I’ll Take the Red Pill

One thing I loved about the Star Wars pen and paper game was the concept of the ‘red’ dice. SW was played with all d6 – and on your rolls you always had to had an off colored dice. That dice was the “special” dice. We called it the fate dice. It may have officially have been called the ‘Force’ dice. I’m not sure. Its been 15 years. The crux of it? You rolled real bad on that dice, even if you rolled all 6’s on the others, and crazy things would happen. Crazy bad. It also worked in the reverse, where a good roll – on that one dice – would make amazingly incredible things happen. Out of the ordinary. At least, that is how I remember it – and I was reminded of it while trying out Blood Bowl.

To hell with ordinary and predictable. While I can’t recommend this game to everyone, it has brought to my forefront that despite pretty graphics and neat mechanics, the predicatbility of gaming is killing me. So I kill my enemies on the Blood Bowl pitch. More chatter after the jump.

I had never heard of Blood Bowl before, which has a long, interesting and successful tabletop history. I heard about it through reading a couple of posts at Hardcore Casual (sorry for the tri-pingback Syn, but they are all older articles so shouldn’t mess up your clean blog too much!) and a few thoughts gleaned from those articles made me purchase.

  • I was looking for a strategic challenge – but not too crazy difficult
  • I like sports, and fantasy, and bloodletting
  • I wanted something completely out of the comfort zone realm of my gaming
  • Something turnbase, easily pausable, saveable, etc. A game I can play for 15 minutes and walk away and come back when I have time

The fact the game has been around for years was a bonus – the rules have been created, updated, and tested extensively. BB is considered a very true port of the tabletop version so hey, let’s see how those years of refinement would translate into a gaming experience. Not surprisingly, very well.

I chose Elves. I know, make fun of me, whatever. While Orc and Human teams are supposedly the better learning teams the team description for Elves was pass, pass, and pass. I like that style of play, so I chose them. I tried to do the tutorials – sadly, it took longer to load a tutorial than to complete it (and the game itself loads really slow before a match – can’t figure out why, considering there isn’t much in the way of moving parts). I downloaded the ruleset pdf, read through it a bit before realizing without a board or visual reference in front of me it was hard to grasp the core concepts. So, in the end, I just dove right into campaign mode. I would learn through trial, error, and failure. It took about 5 matches before I really understood and got the hang of it – so the learning curve wasn’s so bad. Shortly after that, after competing in 6 tournaments over the past few weeks, a team rating of just over 2000, 1 trained up star player from a rookie, 2 trophies to my name, I can safely say I am hooked on the game.

The basic mechanics are beat the snot out of your opponent in a footballesque setting. It just works. Your players improve and you can customize their stats and bonus skills (not much in the way of visual customization except at purchase) and you can tip the advantage in the game through other mechanics – rerolls (wish I had invested in them earlier), cheerleaders (assist in certain rolls during the game), and apothecaries (can stop your players from permadeath, or perma injury).

That’s right, permadeath.  Ther permanency of it all is great. Break a leg? Lose one Agility point – permanently. Your players can – do – and will – die. My favorite player on my team was a Wardancer. She kicked serious ass. Got up to level 5 – an emerging star. I was playing a first round tournament against a far weaker opponent and bam – she was blocked by a small goblin and the injury roll came up “Death”. Dead. She’s gone. That’s it. Bring in the sub, and exact some revenge. That kind of randomness is what I really like about the game – although I am certain it will frustrate some incredibly. You can setup your offence perfectly, knock down opponents, send a receiver deep, have your Thrower go to pick up the ball and pass it into the endzone for a quick point – only to have him fail a pickup roll. No one around him, nothing in the way, just a bad dice roll. Now, the tables are severely reversed if you don’t have a contingency plan for that error roll. He fails the pickup roll and automatically its a turnover and the other team gets their moves. One runs up and breaks the Thrower’s collarbone, the next picks up the ball, and trots into your endzone. No matter how well you plan, how good your players are, and how sound your strategy is – you are at the mercy of a random dice roll that can turn the entire game upside down with with fatal 1 roll.

And that, my friends, is sweetness. Pure sweetness. The unexpected and unpredictability of it all has me in love with it. Imagine an MMO, where you go to cast your fireball of doom on the Big Mob, and you fail a roll for it – causing it to explode around you, damaging anyone nearby? Interrupting a heal on the tank, causing the tank to die, and more craziness to ensue? That may not sound like a lot of fun in current MMO iterations, but if encounters were scripted to allow failure in the first place (without wiping) we could really have some fun with it.

I haven’t tried Multiplayer yet, and granted, I am only playing the game on the Easy setting – I am still understanding the different races and how they play, and how to counter their strengths. The only team that gives me a major headache right now is the Lizardmen team, with Dwarves close behind (they are tough little buggers, and push around the Elves fairly easily). The Goblin team is the easiest for me to beat, and Chaos is hit or miss. I am looking forward to digging a bit deeper into the game, reading the official rulebook for the tabletop version (now that i have played a bunch of matches, I’ll be able to understand it better) and throw myself to the BB wolves out there. I expect it won’t be pretty. But hey, maybe their Runner will roll a 1, fall down flat, and give me a chance to win. I fully suspect at the mercy of the RNG even an average player has  a shot at a great player. I suppose I’ll find out soon.

