Blood Bowl (Xbox 360)

bloodbowl-48It would have been hard for Cyanide Studios to mess up Blood Bowl; after all, all they had to do was port the well-established board game’s rules to a digitised format and then dress everything up with pretty graphics and sounds. In fact the short version of this review is… yeah, they’ve done that. Job done, move along.


Oh, okay: yes, the game is an accurate port of 5th edition Blood Bowl rules and makes reference to the game’s unique lore (mostly background fluff, that, like “McMoot” sandwiches and other hilarious puns). The board game, for the uninitiated, is a fantasy take on American Football with the violence ramped up to 11 (some entire teams are built around the strategy of injuring the opposition to the point where they can no longer muster an effective defence).

Whilst it’s not a project with a big budget or a major developer behind it the studio have done a mostly excellent job bringing the assorted character models to life and – equally as important – ensuring that an experienced player can discern the class and role of players at a glance, which is a godsend when trying to quickly determine strategy. There are occasional jarring exceptions, like the Goblin Pogoer lacking a stunned animation – instead of lying down the model just freezes in place. That’s honestly really rather shit, but aside from that everything is covered and some of the characters are genuinely brilliant – the dwarf Deathroller is a firm favourite of mine. The audio is simple but effective, and even the commentators manage to be relevant and amusing rather than irritating for at least your first dozen or so games (after which you’ll either tune them out or switch them off, as you’ll have heard everything they have to say).

bloodbowl-40The game does however fall short in quite a few non-key areas. Most obvious of these, to a new player, is in the limited tutorials and help sections. There are three short and simple tutorials that teach you the basics of positioning, movement, passing, catching, blocking, and touchdowns. Unfortunately this is barely enough to get you started against the computer in ‘Easy’ mode, and to learn more the game only offers a series of screens of text that the user can read through. Personally I ignored these and played a match against a friend, who explained the rules in more depth as we went along, and was forgiving as I experimented and tested the game’s boundaries. Later I downloaded the board game’s rulebook in order to understand some of the rules in more detail. But for others who are inexperienced with the boardgame this initial user-unfriendliness could be a deal-breaking hurdle, which is a real shame.

The UI is also unspectacular; it’s not bad but it lacks polish, and some odd navigational decisions are sometimes made. Sometimes it’s not at all obvious how to access certain information on the screen. Relatedly, sometimes it’s not possible to get more information when you desperately want it. For example, when playing against a team of a lower value than yours, they are granted money to spend on inducements which might include star players. Want to check out the details on said star players? You can’t: you’ll have to wait until after you’ve set your formation and the match is underway.

However, the gameplay at the title’s core is still a lot of fun, and there is a thorough campaign mode with plenty of tournaments that I’m finding plenty challenging. An important aspect of Blood Bowl is building a team up through multiple matches and tournaments, over the course of which players will gain new skills and sometimes crippling injuries. This adds a highly personalised element to  your teams, which makes playing matches against friends even more fun. Yes, as I previously mentioned, you can play friends either hotseat or over Xbox Live. Admittedly the one Live match I’ve attempted so far ended with a network failure, but hopefully that was just a rogue glitch*.

There’s also a real-time mode which seems to involve both teams setting moves and actions and seeing them played out simultaneously. Sounds like absolute chaos to me but in the future I might try a campaign in real-time; no doubt it pushes you into adopting very different strategies (no risk of turnovers and a lack of predictability could make for a game involving more passing, for example).

As a budget release, Blood Bowl is a great game. I would hesitate to recommend it at full price but for £20 or less it’s worth snapping up, as the campaign mode is great fun and playing friends online (whilst cursing one another over XBL Party Chat) is a great way to spend an hour or two. One note, however: the PC version also includes multiplayer tournaments, so you might prefer to go for that version instead. I believe there’s also an updated PC version that includes some additional teams – but hopefully this will be released for the 360 as DLC. Fingers, claws and talons crossed…

Blood Bowl official site | Cyanide Studios

*I’ll update this review if I experience more such problems, as people must be told…

3 Responses to “Blood Bowl (Xbox 360)”
  1. Shaun CG says:

    An addendum: all of the Xbox Live games I’ve attempted to play have experienced connection issues and occasionally game-breaking hangs. One such example is where a player with the ‘Sure Feet’ skill is blocked and pushed. The game seems to get confused about which player has control; neither player can do anything until the turn times out.

    There are a lot of other bugs. Cyanide appear to have done a shockingly poor job of porting their multiplayer code to Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, and they don’t currently appear to be devoting any resources to fixing this code. It’s highly disappointing, although the offline modes are still great fun.

  2. Vampros says:

    As a hardcore PC gamer…. YEA YOU BITCHES!!! SUCK THE PORTED FIST OF THE GAMES INDUSTRY!!! we pc gamers have had to put up with crappy port after crappy port for countless titles….but one shit port from pc to a console and “thw world has gone to shit, take War for cybertron, the pc port has no update support period, and no access to dlc guitar hero 3 for pc 1 update, no dlc EVERi can keep going but now you guys know what we pc gamers have had for ages

  3. Shaun CG says:

    I’m not sure if the above comment is specific to this post or cross-posted to numerous blog posts about ported PC titles. Still, it’s kinda on-topic so I’ll respond.

    For whatever it’s worth I’ve been a PC gamer since about 1988, back before ports even existed. I’m no platform fanboy, however, except for a period of about 12 months when there was genuinely no reason for anyone to own a PS3. ;)

    Poor-quality ports are always disappointing, no matter the suffering platform, and criticism should always be levelled at the developer who did poor work or the publisher who failed to financially support a good porting job. There shouldn’t be a “them and us” attitude about it. That line of thought lessens the games industry for everyone.

    UPDATE: A second addition to the above review… I ended up buying a copy of Blood Bowl for the PC in a Steam sale earlier this year. It was only a few quid and includes additional teams and content that may never make it to console. Cyanide’s efforts do seem to be particularly focused on the PC version (and their new titles, understandably). The lack of 360 support is very disappointing, and if like me you’re a multi-platform gamer I would recommend the PC version over the 360 version.