Blood Bowl 3 review: "Good bloody fun"

Blood Bowl 3 review: "Good bloody fun"
Images via Nacon

Written by 

Dave McAdam

Published 

19th Feb 2023 09:00

The Warhammer franchise is fairly all-encompassing, and nothing makes that point more apparent than Blood Bowl. This football-flavoured spin-off of the tabletop war game pits fantasy armies against each other in a contest that isn't quite combat, but might be even more violent.

Blood Bowl began as a tabletop game but has found a second life as a video game with two digital renditions so far. A third video game based on the classic board game is here, and while Blood Bowl 3 has some onboarding issues, it's a more polished version of the excellent games that came before. 

Tactical sporting action

Blood Bowl 3 Review: Black Orcs vs Dwarfs
Click to enlarge

Right off the bat, I admit that I probably know ten times more about Warhammer than I do about American football. Thankfully, Blood Bowl is mostly similar to football in aesthetics, as it plays more like rugby. I know slightly more about rugby.

Anyway, regardless of your sporting knowledge, the only thing Blood Bowl really expects you to know is that the ball needs to go to the end of the pitch, and anyone in your way needs to be forcibly removed.

As you might imagine, a Warhammer take on football/rugby is light-hearted, brutal, and focused largely on tactics and dice rolls. Canonically, Blood Bowl takes place in an alternate version of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles universe in which an ancient game called Blood Bowl is invented.

Some Dwarfs and Orcs put down their weapons and decide to give it a go, finding they quite enjoy pummelling each other in this sport as well. Word of the game spreads and before long, all the races join in and form their own teams.

Silly in premise, clever in execution

Blood Bowl 3 Review: The Black Orcs preparing to play
Click to enlarge

There has always been a tongue-in-cheek aspect to Warhammer. From the dark political satire of Warhammer 40K, to Orcs launching themselves out of cannons while wearing wings and comical explosives. Blood Bowl is probably where the franchise reaches its peak silliness, in the best way possible.

Not all of the humour lands in Blood Bowl 3, but the overall vibe is light and joyful and makes playing X-Com crossed with Madden a much more entertaining experience.

That said, the tactical sports gameplay is plenty entertaining by itself. As a non-sports fan lacking in the attention span usually required for tactical and strategy games, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got on board with Blood Bowl 3's gameplay.

Simple to learn but hard to master is often a goal in game design, especially in board games. This phrase feels true of Blood Bowl, there really isn't a huge amount you need to learn in order to play the game. Like real football, there really isn't much to it other than running, passing, tackling, and scoring.

The depth comes from the myriad ways that games can play out. There are 12 available races to build a team from, each with its own players who bring their particular strengths and weaknesses to the field.

Some teams are quite uniform, you won't see much diversity when you line out eleven nearly-identical armour-clad Dwarfs. Conversely, you could play with a Black Orc team comprised of Orcs, Goblins and Trolls. Or an Old World Alliance team comprised of Elves, Humans, Halflings, Treemen, and more.

You could play a broader strategy of similar players, or specialise with Ogres for defence and Goblins for running the ball. The choices are yours, as you make your team how you want it. You can run with a default squad, but for most of the games' modes, you will need to at least start your own team. Doing so is quick and easy; you can jump right in and play, or you can spend hours finely crafting the perfect line-up.

Like Football Manager, but with murder

Blood Bowl 3 Review: The team management screen
Click to enlarge

Having your own teams is central to most of Blood Bowl 3. Not only does the game default to your own original teams in matches against other players or the AI, but you will also need your own team to enter the campaign mode, Clash of Sponsors. This mode has you competing against other teams for the attention of sponsors, fictional in-universe brands with pun names like Orcidas or Nurgle King.

The goal is to win, impress the sponsors, make money, and use that money to improve your team. With more money you can recruit more players, coaching staff, medics, or cheerleaders. You can even use that money for more nefarious tactics, like making sure the referee is on your side and knows when to look the other way.

There's plenty to do for fans who want to dig in and build the ultimate team. For new players, the bar for entry is thankfully not too high. You don't need to dive into the nitty-gritty of managing your team straight away. If you want, you can create a team, pick a race, auto-fill your roster, and then jump straight in to play with that team.

Couple that fact with the simple-to-learn nature of the gameplay, and you have an excellent entry point. The game's tutorial will walk you through the basics and make sure you are up to speed before you start. The only thing you really need to learn on your own is the specifics of each race and each player.

Communication issues

Blood Bowl 3 Review: the death screen that appears when a player is killed
Click to enlarge

The tutorial is where one of the game's more noticeable issues begins to rear its head. I'm playing the game in English, and I cannot shake the feeling that the game was not written in English, as the translation seems rough. There are many grammatical errors and some seriously confusing wording in the tutorials and other parts of the game. There isn't a whole lot of reading to be done in Blood Bowl 3 so this isn't a major issue, but it is a prevalent one.

On the topic of issues, we might as well discuss the only other one that I had. Playing against the AI, there were occasions when it would take quite a long time to make their moves. The game is turn-based, and sometimes the AI struggles to choose what to do. I turned off the turn timer while I was learning the game, so the issue is easily fixed by keeping that on. Just be mindful, the AI likes to keep you waiting.

Good bloody fun

Blood Bowl 3 Review: Two teams preparing to face off in front of an excited crowd
Click to enlarge

Other than that, the game is an excellent rendition of Blood Bowl. The character models are a joy- the obvious ones like Dwarfs and Elves dressed as football players are great, but the real treats are the more unusual ones like the Orc doctor, the Goblin referee, or the various races' different takes on cheerleaders. Nurgle cheerleaders use gross, severed heads as pom-poms, it truly is a sight to see.

I have been a fan of Warhammer for a bit, but my knowledge of Blood Bowl has been practically non-existent until now. I wasn't sure what the appeal of a tabletop football strategy game was, even less as to why there are three video games based on said game. Having played Blood Bowl 3 for this review, I get it now. I went in optimistic, but I did not expect this game to open my eyes to its appeal as much as it has.

The content in this game seems plenty for the price, and anyone who plans to play online will get more than enough value for their money. As someone who had never touched the game before I can absolutely see myself playing more of this, I might even be tempted to pick up a few models and a board.

3.5/5

Reviewed on PC. Code provided by publisher.

Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.

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