If Graham allowed us to swear above the cut, I would one hundred percent have started this post with a string of expletives. Because Warhammer-themed sports game Blood Bowl 2 is utterly maddening. I’m playing in a league at the moment, the bottom of which I am hugging like a flipping anchor, and while the people I’m playing with are great, I dread every fixture as two hours I know I will never get back. The losing, I couldn’t care less about. I am not really very competitive about games anyway, and as a newcomer to this one, it’s only natural that I’d get repeatedly mauled by a league full of more experienced players. Oh no. The problem, crucially, is the anatomy of a Blood Bowl 2 loss.
Fucking Blood Bowl 2. Ah, that’s better.
You know the thing elder siblings do to younger siblings, where they use the weaker child’s arms to slap the face of the body they are attached to, while mockingly asking “why are you hitting yourself?”. That’s Blood Bowl 2. That’s the entire game’s worth of code, expressed in five cruel, puerile words. It suffers from the curse of being an all-too-faithful adaptation of a tabletop game, but with all elements of inter-player mercy put into the uncaring hands of a digital referee. “No takebacks” reigns forever, here.
The entire ruleset is built out of pitfalls, with the smallest error in judgement, the briefest forgetfulness, putting you at a colossal disadvantage, and no warning whatsoever from the game when you are about to do something disastrous. Indeed, most of the rules you won’t even be aware of until you fall foul of them, unless you somehow manage to recall them from the deluge of abstract, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it information presented during the tutorial.
There’s also the fact that every attempted action in the game is resolved by the rolling of one or more virtual D6, with failure chances often punishingly high, and consequences severe. It makes the RNG frustrations of something like Darkest Dungeon seem completely trivial, and I can genuinely feel my blood pressure rise as one of my orcs attempts to waddle six feet, before skidding twelve, and injuring himself beyond hope of recovery for the next game. It feels petty and arbitrary and spiteful, as indeed all games of chance are, but this pettiness is not concealed by any illusions in BB2’s design.
The feeling subsides a little as you get more experienced, I am assured. But even for experienced players, loss almost always comes about as a result of failing to remember some trivial but crucial quirk, rather than through being outplayed.
Still, and despite all of that, the cruelty of Blood Bowl 2 has its moments. There is a zygote of fun, at least, in that swamp of mean-spirited bathwater. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, genuinely free from all bitterness, when a bog-standard human swung a punch at Slamadeus Grozart, the troll who held together the front line of my team, and killed him stone dead. After a season where hundreds of punches had been thrown both by and against my team, and the worst that had happened had been a scattering of mild injuries, the sudden intrusion of mortality – and afflicting the most durable player on the pitch, too – captured the sublimely weird humour of the “goofy has died” tweet:
Goofy has died
— Disneyland (@Disneyland2go) February 2, 2020
I played Mozart’s Requieum on my phone, for all the Discord channel to hear, for the remainder of the match, and spoke a brief eulogy for Grozart at the final whistle. It didn’t quite make up for everything that had come before, but it kept me playing for a few matches more.