Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Super Blood Bowl, er, wait, The Blood Super Bowl, hmm, no….. by Seth Oakley

On Thursday, my friend Tau Kid messages me and tells me that the championship game of the Seaside Blood Bowl League is this afternoon at 4, and if I want to cover it for the Ace of Geeks podcast and blog, I should show up. His name isn’t actually Tau Kid, it’s Steven, but I’ve called him that for as long as I have known him, and I don’t feel like giving up traditions today. I show up at Anime Imports, the shop where the game is to be held (and hereafter known as Anime Imports Stadium), and there are about a dozen screaming fans there to watch the match. By “screaming fans,” I mean “stereotypical nerds,” and by “watch the match,” I mean “ignore Blood Bowl and play Magic.” Oh well. Steven, Lee, and Efren are crowded around a Blood Bowl mat and the game is about to begin.

Blood Bowl is a game created by Games Workshop and then handled off to Specialist Games. It would have died when Specialist Games folded, but the fans picked up the banner and now maintain a "Living Rule Book" that is shared among players. I think "Undead Rule Book" would be a little more appropriate, considering that they are essentially playing with the corpse of a previous rules set, but that’s not for me to decide. Now the rules are maintained by an organization called NAF World Headquarters. In the original rules, NAF stood for Nuffle Amorical Football, the fictional organization that controlled the fictional league. If you think that this is a parody of “North American Football,” you might be right. It is a game produced by Brits that exaggerates the violence and mayhem of Football as Americans know it.

Doesn't look THAT exaggerated. -Ed
The game is played by 2 humans that control a set of models which represent players in the game. The teams available come from the Warhammer Fantasy setting, so you will see elves, facing off against dwarves, orcs and goblins, ogres and minotaurs, skeletons and zombies, and more. NAF is constantly approving additional teams. Furthermore, there are a number of miniature lines that sell a variety of fantastical football miniatures. These include gnomes in mechs, platypus sportsmen, and dwarves with beer helmets. Players also convert and sculpt a lot of their own miniatures, since there are so few models compared to other games by the same company. With only 18 or so models to assemble and paint, many players have more than one team.

League play starts off by the human “hiring” a team of players and playing games with the same list. Injuries, upgrades and even deaths are tracked as the seasons progress. Rosters change as teams win games and get more money to hire new players, or retire older players that don’t help them out. All of these are tracked on the league website, This league has a round robin format: each player is scheduled to play another and given two weeks to find time for a game. The results are then reported to the league managers and recorded for the next round. Once everyone has played everyone else, the top two teams are given byes, the next four put in the playoffs to determine who will make it to the semis. The top two teams of the playoffs then play in single elimination tournament with the two who received byes earlier.

First place is given the top prize, a full 18 model team, purchased with the proceeds from the entry fees collected at the start. Steven said there were 11 teams this season, which is on the high end for them. Typically they have 8 to 12 teams, and it takes about 5 months to run an entire season. They had 2 “Challenges” so far, smaller events with 3 or 4 teams. Registration for season 5 is coming up, so if you are interested, head on over to their website.


The game I watched was simple enough to understand in observation, but the moves and maneuvers made by the players definitely had a hidden logic to them. The championship match was between Efren and his Rage City Brawlers, a Chaos team, against Lee and his Rotland Reapers, an Undead team. The Reapers started off with the ball and proceeded to run it up the field to score. There was a lot of pushing and shoving from both teams, rolling of dice and moving of models. Finally a hole in the defense opened up and the Ghoul ball carrier went for it. Efren brought up one of his half beast, half man defenders to hit him, knocked to ball out, and we all watched as it bounced over the pitch. Off the back of minotaurs, over the thick skull of zombies, past the mummy line man, the ball knocked its way around the pitch (moving randomly on the determination of a die roll), until it landed in open space. All the while, players are still beating on each other, pushing each other around, and tossing the opposing side into the stands. That last part is especially rough, since the fans are so blood frenzied that they can do more damage to a player than some of the players.

And that is the spirit of blood bowl. What looks on the surface to be a silly parody of a game we know, made by people an ocean away who are ridiculing it for being exceptionally violent, is actually a strategic game where the bouncing of a ball make the difference between victory and defeat. Beneath the “beer and pretzels” facade is 10 games of team planning, player acquisition, injury management, blood, sweat, tears, and lot more blood. Humans keep careful records of the game progress, who injured who, what skills that guy has, and when they should use the re-rolls that are purchased at the beginning of the game. If one of your players is a wild animal, who knows what he is going to do next round? Do you rely on him to make an important tackle, or do you draw resources from somewhere else in case he doesn’t listen? These sorts of questions show on the faces of the coaches as they puzzle out their next move, and consider their options. Don’t let the goofy looking cheerleaders or the medic model with a bone saw in one hand and oversized syringe in the other fool you: this is still a thinking man’s game.

The community in the US is not that large, Steven says. They have a league of 8 to 12 regulars. They have contact with the Freebooters Alliance Blood Bowl League, a southern California league. There's also the West Coast Quake, a Blood Bowl Tournament with 6 rounds. Last year they had 16 participants in Pasadena, California. These numbers seem low compared those seen at Warhammer Fantasy or Warmachine/Hordes games, and Steven admits they are. While there is a competitive aspect to the game, he sees the social draw in it too. When life or work or family get in the way of this, the game falls to the side, and other social activities take its place. In Europe, however, the scene is booming. In 2011, the Dutch Bloodbowl Community hosted a “World Cup” which brought in 478 teams. After 3 days and 9 rounds each, an Englishman took home the trophy. Steven says that 50 or 60 team leagues are not uncommon in Europe. Maybe that’s because we can play actual football here.
Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 94 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If there is an event you would like to see covered, let him know.

  Did you enjoy this article? Follow us on Facebook to get more great content! We have a weekly podcast you can find on our main site. Also follow us on Twitter and Tumblr!

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff - I run, and am always happy to talk about Blood Bowl!