Dungeonbowl is the latest foray from Cyanide studios into the brutal and often hilarious world of Bloodbowl. For those who don’t know, Bloodbowl is one of the many tabletop games produced by Games Workshop set in their Warhammer universes. Having played both the tabletop and their previous video game adaptation, I was excited to see how this newest game plays out. While Dungeonbowl makes some important and welcome changes to the Bloodbowl formula, it still has its share of issues.
While Dungeonbowl may be presented in some ways as a sports game, it has far more in common with the tactics genre. The game is turn based and the outcome of each action is determined by traditional RPG stats such as strength, movement, and mobility. There are literally dice-rolling sound effects and animations to accompany the “dice-rolling” the computer is doing when your players perform certain actions. The game is somewhat complicated as the rules and gameplay are taken pretty much verbatim from the board game, and with no tutorial it can be difficult for new players to figure out the many intricacies of the game. This issue is further complicated by the lack of any singleplayer options. This is a problem as you cannot practice against a computer and, as the audience for the game is limited, there are not many players online making it hard to find a match. You can play local multiplayer instead of going online by switching off with a friend, but this is hardly a substitute for a full singleplayer campaign. Considering that Bloodbowl had a fully fleshed out singleplayer mode, it’s disappointing that none of that was brought into Dungeonbowl.
One of the more positive differences between the games is in the composition of the teams. Rather than picking a race for your team, you pick a wizarding college. Each college has a selection of races to draw from, allowing for more variety in team construction and actual gameplay. When managing your team you recruit players and purchase other bonuses such as re-rolls and apothecaries. As you win matches your team gains money which you can use to improve your team. Each team has a team value that rises and falls as players get injured or you spend more on your team. Differences in team levels are made up by petty cash, which allows the weaker team to spend money on single match bonuses to become more competitive.
Because the game now ends on a single touchdown, and the ball is randomly hidden in a treasure chest, the game has become far more dynamic than traditional Bloodbowl, which often became a repetitive slogging match. The fact that the game takes place in a dungeon is significant as well because there are now multiple maps with special tiles. You can create and edit your own dungeons with a simple, but effective, block based map editor. These add more even more variation to the game.
The game overall looks fine technically. By far the most interesting part of the game’s look is its art style, which combines the grim gothic art of Warhammer with medieval football equipment. The players and dungeons are very interesting and it’s unfortunate that they aren’t more dynamic as it would do a lot for the aesthetic.
My biggest issue with the game, aside from its multiplayer focus, is that I didn’t particularly enjoy the game. I had to keep forcing myself back into it and never really felt like I was having fun. It’s hard to explain why I feel this way, as the game works as it should, but it lacks the unique sprit of playing with real miniatures. When you play with miniatures the natural stops in play don’t feel as strange and the actual act of rolling dice makes you feel like you have control over the way the game goes. The lack of dynamic action in Dungeonbowl, and by extension the other Bloodbowl games, just doesn’t makes for a very exciting experience.
As much as I like the Bloodbowl tabletop, I’ve never felt that it translated well into video game form, and Dungeonbowl didn’t change the way I feel. While it makes some very welcome changes to the formula, it is still little more than a simulator of the tabletop experience. When that is combined with the lack of singleplayer and low price of the other Bloodbowl video games, I find it difficult to recommend Dungeonbowl to most people. Still if you love virtual Bloodbowl or don’t have a community of tabletop gamers around you, Dungeonbowl may be worth checking out.