Personally, American football has always been a double edged sword to me. On one of its sharp ends, it’s a sport that’s relatively easy to follow and understand, while on the other, the matches take way too long and their pacing is incredibly boring to me. So after hearing about the original Blood Bowl and how it melded football mechanics within the tactical confines of a game like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I just had to check out what its sequel was all about.
Blood Bowl 2 is, in a nutshell, a fun and simplified dice roll board-based tactical game with the potential to really suck you in, if you manage to get past its roughness. It basically splits a football field in squares, with two teams playing head to head, in a turn-based fashion, under the guise of the Warhammer franchise, i.e with plenty of violence, dirty humor, and orcs. While the notion of having football taking place in turns might sound a tad confusing, it does a satisfactory job of easing you in by slowly introducing all of the mechanics of play, match by match.
The main issue with Blood Bowl 2 comes in when you’re actually trying to play the dang game for real. Given the nature of play and having to command each player individually, turns have the natural tendency of taking a while. Matches are split into 16 interchangeable turns that end whenever a player drops the ball or have one of their players knocked out. While a turn might go on quickly if one of the sides happens to get a bad dice roll right away, it takes an absurd amount of time for computer controlled teams to make decisions, even when simply moving players and not engaging in any plays.
This basically killed the pacing of most of the games I’ve played within Blood Bowl 2. That’s made even worse by the fact that you cannot quicksave nor quit the game without losing progress during these extremely long enemy turns. Once you’re in, you’re stuck in there for a while. It’s an even rougher point when you consider Blood Bowl’s ironic tabletop origins, where you can easily stop a game at any time, for any reason, and pick it up later.
During the rare times matches play out in a more fluid pace, specially after unlocking access to all of the game’s gameplay features post-tutorial, Blood Bowl 2 does manage to shine in its quirky unpredictability. In its heart, it’s a game that heavily relies on luck, so a lot of the same hysterically comic situations you ran into in XCOM – like having a 99% success rate shot missing – in Blood Bowl 2, a three dice roll coming in from your huge ogre ending with him getting slapped on his cheeks by a goblin is entirely possible. All plays are a gamble, much like real football. For as ridiculous or unfair as it might seem, there’s no single play that’s a sure bet, even if you decide to be a jerk and turtle with the ball, you can always have your rug pulled off from under your feet by an opponent’s lucky set of dice rolls. That makes putting a smart and varied team together paramount so that you can try and deal with the unpredictable nature of Blood Bowl 2.
Still, even with its many pacing issues that will challenge the most patient of players, Blood Bowl 2 is on a level of its own, since frankly enough, it carries a ridiculously unique premise for a game. While it surely borrows the best elements from its tabletop counterpart, mainly its theme, look and rules, it’s its smart combination of established tactical videogame tropes that makes it stand out. On the other hand, would Blood Bowl 2 still be worth a recommendation if it didn’t deal such a singular football experience? Well, if we stripped away that element as well as its license and how it was handled by Cyanide Studios, there would still be a decent, but ultimately flawed tactical game that’s easily surpassed by its competition.
Thankfully enough, Blood Bowl 2 does have that going for it. It’s just so different from the anything else in the tactical genre. While its blemishes are likely to detract from your overall enjoyment of the game, the amount of humor and clever writing via the entertaining exchanges between the commentators before and during matches, as well as its fun gameplay and the variety of ways you can deal with team composition make struggling to the end zone a worthwhile fight.