Howdy, Sports Fans! The newest edition of Blood Bowl hits shelves this weekend, so we wanted to have our “experts” give their impressions of what the new edition has in store for us. Well, they might not be experts, but they’re definitely enthusiasts! Anyways, we’ll let them take it from here!
The Goonhammer Blood Bowl Team
Dan: Hey Sports Fans! I’m Dan, and I usually write Necromunda articles for Goonhammer, but I am an avid Blood Bowl supporter, too. I also co-host the 40k Badcast, where I regularly digress into one-sided conversations about my favorite fantasy football game. Blood Bowl is probably my favorite Games Workshop game, and I have put a truly embarrassing amount of hours into the Steam versions of the game. I’ve also run local leagues and partaken in many tournaments, events, and one-offs, and when it’s safe to do so, I can’t wait to get back on the pitch with my newly painted Elven Union team, the Baja Blasters!
ineptmule: I play Blood Bowl in the UK and I’m one of the league administrators (Guv’nors) of the Dragon Bowl League here in London. We run an annual league that has hit 80 participating coaches at its peak. We also run smaller specialised leagues and tournaments, including Stunty League, Sevens, Death Bowl, and all sorts of craziness. Currently all our leagues are all suspended due to COVID but we’re hoping to hit the ground running with BB2020 rules in Summer 2021. I’ve played most teams online, my last tabletop season was with Orcs, who won our coveted Most Casualties trophy (I was in a division with three stunty teams…) but my most loved teams are Vampires and High Elves (so I’m slightly nervous about the future of these teams in BB2020!)
Kenji: I’ve been playing Blood Bowl in various places, mostly FUMBBL and BB2 on console and PC; ironically, although I’ve played Blood Bowl the longest, I have never been able to play it against another physical human being. BB is my favorite game ever, which is ironic because I’m not a big sports fan by any measure, but BB might be the best game I think GW’s ever made. My personal favorite team is Shambling Undead (which I took to a few FUMBBL league victories), followed by their undead cousins in Necromantic and Khemri Tomb Kings, as well as (to less success) Elven Union, Wood Elves, and (because everyone has one stunty love) Halflings.
Our Initial Takes
Kenji: New Edition, Same Great Blood Bowl. Not sure it will be more ‘accessible’, but looks like it will be tighter overall and the changes to star players seems like an attempt to corral some rule bloat. I think the new PA stat both changes the game and doesn’t – it adds some wrinkles to things like casualty rolls and really screws with Elves, but teams that didn’t pass before aren’t likely going to suddenly start passing, and some will probably pass far less than they did before.
ineptmule: I’m really skeptical that the passing game is going to change much at all. For all that the official line is that adding Wildly Inaccurate passes will somehow make turnovers less likely while passing… I mean, I guess technically, it will give a tiny chance that you’ll end up getting the ball in someone’s hand, but I fear it’s going to be so marginal that it hardly makes a difference to the way the game plays. One of the core features of Blood Bowl is that you simply don’t plan around plays that aren’t likely to work, and I don’t see changes anywhere else that will encourage a change to this overall strategy.
What that also means from my point of view though is that the game is not changing much overall. I think that broadly speaking Blood Bowl is going to play like Blood Bowl. I have some areas of concern and some areas that I’m excited about, and on balance I think I’m more excited than worried due to the prospect of entirely new teams, more awesome models, and a whole release cycle’s worth of improved support for the game. However I think that some of the decisions that have been made feel a little undercooked.
Dan: The implementation of the Passing Ability stat is hot garbage. The stat itself is neutral, but setting at 4+ or 5+ for all linemen across the board majorly sucks. One of the great things about using an Elf team was that at any point, any player could rip off a beautiful pass and change the momentum of the game. Now, high-Agility Elven linemen are as good at passing as a clumsy-ass Orc. To me, this makes no sense, and seriously de-values Elf teams across the board. I don’t know why it happened like this. Maybe someone on the Blood Bowl design team over at GW gets regularly murked by Elves and they’re holding onto a grudge. Setting formerly AG 4 players to a baseline of 3+ passing would have made a ton of sense thematically, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with it.
The changes to the casualty table are also nuts. Let’s take a look:
Old table (used d68):
- 50% chance of badly hurt
- 16.7% chance of miss next game
- 4.17% chance of niggling injury and miss next game
- 12.5% chance of lasting injury and miss next game
- 16.7% chance of dead
New table (uses d16):
- 37.5% chance of badly hurt
- 18.75% chance of miss next game
- 18.75% chance of niggling injury and miss next game
- 12.5% chance of lasting injury and miss next game
- 12.5% chance of dead
As you can see, missing games and getting injured are a lot more likely to happen, while outright death is slightly more rare. I’d imagine something like this will benefit teams with a good amount of depth (AKA cheap linemen), and hurt teams with expensive players (sorry Elves!).
