Getting down and dirty with Blood Bowl on DS and PSP

Streamlined DS and PSP versions are designed to pick up, play and gouge

Getting down and dirty with Blood Bowl on DS and PSP
| Blood Bowl

Like a wide receiver about to be sandwiched by two supercharged safeties, attempting to turn a much-loved niche licence into a successful computer game is a balancing act requiring agility and power.

Change the fundamentals fans have enjoyed for years and the backlash will be severe - potentially disastrous if they end up rejecting the original. However, if you don't make maximum advantage of the interactivity inherent in games, you may as well not bother in the first place.

That's the situation for Antoine Villepreux, project manager at Cyanide Studios (pictured), who alongside licence holder Games Workshop has spent the past two years developing versions of cult tabletop boardgame Blood Bowl for PC, Xbox 360, PSP and DS.

We asked him why Cyanide decided to make DS and PSP versions.

"You can have chess games on DS and PSP so why not Blood Bowl?" he replied. "It's great for the fans to have portable versions of Blood Bowl to take with them when they are travelling. I really love the PSP version because I think the game is really well adapted to the platform."

Indeed, it was a sentiment echoed by many of the hardcore fans at the Games Workshop press event we attended. They seemed to be more excited by the PSP version even than the PC.

Blood on the tabletop

Originally released back in 1987, Blood Bowl is still taken very seriously by its 4,000-odd players, with regular ranking tournaments held in the UK, Germany and US under the auspices of its international association, the NAF.

It's this dedication that's being matched by Cyanide, especially in terms of the PC version, which will enable online games, hosted servers, and a vast amount of customisation options whether in terms of rule tweaks or the production of game stats for the hardcore fans to pore over.

The portable versions are aimed at a more casual audience. The PSP release has been developed in conjunction with the PC and Xbox versions, and includes the same graphics, character models and animations.

The DS version uses the same rules and database but has been developed by a separate team and has more cartoon-style 2D isometric graphics and stylus-appropriate contextual menus.

Throw of the spiked dice

As for the basics, the game is a turn-based ultra-violent and blackly humorous version of American Football played by fantasy races such as orcs, dwarves, lizardmen and skaven.

Each of the eight available races has been tailored for a different style of play, with humans being well balanced for beginners, dwarves and orc slow but with a powerful defence, and elves with a super speedy attack.

You control a team of 16 players, of which 11 are allowed on the pitch at any time. The goal is to get the ball over your opponent's touchdown line either by running it into the end zone or throwing it to someone who catches it there.

During each turn, you have the option to move each of your players or use them to block an opponent, moving them backwards and thereby creating space for someone else to run into.

As well as throwing the ball once per turn, you can also perform one Blitz, which enables a player to block and move. Each team gets eight turns per game and each turn has to be made within a four minute period.

So far so simple.

The rub is if there is any unsuccessful action - i.e. a throw intercepted, the ball dropped, a player is sent off, or a blocking player knocked down - then a turnover is called and your turn is over.

The underlying tabletop genesis of the game means that the success (or otherwise) of your actions is controlled by the various stats of your players (strength, agility, armour etc) and the randomness of the dice that are rolled to determine the outcome.

Obviously, the more complicated your attempted actions, the more unlikely you are to pull them off.

The support team

As you progress from game to game, additional options are layered in as you gain the experience points and cash to upgrade your players, as well as partake in extras such as bribing the referee, and hiring cheerleaders and apocatharies to buff your team and heal injured players respectively. You also gain star player points which are used for special skills.

The modes available for the PSP and DS versions of Blood Bowl include a Quick Game option using 56 pre-set teams, and the main Championship option, which has you playing your way through 15 tournaments.

As you do this, you build up your own team of unique players, which you can save out for local wifi head-to-head multiplayer or Cup and League games against the computer.

Significantly, neither the DS or PSP contain the real-time version of Blood Bowl, which has effectively been created for the Xbox 360 audience, but they do include special, detailed tutorials, enabling you to pick up the basics of the game before you leap into action

Still, we're a bit unsure how Blood Bowl will fare on the DS, especially considering the sales of more gory games such as GTA: Chinatown Wars.

So, as highlighted in our GDC hands-on, the PSP version seems to be the one to watch when Blood Bowl is released sometime in June.

Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at PG.biz which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.