Turn number eighteen, there’s only a few minutes left and the game is tied … it’s now or never. Do I risk having the character holding the ball try to run past two opponents and into the touchdown zone? or do I pass the spiked pig-skin to one of my runners and set up a safer play? Taking a deep breath I select my player and have him make a run for it. He dodges the first opponent, phew! Still not out of the woodwork though, another opponent to pass and the whole time I know there’s only a 67 per cent chance he’ll miss me … the huge orc sticks his leg out and catches my running player below the knee, bringing him down hard into the pitch, the ball slipping from his hands – along with my hopes of winning.
September 22 marked the worldwide release of Blood Bowl 2, the sequel to the turn-based Warhammer cross American Football strategy game. This time the creators have offered a pleasant surprise for old fans and new players, with a new graphics engine which makes the world of difference to the overall quality, not to mention the title’s addition of a compelling, story-driven solo campaign.
The campaign kicks off by showing a recap of the Reikland Reavers last game, in a short montage of brutal hip and shoulder tackles each player is ceremoniously knocked down by a stronger competition. You’re quickly thrown into the coaches seat, with a tutorial game, to get used to the basic controls and to bed-down how the game will play. The campaign continues holding your hand for the first couple of matches, slowly adding challenging layer after layer. By the fifth match you’ll find yourself controlling a game where dropping the ball, or failing a tackle attempt forces a turnover. Turn-based strategy games aren’t my typical go-to genre, so for me getting used to the pace and having to think a few steps ahead was something new. I would love to say that as I continued to play the campaign mode, I increased my skill and my enjoyment for the game, however only one of the two is true. Despite gaining a better understanding of how the game flows and what the AI-controlled competitors might do in any given situation, it was the constant game altering, and for lack of a better word – random – occurrences that would take place, that drove me crazy. I’m speaking of having a referee inexplicably tackle one of my characters during a game, forcing a turn-over. Or having the weather suddenly change, just as the ball soars through the air into one of my characters’ open arms. Of course the rain has made it slippery and he drops it. This wouldn’t be an issue if the newly altered weather continued, however just as quickly as the storm appeared, it left. I found myself confused and frustrated after losing a 45 minute match due to some of these random events. I’m comfortable with being beaten based on skill, but when you have on one side, a faceless AI competitor and on the other, what can only be described as a fun-destroying system, it’s hard to really get into the game. A similar frustration is felt toward the nature of how moves are decided. Attempting to attack the opposition will result in dice being rolled. Although this is the way the Warhammer board game plays, I imagine having your dice land on a side which causes the move to backfire being amusing when playing with friends, but when it’s AI you can’t help but feel hopeless and completely at the mercy of chance, despite it being a turn-based strategy game. In saying that, there are some pleasant distractions which add to the challenge like when a flying goblin crashes his plane into the field, creating a dangerous obstacle to have to negotiate.
It’s within the multiplayer modes where Blood Bowl 2 really lands the touch down. All of the frustrations with the solo campaign take a back seat when you face up against another player. Both of you are dealing with the same random occurrences and despite the game having an element of chance involved, being on a level playing field means the real strategy begins. The multiplayer is persistent, meaning that every team you create gains experience from the matches you play, with your players earning star player points (SPP) and their levels increasing. You can invest a lot of time and effort into these players’ individual attributes, but beware as players can be injured and even killed during games. Deaths are final, meaning they’re permanent. This risk, coupled with the fact that players age and eventually retire means you’ll need to hire rookies and train them up to replace exiting players.