Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Advanced Blood Bowl

And now for a bit of much needed levity.

It long ago ceased to amaze me the dramatic impact sports can have on individuals and communities. A dramatic win can boost positive vibes in a city for days; a crushing defeat can likewise deflate morale and cast a pall over...well, everything. It took me damn near a year to get over the Seahawks defeat in Super Bowl XL...though that was due as much to the manner in which they lost as the loss itself. These days, my lows don't get nearly that low (have to set some type of example for the kids)...although I do still allow myself the luxury of basking in joyous throat-stomping victories.

Being able to watch the NFL on Sunday was a great balm to the whole family, not just because our team won, but because we could watch other games and pick sides and cheer and stomp and run around like crazy people having fun, eating breakfast food all day and hanging out in our pajamas. Even my six-year old (whose attention span for televised sporting events wanes around the 90 minute mark...on a good day), had a blast, throwing the Nerf football with her brother and dressing up stuffed toys in game day apparel. It all provides a nice break from the dystopian present; bread and circuses, perhaps, but I for one was happy to switch the channel from the CNN for a day.

But enough prattle! What's with the title of this post, JB? What the heck is "Advanced Blood Bowl?!"

Let me, once again, take you on a journey in the Way Back Machine of JB's personal history and nostalgia. The year is circa 1990. D&D is still owned by TSR but the brand has become crap and I haven't played the thing in YEARS. I am in high school, and I've got lots of other stuff on my brain. 

Maybe? Ugh...memories of 30 years ago get so mixed up. Maybe it was 1991. My father left the family in the Spring of that year, and I don't remember him ever seeing my Blood Bowl stuff. My first BB game was purchased at Games & Gizmos in the University District with my own money as an "impulse buy." I carried the box home (in a big paper bag) on the bus. But I stopped taking that bus that same Spring because I commenced from high school, and started bussing through downtown to get to college...and I definitely wasn't making side-trips through the U-District in the summer of '91 (too busy with work Maybe I got it right before the end of high school.

[actually, I now recall that in both the Fall of '91 and the Spring of '92 I was performing in theater productions of See How They Run and Guys and Dolls at my old high school and probably was taking the bus through the U-District on my commute home. So, yeah, probably circa November 1991]

ANYway...sometime around then I picked up a copy of the 2nd Edition Blood Bowl game, a big box set that I retain to this day. It was the first game with miniatures I'd ever purchased; I wasn't much into minis back then (I'd played RPGs for a decade or more without ever using a single mini), and I'd grown out of toys and "action figures" around age 10 or 11 and had zero interest in painting my own (mainly because I had zero confidence in my ability to paint). But the juxtaposition of fantasy warfare and American football is a powerful aphrodisiac, and I had the money in my pocket, so why not? I'd already become used to picking up new games from G&G, having amassed quite a collection of Rifts and Vampire books since their arrival in 1990.

Still, I doubt that would have been enough to make the buy (I'd been seeing the box on the shelf for years) if it hadn't been for a new, hardcover supplement that I purchased at the same time: Blood Bowl Star Players. Not only was BBSP a book I could thumb through (rather than a dubiously painted box of mysterious contents), it included rules for creating all sorts of different teams: halflings, elves, undead, and - my favorite Games Workshop property - chaos mutants. It also provided various skills for players, showing BB wasn't a simple board game but had aspects of role-paying and promised long-term campaign play...although the latter wouldn't be expanded upon until the publication of another book: the Blood Bowl Companion.

Unfortunately, the Blood Bowl Companion was a book that I would never see in print until last year.

Despite that, I've never been disappointed with my acquisition of Blood Bowl: it led to a love and enjoyment of the game, and other miniature-based gaming (Warhammer 40,000, specifically), and my painting did manage to improve over the years. And I have purchased every published edition of BB since (mainly for the new minis included with every box), and found the rule updates to generally be "for the best," i.e. they've resulted in streamlined, faster play, and (in some ways) brought the rules more in spirit with the fluff of the game...specifically, emphasizing the scoring of touchdowns within a time limit. How well I remember the long, blocking battles of attrition that would occupy the 2E game for hours.