Kenji: Yeah, I am not looking forward to how badly this might make teams spiral; of all the changes in new BB, this is one I’m the least fond of.
Dan: I guess they wanted to get some more mileage out of that d16 that comes in every dice kit. This seems like another soft nerf to low-armor teams.
ineptmule: It’s one of a raft of small changes that really suggests this edition is going to be bashier and grindier than ever in my opinion. At least Niggling Injuries now affect the casualty roll instead of the injury roll? That makes a Niggle less of an immediate firing to me, because it switches the injury to having campaign impact instead of tactical. In the old rules I would rarely if ever keep a Niggled player on my roster because of the increased risk of ending up numbers down on a drive. If that Niggle now only matters when a player has already been Casualtied, then that ceases to be a concern.
Kenji: There’s also a really interesting change (or at least, I never knew of this rule before?) in league play that allows you a chance between league seasons to roll out of having Niggling Injuries, and allowing players with more major ones to recover down to a Niggling Injury. Perhaps the idea is to do away with the ‘fire any injured player’ style of play, given the likelihood of injuries being more common?
Changes to SPP
Kenji: SPP change is really interesting and I’m curious to see how it pans out overall. That said, I’m not sure that it’s ever possibly worth it to get a ‘random’ skill for less SPP than it is to just pick the specific one you wanted? Wonder what the edge cases it would be. Would also love to hear people’s thoughts on this.
ineptmule: I’d be tempted to take random skills on chump players like Linos and Stunties. Helps to keep team value bloat under control and might result in some fun combinations, and you can always fire the player if they get something terrible. I don’t think random skills will ever be desirable on key players.
Random stat is expensive – so expensive you might never see an opportunity to use it – but in my opinion is an interesting option. All of the stats are good, even armor now due to the changes to Claw and Mighty Blow, so if you can somehow get this early in a player’s career you could build the kind of freak star that would only come around once in a blue moon before. Some players will get less out of this, as you won’t want to get +AG on an Orc Big Un for example, but for players that are more all-round, having a Blitzer with +AG or +MA can be really handy, and +ST is the holy grail. It has to be said that +AV and +PA are still the weaker results, but they are better than they used to be. The fact that you can exchange a worse roll for a secondary skill is nice, although it’s an expensive way to get the skill so you’d prefer not to do this. To be honest it’s such an expensive pick that you need to really commit to this strategy, and I think it’s quite unlikely to get used much.
Dan: I’m not sure I’ll ever use it, to be honest. To me, it makes a lot more sense to select cheaper primary skills on your key players for utility. Yeah, having a Elven Union Blitzer with ST4 would be nice, but the opportunity cost of missing out on Dodge and a whole ‘nother skill in that case is too steep to traverse.
ineptmule: I’m not sure why they felt the need to make MVP only earn +4SPP, especially now that it applies to random players. I love that Throw Team Mate can earn SPP now, but I’m disappointed that they didn’t take the opportunity to add SPP gain from the various non-blocking ways of causing casualties. The wording for casualty SPP makes it clear that Chainsaw, Stab, Bombardier etc. do not count for this, which has always seemed like an unnecessary stipulation to me. Either that or say that Ball & Chain players don’t get SPP – I’d be good with either, just make it consistent!
Dan: Just for the record, I think all the violence skills like Stab and Chainsaw should give SPP!
Kenji: There doesn’t seem to be any metric on how/why you get an MVP, meaning some chump player you didn’t even field could conceivably become your MVP. This makes me even more bearish on random skills, since it seems like earning SPP might result in even more lopsided rosters than before (which also means that your literal MVP getting nuked by the new casualty rolls might spell disaster for your team’s future!).
ineptmule: At least it specifies that a dead player isn’t eligible, unlike the older rules!
Dan: Random MVP sucks, has always sucked, and will always suck. It’s dumb that they kept it like this, but at least it’s like the easiest thing to change when you’re running your own league. Also, why take the random level-up of days past and replace it with a buy model, only to make increasing a stat random? What the hell kind of sense does that make? Just to be clear, I actually prefer this model of levelling to the fully random method we’re used to. I just want some consistency.
ineptmule: Break Tackle! Huge change. Worse for the high strength teams that used it a lot, like Ogres and Lizardmen, but it’s now a great choice for teams like Humans, Orcs, Nobility, and even Elves (because secondary skills are easier to get.) It now allows an AG3 Blitzer with strength access to make a dodge on a 2+ for that clutch play. Dwarf Blitzers might take this now! It’s going to be less good for higher strength players because their base agility tends to be poor, so a Saurus will only get to dodge into a clear space on a 4+, and Ogres/Rat Ogres can still dodge on a 2+ but won’t find it as easy as before to dodge into cages using Break Tackle.
