Blood Bowl is an often amusing and always violent combination of American football and the fantasy world of Warhammer. It was originally published as a board game in the 1980s, which was followed by a computer game in the 1990s, with Cyanide Studios publishing an updated version in 2009. The familiar formula is now given a fresh coat of paint in Blood Bowl 2.
Some of the biggest improvements are a new game engine, a smarter look, and a host of multiplayer features like the ability to buy and sell your players. The rather goofy real-time mode that haunted the first game has now been fully exorcised, and the focus is solely on turn-based action, similar to the original board game.
While certain video games have suffered from being a bit too board gamey, Blood Bowl 2 spices things up with frequent animations that bring the roughest tackles and the most daring passes onto the screen. The graphics have been much improved from the last outing, and the new character models have a great deal of detail to them. The grotesque aesthetic that has always been a part of Warhammer is represented proudly here.
The pitch can now be viewed from a variety of angles, and the view can be adjusted with the mouse wheel. You can view the players from up close, move up to a more isometric view, or just zoom right out to get a comprehensive top-down view of the situation. The relative freedom does bring up some issues though, as the dice rolls do occasionally get obscured by the other information on screen. At least there is plenty of information to be had now, including the percentages for performing successful manoeuvres. The user interface is quite serviceable in general, though it has a touch of that Cyanide jankiness to it at times.
The studio has not only been boasting about the new graphics, but the new AI as well. We would like to note that this game is dumber than an orc on a particularly slow day. The AI is quite happy to idly organise its players into some no doubt ingenious patterns in the midfield, while our ballcarrier is already just two steps away from their end zone. We've also seen the minor miracle of the AI trying to stop our guy, only to push him right into a touchdown instead.
The single player campaign is challenging mostly because it kicks off with a team fully devoid of any skills. The players won't even start developing until later, since the campaign also serves as a tutorial which drip-feeds the player with new information, literally a number at a time. Despite the slow going, the campaign does have some amusing story content to it, which gives the game a good, authentic atmosphere.
All the matches feature commentary from the Cabalvision duo of Jim and Bob. True to form, the commentators are quite entertaining for the first couple of matches, but once you've heard the same halfling jokes a dozen times, they lose some of their charm.
The player can also watch playbacks of other peoples' games via Cabalvision, which is just one part of the expanded social dimension of Blood Bowl 2. They can also organise their own leagues in a variety of different formats, and invite friends directly from their Steam friends list. If those friends aren't into literal fantasy football, there is also the option of holding an open league for strangers, or taking part in Cyanide's official competitions.
Blood Bowl 2 is definitely at its best when enjoyed with other people. The AI is fine for practising how to play the different teams, but the difficulty level is going to jump quite a bit once you switch to a human opponent. Like the tabletop that it's based on, it's an experience best shared.
The game offers eight teams to start with, just like the first one, which is bound to cause some disappointment among the fans. The first Blood Bowl was an unusual game in that instead of DLC, the publisher sold three different versions of it, the final one containing all of twenty-four different teams. Although the owners of the original game did receive discounts for the versions that followed, this business mode was never particularly popular with players.
Even if Cyanide did now switch to a more traditional DLC model, eight teams does feel a little thin, especially since we know that they've worked with twenty-four in the past. Twelve would have been a far nicer number to start with. Hopefully the studio will not try to milk the players too much this time around, and a nice balance can be found.
Even with the somewhat narrow team selection and the dopey AI, Blood Bowl 2 is clearly an improvement over the original. The fresh graphics and the expanded social dimensions of the game make the finished product one fit for 2015, though it would be nicer if the AI put up a better fight. It is solid, good fun with friends, though one might want to wait until Cyanide releases some of their DLC plans before buying the game.