Blood Bowl is Games Workshop’s fantasy football spin off, running away from the main Warhammer universe. With Blood Bowl 3 on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC players are now able to strap their gear on and take to the field.
Coming from the team at Cyanide, Blood Bowl 3 is the fourth virtual version of the tabletop sports game, even if the name implies something else. If you are wondering, it’s because there was an MS-DOS version of Blood Bowl that released in 1995, well before the 2009 entry with the same name popularised the franchise. The more you know…
In Blood Bowl, players create an NFL-like team from a selection of races plucked out of the Warhammer universe. The initial twelve teams feature orcs, humans, elves and many other fantasy creatures. Each team type has a mastery rating letting you know how difficult it is going to be to learn to use that particular type. Talking of learning, there’s going to be a lot for new players wanting to jump on board.
Being a relative newcomer to Warhammer, Blood Bowl was a name I recognised from the older games, not specifically the tabletop version. The ruleset we have in Blood Bowl 3 is based on the newer Season 2 rules, which have not been seen in any of the previous versions of the game. So let’s take a look at this latest entry of the American Football fantasy based variant.
The object of Blood Bowl is simple: make more touchdowns than the other team to win. That is the only simple thing about this game as rules, movements, stats, perks, bonuses and boosts are just some of the in-game features that need to be monitored, used in harmony to succeed. Veterans will absolutely revel in the authenticity whilst beginners may feel lost in the blitz trying to find their footing.
From the outset, you are told to head to the tutorial in order to use a team in the campaign mode. These three matches will teach you the basics – and I mean literal basics – of how to make a play. In Blood Bowl 3 each team takes turns to make moves on the field. Be those moves, pushes, blocks or blitzes, each one is left up to fate with a roll of the dice. More often than not when rolls don’t go your way, the match can be lost in an instant.
Whilst tabletop games and dice go hand in hand, and technically most RPG games have invisible dice rolls behind every attack, progress for newcomers in Blood Bowl can feel slow. A simple move to another place on the field can result in failure and a turnover ending that teams turn, handing control to the opposition. This can – at times – become frustrating and begin to feel unfair; when skill is hampered by a random element, the fun can begin to drain from the experience.
I reinstalled Blood Bowl 2 to revisit for comparison, and that game is far more welcoming to just pick up and play. See, the endeavour for authenticity here comes at a price. I sank roughly eight hours into Blood Bowl 3 before I even won my first match, and yes I may lack in skill but a lot of those failures seemed to stem from a more random element. Where in Blood Bowl 2 matches felt far fairer and easier to understand, even after double-figure hours in Blood Bowl 3, the rolls feel more in favour of the AI team than my own.
Rolls of the dice are also combined with the in-field team members’ stats, in order to decide whether moves will be successful or not. For a beginner, even after playing through the tutorial, a lot remains unexplained. Complex strategy and luck of the dice will mean nothing if you haven’t built the team correctly. A better way to welcome new players would have been to be given a literal beginners team and maybe even a guide to pop up through the first few campaign matches, helping coach newcomers with some of the finer nuances.
Customisation of teams has a lot locked behind the in-game currency, which at least gives players something to work towards, yet there is no indication of real life money being used to purchase currency at the time of review. Cosmetics aside, there are sponsors that can provide different perks to buy with petty cash at the start of matches. Bribes, assistant coaches and even better cheerleaders are some of the boosts you can choose to bring to the field.
Talking of fields, each team has their own home turf, adding variety to the matches you will play through. Dynamic pitches also throw elements in for even more challenge, like a kraken that takes players off the field. Audio-wise Blood Bowl 3 presents a decent sports-like feel to things, with crowd noise being decent, and the commentary capable of adding the trademark Warhammer dark humour to the proceedings.
The team management side of Blood Bowl 3 is pretty in-depth and fun, as lineups need to be adjusted and severe injuries carry over between matches; you’ll need to make tweaks accordingly. It truly feels like a lot of work has been put into making this third version the most accurate version of the tabletop game available, but sadly, Blood Bowl 3 still feels more like a final Beta than a finished product.
A road map has been laid out for the future for the game, and indeed Blood Bowl 2 improved over time just like this. Pandemic delays aside, you would think that Blood Bowl 3 would launch as complete as Blood Bowl 2 was by the end of its life and then add features on top of that. Unfortunately that is not the case and some teams from the previous version that were added are no longer available in Blood Bowl 3 at launch.
Seeing the road map listing things like the chance to resume a game after disconnection and to take in some crossplay matches seems crazy to me. Features like these should be in the game at launch, and providing it as a highlight some months down the line just can’t fly in 2023.
Alongside missing features that should really be standard, Blood Bowl 3 is not the prettiest game to look at either. While serviceable and shining during cutscenes, the moment to moment gameplay looks rough and gritty. Being the first Xbox Series X|S version of the franchise, a bit more polish could have kept things looking a bit less of a grimy budget title.
To top it all off, Blood Bowl 3 has several glitches and bugs that forced a restart constantly whilst playing, lending even more to its Early Access feel. Online has disconnected regularly and button presses often went unregistered, leading to wasting turn time and defeat. Logging in sometimes presented itself as a bigger challenge than winning a match and load times on Xbox Series X|S are not great.
So to try and at least end the review on a more positive note – Blood Bowl 3 feels like a work in progress. That is not something you will want to hear about a freshly made purchase, but it is true. Improvements will come in time and there is no doubt that the game in its current form is incredibly faithful to the real world tabletop version. It’s just such a shame that Blood Bowl 3 couldn’t have been released in its inevitably better final form.
I really wish that Blood Bowl 3 was better out of the gate. If only as it’s a great way of allowing interest into this side of Warhammer. Perhaps by the time I have painted the models and brought my ‘Orcadia Greenz’ from in-game to life, Blood Bowl 3 will have improved on its issues.
A title with so much potential, Blood Bowl 3 fumbles the ball in the final minute.
Blood Bowl 3 is on the Xbox Store