The directed experience feels like Uwe Boll is the one calling “cut” right now. Throw in some twists, have some fun. Play some Blood Bowl.

11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Online is a good mix of BB vets and new players, and 99% of the players are good sports about everything. Once you play online you will realize how silly the AI in single player is, and only against others will you really become a good player. It’s also great fun to see how creative people get, and having someone else to witness the dice gods and their cruel ways is a blast.

  2. I’m happy with randomness so long as it isn’t backbreaking. I’ve been playing Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume on the DS, and one bad turn can kill a character, but resurrection items are pretty cheap, and opponents stay dead. You can claw your way back from a “death” with good play.

    It’s still nice to know that if something goes wrong, it’s my fault, not the whim of a cube with an attitude… but yes, those small failures (not punishing wipes) make games more interesting.

  3. My cousin Phil was here in town here for a job interview this past week and so I finally got the chance to try a tabletop Warhammer game.

    Years ago I had spent a few hundred dollars on an Orcs and Goblins fantasy army to play with co-workers, however the company went belly up shortly thereafter and I lost touch with many of those people. Needless to say, I had never actually “played” a game, just painted them and stuffed them in a closet for 5 years.

    Phil brought his Lizardmen, and we went through a 1000pt game (which I’m told is small). I was immediately drawn to the randomness of it all, particularly with my orcs. On any given turn my units could be charging into the enemy or fighting amongst themselves depending on the dice roll. I had 3 goblins called “Fanatics” who swing giant steel spiked balls around wildly. They hide in a larger unit, and are shoved out in a direction when the enemy gets close. Very high damage, but what made them fun is after the initial shove they are out of my control. Their direction and movement from then on was determined by scatter dice (a die with arrows all over it). The little dizzy bulldozers are just as likely to go careening into me as they were the enemy.

    It was fun, and the randomness was much needed. It gave every moment a sense of excitement and anticipation. Would my shaman kill his target or would he miss cast and blow himself to pieces?

    It makes me wonder how these games became so niche. Table-top and pen-and-paper games will surely always be this way, but why video games? The UK definitely has a larger market for these, but what sets their demographic apart? I can only assume Hollywood has some large part in the decline of turn based, dice rules games. Fast paced, high action rules.
    What I find most interesting is that despite North American companies feeding souls into their hype-machines, emergent gameplay stories from fans are still one of the best ways to get people to buy a game. It doesn’t matter what game you play, when you talk to friends about the game it is the random stories that dominate the conversation.

    “It was crazy! I was 5hp from death, 5 guys were closing in on me, threw my grenade and it missed! But THEN, the car the grenade hit flew in the air and crushed all five of them!!”

    Unscripted, and uniquely yours. Randomness rules.

  4. href=”http://www.westendgames.com/”>West End Games resurrected the old system used for the Star Wars games in the d6 system. d6 Space is essentially the old Star Wars game with the IP bits scrubbed out.

    It’s interesting how people view randomness. One guy I board gamed with hated randomness. He preferred games where the goal was to out-wit your opponent, usually by coercing other players to play in your favor.

    I think a bit of randomness is good, though. Randomness counter-acts player decisions, which means that a little bit can throw a monkey wrench in your “perfect plans”. Too much, however, and you trivialize player choices.

    Over at That’s a Terrible Idea, they argue for less randomness in games. Interesting counterpoint between these two posts.

  5. @Syn: Played a couple online matches. Hell yeah, its a blast and re-ups the learning curve. I’m already feeling better about my game, and although it has only been 2 matches, people have been great to play with.

    @Tesh: Life doesn’t always play out to reactions to your actions though, either. It is that “magic” of good and/or bad that is out of our control that creates the interesting dynamic.

    @Lars: I feel you. That Goblin character is actually in the game, and it is hilarious to see him spinning off randomly wondering if he is going to bowl over 4 guys or just fall flat. I think the absolute randomness works best in BB, and the tabletop game, because there is no overarching story – you lose a player, no big deal, get a new one for the next match. If that player was somehow interwoven into the major storyline – that could create issues.

    @Psycho: That was really what I was getting at. MMO gaming is just like watching a movie you really like for the 5th – or 50th – time. You already know the ending. It’s Broadway – practice the steps enough to make a good show. West Side Story in New York is the same West Side Story in Los Angeles. Some actors might be a bit different, but the story ends up looking and being the same overall. While MMO’s are designed as scripted pass/fail encounters to be “challenging”, it would be doable in a more random fashion. Thing is, as noted, some people hate not having things in their control. Personally, I relish the opportunity. I think that lack of control has a very good opportunity to make gaming worlds much more dynamic. Improv vs. Broadway.

  6. Oh, yes, I’m fond of some randomness, just not enough to be really annoying (and everyone has their own threshold, to be sure). It’s part of what I was getting at with my “Chaos Channeled” article a while ago.

    Perfect predictability is boring, but if I’m investing a lot of time and effort in something, I don’t want to lose a lot due to dumb luck. Your loss of the level 5 star player was a kick in the shins, but it wasn’t “Nintendo hard” where you had to start the whole season over.

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