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Blood Bowl is one of countless tabletop games set in the universe of Warhammer Fantasy and, boy, is it a wild mix: all the different races, which usually wage endless war against each other, play what is essentially an extremely over-the-top version of football in front of crowds that make British soccer hooligans seem tame. This tabletop game spawned three video game adaptations that attempt to faithfully recreate the experience.

Now, I can’t speak to how well that turned out, as I’ve never played the tabletop game. Nor can I really give you an in-depth discussion of differences between the adaptations. I had never played Blood Bowl in my life before diving into Blood Bowl 3. So if you, like me, are a fan of Warhammer Fantasy, but are ignorant when it comes to Blood Bowl or, indeed, football, then I hope this beginner’s review will contain a useful perspective for you.

Blood Bowl 3’s tutorial does a good job of teaching you the basics and what to expect from this game. You get a step-by-step introduction to what is possible in this bloody sport. You learn how to move your players, what they can and can’t during their turn, and how to score. The most important lesson the tutorial has in store, though, is that it shows you that much of this game is just purely based on chance. See, being based on a tabletop game, most actions in Blood Bowl 3 require rolls of six-sided dice to decide if they are successful or not.

Blood Bowl 3 screenshot.

Differences in attributes, specific traits, and numerical advantages allow you to roll additional dice.

You’re always good on a 6 (a critical success) and always doomed on a 1 (a critical failure). Any targets in-between depend on the action and the involved players’ stats and skills. Whenever you fail an action, your turn ends immediately, which incentivizes you to not only think about what you want to do on your turn, but also in which order. There are a lot of traits and skills you can equip your players with as they level up and gather experience. These help you influence the odds in your favor. Previous Blood Bowl games had a thriving competitive scene, so tailoring your player builds and team compositions is a big part of the experience, especially as the developer wants to focus on the multiplayer in this iteration.

While the tutorial does a good job preparing you for a match, there is no real tutorial for the team creation aspect. I don’t even know what the positions do. I know that Blitzer is one of Santa’s reindeers, but what does Blitzer do in Blood Bowl? So I simply chose the automated option to create a balanced team, choosing the Old World Alliance from all the different factions that are available. Rated at two difficulty stars of five and described as relatively solid all-rounders, they seemed like a good option for beginners. Of course you also have Orks, Skaven, Dark Elves, Humans, and many of the other Warhammer races you know and love to choose from.

The team creation for my Ubersreik Eagles gave me a mostly human team enhanced with a single treeman from the realm of the Wood Elves. Starting my first match against a Skaven team in the campaign, I quickly got bamboozled by their speed and dodge capabilities as they outmaneuvered my players. I was getting really frustrated, because I didn’t really know what kind of formation would be good.

Blood Bowl 3 Ork.

Violence isn't merely allowed in Blood Bowl 3, it's recommended.

Surely knowledge of Blood Bowl or football would have helped, but so did Warhammer knowledge. While Skaven are always numerous and nimble, everyone knows they’re squishy. And because Blood Bowl is very, shall we say, lax with the rules, you can pretty much just beat the ever-living hell out of your opponents. And well, what do you know, things got easier as the Skaven’s sidelines quickly filled up with casualties of the temporary and more permanent sort. Puny little rats don’t have much resistance to being stomped on by a big angry tree. Can you believe one of my players was sent off the field with a red card after kicking a Skaven laying on the ground? Appalling behavior from the referee, really — totally against the spirit of the sport.

Those tackles and fouls are not just helpful to gain an advantage, but feel really good as well: the animation shows my treeman gathering momentum with its entire body before unleashing its weight on those annoying rodents. Other animations have it whirling around or delivering a knock-out punch. Naturally, blood is splattered all over the pitch after a while, delivering on what the game’s name promises.

Having finally gained some space, I stopped blindly rushing forward with my ball carrier and took some time to form up a defensive screen around him. All of a sudden my players were able to advance in a disciplined manner, not being overwhelmed by quick swarms of ratmen. Touchdown, baby!

Blood Bowl 3 screenshot.

Blood Bowl 3 is a proper tactics title with its turn- and grid-based gameplay.

Randomness, of course, can always derail a plan, so I was still on the edge of my seat watching my own moves and those of the opponent. Sure, sometimes things go awry for you. At the same it’s a great feeling to be able to exploit the misfortune of your adversary. Despite not really being into sports games, I really got sucked into this one after just embracing the violence and getting a very basic grip on strategy. I have no doubt that I’ll sometimes be frustrated with it, because that’s just inherent in its design, being based on dice throws. Lady Fortune is fickle, and that’s simply something you have to get over. This is even truer in Blood Bowl 3, as dynamic pitches add even more chance to the game – a kraken randomly snatching players, anyone?

Blood Bowl 3 is quite funny, too, containing the typical over-the-top Warhammer humor and lots of satirical takes on sports in its commentary (though it suffers from similar repetition issues as other sports games in this regard). The graphics aren’t groundbreaking and I spotted some floating models here and there, but overall the visual presentation is really nice. There are lots of customization options to show you the grid, player skills, and other useful information at a glance. You can also completely customize how your players, cheerleaders, stadiums, and many other aspects of your team look, which is a great nod to the tabletop game.

Blood Bowl 3 has a lot of depth to offer and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface – but you can have a lot of fun with this game even in the shallows.

Score: Unscored. We’ll have to play some more to come to a final verdict, but it’s been a positive solo experience for a complete newbie so far.

Tested on PC.