One bad dice roll during my first proper turn during Blood Bowl’s 3 opening match. A quick turnover that transformed my team into a bloody mess. “Oh, now that’s a great start”, I sighed to myself. Less than a minute later, I saw one of my opponent’s players slide into place while t-posing. Last time I checked, I didn’t note that as a rulebook change. But, the more I played Cyanide’s latest entry of a rather niche, but beloved franchise, the more I found out that there were a lot of changes unrelated to the core rulebook and rather, the core game itself.
For those unfamiliar with Blood Bowl, a quick way to summarize it is “What if football but in the Warhammer Universe and with a lot of dice rolls?”. The goal is simple: reach the touchdown line by any means necessary. And, by any means, I mean any indeed. Punch your enemies, kick them down, throw them to the crowd, make them bleed, kill them if necessary. All this wrapped in a deep yet satisfying turn based system that considers attributes, perks, and even “cheats” such as bribing the referee.
It was this insane premise that drew me into its first iteration back in 2009. Being born in Brazil means that access to Games Workshop miniatures or board games was — and still is — extremely rare. Therefore, seeing the possibility of not only learning but also playing Blood Bowl with other people meant a lot to me.
Much like other Games Workshop properties, learning it is the hardest part. Both the board game and the digital version are “easy to learn, hard to master” base rules that become more complex as you go through the packed roster of races and players. To the point where you need to invest some good chunk of time to even learn the ins and outs of some of the more unique races, such as the vampires.
Blood Bowl 3 was supposed to be the best “entry” for newcomers since the 2020 rules simplified a lot of the core mechanics, such as making agility, passing and armour dice rolls rather than another number on an already massive sheet for each player. The ability to jump prone players not only opens a wealth of new possibilities but also makes the turns more dynamic. They require all actions to be confirmed instead of simply a quick click of a button, which veterans might not like much.
While I would love to see this being true for Blood Bowl 3, this is very far from the case. It’s 10 short tutorial — if you can even call it that —, glances over the most basic actions of the game and how some attributes and skills work. It’s lacking at best, gatekeep-ish at worst (more on that soon). Once you are done with it, you can choose to start the campaign or skip this part and go into the multiplayer fray. But first, you must register your team.
What is that? I’m glad you asked! You need to create your own team and sign up players. Oh, you don’t know what team you want to play? That’s okay, the game offers you a sample template of “balanced” for each team or you can select “manual” and sign players — from throwers to linebackers.
While I assume most newcomers will go with “balanced”, even if they choose “manual” it goes to show how much Blood Bowl III cares about teaching new players about the peculiarities of each team. Until this point, the game only spoke about skills during one of its tutorials. Now you have not only a plethora of passive and active skills that most players of each race begin with and even more that will be unlocked if they perform enough successful actions.
For instance, a starting Human Lineman will be completely different from a leveled up lineman. You can specialize a lineman to be good at blocking, tackling or even become better at sprinting so your team can have a better balance between a Lineman and a Halfling — which are now in the human team and are agility rather than strength focused. These skills can be bought with SPP (Star Player Points) and even this system was entirely revamped from Blood Bowl 2 to Blood Bowl 3. Nothing is mentioned throughout the game. So, even if you played a bit of Blood Bowl 2, know the basics but want to get back into the action Blood Bowl 3, you’re on your own to figure things out.
I understand that Blood Bowl is a very dense and complex game, as I mentioned early, “easy to learn, hard to master”. But at least Blood Bowl 2 had the decency of adding a “guide” that was nothing more than a link to a now barely functional website with more info about the rule-set. Long gone are the days of Blood Bowl and its Legendary Edition, which at least came with a 50 page PDF explaining the core rules.
What was back in 2009, a high entry barrier, now became an enormous mountain someone has to climb and hope not to fall off to even grasp the most required concepts of the game.
I’ve played countless digital adaptations of board games, from the simple and yet fascinating Wingspan to the Advanced Squad Leader Inspired “Lock ‘n Load Tactical”. All of them had at least some sort of advanced tutorial in game or external files explaining specific rules or scenarios. Blood Bowl 3 only further worsens the possibilities of new players embracing the game.
By not including these options, I can only see Cyanide and Games Workshop saying in unison ‘Sorry, this club is exclusive for those who climbed the mountain’ and shutting the door on your face. The absolute worst kind of gatekeeping — intentional or not — that permeates the board game industry, both digital and physical.
But let’s say you are the 2009 me, the 19-year-old me that wants to get into Blood Bowl and is determined to use external resources to learn the game. Maybe because you like Warhammer, or you like football or you just enjoy the idea of punching an elf in the face. You gather all the info you can, you create your team, you start the campaign and get ready for your first match. In Blood Bowl 3, there’s a high possibility that all that work will crumble into dust.
