Blood Bowl II is the sequel to the original Blood Bowl, first a board game and then a video game set in the Warhammer universe where two teams play a turn-based American-football-inspired match, and where the goal is to score touchdowns while trying to survive your opponent’s vicious attacks. Turning a board game into a video game is always a risky process and one that sees developers having to adapt the title to make it appealing for a broader audience. It is here that Cyanide, the team behind Blood Bowl II, fails, producing a title that seems to be aimed at a specific audience and that struggles to reel in new players and RPG-lovers alike.
Blood Bowl II is essentially a game of chances.
The title introduces new players to Blood Bowl through a campaign, which is nothing more than a well-hidden extended tutorial, against the fully fleshed-out campaign that was in the first game. Playing a few matches as the newly hired coach for the Reikland Reavers, a human team, you’re introduced to the concepts behind moving your team, tackling, and blocking enemies, handling the ball and scoring a touchdown.
As any other dice-based game, every action in Blood Bowl II is based on rolls. Whether you want to pick up the ball, pass it to a teammate, attack an opponent or try to break free from their tackle zone, dice are cast and the result will directly influence your chances of success. This turns Blood Bowl II in a game of chances, where skills only play a secondary role in determining your victory. Luck and the ability to use your power-ups at the right time will, especially at lower levels, be more important than placing your characters correctly or planning a good action. The first few matches, each lasting 16 turns and divided into two halves, go by relatively quickly thanks to the simplified set of rules that applies to them until the concept of turnover is introduced and the real rules of Blood Bowl are unveiled: every action requires a roll and every time a roll is failed, your turn is automatically over and the opponent’s turn begins. This feature, the random nature of the game, and the fact that turns can last either one, two, or four minutes, tends to result in games that drag on for over an hour at times, with little to nothing actually happening on the field.
Aside from the campaign, the main feature this game offers is the ability to create and coach your own team and to play against various opponents, both online and locally. You can create leagues and cups both open to everyone or for your friends only, but the whole system turns out to be extremely fiddly, especially when trying to join a competition that is already in progress.
To do so requires you to create the right team, browse the list of leagues, sign yourself up for one, and wait for the league’s owner to accept you. Only then you’ll be able to access the matchmaking system and find an opponent. The game also offers you the chance to play friendly matches, which will yield no experience and will result in no penalties in case of defeat, but you can only do so against AI or your Steam friends, making you unable to test your skills against random opponents.
Team customization plays a huge role in the game.
There’s a total of 10 races to pick from in Blood Bowl II, two of which are only available as a separate DLC. This is already a huge step back from the original game, which in its complete form ended up featuring 23. Each race is composed of different characters and your team includes different positions to be filled. Whenever a player completes an action or performs well on the field, they are individually awarded experience and can level up to receive unique skills and bonuses based on their role and race. This differentiation allows for different play-styles to be created, with some races being more adept at bashing your opponents into the ground and stomping over them and some other being able to swiftly dodge any tackle attempt and sprint from one end of the field to the other to score a quick touchdown before retreating.
There’s plenty to go around in Blood Bowl II, but none of the game’s features make for an enjoyable experience in the long run. The matches, often ruled by total chaos and seeing even the best planned strategies go wrong thanks to a failed roll, tend to drag out indefinitely and will leave you feeling miserable and unable to control any of the action that is unfolding in front of you. While some might argue that risk management and failure are key mechanics to Blood Bowl and are part of the original board game, the way this title is developed doesn’t allow for that immediate feedback you’d receive from a physical opponent to be delivered in a timely and convenient fashion, making most of the matches, especially while playing against people you don’t know, a silent and miserable experience where you’ll see yourself hoping for everything to go as planned or glancing at the “concede” button just for a chance to have some of your time back. The experience gets qualitatively better if you’re playing with friends, especially if some sort of VoIP system is in place, as you’ll be able to mock your buddies for their bad luck or comment on any random event that might have screwed them over.
The game also seems to have been rushed, even after having its release date postponed. Graphically average, but in no way comparable to other titles that came out in 2015, Blood Bowl II is sporting updated stadiums with dynamic crowds and weather, even though it seems like only a handful of character models were created for the fans. Where new features have been introduced, some were reduced to their core and appear quite tacky: the animations that play whenever two players on the field get “up close and personal” are only a few and feel like they are being reused from race to race and for some reason, whenever any race scores a touchdown, a squad of human cheerleaders in Reikland Reavers’ colors, clearly a reused asset from the campaign, will rush to the field to celebrate their glorious actions, while maintaining a facial expression that makes all of us wonder if there’s not some place else they’d rather be.
It’s this long list of missing and incomplete features that turn Blood Bowl II into a hard sell. Even without considering the controversies that sparked when Cyanide announced that more teams will be released as multiple DLCs and the fact that Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition is available on Steam for a fraction of Blood Bowl II‘s price ($22.99 against $44.90), the title still fails at remaining interesting for long periods of time and tends to wear out really quickly. While small groups of aficionados keep the community alive, sometimes allowing new players to join in and showing them the ropes, the rest of the fanbase is way too busy responding aggressively to any kind of remark, as shown by the game’s Steam community page. This, the luck-based mechanics and the slow and fiddly matchmaking system all add up to result in a title that, in its current stage, cannot be recommended.
A PC copy of Blood Bowl II was provided by the developer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.