Thursday, August 22, 2013

Frustrating Blood Bowl

All right…just a quick thanks to all the folks who’ve purchased a copy of Five Ancient Kingdoms so far. I’ve been making a run to the post office pretty much every day, and I’ve got another batch of dice ordered from Chessex (originally, I only order enough for half my initial print run…really didn’t know how the whole shrink-wrapping thing was going to turn out. Pretty well, as it turns out).

Okay, now onto Blood Bowl.

Once again the usual frustration sets in…Blood Bowl is NOT football. And I’m not just talking about the obvious differences like the presence of man-eating monsters or a player roster calculated in gold coins. It just doesn’t model the game very well, especially in terms of stats and player development.

For example, Russell Wilson is the current quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. He was pretty stellar last year as a rookie, tying Peyton Manning’s year one record for touchdown passes (and not coming anywhere close to Manning’s interception numbers from his rookie year). Now in Blood Bowl, passers are not awarded Star Player Points (the BB equivalent of XP) for “touchdown passes” but they do get points for rushing touchdowns and completions at a rate of 3 points and 1 point each (respectively). There’s no such thing as “preseason” in BB, but there are play-offs, and play-off achievements count towards player development.

Wilson in his first and only (thus far) season had 252 completions (64% accuracy with a 100.0 passer rating) in the 2012 season and four rushing touchdowns. He added 39 completions (62.9% with a 102.4 rating) and added one more rushing TD. This works out to a total of 306 SPPs.

306 SPPs after a single season…and that’s not counting game balls he may have received (the NFL equivalent of a match MVP award, worth 5 SPPs); I’m sure he received one or two of those. SPPs max out at around 160 if I remember correctly? Certainly by 250…it depends on the edition, and the fact is there are few players who EVER get that many SPPs. It’s just a lot harder to get completions and TDs in the Blood Bowl game based on the design of the game.

But even trying to compare the two games is dumb because BB does not emulate football. At least not American football…the game is much closer to a soccer match with a constant move up and down the field, changes of possession, and an eventual (one hopes) goal that resets the players in the middle of the field. Yes, there’s a kick-off, but there’s no punting. There’s no striving to get first downs…or struggle to prevent first downs from an opponent. No one is trying to get out of bounds to stop the clock (going out of bounds is a Very Bad Thing)…and if the ball does go out it is thrown back in…again, like soccer. Also, like soccer, games are referred to as “matches” and the field as a “pitch.”

Can you tell BB was written and developed by English game designers?

So it kind of bugs me. Not because I’m not a fan of soccer (my Mexican wife cured me of any bias against the sport many years ago), but because I want my Blood Bowl to play like football. American football is an intense number of big play snap shots, strung together. Back at the fencing salle, we used to refer to our sport as “physical chess” (at least, I remember hearing that term bandied about quite a bit), but for my money the move and counter-move of football (with breaks in-between plays) is much more like pacing out a turn-by-turn strategy game.

[that’s not meant to offend my readers who fence, by the way. But in my experience, the thought process in fencing, the move-and-countermove is much too quick to compare to chess…it’s more about intuition and instant recognition and the training of the hand and footwork. I think fencers like to compare their sport to chess because they pride themselves in the anachronism of the two classic art-sciences…and because both fencing and chess has more than its fair share of intellectual arrogance]

In football, coaches draw up plays and strategies and “schemes”…often specifically designed for their opponent of the week…and then attempt to execute those plays. The opponent counters…and then you tweak and try to “counter the counter.” What part of that doesn’t sound like a turn-based strategy game…played out on a giant stage with giant playing pieces?

Of course, the other problem with trying to mimic a single snap of football is the same problem that arises in your average fantasy RPG combat “round:” players need to act and react simultaneously. A melee combat is not a swing-by-swing turn-taking process, nor is it a choreographed cinematic swashbuckling affair. Instead it’s an explosive “ATTACK!” with everyone going at everyone else at the same time. I guess, in an ideal world, you’d just submit your instructions to your team (or party), press “go” and see how they execute against the other guys.

Oh, wait…they already have video games that do that kind of thing, right? Madden NFL and whatnot?

Well, I’m not terribly interested in playing out computer games featuring normal human NFL teams…I prefer to watch those on TV. What I’d like to play is a fantasy football game where the troll player eats the hobbit he just tackled, or where the dark elf magician brings down the ogre running back with some fancy evocation. I just want to do it with downs and schemes and play-calling. I don’t want the fantasy board game equivalent of that vibrating metal board.

ANYhoo…you know this is actually a good segue into another post I’ve been working over regarding combat options for B/X (What, JB? You still have an interest in B/X gaming? Of course, folks). I’ll do what I can to get that one up on Ye Old Blog by tomorrow…though that might turn out to be a two- (or three-) parter.

[sorry, not trying to be a tease…I really am just busy, people]

I will say that this whole conversation – the frustration, thinking about it, writing about it – has put me off my urge to break out the minis this year. That and the lack of time to paint, of course.

At least I get a chance to watch the ‘Hawks take on the Packers tomorrow. Too bad it’s still only preseason.
: )
The uniform colors will be reversed, of course.


  1. I'd say Blood Bowl is probably closer to rugby, but then there's the forward passing, so that doesn't work. It's a hybrid.

    1. @ Kelvin:

      Hey, man - long time no hear! Hope things are going well.

      Just you happen to know a dude by the name of Stu Jennett? I know it's a small island and all...

  2. Monsters of the Midway?

  3. there were optional rules in the 2nd edition bloodbowl companion with 4 downs, extra points and field goals. we tried it a few times when those rules came out but it a) didn't work well with 2nd edition rules and b) didn't really feel like simulating american football in any way.

    but i am sure you could tweak the game to feel more like an nfl match with very few changes. especially if you use human teams.

    i am not sure i can agree with some of your observations though.

    in football (soccer to heathens like you), possession of the ball changes constantly. in bloodbowl it does so very rarely in most games.

    while you cannot "punt" the ball in bloodbowl (again, 2nd edition had optional rules for that as well, if i remember correctly), you can trow the ball to an empty square deep in enemy territory which most of the time has the same effect as a punt.

    also, clock management is a huge part of bloodbowl. while you can't run out of bounds or take a knee there are several ways to control the pace of the game.

    as for spp accumulation, it's just a matter of scale really. it's simply impossible for a bloodbowl player to throw 252 passes in 16 games. i had a high elf thrower a couple of seasons ago on a team where i tried to play a true elf game with long passes and as many touchdowns as possible. i let opposing teams score sometimes so i would get the ball back quickly.

    i got 25 completions in 14 games, which means the thrower earned 2 skills. seems reasonable for a rookie who had a great season, don't you think? the touchdowns were spread around to several catchers and blitzers, only 1 of them earned more than 25 spp.

    if you wanted, you could split the spp from the scorer and the thrower on td-passes, 2-2 or even 1-3.

    don't feel like bloodbowling?(i wonder what that's like... :D)

    time to create your own fantasy football game i guess! :P

    ps: sorry for the long post. got a bit carried away there... :)

  4. Teams counted in gold pieces? Dunno, that DOES sound like it emulates modern football. /snark

  5. @ Shlomo:

    I love it. Feel free to wax long on Blood Bowl.
    : )

    @ Jon:

    But no salary cap!
    ; )