Version Reviewed: 3.1.1
App Reviewed on: iPad 2
Graphics / Sound Rating:
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When translating a nearly 30 year old tabletop game like Blood Bowl into a digital format, the folks in charge have to make some decisions. Craft a fairly robust in-game tutorial to ease new players gently into this somewhat complicated quagmire? Or just say “screw it,” assume the target market is going to be almost entirely existing fans of the product, and leave the newbies to sink or swim? Take a guess which direction Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide Studios went with this one.
For the uninitiated, Blood Bowl is what would happen if somebody tossed American Football and Rugby into a blender and poured the resulting slurry through a filter made out of the Warhammer fantasy universe. This violent team sport, played by such Warhammer staple races as Orks and Skaven, doesn’t exactly cleave to either of those two inspirations, however. This almost-familiarity players might feel is the entry point where things start getting complicated.
While the game does sport a tutorial of sorts, the developers decided to focus more on flavor (in having it fully voiced and narrated by dual commentators) rather than function (that is, actually explaining things). Throughout the tutorial the casters will frequently refer to some mechanic in an off-handed manner, telling players to reference the full explanation in the rules book. This book, however, is nowhere to be found inside the game. A link labeled “Competition Rules” redirects to a confusing six page PDF (the table of contents shows a larger document, but despite long download times, my iPad only ever loads six pages) on Cyanide’s website that seems to be a set of tournament-legal tabletop rules rather than anything specifically geared toward the iPad.
While the digital version of Blood Bowl is essentially an animated recreation of the source material, this borders on the inexcusable. Considering the game itself never explains anything as fundamental as the tables used to resolve skill challenges (which are all handled behind the scenes, despite frequent die-rolling noises) or what the symbols used on the tackle dice mean, players can be left intensely confused and frustrated. At the very least they could have repurposed the document, removed references to things like board setup, and embedded it inside the game rather than redirecting potentially confused players outside of the experience.
Beyond the tutorial issues, players who soldier forward will also be greeted with a cluttered and unintuitive UI and no means to figure it out, save for trial and error. This is another instance where a manual that addresses the specific platform is essential, rather than a slapdash copy-and-paste solution.
Once one gets past this rather sloppy mess, Blood Bowl is actually pretty enjoyable. It sports cross-platform play with the PC versions for things like online leagues, and even though the core $5 game is limited to just Human and Ork teams some of the other races are available for three bucks each as in-app purchases. It also supports local hotseat multiplayer as well as a single-player campaign mode of sorts.
The biggest issue, however, is that consumers who aren't already fans of the Blood Bowl franchise are quite likely to be turned off by the impenetrable nature of this tabletop conversion. Blood Bowl packs a lot of experience into a small package, but is it worth doing so at the expense of accessibility? Nobody is asking Focus Home Interactive and Cyanide to dumb down the core experience, but they’re not going to grow a fanbase by going about it in this manner.