GDC '09: Hands on with Blood Bowl on PSP

Touching down on this impressive conversion of the board game

GDC '09: Hands on with Blood Bowl on PSP
| Blood Bowl

Winning the Super Bowl puts a team at the pinnacle of American football, but since nobody else plays the sport that team becomes world champions by default. Similarly, not a soul on Earth competes on the vicious battlefield of Blood Bowl, yet the top team in this intergalactic championship has a right to tout the title of universal champions.

And so the PSP hosts the race to the championship, the turn-based tactical play of the boardgame lovingly reenacted in digital form.

It's a hard-fought run spanning 15 seasons in Campaign mode. A total of 64 teams, rosters filled with players from eight different races, vying for the top spot.

Blood Bowl takes favourite races from the boardgame of the same name including Goblins, Elves, Chaos Forces, Human, and Orcs. More will potentially be added following release via PlayStation Store - Dark Elves, anyone?

There's more than enough in the base game, though, to keep you busy for months. Depending on your level of engagement, Blood Bowl can suck you in for hours with team management and intricate play-calling. Individual games last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, the difference being the amount of attention you decide to lavish on tactics and player positioning.

As we discovered in a hands on game between Humans and Chaos Forces, Blood Bowl demands a combination of tactical thinking and sportsmanship. Having a football player's sensibility is only half of it: you need to be able to formulate winning tactics via the game's turn-based system.

This isn't a pick up game, which is to say that casual play has been turned over in favour of a more measured style of play.

You can start developing effective tactics by understanding the characteristics of each race. Elves, for example, excel at passing versus the Chaos Forces that enjoy tackling their opponents. Goblins are a particularly tough team to play as, their lack of strength countered by crazy weapons that require experience to use effectively.

Familiarising yourself with the inherent strengths and weaknesses of each race is just the beginning. Other factors influence your team's success beyond race, including fan factor and cheerleaders.

Filling the stands with spectators sympathetic to your side puts probability in your favour, boosting your luck. Additionally, the rally cry of cheerleaders can raise the spirits of your players.

As you gain practical experience playing the game, your players gain statistical experience that translates to improvements in their abilities and unlocks new skills. These are what give you an edge on the field: skills like leap allowing you to jump over an opponent to avoid a tackle, while juggernaut has your player barrelling through a competitor regardless of any block ability they may possess.

Players can get taken out by competitors, their experience lost forever should they fall on the field. Blood Bowl then becomes a fine balance between utilising your best players, building their experience up, and protecting them from potential death. Any fallen footballer is replaced, but the rookie obviously isn't an adequate substitute for an advanced pro.

The reward for all the serious tactical planning comes in the form of slick 3D graphics and hilarious overtures from players on the field. Blood Bowl is an impressive leveraging of the portable, the presentation capturing the comic tone of the board game with a sizable splash of colour.

Blood Bowl has an eye for long single player sessions, although head-to-head play via Ad-hoc mode is planned. Local wireless competition is sure to stir up some heated play between friends when the game ships later this year.

Even without it, the game promises immense value with its insanely long campaign. It's a point that has us curious about the game's portability, but confident that Blood Bowl will be worth every penny.

Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.