However, as I've written before, there are plenty of aspects of the Blood Bowl game that disappoint. The game doesn't really play like American football: there are no downs, for example, no resets after change of possession, no point variations (touchdowns vs. field goals vs. safeties), no punting. The game often feels a bit more like rugby (albeit with forward passing)...though I won't pretend I know more than the barest minimum of that sport. Of course, there's also the lack of movement of fantasy races between teams, which doesn't echo the state of free agency in professional football (though perhaps that only appeals to NFL fanatics like myself). And point-based tournaments and play-offs are definitely more reminiscent of soccer tables than American football's conferences, divisions, wild card races, and single elimination championship.

Considered mythical
till 2019.

Now, as I said, I finally found a copy of the Blood Bowl Companion last year, used, at my local game shop, and I purchased the thing having long suspected its existence to be mythical: I figured that, like certain other Companion books, it had just never materialized before the publication of 3rd edition game and its Death Zone supplement. But I did so only for the sake of curiosity: I had (sometime in the past 30 years) sold or lost my copy of Blood Bowl Star Players, which one needs to make use of the Companion. As such it simply sat on my shelf gathering dust until a couple weeks ago, when I was able to (again) pick up a used copy of BBSP from my local game shop, thinking now I could read them together. Instead, they both ended up on the shelf (together) gathering dust.

Until Monday. That's when I started actually reading them.


Reading the Blood Bowl Companion is a bit like reading all those OD&D supplement books copies of The Strategic Review and seeing how Gygax got from OD&D to AD&D. It is chock-full of rules, extremely crunchy rules, all for the love of adding a deeper, richer experience. And a much more FOOTBALL experience: here are rules for quarters and halves, downs and possession changes, free agency and rookie drafting and player development. Here are rules for kick-offs and field goals, punting and kick returns. Here are rules for hooligans and cheering and fan loyalty, for salaries and player disenchantment, for using referees in play, as well as secret weapons, dirty tricks, and magic items. Here are rules for managing the economy (cash money) of the game, giving you all the powers of a GM (general manager) without resorting to the simple randomness of drawing cards. Here are rules for mixing species on your teams, explaining why an orc might end up on a dwarf team, for example.

Here are rules for turning your Blood Bowl game into an Advanced campaign

It's pretty awesome. Like, really awesome. While I can see how the 3rd edition helped create a faster, more streamlined game, readily accessible to any buyer off the street, the info in the Blood Bowl Companion (along with the Blood Bowl Star Players book) corrects issues with the 2E game while providing the basis for a rich, detailed campaign of fantasy football. 

I know that's not everyone's cup of tea: in fact, considering how little interest there is in Blood Bowl in general (compared to GW's Warhammer lines), I can see how the intersection of American football style gaming, league management, and snarky fantasy violence has an extremely limited appeal in the marketplace. EXTREMELY limited...probably didn't emphasize that enough.

But it appeals to me. And just skimming through the rules with my kids, it appeals to them, boy is completely down with running an "old school" Blood Bowl league.

And anyway, it's football season. I'm inclined to give it a whirl anyway. Expect a few more posts on the subject over the next few weeks. 

: )


  1. Did you ever get a chance to play Monsters of the Midway, from Dragon 65? It seems like it would be ripe for house ruling and developing, and is more like D&D than Warhammer.

    1. I have checked it out, but in the end I didn't like it. Because of the lack of position players, teams ended up looking too similar (everyone had ogres for linemen and elves for receivers, etc.). I like a LOT about Blood Bowl in the way it handles distinctions between player types and positions...and the game play itself is very smooth.

  2. I, for one, very much look forward to your future BB posts...especially your thoughts on a campaign style game.

  3. First that art on the companion book. Wow. The nipples might be a bit much, but overall i would be both embarrassed and proud to be seen with that book.

    Second anything that adds some element of domain management to games is great. I love the idea of it.

    1. You know, I'm such an obtuse old man that I didn't even register the me, it's just a painting of the 2nd edition GW cheerleader model, signifying "old" Blood Bowl. With 1980s hair sensibilities.

      The latest Death Zone supplements for (what I call) "5E Blood Bowl" have plenty of team management rules. But even as they add SOME depth, they're fairly simplified from even the 4E (Living Rulebook) stuff.

      I'm just glad the Companion had rules for running a Two Minute Offense.
      ; )