Blood Bowl III comes to us from Cyanide Studio and is published by parent company Nacon. Despite that, this is very much a work-for-hire project for Nottingham based Games Workshop aka Warhammer. The first Blood Bowl was released in 2009 with the sequel, the imaginatively named Blood Bowl 2 coming some six years later.
Oddly, the first Blood Bowl wasn’t on on PS3 as you might expect, instead being represented on PSP. Blood Bowl 2 was on PS4 at least, so this release on both PS4/PS5 is comparable at least. This eschews the 3 instead going with III for reasons not apparent.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept, Blood Bowl is a parody of American football as played by the NFL, CFL and collegiate level across the pond. Yes, there’s teams this side of the Atlantic, but they’re generally amateur level although coaching is of a high enough standard that good players over here have been known to make the journey for a big payday in the States.
The original board game is a game of high chance with every action dependent on dice rolls. This is very much replicated by Blood Bowl III and it can feel incredible harsh at times. Especially in the opening few hours when those new to Blood Bowl are finding their feet. That included us. We thought we were being smart by choosing orcs with a supposedly easy rating, but no dice if you’ll excuse the pun.
The opening few hours were not much fun for us. Blood Bowl III has a perfunctory tutorial and then leaves you to it. Player roles are largely analogous to their NFL equivalent with linemen being pretty similar to their real-life roles of blocking. A thrower is generally the same as a quarterback and a catcher is much the same as a wide receiver. What Blood Bowl does differently is to not have a different set of players for offense and defense as you get in the NFL. You use the same set of eleven players throughout. You can sub out at the half if you have sufficient players on your bench, but in the event your players are incapacitated you’re out of luck for that match.
What struck us initially was how punitive the dice rolls felt. If failing a dice roll wasn’t bad enough, a turn finishes when you fail an action. Your opponent coughs up the ball, it’s not a given you’ll recover it. We had one sequence where neither team could pick the ball up due to us both repeatedly failing the initiative roll to pick up the damn ball. You’d have thought it was covered in grease, it was flying around so much.
Not to mention we couldn’t pass the ball from one player to another directly adjacent. A dice roll failed and a fumble coughed up. It’s like watching the Cleveland Browns play. A mixture of embarrassment and disbelief then.
After five hours of play and not a single touchdown scored, we gave up and changed to a human based team instead. Thankfully things improved, but we were still mindful of minimising the chances of dice throws going against us. We also got wise to setting up our defensive coverage to ensure the opposition had a hard time getting past us. Then we finally scored a touchdown.
Once we got that out of the way, we almost found a rhythm. Bear in mind by this point, we were looking at the best part of eight or nine hours played. We even won a game and somehow managed to not concede a touchdown as we did so. We even saw the AI player get snake-bitten and cough up the ball on the one yard line when a touchdown seemed all but certain. The vagaries of the dice rolls being a harsh mistress even for them.
While you have to engage with the opposition to defend against them, when you’re on the offensive, you’re better off taking an evasive approach and doing everything possible to avoid the opposition tackle boxes. You see, if you’re in range of a tackle, every move is subject to a dice roll. Even if you’re not carrying the ball, you fail a dice roll, turn over. When you’ve only eight turns per half, that doesn’t give you much margin of error.
We did find ourselves having fun once we had got into a rhythm, but the glacial pace of the AI players deliberating made for a far slower experience than we’d have liked. Quite why this is so, we’re not sure. Also, each turn is two minutes of game time, but we routinely exceeded this time during our turns. Perhaps you’re more likely to fail dice rolls outside the two minutes but our risk averse playing style mitigated that somewhat. We made sure to get the priority plays out of the way first.
Chiefly these will be blitz (aka tackle) moves where you can move then immediately tackle a target player. Once again, all dependent on dice rolls and very much subject to chance. You fail a roll, turn over. Alternatively if you’re on offense, you’ll move your ball carrier downfield if possible, then follow them up with blocking players to stop your opponent from tackling your player unchallenged.
Our main gripe with Blood Bowl III is the steep learning curve. Not so much a curve as a brick wall if we’re honest. Additionally we found that it was prone to occasionally glitching if not crashing completely. Not great when you have to play out an entire game to save your progress. Given the fact it doesn’t save after every turn, nor at half time, this makes for a big time commitment. There’s simply no such thing as a quick match in Blood Bowl III, especially when you take into account the needlessly lengthy AI turns.
Despite our gripes, we generally liked Blood Bowl III. The cut-scenes and commentary are generally amusing though the latter is occasionally prone to repetition. Graphically we’re talking functional at best, though this is in part due to the Warhammer licence being adhered to.
In conclusion, Blood Bowl III will please Warhammer fans in terms of its faithful adherence to the licence and surprise long term Madden players like us with its fair implementation of gridiron. This could’ve turned out to be a No Fun League but instead is a Quite Fun League instead. It doesn’t fall into the same trap as the likes of Mutant League Football in terms of its arbitrary harshness thankfully.
+ Nice spread of Warhammer races
+ AI is just as subject to the vagaries of dice rolls as you are
+ Occasionally amusing commentary
+ Tackling mechanics replicate dice based gameplay well
- AI takes ages to deliberate over moves with no activity evident
- Games take a long time to play out with no saves mid-match
- Doesn't exactly push the boat out graphically
- Commentary prone to repetition