GDC 2009: Blood Bowl Impressions

We check out the PC, X360, PSP, and DS versions of this strategic sports game.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Earlier today we had an opportunity to meet with representatives from Cyanide Studio and Focus Home Interactive, Blood Bowl's developer and publisher respectively. Based on the popular tabletop Games Workshop game of the same name, Blood Bowl pits teams of orcs, dwarves, lizardmen, and other fantasy staples against one another on playing fields where they're almost as likely to be killed as they are to score touchdowns. This isn't really a sports game, though, because even the option to play in real time, which complements the traditional turn-based offering, appears to play more like Command & Conquer than it does Madden.

There are four versions of Blood Bowl in development, and each will offer a slightly different experience. The PC, Xbox 360, PSP, and DS games will all offer the turn-based option that strictly adheres to Blood Bowl's third-edition ruleset, but only the PC and Xbox 360 versions will include the real-time option. Furthermore, the PC and Xbox 360 versions will give you the option to play with a customizable "blitz" ruleset that adds a number of cool-sounding features to the experience, such as team sponsors, gear upgrades, player doping (and dope tests), and even crowds that will invade the playing field and attack players. We didn't get to see anything quite that crazy during our meeting today, but we came away impressed nonetheless.

At launch, Blood Bowl will feature eight different team types: human, dwarf, skaven, orc, lizardman, goblin, wood elf, and chaos. That doesn't mean there are only eight playable races in the game, though, because huge star players, such as minotaurs, ogres, trolls, rat ogres, and treemen, will also be available for your roster. Focus Home Interactive has also confirmed that additional teams--including undead and dark elf--will be made available after the game ships on the PC, Xbox 360, and, possibly, the PSP.

Regardless of which version of Blood Bowl you opt for, the turn-based "classic" mode appears to faithfully replicate the experience of playing the tabletop game, complete with dice rolls and information on why your players are succeeding or failing to carry out your instructions. Even something as simple as picking the ball up off the ground has a chance of failure, so you'll likely need luck on your side if you instruct a troll to pick up a ball-carrying goblin and toss him into the opposing team's end zone. That can be a particularly risky move, because even if the other team doesn't interfere, there's always a chance that your troll's appetite will get the better of him and he'll snack on his teammate.

Turn-based games can purportedly take around 90 minutes to complete, though turns are limited to a maximum of four minutes in order to keep the game moving at a decent pace. Learning the Blood Bowl rules might take you a while if you're not familiar with the Warhammer universe's number one sport, but based on what we saw today, the controls will be quite intuitive. After choosing/designing a starting formation for your team at the start of a match, you'll simply take your turn by clicking on the player that you want to move, clicking on the square you want to move him to, and then choosing which of the available actions (tackle an opponent or throw the ball, for example) you want him to perform. When selecting actions you'll have an opportunity to check the player's odds of success, which is important because failed actions can result in turnovers--prematurely ending your turn and handing control back to your opponent.

Real-time games on the PC and Xbox 360 will play out quite differently than the handheld games, because although the basic controls and actions are similar, both players will be giving their teams instructions at the same time. It'll get chaotic for sure, but you can tell each player to adopt either an offensive, neutral, or defensive mentality when you're not giving them more specific instructions, so you'll never have to worry about your defense standing around doing nothing while you micromanage your offense, for example.

All four versions of Blood Bowl will afford you the freedom to reposition the camera anywhere you like during a match, so you can zoom out to get a good tactical overview of the playing field and then zoom in to savor the brutality of an opponent getting maimed. The handheld games look very different from the PC and Xbox 360 offerings, but both are looking good. The PSP game is in full 3D, while the DS game is isometric with 2D sprites for the players.

Multiplayer support will vary according to platform. Handheld versions will offer wireless support for two players, while the PC and Xbox 360 games will include support for online leagues and rankings. On the PC, you'll be able to upload replays of your favorite matches to share with other players, and at some point after the game's release, Cyanide hopes to patch in spectator support. If you're interested in the PC version, you should also keep an eye out for an open multiplayer beta in the coming weeks.

Blood Bowl is currently scheduled for release sometime in June, except for the Xbox 360 version, which will follow around September. We look forward to bringing you more information on Blood Bowl just as soon as we can get our hands on a copy of the game.

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