It’s September, and here in the United States that means it’s football season once again. Not the lithe international “beautiful game” of soccer, naturallyAmerican football is a game of fits and starts, of freakishly large men in plastic armour forcefully colliding with each other, a contest made of yards and turns. It’s a strange sport, but not as strange as Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl.
Of all the Warhammer-flavored properties in the Games Workshop stable, Blood Bowl is one of the weirdest . It’s based on the notion that the inhabitants of Warhammer Fantasy’s Old World are keen on sports. Blood Bowl is quite a bit like American football, but without the rules and a much stronger emphasis on hurting people and cheating.
It’s been two years since the initial release of Blood Bowl 2, Cyanide’s second pass at digitizing the wacky tabletop game. It shipped with eight teams drawn from the tabletop game and fixed many (but not all) of the interface problems and jank that featured heavily into their first version, which required a handful of user-created mods to run properly and display needed information. Blood Bowl 2 is slicker, better-looking, and includes some helpful tutorials in the form of a single-player campaign mode.
Now we have Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition, which is probably the perfect time to jump into the game if it’s one you’ve cast a curious eye upon in the past. It’s the complete package, including all the races from the base game, the eight DLC races, plus a suite of eight new teams and a healthy smattering of new game modes and features. The Legendary Edition is the definitive version, but owners of the base game may well be put off by the asking price for the upgrade.
For newcomers, here’s the rundown: Blood Bowl is played between two teams (scored with Warhammer-style point values per unit) on a pitch of 15×26 square spaces. The defending team kicks the ball (a oblong leather ball clad in iron spikes, naturally) down the field to the opposing player, who then attempts to move the ball to the opposite end zone by means of running and/or passing. Blocks, passes, interceptions, and just about everything else that happens in the game are resolved with dice rolls, making Blood Bowl a game that is very much about taking and managing risk. If a player’s action results in their unit being knocked down, a “turnover” occurs and his turn ends.
While the tone of the game is distinctly comedic, the stakes can be high. Players can be stunned, injured, killed, and even eaten on the field, because that’s what happens when you have a troll as your center lineman. There are also official ways to “cheat” by bribing referees (who will sometimes run onto the field and knock out opposing players), and random events can and will alter the course of the game. It’s best not to take it too seriously, and the digital version of the game, while true to the tabletop ruleset, leans heavily into Blood Bowl’s inherent silliness.
So let’s take a look at the teams and modes added in the Legendary Edition.
The daughters of Norse Valkyries, the Amazons form all-woman squads that can be a good entry point into the game. They’re solid defenders with inexpensive players and can pick up the Block and Dodge skills early. They’re prone to Tackle, and don’t feature any Big Guys or unique mechanics.
- Underworld Denizens
One of the Legendary Edition’s mixed teams, the Underworld Denizens are a combination of Skaven and Goblin units. Their Blitzers are fierce, and the mutations available can make any of their units into a serious threat early on in their careers. They’re not terrific before this, however, and the animosity between the Skaven and Goblins can make coordinating passes difficult (or impossible).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Goblins are one of the most difficult Blood Bowl teams to play. They make decent receivers but can’t throw to save their lives, which is unfortunate because they’re also very easy to injure and kill. However, Goblin teams offset some of this with the ability to field two trolls, their discounted rate on referee bribes (referees are also Goblins), and the pogo sticks and chainsaws they can sneak out onto the field. While they’re a serious challenge, Goblin teams are entertaining to play, both as coach and opponent.
The game will flat-out tell you that Halflings are the worst team in all of Blood Bowl. Their players are even more fragile than Goblins, which means it’s a good thing that they’re cheaply replaced. Halflings can field two Treemen Big Guys, and you’ll need these to hold down the opposing team while the Halfling players themselves try to rely on their innate Dodge ability to skitter up the field and avoid all contact with their opponents.
- The Kislev Circus
Perhaps the most unique new addition introduced with the Legendary Edition, the Kislev Circus is a team made of acrobats. Well, acrobats and a bear. While the tame bear operates similarly to the Lizardmen’s Kroxigor (and comes with the standard Big Guy unreliability), the rest of the team has the unique ability to leap three squares in any direction, including over the heads of defending players. They’re fragile and heavily reliant on team re-rolls, but the Kislev Circus is a fun new way to play the game.
A gimmick team in which you get to field six ogres on the field at once. This isn’t as much of an advantage as it initially sounds like, since Ogres all have the Bone-Head trait and will spend a lot of each game staring and something off in the middle distance. When they’re active, though, they’re able to pick up and throw their teammates, they tiny Gnoblars, which can carry the ball through the air and over any enemy defense.
- Elven Union
Per Blood Bowl lore, the Elven Union is made up of professional Elf players from the now-defunct NAF League. In practice, they’re an easy-to-play team that’s focused heavily on passing offense, without anything gimmicky or any Big Guys to worry about. While their fragile linemen can be replaced without breaking the bank, their players’ point values tend to be on the high end, which means you’ll hit team value caps quickly with this race.
Vampires have only two player types: Vampires and Thralls. As you might expect, it’s best not to get too attached to your Thralls. Vampires are some of the game’s hands-down best units, beginning their careers with 4 Strength and 4 Agility. They also have the Hypnotic Gaze ability, which they can use to render opposing players incapable of moving. The problem is, well, they’re vampires. Before each action, a Vampire must roll a D6. If he gets a 1, he’ll go into “Bloodlust” mode, and must end his turn next to a Thrall player on his team, which he’ll then bite and either stun or injure. If the vampire can’t end his move next to a Thrall, a turnover results and he’ll leave the pitch to fly off into the crowd and feed on a spectator.
While a couple of these teams are a bit ho-hum (the Amazons and Elven Union), there are a couple that represent genuinely new ways to play Blood Bowl. The new teams also include their own unique Star Players, and it’s now possible to create mixed and mercenary teams using players from multiple races. There’s a new Challenge Mode where you can play out individually-crafted “puzzle” scenarios as well. As noted above, there’s quite a bit here.
But if you already own the base game and some pre-existing DLC, you might be in for some sticker shock. The “Official Expansion” will run you $24.99, and that price jumps up to $39.99 if you want to include the eight teams from the Team Pack (Chaos Dwarfs, Khemri, Lizardmen, Necromantic, Norse, Nurgle, Undead, and Wood Elves). Brand new players can pick up the Legendary Edition that includes the whole kit for $44.99, so it’ll be hard to blame long-time players for feeling a bit worked over. They’ll be further annoyed to learn that many of the competitions available in the new Eternal League cost cyans to enterthe in-game currency that you can buy for real money.
Additionally, while Blood Bowl 2 is more stable and easier to play now than it was when it launched in 2015 — and in much better shape than the original Blood Bowl ever was — the game still has the vestigial tail of its predecessor in the form of occasional game-breaking bugs. I’ve had matches simply stop the game didn’t crash, but everything just stopped happening.
I’ve enjoyed my time with Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition quite a bit, and new players can now just get the entire game in one box, as it were. I think it’s very unfortunate that the pricing scheme is so tough on the existing player base though, and the decision will inevitably turn off many of the game’s long-time fans.
That’s a business decision, and it’s distinct from the game itself. Blood Bowl 2 is a lot of silly fun sloshing around inside a pleasantly deep sports metagame, with rosters and team budgets and tournaments all conveniently handled within, offering as much or as little complexity as you want to engage with. If you’ve ever thought Warhammer was in danger of taking itself a bit too seriously, it’s well worth a look.