Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Blood Bowl": False Start

Many years after a Games Workshop ad in Dragon magazine piqued my curiosity about Blood Bowl, I actually had a chance to play the game.  One fateful morning back in the Spring of 2005, Dean and I popped into the now-defunct Allgoods Comics & Curiosities shop on Hollis Street in Halifax to have a gander.

After browsing through the clutter, we stumbled upon this beauty:

As tempting as it was, I really couldn't justify paying the $89.99 sticker price.  But Dean, being a passionate football nut and all-around fantasy geek, was completely mesmerized.  Although I'd immediately made up my mind that I wasn't to buy it, it would certainly be win-win for me if I could convince Dean to take the fall.

So naturally I went into what I like to call "L'il-Devil-On-The-Shoulder"-mode.

"Dude, just buy it already," I said, doing my best Wormtongue impersonation.  "You've already picked it up and put it back down, like, five times since we came in here."  

"Yeah.  Y'know, fuck it, it's ten dollars cheaper here then it is at 'Strange Adventures' and I've always wanted it,"  Dean said, carrying his flat rectangular prize over to the cashier.

Post-transaction, we took the newly-acquired booty down to a nearby coffee shop and broke open the box.  It was like the friggin' Tardis in there.  There was a slick-looking rulebook, a transparent plastic passing gauge, star player cards, team summaries, cheat sheets, an awesome board, and some cool-looking customized dice.

In fact, so much cool shit came out of that box that I was half-tempted to run back up to the store and see if they had another copy lying around.  Having said that, my initial enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by the two unassembled and unpainted plastic teams (Human and Orc) included with the game.  There'd been considerable board game innovation since Blood Bowl was first released in 1986 and, frankly, a bunch of iron-gray plastic figures still on their sprues seemed kinda archaic to me.

I decided keep my wallet sealed (at least until I had a chance to play Dean's copy).

Another wet blanket was dropped on my ardor when I found out that Games Workshop had essentially halted their support of the game since the Third Edition release in 1994.  In fact, if not for a grassroots fan movement, the game probably would have died a slow, lingering death.  In 2004, a cabal of  passionate Blood Bowl lunatics (in conjunction with the game's original designer Jervis Johnson) assembled ten years worth of evolved rules into the indispensable Living Rulebook.

Ironically, after hearing about the Living Rulebook, I indefinitely postponed any plans to purchase my own copy of the Third Edition.  After all, as daunting as the initial $100.00 price tag was, it was particularly egregious to discover that the fucking rulebook included in the game was obsolete.  In order  to pick up this sucker, the game play would have to be orgasmically mind-blowing.

Meanwhile, Dean quickly introduced the game to brother in law / fellow football fanatic / budding board game nerd Andrew.  Just recently, the three of us had started to alternate plays of such diverse communal fare as Star Wars Miniatures, Doom, Shadows over Camelot and Zombies!!!.  It was the tentative start to what would eventually become our weekly board game group.  

Unfortunately, when Dean and Andrew played Blood Bowl for the first time every other board game seemed to drop off the face of the earth.  Andrew immediately procured his own copy and both of them began snatching up new teams like two retirees buying scratch n' win tickets.  In fact, their single-minded devotion for Blood Bowl threatened to dash our formative game group in its infancy.  In order to keep gaming with these yahoos, I had to start playing Blood Bowl pronto (or play nothing at all).

But how to get into it without incurring huge financial start-up costs?  I didn't want to pay a hundred bucks for an outdated board game or fifty clams for an "official"metal team that I'd have to assemble and paint myself (although I have to admit, customizing your team is actually a huge part of the game's appeal).  So I decided to employ a low-rent and decidedly more pragmatic solution.  

I'd use Dungeon & Dragons minis.

So, I picked up a slew of these cheap bastards to represent my rookie orc team, feeling assuaged that I could also use them for future D&D adventures.  They even came in appropriate poses to help me distinguish between the different positions.

So, without further ado, let me introduce to you...

Kord Gorestump (Orc Thrower)

    Varash Bloodletter (Orc Blitzer)

Orbid Chopsalot (Black Orc)

and my own personal favorite...

Prak, Invader of Asses (Orc Lineman) 

Heh, heh..."Invader of Asses."

Now, giving names to your new team-members might sound like fun, but always remember the old RPG adage: "as soon as you name something, you're already emotionally attached to it".  And, trust me, in a game like Blood Bowl, becoming emotionally attached to your players is a really, really bad idea...

So, I played my very first Blood Bowl game on October 30'th, 2005.  Here's the session report:


Andrew started his first drive with some horrendous luck.  My star thrower Kord Gorestump knocked one of Andrew's orcs out of bounds and broke his arm.  During my subsequent drive, secondary thrower Fangs McSlashy connected to Number Seven (Morg Eyes-Go-Pop) and the lineman ran in for the T.D.

Andrew responded by clobbering Kord, which also resulted in a fractured arm.  The Beatsticks went on a tear at the end of the first half, knocking out four of my orcs.  Even worse, only one of them managed to crawl back onto the pitch for the second half!  

From there on in I tried my best to play a defensive game but I was slowly and inexorably overwhelmed.  Andrew snagged the ball, motored down field and my back-tracking Lineman did a face plant trying to catch up with him.  

Despite getting the lion's share of my injured roster back for the Overtime Half, this portion of the game was a complete and total mockery.  With no re-rolls left on both sides it became a slapstick comedy of failed pick-ups, dodges and pratfalls.  Fangs did manage to connect for yet another pass, but it was all for nought.

In the end, the match was decided by (of all things) a random d6 die roll.  With my result of 4 to Andrew's 2, I managed to score a very cheap win.

Blood Bowl can be fun but it's also very luck-based.  Although it's easy to visualize and set up cool plays, it always seems to be virtually impossible to execute them.

I really wish that the game was more open-ended and higher-scoring instead of the grindy sort of  beat-down exemplified by this match.  Maybe a high-flying Elf Team would be more to my liking.

Still, the game seems like good, mindless fun and the League Play / Player Advancement is kinda cool.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

My opinion of the game continued to worsen after I got shellacked 3 to nil in the next game by Andrew's Necromantic "Living Dead" team.  In the next match I managed to hold down a 1-1 tie with Dean's "Silent Screamer" Dark Elves.  Then, at the very end, with a glorious win just one space away, my orc rusher rolled a "1" while "going for it" and tripped just shy of the end zone.  Rather then face another grueling full half of overtime, we just decided to fudge the roll for a completely hollow 2-1 "victory".          

Despite the "win" it was yet another game of utter frustration for me since Dean managed to kill one of my veteran Black Orcs as well as a newly-acquired Blitzer!

The last game I ever played as head coach of "Kord's Killers" was against Andrew's "Hairy Lightning" Skaven team.  Again I was doing pretty good, winning 2-1 after rendering a huge chunk of Andrew's roster unconscious.  But then my luck went completely south and I suddenly found myself unable to complete the simplest play or mount any sort of defense, despite having excellent field position.

When Andrew managed to tie the game and then win in overtime, I was officially done with Blood Bowl.  Here were my post-game thoughts from January 15'th, 2006.

"I don't despise this game but I'm certainly lacking any real passion for it.  I don't own a copy, I've barely digested the rules, and I certainly haven't studied any 'strategies'.  

"This was my fourth game and I'm pretty sure that both Dean and Andrew have played at least triple that amount.  Honestly, there's nothing more frustrating then dominating a game only to have it all fall apart just because I'm not aware of some obscure rule, subtle strategy or timing nuance. 

"Either I'll ask Andrew or Dean to take over my team for the last three games or I'll continue to serve as a punching bag for the rest of the schedule and then be done with it.      

"Suffice to say that there are about a million other games I'd rather be playing right now instead of this one."

Yikes!  Ease up there, Bitchy McCrankypants!

In my defense, I wouldn't have been so whingey if we still playing a variety of games, but, at the time, Blood Bowl was the only thing that Andrew and Dean were willing to play.

As a result, I signed ownership of "Kord's Killers" over to Dean and officially retired from the sport of Blood Bowl.          

But, as the old saying goes...

As an added bonus, here's the Team Roster Sheet for "Kord's Killers" at the end of that preliminary season...

Damn, the team's record actually got worse under Dean's leadership.  Whatupwitdat, homes? 

P.S. Just for the record I came up with all the cool/funny/inventive names (like Krag "Stabby" Offenkill) but all the stupid, creatively bankrupt handles (like "Killer Pretty", WTF?!?) are totally Dean's invention.

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