Blood Bowl Q&A: Games Workshop's Jervis Johnson

We talk to tabletop Blood Bowl creator Jervis Johnson about Cyanide's upcoming videogame adaptations of the fantasy sport.

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Perhaps the most brutal fantasy sport ever conceived, Blood Bowl became a popular pastime in Games Workshop's Warhammer universe more than two decades ago. Like many sports, Blood Bowl has benefited from numerous rule changes since its inception, but none so radical as those that will be introduced (and optional) in Cyanide's upcoming Blood Bowl game for the PC, Xbox 360, PSP, and DS. We recently had an opportunity to speak with Jervis Johnson, the Games Workshop game designer credited with the creation of Blood Bowl, and asked him about the upcoming games and how they might impact the future of the sport.

Blood Bowl was the first sport to permit the throwing of ball carriers.
Blood Bowl was the first sport to permit the throwing of ball carriers.

GameSpot: It's been more than 20 years since you created Blood Bowl. Are you surprised that the board game is still popular today?

Jervis Johnson: Surprised and delighted! I recently attended a 'World Cup' for Blood Bowl, where several hundred players from all corners of the globe gathered together to play the game. It was a strange and rather humbling experience to watch them all intently playing the game--it makes you realize that the thing you helped invent now has a life of its own. I have a feeling that people will still be playing BB long after I have gone.

GS: For those of us who played the tabletop game back in the day, can you give us any indication of how much the game has grown and evolved?

JJ: To be honest, there have been very few changes to the game since the third edition came out in 1994. All we've done is to tidy up the rules a bit, add a few new teams to the game, and tweak the original teams to make them more balanced. The only really major change has been to the league rules. The 1994 version of these rules meant that you could get 'run-away-leader' syndrome, so that a team that did well just got better and better until no one could really beat it. To get around this, new league rules allow underdog teams to select special bonuses that help balance a match. But, to be honest, these changes are mainly cosmetic, and in actual play, the latest version of the game feels almost identical to the version released back in '94. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as the saying goes.

GS: We're told that the game's turn-based mode will use Blood Bowl's current rule set. Will any subsequent changes that you make to the tabletop rules be implemented in the video game after it's released?

JJ: You really need to ask the Cyanide game development team about this rather than me. Having met them, though, I think they'd be keen to keep the turn-based version as close [to] the current rules as possible. That said, I have absolutely no plans at all to modify the board game rules for Blood Bowl, at least for the foreseeable future. I'm very happy with them as they are and really don't feel the need to add or change anything.

GS: What are your impressions of the real-time Blitz mode that Cyanide has implemented? Presumably Games Workshop had some input there?

JJ: I think it's great. It was a very strange experience to see Blood Bowl players actually moving about, throwing the ball, and scoring touchdowns. I had little direct input on this myself--I'm a board game designer, not a computer game designer, after all. But I know that people, like my colleague Nelson, have been closely involved in making sure that the real-time version of the game remains true to the background and imagery we created for the game.

The first skaven team ever to play Blood Bowl was made entirely of paper. True story.
The first skaven team ever to play Blood Bowl was made entirely of paper. True story.

GS: Assuming you've had a chance to check out both, do you prefer to play the old-school turn-based game or the more frantic real-time version?

JJ: I must admit I stick with the turn-based version. I just don't have the twitch factor any longer to play the real-time version with any type of competence.

GS: Star players appear to have become a pretty big part of what Blood Bowl is about nowadays. Are the characters being released as miniatures--Hthark the Unstoppable, for example--likely to find their way into the video game at any point?

JJ: Again, this is something you really need to ask the Cyanide team rather than me. However, I understand that there are plans to release additional content that will be available for download.

GS: Are you at all concerned that the Blood Bowl video game could ultimately replace the board game?

JJ: No, not at all. In my own experience, miniatures games and computer games 'push different hobby buttons' even when based on the same background. Dawn of War certainly hasn't resulted in Warhammer 40,000 being less popular, for example. Quite the reverse, in fact. So I'd say that the two things complement each other nicely, rather than compete with each other in any meaningful way.

GS: Any words of advice you'd like to offer for newcomers to the Blood Bowl sport?

JJ: When in doubt, go for it!

GS: Thanks for your time.

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