The changes to the Leap skill hugely alters the dynamic of Wood Elves but also makes the skill much harder to use for other teams that might have taken it. I suspect any leap-focused aggressive play will be almost useless, but it may remain in use for mobility. The Goblin Pogoer now has a new rule, Pogo Stick, which replaces the Leap/Very Long Legs that they used to have, and it changes how the player functions quite considerably.
Dan: Splitting up the Accuracy skill into two different skills that only impact specific pass ranges sure is A Choice. Passing didn’t need a nerf, and yet, it got one, and most Throwers went up in price! What is even happening?
Kenji: Brawler is amazing. Letting you reroll a single both down result means that your chances of getting a bad result are greatly reduced; on a 2d6 block, you now have a 1/18 chance of getting a failed result. It works with Block and Frenzy, and I see it being a new pick-up on a lot of teams. The change to the dreaded Claw-Pile On-Mighty Blow combo is a welcome sigh of relief, as that really did suck the life out of games sometimes. I’m not really sure what to think about Pile Driver, though. I don’t think it’s really worth it, but I also don’t play a lot of teams that would use it. I also think Fumblerooskie is a really interesting skill, and I’m curious to see if anyone figures out what to do with it.
Dan: Anything with Animal Savagery is a no-take. It is a total liability and a waste of gp. It’s completely wild that Rat Ogres have to deal with this skill and didn’t get an appropriate reduction in price.
Kenji: Could be worse, they could be Vampires! Oh, wait…
Winners and Losers
Kenji: I know a lot of people seem down on Elves, but I don’t really know if I’d say Elves have too much to worry about. I think, if anything, Wood Elves may not be as cavalier as they used to be with their flashy plays and Wardancer antics due to the changes to Leap. I think the actual losers here might be Chaos Renegades. The new Old World Alliance team is miles stronger than Chaos Renegades, and has far less negative traits to juggle, and the Animosity change on Chaos Renegades is brutal. They’re are clear winners here, and I actually expect to see them start to do very well. Goblins and Ogres are also big losers in my opinion, as almost every single one of their Star Players is currently missing, which hurts them a lot when it comes to inducements. Also, the biggest winners? Us, because rule books are now no longer gated behind starter sets, meaning you can easily get a rulebook for yourself and your opponent without having to dump off an entire starter set.
ineptmule: I love me some Chaos Renegades and nothing will induce me to stop playing them. They have never been very good, though! Otherwise… everyone loves to hate on Wood Elves, because they are annoying and have been amazing for decades, but I do think that the changes to Leaping really, really hurt them. They won’t be able to keep up their aggressive defensive play any more because they need to roll 4+ to land safely in a cage – and any seasoned Bowler will know that you simply do not build a strategy around 4+ rolls! With such poor armor and some low strength players, they will crumble if they can’t threaten the ball at all times. I honestly think Wood Elves’ unique selling point is now gone, and they will be tied with High Elves as the weakest Elf team.
Dan: Sorry, Kenji, but I think you’re way off the mark, here. Elf teams are big fat losers this time around. Why?
- Changes to the casualty table mean that we will see more missed games and injuries during the course of a league, disproportionately impacting low-armor and expensive teams like Elves.
- Splitting Accurate into two skills, each only impacting quick and short passes or long passes and long bombs makes it harder for passing teams to skill up easily.
- The Passing Ability stat and its indiscriminate application takes away an Elf team’s greatest asset: the ability to score from anywhere with anyone. Now, each Elven Thrower has a huge target on their back, because once they go down, the Elf team is far less likely to manufacture quick TDs (or any TDs).
Passing didn’t need a nerf. It was already riskier than running the ball, and now it’s even more so. Wood Elves also get hosed by the Leap changes, as ineptmule explained above, but it looks like Dark Elves were spared the worst of it, so there’s that, at least. BRB, painting my Pro Elves purple and renaming them the Midnight Militia or some dumb thing.
ineptmule: I agree that passing didn’t need a nerf, and I agree that it has been nerfed. I’m not saying the sky is falling and it remains to be seen how much of an impact this will actually have on the game, but what really concerns me is that in the Warhammer Community interview with the game’s designer, he seemed to be displaying the impression that passing has somehow been buffed in this edition. I guess I’ll just say that I’m a bit mystified by some of the apparent intent behind the design of the game versus the actual evidence of what’s in the rules.
