To The Table: Blitz Bowl
I’ve been a massive fan of Games Workshop’s game Blood Bowl for many years and became an even bigger fan of the game when they released it in 2016 with a new starter set and models. I loved the over the top nature of it and the fact it never took itself seriously. It’s simply a violent ball game in which racers compete for glory while putting their lives in the hands of Nuffle (the god they worship in Blood Bowl). The game plays amazingly and has so much depth.
I am also a fan of their 2017 game Warhammer Underworlds which was a tactical game in which small warbands battle to achieve objectives a glory. It was a finely tuned game with immense strategy and planning, yet played in a short amount of time and didn’t need piles of miniatures to play.
With this said it was pretty obvious I’d be intrigued about the stand alone game Blitz Bowl which aimed to combine the two into a much smaller package.
At first glance, it looks a lot like a smaller Blood Bowl, with 6 players instead of 11 and a half size board but when played it is so much more and so beautifully designed.
The game can pretty much be played straight from the box once the 2 teams it comes with have been constructed (or you could use existing teams if you play Blood Bowl already). The game comes with 6 human players and 6 orc players, each on their own coloured sprue (meaning you can play with just the coloured plastic if painting doesn’t bother you. They are simple kits to build and can be pushed together, although I’d always recommend glueing them.
Each sprue also contains markers and balls for each team although you are only likely to have a maximum of 2 balls on the pitch at any one time. As with all games like this, painted teams do look prettier (most of the time) so I highly encourage painting the teams. I’m one of those that prefers to play with everything painted and finished. For me at least it feels more involving (even if painting can become a chore at times).
Each team starts with 6 specific players (8 if goblins) which are set up in your endzone. The player types each have their own abilities which are printed on the team cards;
These abilities help you plan where to place your players and how you will tackle the game. Each player and team also have different stats. For example, Skaven can move pretty far but often get injured when hit. Orcs, on the other hand, are the opposite, hard to hurt but slow. The game comes with cards for humans, orcs, goblins, dwarves, Skaven, elven union and chaos. This means there is a fair amount of variety if you buy those teams (you’d need to buy the blood bowl boxes as there are no separate releases). There are also cards for dark elves which were released exclusively on the magazine White Dwarf. Its sadly quite unlikely they will release cards for the remaining teams, but you never know.
The goal of the game is the score 10 more points then your opponent or to have more points if time is called. You ca
n score points a few different ways, but the biggest is challenge cards. You are free to score touchdowns like in a normal game of Blood Bowl but they only net you 1 point on their own. The challenge cards add an extra dimension to the game and is where some tactical planning comes in.
The challenge cards are shuffled at the beginning of the game and 3 are placed beside the board. Each gives a different objective/criteria that need to be met before a player can claim it. Some are as simple as knocking a player down while others require you to have players in certain places. The points you get for a card appear at the bottom and once claimed, go to your hand to allow you to use a special ability on their reverse such as getting extra movement or free reserves. These cards give the game a whole new feel and makes you plan accordingly as just scoring touchdowns is unlikely to get you a win.
Each player’s turn consists of taking 3 actions (none of which can be taken more than once per turn):
Run: you move around the field up to your players’ movement allowance. You can’t move through or onto any squares adjacent to the opponents’ players. This is different from blood bowl in the fact that in that game you can freely move into adjacent squares to set up blocks.
Mark: move a player up to 2 squares so they end adjacent to opponents players. This is the equivalent of getting a player into a tackle zone, ready for an attack.
Get up: pretty self-explanatory. You stand a player up
Reserves: set up a player from your reserves bench onto your backline. The fact you can place them anywhere on the line apart from next to an opponent means you can play the field a little more.
Block: this is where you attack an adjacent player. You roll a dice(or multiple if you have other players adjacent) and look at the outcome, which could be knocking them down (and possibly injuring them), pushing them backwards or completely missing. One thing of note is players can’t be killed in the game and any injured players just go back to the reserves bench ready to use afterwards.
After each action, the player can claim a challenge card if they have matched the criteria (but can only claim one at a time) this means that a lot of the time you have to plan ahead and take some time seeing how you want to play. If you claim all 3 challenge cards on your turn you get extra points, but that is easier said then done.
I like the streamlined gameplay in terms of not having to roll thousands of dice to determine if you succeed in doing things like in Blood Bowl. It makes it much faster and more user-friendly. In this respect, it feels much more like Warhammer Underworlds with the faster playtime and the quick turns.
There are fun features to the battlefield such as trapdoors (in which nalls come out of). A couple of the challenge cards dare you to stand on one, which if a touchdown is scored may open dropping your player down it and causing injury. The fact that there are obstacles on both board sides also means it’s not just a simple basic playing field. The reserves feature is really good as it means you don’t have to be as careful with players as you know they could come back. It’s also a nice feature that if you score a touchdown, your scorer is carried off the field and goes into your reserves. It means it slows that player down a little. Balls also don’t re-enter the field until the next players turn so that’s something to take into consideration.
All in all Blitz Bowl is a truly fantastic creation and is easily one of my favourite games. It’s quick to play and so much fun. It benefits from owning more teams so you can get more variety but even with the 2 that come with the game, I feel you would get a lot of plays out of it. I would like to see more reand introduced at a later date as well as some more challenge cards and possibly another board. That would make it near perfect but I doubt they will ever come. For me, it’s the most addressable Games Workshop game I’ve played as well as having quite a good amount if depth.
The board can also be used as a smaller blood bowl pitch for playing smaller games (which some fans gave already created rules for). It’s chaotic fun which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has a chance of getting a copy.