Blood Bowl: Of super skinks and broken dreams

Blood Bowl is without question my favourite miniature gaming system of all time. Before we get to exactly why that is, a brief explanation of what it’s all about is probably in order.

Bloow Bowl is a tabletop simulation of something between Rugby and American Football, set in a small, time-frozen reality bubble in the Warhammer Universe. It was designed by Jervis Johnson and first published by Games Workshop in 1986. In a game of Blood Bowl, teams off Elves, Goblins, Dwarves and other fantastical races beat the hell out of each other whilst occasionally trying to score a touchdown.

The time-frozen bubble thing is important because it is set in an era where there was still a strong element of tongue-in-cheek comedy to the way that GW made its games, as opposed to the “Grimdark” of the last decade or so. In Blood Bowl it’s more than likely you’ll encounter a mushroom addled Goblin bouncing his way towards the goal line on a pogo-stick, pursued by a drunk dwarf driving a spike-enhanced lawnmower.

It was designed for continuous league play, in which coaches (people like you and I) can develop their teams by buying new players, coaching staff and magical assistance (the ever precious re-rolls) and in which individual players can be improved through earning Star Player Points through various achievements (mainly hurting opposing players or scoring touch downs). These give them access to new abilities or statistics increases just like in any other RPG. It’s a characterful and fun game with a decent element of on pitch tactics (including risk management!!) and long term strategy for team progression. However, and this is the reason some deluded fools don’t like it, it also comes with a above average helping of luck!

stranglers group 2

Blood Bowl’s patron god is Nuffle, and he is a capricious master. To provide some context – If the average player (hereby defined as a human lineman) happens to get knocked over then there is a ~0.8% chance that he will be permanently dead. For an elf that figure is 1% and for an Orc it’s about 0.5%. This assumes that he is also knocked over by an average player, and that no apothecary is on hand with a magic spunge. That chance goes up really fast if the person that hit him has the prerequisite skills. Worse still if the player is pushed into the crowd the odds soar to ~ 2.8%. Blood Bowl fans are a vicious bunch.

That doesn’t seem so bad until you realise that Blood Bowl is played with just two dice being rolled in most situations. This leads to very spiky statistics in games, and if you are on the wrong end of a Nuffling [the technical term for when the dice hate you all game] it can all go south very, very quickly.

It’s a game system that brings swings of emotion very fast and I think that is why I love it so much. If you play Warhammer or 40k, you will be used to seeing vast swathes of your troops getting mown down in a single turn, but that’s ok because next game the unit will be back on its feet and fighting fit. The same applies to Soontir Fel in a game of X-Wing.

In a Blood Bowl league, death is permanent, there’s no coming back. Lose a highly developed star and it can ruin the season or at least spoil your results for a few game weeks whilst you develop a new star. The game fosters an emotional engagement that few others do.

The same is true of GWs other persistent games also – Mordheim and Necromunda – but they never really kept my attention in the same way that Blood Bowl has, nor did they garner the same fanbase. Talk to any long term player of GW games and you will most likely find that Blood Bowl is fondly remembered or still often played.

The safest bet to not losing your temper over a dead super star? Take Death’s own advice on the subject: DONT THINK OF IT AS DYING. THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.

Burningbladesteam

I currently own a total of 8 bloodbowl teams, with one more on the way via an IndieGoGo campaign. I have GW’s own Norse, Lizardman, Skaven and Dark Elf teams (now all sadly out of print). I also have Pro Elf and Dark Elf teams from MK1881 (www.maki-games.com) and their Wood Elf (Cabiri) team is currently doing nicely in its crowd funding efforts. Finally, I own Greebo’s (www.greebo-games.com) Sno team, which I’m running as a Norse team in the local league (www.ordobowl.com). Pro and Dark Elf teams both need painting and I’ll post separate blogs about those at some point in the not-too-distant future.

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