Kenji: I think my reason for not being as down on them as everyone else is that the passing changes itself are a little cloudy to me, and I wonder if that’s something that will get changed in the first big FAQ or Almanac or something.
Dan: I wouldn’t hold my breath.
ineptmule: For me a big winner is Orcs. They gained Animosity, which seems to rub a lot of people in the community up the wrong way, but frankly getting Move 5 on all of the Big ‘Uns is an incredible boost to the team, and I’m really excited to get my old Orc lads on the pitch and see what they can do now.
Kenji: Personally, if you’re playing Orcs and your game hinges on trying to move the ball to a Goblin or Troll, something went really, really wrong.
ineptmule: Totally! More generally I’m going to say that any team with a significant amount of AV10+ is a winner in this edition. The rules have done less to alter their previous style of play and their resilience to the lasting injuries change will give them even more of an edge. AV9+ also becomes more significant than it used to be for similar reasons, which might be an added twist to make High Elves more competitive than they used to be (and of course to further confirm Dark Elf supremacy amongst the Elven Kin).
Dan: Has no one mentioned Vampires yet? Vampires are really, really bad now. And they weren’t all that good to begin with. I would also like to bid a fond farewell to Rat Ogres and Chaos Dwarf Minotaurs while I’m saying goodbye to Vampires.
Kenji: To be fair, does anyone even use the Minotaur on Chaos Dwarf teams? I forgot they even had access to them.
Kenji: I’m super excited for this new era of Blood Bowl. I think that the changes to the overall game are fairly minimal, and many of them are positive across the board. What really excites me is the potential future of Blood Bowl. Before the new edition, we knew that Snotlings were on the way; between Snotlings and Old World Alliance, we’ve gotten 2 new, very different teams that didn’t really exist before. The reworking of Bretonnians into an official team with Nobles and the Black Orcs tells me that we can hope to see more brand new and maybe reworked teams down the line, and hopefully we’ll see BB get direct support from GW for a while. BB is a fairly small and franky inexpensive game to play, and this will hopefully get new players interested in the game and keep the BB tradition going!
ineptmule: Just to flog this dead horse, coming back to the Leap change I talked about a few times now and the effect on Wood Elves: yes, yes, I hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing just for the Wardancers, but I think it’s indicative of the overall shift towards bash and grind that I suspect this edition is going to be. It feels clear to me that the designers of this game liked ‘a version’ of Blood Bowl and dialled that up to 11, while removing some of the more finicky elements (and admittedly simplifying some things, which has resulted in subtler changes.) Ultimately, I’m OK with that – I just think that veteran players should go into this edition knowing what to expect. I also feel that it’s been slightly mismarketed, with the official material emphasizing dynamic plays and such, which I’m still struggling to see be supported in the rules. But I’m ready to be wrong on that note, and I’m going to love playing this game either way. There’s way more than enough cool new stuff for me to get excited about.
Dan: Y’all, I love Blood Bowl, but I’m struggling to find reasons why the newest version is in fact an improvement over last edition. Prayers to Nuffle are great, and so is the concept of CTV, but the other changes to the game seem like the knee-jerk reactions of players with a bias against finesse teams. Is the Blood Bowl design team all Dwarf players or something? Am I bitter because I spent two months making an Elven Union team early this year to take to Adepticon, only for that event to get cancelled, and now my team is appreciably worse and I haven’t been able to get to a single tournament all year? Yes, I am bitter for those reasons, but I am also truly not wowed by the latest edition, here.
ineptmule: I do agree with a lot of that. I’m in danger of asking that classic grognard question of ‘why did it need to change’ … a lot of the changes seem to me to be change for its own sake, really.
Kenji: I do think that’s a totally fair position to take. I think my biggest position is that I’m hopeful GW may adapt the game as it moves forward with some FAQs or updatesI think my only thing I’m a little unsure about is that it seems that one big change is to incentivize taking Star Players; the new unique rules the Star Players get makes me a little suspicious of how important they may end up being, which takes away from the idea of building up your own team.
Dan: Well, either way, I think we can all agree that some Blood Bowl is better than no Blood Bowl, even if it’s not perfect!
What’s Next: Team Spotlights and Tactics
That’s it for now, Sports Fans! We’ll be back soon with Team Spotlights, Tactics and more in the coming days and months. If you have any thoughts or want to ask us any questions, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you! Thanks for reading!