Blitz Bowl is one of Games Workshop’s three new family oriented games that are being sold exclusively for the time being in Barnes and Nobles. These games are part of GW’s push to expand their customer base into the family market. The other two games are Space Marine Adventures: Labyrinth of the Necrons and The Lord of the Rings: Quest for Mount Doom. Each of these games can be seen as a gateway game for younger players to be exposed to the worlds of GW’s standard line of games for older customers. In each case, the miniatures are the same style and size of the miniatures used in their main games and are completely interchangeable with those games. These new games for families are accompanied by a line of fiction books, written for pre-teen children, set in the 40K and Age of Sigmar universes of GW’s two most popular games. As a parent of pre-teen children and a teacher who runs a school gaming club, I’m very happy to see GW pushing in this direction. So how do they do with their new family friendly initiative and Blitz Bowl? Do I recommend it to other teachers running school gaming clubs and parents looking for beginning miniatures games to play with their children? How do my own children like it? Let’s take a look!
Blitz Bowl could be easily called Blood Bowl Junior in terms of gameplay. The changes made to Blood Bowl all make sense within the context of GW pushing for younger players of their games.
In Blitz Bowl two players field teams of about 6 characters in a combat infused version of American football. I say “about”, because that’s not always the case. The goblin team can field 8 characters for example. The core box comes with a human and an orc team of miniatures. It also has cards for all the first wave of Blood Bowl teams that were released. There are cards for Skaven, Dwarves, Elves, Goblins, and Chaos Doom Lords. The gameplay picture above shows a game between the Orcs and Elves. Currently these teams’ miniatures can be obtained by purchasing the Blood Bowl teams because the miniatures are identical. There are just fewer miniatures used in Blitz Bowl. So, if you buy one of the Blood Bowl teams you will have extra miniatures that aren’t needed. Of course, GW has to be hoping people will think, “Well, why not just go ahead and get Blood Bowl too while I’m at it? I’ve bought the miniatures here anyway…” Then, GW sells dice for Blood Bowl that match each of the other teams as well. Once again there are more dice used in Blood Bowl than in Blitz Bowl. It should be noted that buying the other team dice is unnecessary unless you want your teams and dice to match, because Blitz Bowl comes with two teams’ worth of dice that match the coloring of the humans and orcs. It is nice of GW to include the cards of these other teams in the box, because it does allow you to play as the other teams and see if you like them by using the orc or human miniatures as stand ins, unless you’re dealing with the goblins which have two extra characters on a team.
Each team plays somewhat differently than the others thanks to their differing stats and special abilities. They basically rank up along a continuum of speed to armor, with passing ability alternating along the spectrum. In order (starting with speed end of the spectrum) are Skaven, Elves, Humans, Orcs, and Dwarves. Then you have the two oddball teams, Chaos and Goblins. The Chaos team only has two types of players and they are made to just tackle people and run. Then finally, the Goblins have next to no armor, but there are eight of them, they are very fast, and they are the only characters in the game that can run past opponent characters. So, players may find that they like a particular team’s approach to the game better than the rest.
