This is not the push-fit style of miniatures that Games Workshop have been using in some of their entry-level games recently. So put aside an afternoon to cut and construct these miniatures.
These are only two of the factions available though. There are many more available to purchase separately as well as a few unique, star players that you can pick up too. The rules and descriptions of these teams can be found in the main rule book, so you can get a feel for how a team may work for you before you buy though.
Once you’ve built up your models and read the rules you can go about your first game of Blood Bowl. Each player will take on the role of head coach for their team. You’ll be responsible for hiring and firing your players as well as any support staff and special abilities you may want. There are two main ways to play Blood Bowl. Exhibition play will have two coaches facing off against each other in a one-off match. On the other hand, League play will have your team evolving and (hopefully) improving over several matches.
While the exhibition mode is fine, it is in league play that blood bowl really shines. This will require a group of likeminded individuals, but you will be amazed what a note at the cash desk of your local friendly game store can do. Whichever mode you are playing, the core of the game is the same.
Time to Kick-Off
Each team will field 11 players. You can tweak the make-up of your team within the limits of your faction. You can also bring some support staff, assistant coaches and cheerleaders, along to help. These support staff will help you with a few of the dice rolls you’ll be making during the matchup. And you will be making a lot of dice rolls.
A Blood Bowl match has two halves, and each half comprises of 8 rounds. At the beginning of the match, you’ll roll for weather conditions which will potentially change the rules of play. Hot weather could have your players passing out from the heat whereas rain might have players bogged down and losing agility.
The players will then take turns moving their players, passing, blocking and blitzing in order to try and score a touchdown. Your turn may end early however if one of your players falls over or drops the ball. This will generally have coaches making their ‘safer’ moves first before finishing with the risky stuff that could go wrong. Sometimes though, you’ll need to make that risky move first to make sure your players are all in the right place.
At each kickoff, players will roll some dice and consult an events table to see what happens. These can range wildly from something as simple as changing the weather to a full-on pitch invasion by the fans. During the game, you’ll be looking for an opening to make a run through, or even picking up the ball carrier and throwing them over the heads of the other team.
Keep Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’….
Pretty much every time you do something, you’ll be rolling against one of the stats for your player. Some players are more agile and are better at dodging when they are moving near an opposing player. Others are stronger and will hit harder when they tackle. Each dice roll you make is a chance for your team to fumble and for your turn to be over.
Because of this, Blood bowl is a strange game to describe. Normally games lie somewhere on the line of random to skill-based. Your 100% skill-based are games like chess, or my personal preference Onitama, (Maybe that’ll be the focus of the Queens Gambit season 2?) Then you’ve got completely random games of chance at the other game of the scale. Somehow, Blood Bowl is both skills-based and random. And this will annoy some people.
You need to go in with a healthy attitude, knowing that a decent chunk of the time your carefully laid out plans will just go horribly wrong due to some bad dice rolls. I am not joking when I say a bad dice roll can have one of your players eating another one of your players. You can mitigate this to a degree by buying re-rolls, but never completely. That said, it will likely happen to your opponent just as much as it happens to you so it’s best to just go with it.
However, having said this game will have you at the whim of dice, a good coach with a well set up team will likely always best a new player. Skill seems to be just as important as chance in this game. And again, there are ways to mitigate this to make things more fun for new players. The teams in Blood Bowl fall into one of three tiers. You can give the stronger team to the new player and the more ‘stunty’ team to the more experienced player.
Stunty teams in Blood Bowl tend to play better when using some of the more niche and situational rules. These teams require a different approach to play well. It’s probably worth mentioning that the two teams in the starter box are middling tier 2 teams.
Welcome to the Big Leagues, Kid
I want to talk a little bit more about the league play. This is where the game is at its best. After each matchup, players will develop. Some will earn new skill points and abilities. Whereas the unluckier players may develop injuries or even a mild case of death. Because of this, your team feels like a living thing. You will have some snot-nosed players. They just happen to have the stars align, earn a bunch of experience and get some good stat boosts and abilities.
You’ll equally have some players who happen to cross the wrong side of an angry troll and get killed for the trouble. You can buy and sell new players as well as new team abilities. For example, it may be worth putting in the time so you can make bribing the referees a little easier so more decisions go your way.
It really does feel like a little community when you get a bunch of people together to play out a league over a month or two. Some players and teams will become legendary for their exploits whereas others will fade away to obscurity. I really like that about Blood Bowl and would definitely recommend trying to play it this way if you can.
This box is a great way to get started playing Blood Bowl. The rule book is a particular highlight chock full of lore to set the scene done in the way that only Games Workshop seem to know how to do well. The models are brilliant. It is probably worth mention that there are some excellent painting tutorials on the Games Workshop YouTube channel. Also, this edition of Blood Bowl is very backwards compatible.
There are rules and new stat sheets available for a lot of old teams that won’t have models made for this edition. Meaning you will most likely be able to bring an old team out of retirement if you fancied it.
The Wise Coach and his Inspirational Speech
Blood Bowl itself is getting on for 30 years old at this point. It has had many rules revisions and tweaks over the years with this second season edition being the most recent. As such, what it sets out to do, it does very well indeed. My only real criticisms seem relatively minor. The game could probably do with a quick start guide as the rule book clocks in at a little over 130 pages. There are cheat sheets in the box for each team which helpfully contain all the special rules for each team which is good. But it also, for example, doesn’t tell you how many rounds are in the game, so you can’t really use them as quick start guides.
Also, as much as the game box says that it is ‘A complete game for two players’, that is not strictly the case. There are abilities that the rule book mentions that require supplementary card packs that aren’t included in the box. I'm not bothered by the heap of other teams, dice and stadiums. You could buy to mix things up and expand your experience. But these cards being an extra for a special ability that can be used by any team when they could’ve been included in the box feels a little bit cheeky to me.
On the whole, though, Blood Bowl is a really good tabletop sports game. It has its tongue held firmly in its cheek. This new edition has had its stats streamlined. Designed keep you playing the game as much as possible. You're not having to pause to look up player statistics during every move. There are alternatives to Blood Bowl out there that put their own twist on the tabletop football game. But to me, Blood Bowl is the original and best with this second season box is a great way to get into this game and community