There are two major possibilities when it comes to playing the campaign against the AI. Either they will be brain dead during a match, letting you do laps around them and scoring touchdown after touchdown, or they will be an unrelenting foe that will always roll the best outcome, forcing you to replay the match or even the entire tournament.
This was a known issue since Blood Bowl 1, but at least the AI got a little better in not showing that it is clearly cheating in Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition. This time, there isn’t even an effort. Both the campaign and the friendly matches against AI are filler content for what Cyanide believes, and they are not entirely wrong, what makes the game shine: the multiplayer.
What can gather after playing a fair share of Blood Bowl 3, Cyanide expects that you are buying it for the online and you have a firm grip on its rules. So much so that the game requires an internet connection, and it uses separate profiles between online and offline play.
But what would happen if the game didn’t work online? Or maybe the servers went down? Well, that was my experience during the “two days early access” and the launch week. I could barely connect to a match and sometimes even the servers themselves. The online integration is so absurd that even basic menus such as the campaign — which is only against AI players — had delays due to a heavy load on the servers.
And while I can say “Okay, that was a terrible start”, there was no reason for this poor start. Blood Bowl 3 isn’t a major title that will attract millions of people jumping on day 1 and even some MMO launches, such as Guild Wars 2, weren’t as bad as I experienced during the first week.
Most of the issues server side seemed to be resolved during the writing of this article. I could start matches, I could join leagues, I could find other players. What I couldn’t do was complete a single game without having minor or major issues.
All that talk about skills and how important they are? Well, some of them aren’t working in Blood Bowl 3, or at least not being considered as modifiers after a die roll. I saw issues with Skavens, Humans, and Chaos so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it affected every race in the game. And, honestly, I don’t plan on creating more teams to find out.
When I wasn’t baffled by the outcome of a play, I was baffled by the frequent freezes that forced me to close the game, thus forfeiting a match because in 2022 there is still no mid-game saving, even during AI friendlies. Throwing a ball could cause the game to freeze, trying to dodge an opponent made the game crash. Even the one time I did a rush and scored a touchdown, Blood Bowl 3 pulled the rug from my feet and closed itself.
Pouring salt into an already opened wound that was playing Blood Bowl 3, Cyanide changed the team and roster customization from its very open and malleable system from Blood Bowl 2 to a micro-transaction hellscape that uses a digital currency called “WarpStone”. Do you want to customize your player with a new helmet? Oh, better pay up! Common ones go for 75 WarpStones and legendary ones can go up to 750 WarpStones. There aren’t a lot of choices in the marketplace right now because, much like the rest of Blood Bowl 3, the system isn’t properly implemented.
Making matters worse, or at least funny, the launch was so botched that somehow every player received the “Brutal Edition” — the most expensive version of Blood Bowl 3 — and now has 1000 WarpStones sitting in their account. As a “Sorry”, Cyanide added an extra 1000 Warpstones for people who bought the “Brutal Edition” and a 250 extra for those who had access to the two day “early access” window.
Through multiple mentions in their forums and social media, the Cyanide assured that everything will be fixed in due time. Patches are rolling out fixing the major bugs, improving server response times and prioritizing features such as admin panels for leagues — which surprisingly the game shipped without — to go live before the first season starts in may. I apologize if I shifted the tone a bit, but watching this unfold during the time I was writing this critique was nothing short of baffling and surreal.
They chose to hand out digital money for a game that barely works, of all the damage control they could do during these kinds of situations, which makes it especially funny to me. Not only that, but the mention of the first season which, you guessed it, means a season pass in May.
‘Here, here is some digital cash for you to spend once we fix the game, and remember, the cosmetic items are entirely optional and have no gameplay advantage whatsoever!’ while in the same post explaining that they aim to use their “fair” monetization to create an ever evolving game with new and more exciting features. At all times avoiding the term “Games as a Service”.
Maybe Cyanide needs to remember that if you want to monetize a game, make sure it works first. Those matches end with a winning and losing team and not with a crash. That, for a lot of fans — newcomers or not — this was eagerly awaited thanks to the many changes brought by the 2020 rulebook.
What I have in front of me is a husk of a game, not the one that I fell in love with back in 2009. It’s a game that is begging to be finished, in which most pieces are in place but are not talking with each other or are sitting alone in a corner. This is especially painful for players that are not in the UK or in the US like myself. For a lot of us, this was a door to Blood Bowl and Warhammer in general, and it feels like the door was firmly shut. Maybe things will be fixed by the start of season 1 in May, maybe they won’t and we are either stuck with” “Blood Bowl 2: Legendary Edition” until “Blood Bowl 3: Legendary Edition” comes out or its publisher Nacon decides to cut its losses short and in another 10 years or so we maybe get a shot of another “Blood Bowl”. No matter the outcome, the damage is done and the community will always remember Blood Bowl 3 as an awful and mismanaged launch. I truly hope it bounces back from this, but I’m not holding my breath.
A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes