Tossing around the ‘ole Squig-skin.
A Blitz Bowl Review
Blitz Bowl is a game designed with two audiences in mind. The first (and least important to Games Workshop) are Blood Bowl players. Specifically, gamers who love Blood Bowl, but who have trouble getting the 3+ hour game to the table. The second (and more important to Games Workshop) are people interested in the premise of Blood Bowl, but want an affordable and less time consuming game experience. More cynically put, Blitz Bowl is a game that works as a gateway drug into Blood Bowl.
I have always had a passing interest in Blood Bowl. I am a fan of American Football (may Patrick Mahomes drink your milkshake, amen). I grew up watching American Gladiators and Professional Wrestling (until I learned that girls were a thing that interested me). The tongue in cheek Games Workshop satire of professional sports has always looked interesting to me, but I’ve always been scared off of the idea of adding miniatures gaming to my growing list of lifestyle game additions. I’ve also been highly skeptical of any game that tries to emulate professional sports, because, lets face it, they tend to make Monopoly look like a good time.
For several years now James Hewitt has honed his game design chops in house for Games Workshop. He is largely responsible for the updated versions of Blood Bowl and Warhammer Quest (among other projects) and even has a number of anticipated projects on the horizon. I would argue though that Blitz Bowl is perhaps his best design to date.
Anybody can create an overwrought game with a bloated rule book and dice chucking. Taking a good design and slapping on extra rules and modules is easy (just ask Fantasy Flight or most popular Euro game designers). What you don’t see often is a designer taking their game and refining it down to its core kernel of fun. If nothing else, Blitz Bowl is a brilliant simplification of a 3+ hour game into 45 minutes of distilled blood sport action.
Each round is absurdly simple and fast moving. Player 1 takes 3 actions (scoring at most 1 achievement per action). Then Player 2 takes 3 actions (also scoring at most 1 achievement per action). Scoring achievements is as simple as reading the open market of achievement cards and setting out to do what the cards want you to do. Scoring achievements makes for an easy and typically fun way to score points, but it also will reward you with nifty power cards that give you bonus actions which you can further parley into pulling off yet more achievements. Along the way you can also score touchdowns, which will score you a decent number of points, but alas, no bonus cards.
At first, new players may find for some rough spots in the game’s movement and positioning rules, however, my experience has been that most players need only a round or two of the game to get past this learning curve. Better yet, these slightly cumbersome rules give players significant incentive to position their figures on the board “just right.” Where you move your figures makes a big difference and can be the difference in a game’s outcome.
This wouldn’t be a Games Workshop game without some sort of combat, and Blitz Bowl doesn’t disappoint. Tackling is the combat mechanism drives the action in Blitz Bowl, and while that doesn’t sound exciting, in practice it is near perfection. If you choose to attack/tackle an adjacent unit, you roll a dice and in many cases you will have a 5/6 chance of having something good happen. Units that are better at tackling get bonuses that can up those odds significantly. Contrast this to Warhammer Underworlds where dice rolls frequently feel like coin flips and the consequences are frequently devastating for the loser. In Blitz Bowl you can usually have a pretty good idea about what the outcome of a tackle will be in most given situations. The dice results of a tackle action can usually be mitigated by smart positioning of your units. Better yet, the consequences to the loser of a bad die roll are rarely catastrophic. Such a system encourages players to value clever positioning and aggressive pursuit of the achievement cards.
Games Workshop is known for the sticker shock its products generate. By comparison though, Blitz Bowl is quite the bargain. This shouldn’t be any surprise to you if you remember that this is meant to be a gateway drug down the rabbit hole of Blood Bowl. As a Barnes and Noble exclusive, you can easily find a copy and use any number of near weekly discounts to further lower the price from its $60 MSRP (which is perfectly reasonable). In the box you have enough minis for two teams, but you also get cards that will allow you to buy extra teams to mix things up even more. Chances are, after you play your first game, you are going to start searching ebay for discounted Blood Bowl teams just to fill out all the optional team rosters.
I probably shouldn’t have to say this, but the minis are of course gorgeous. Do yourself a favor and paint them up (or pay somebody to). Painted minis make everything better.
Blitz Bowl is an excellent example of a game where robust choices and decision trees can emerge from a simplified set of rules. The dice do little to effect the likelihood of success, but rather make the types of success fate hands out less predictable. The designer understands what makes the original Blood Bowl fun and has taken those core elements and pressed them into a fast playing and highly satisfying hour long experience. Blitz Bowl delivers a fast paced tactical payout without every feeling unfair or particularly random. As a confession of my own short comings, I can be very competitive when gaming, and I am the sort of player who can easily be left with a bad taste in my mouth when things don’t go my way. Somehow, Blitz Bowl has never done that to me. I’ve lost this game, a lot, and not once have I had to grit my teeth and seethe. That is not something I can say about games like Keyforge or Warhammer Underworlds (which can make you feel like a downright miserable SOB). Blitz Bowl, like its designer, understand fun, and it is a title that you shouldn’t overlook.