For Blitz Bowl, GW borrowed from Warhammer Underworld and gave each player three actions to spend on their turn. These actions can all be applied to one character if desired, unless that character does a special move that immediately ends that specific character’s ability to use up any more actions, like a miss or a tackle. In Blood Bowl, each character was able to take one activation per turn. Normally, for an action, players can run, mark, throw, or pull an injured character back onto the field. When a character runs they are not allowed to step next to an opponent character at any time during their movement. Marking means that your character takes up to two steps in order to stand next to an opponent character. Marking is the only way to get next to an opponent’s character. If your character is next to an opponent already, they may attempt to tackle them (called “blocking” in the game). That means if your character is several steps away from an opponent character you want to tackle, your character must use one action to run two or three spaces away from the opponent, then use another action to “mark” and step up next to the opponent, and then finally the last action of the turn can be used to tackle. To do that the player rolls a die with symbols on it that tell what happened. The symbols are the same as the symbols for Blood Bowl because they are the same dice. However, the symbols do not mean the same thing in Blitz Bowl every time. To appeal to younger players, GW has made it so that the tackling character is never knocked down themselves, as can happen in Blood Bowl. Instead, the tackling player is simply stopped from doing more actions on that turn if they roll the symbol that means both characters get knocked down in Blood Bowl. If you have two or more unmarked characters next to an opponent character, you will get an advantage when you roll for the tackle. In that case you can roll two dice and choose the best result. If a character is knocked down they may only stand back up as their next action that gets applied to them. However, when they are knocked down the player must roll a die to see if they get injured. If you equal or beat the number of the character’s armor stat then that character is safe. If you roll less, then that character is sent to the reserves box to heal. Once again appealing to younger players, in Blitz Bowl, characters never die like they might in Blood Bowl. Another way they change the game for younger players is that picking up the ball is automatically successful. Also, catching the ball is automatically successful. You only roll a die to determine whether the thrower throws the ball properly. Because of these automatic successes the early turn ending rules in Blood Bowl are done away with. You always get three activations on a turn no matter what happens. These changes are sure to reduce frustration in children playing the game. This would be especially true in second and third grade students who are at the low end of the recommended age of 8 for this game.
Besides the simplification of the rules and the removal of possibly frustrating levels of randomness, Blitz Bowl does add in something new. It adds in a card row of possible challenges to complete for extra points. Once again GW is probably pulling from their experience with Underworlds here, but they have eliminated the deck construction aspect of Underworlds in favor of one common row of cards that refills itself at the start of each player’s turn. It is possible to complete a card’s challenge and claim it after each of the three activations. Each card has a special ability hidden on its back that the claiming player may use one time at any point in one of their turns. So not only do you get extra points for completing a task and claiming a card, but you also get a special ability. If you manage to complete a challenge on each of your three actions you will get two bonus points. This adds back in a slight amount of complexity to the game. In my opinion, it’s a welcome addition and should not be too difficult for 8 year olds.
The winning condition is a bit different from any other miniatures sports game out there in that you must get at least 10 points ahead of your opponent to end the game and win. Thus, there are no quarters or halves to the game. This does produce an interesting tension in the game as the player who is behind frantically tries to close the point gap with the leader. If no one can get 10 points ahead by the time the task cards run out, then the game ends and whoever has the most points wins.
The games my children played with me and each other went from about 20 minutes to about an hour and a half.
Blitz Bowl has Games Workshop's high quality miniatures. Therefore, they are a step up from the miniatures in most board games. They look great! They can be a little difficult to assemble sometimes, though, so a parent should be the one to super glue them together. The way the footballs slot into the base of the character that is holding it is very cool. The gridlines are also much easier to see than the corner marks on some Blood Bowl fields.
The board is standard quality, as are the cards. They are all attractively designed and easy to read. The board does have two sides to it. One side has two ball release trap doors, while the other one has just one.
I and my two children (ages 10 and 12) really enjoy this game and we are not really sports fans. We do not watch any sports on television or follow any teams. So if we enjoy it as much as we do, I’m sure an actual football fan would enjoy it that much more. My daughter wishes there were female characters in the game and this is somewhat of a problem with all of GW's line of games. The elf team miniatures from Blood Bowl can be built for this game to have female faces if desired, but that really is a rather half-hearted attempt on GW's part, as the bodies for the elves are built to have either type of face put on them. Thus, my daughter prefers Ankama's Boufbowl, which has actual female athletes, to this game. On the other hand, my son prefers this one.
Parent/ Teacher Recommendations
I highly recommend this game for families and school gaming clubs. It’s fast and fun. It’s a great initiation into miniatures games as well. The miniatures are great for painting and the fact that there aren’t too many miniatures makes the idea of painting them hopefully less daunting for people who haven’t painted before. I think the age level on the box of 8 and up is an accurate assessment for average children assuming their parents assemble the miniatures. Younger children with extensive gaming experience will be able to play it as well. The only real issue keeping it back from its full potential is perhaps the lack of female characters.