With the Saskatchewan Roughrider season in the Canadian Football League getting under way last week, it seemed appropriate to look at a boardgame with a football flavour.
However, in this case it's football with a decidedly different feel, with many elements lifted directly from books and movies such as Lord of the Rings, or Eragon.
The game this week is Blood Bowl, a fantasy football game which pits teams of elves, dwarves, humans, and all manner of fantasy races against one another on a football pitch.
The game is a creation of Games Workshop, a company renowned for its fantasy war gaming miniatures and game systems. Blood Bowl is one of a handful of stand alone, board style games, the company has created over the years, and is arguably the most well-known, and best of the bunch.
Created by Jervis Johnson, the game debuted in 1986, so it has some lasting appeal to still be around today. Part of the success, and maybe one of the game's drawbacks too, is what is termed a 'living rulebook'. Over the years the game has evolved, and that has meant rule changes, with at least three editions, plus an expansion called Death Zone.
The constant changes have helped smooth out some of the wrinkles in the rules, and expanded upon the game options, but it can be a problem if an owner of the first edition, and one of one of the later incarnations of the game get together and want to play. The games are not really the same in the details.
So what are the basics here?
Well, in spite of its fantasy birthright, this game does a pretty nice job of mimicking football. You field a team of 11 players, with positions such as lineman, runner, and thrower. Each has individual statistics for movement, toughness, and strength etc., plus a range of different skills such as dodge. The package of numbers provides the basis for what the pieces can do on the pitch.
The goal is to score a touchdown by having one of your players cross the opposition goal line with the football. To do that you can move players, pass the ball, and block opponents, who are of course moving to intercept the ball carrier and strip the pigskin free.
The fantasy element comes from the various teams. You can have tough as nails dwarves, sneaky fast Skaven (ratmen), high flying elves and a series of other teams. That is a huge aspect of the game, the ability to have different teams. Often board games have only the two options that come in the box, and boredom can set in. By selling different team packages for Blood Bowl, Games Workshop has helped provide a quick way to change the game by simply fielding a different squad.
Another winning aspect of this great game is the statistics to actually have players improve their skill set over a series of games. In a league, for instance, veterans would get better, and that really adds to the feeling you are 'managing' the team.
When you mix in the fun aspects of being able to foul opponents, use special skills like bashing a puny human with your minotaur's horns, or rolling over an elf with a mechanical dwarven death roller and the game becomes that perfect mix of football and fantasy mayhem that has this game a classic to be enjoyed for years.
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 2, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada