Blood Bowl (2016) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

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Version Reviewed

First edition

Introduction

It won’t be a surprise from our enthusiastic review that Blood Bowl is a game we heartily recommend.   You’d get some very odd looks if you tried to convince anyone it was a storytelling game but years after the fact there are still matches I can recount in vivid detail.   That’s a remarkable accomplishment from a game that’s about fantasy races knocking each other around a football field.  It’s certainly not for everyone though – you need a fair degree of psychic armour to weather the storm of vindictive fate at the very least.  Is it for you?  Let’s roll these block dice and find out.

Three attacker down symbols

We call these ‘dick dice’

Well, that’s inevitable.  God damn you Blood Bowl.

Note:  There’s actually a good digital implementation of Blood Bowl available.  You can find an accessibility review of the video game from the Unstoppable Gamer here.

Colour Blindness

The degree to which colour blindness is going to be an issue is tightly coupled to the investment you’re going to pour into the Hobby.  Out of the box, the green and blue figures are a nightmare for certain categories of colour blindness.  It’s important to note here though that other teams will come in different colours.  The Skaven team for example is grey, which alters the landscape of visual identification.

Colour blind models

Kill the greenskins!

However, it’s not quite as bad as it might seem – both teams do have very distinctive visual profiles.  You can’t easily mistake which model belongs to which team because they are each represented by a very different model aesthetic.

Close up on models

Oh no, we’re all greenskins!

If you’re planning to paint the miniatures, the problem will go away assuming you choose a colour blind sensitive palette for the paint job.  An example of how they look painted is provided in the handbook.  Mine are unpainted, so I can’t provide pictures of what painted model look like on the table.  Really though it’s going to be up to you.

Colour blind painted models in manual

This looks like a solution, but wait until we talk about the cost…

Colour blindness will impact on dice, but the colours of these are to show team affiliation – there’s no particular need to keep them separate.  The colour choice is an aesthetic thing, and a nod to the etiquette of tournament play where rolling another player’s dice is tantamount to putting your fingers in their mouth.   Don’t do it without permission, in other words.

Colour blind dice

They’re dick dice even if they don’t show attacker down.

Really, the only place colour is a problem, even in the impacted categories, is in quickly scanning the pitch for clusters of allies or opponents.  That’s much easier to do when you can pattern match based on colour rather than model details.

Colour blind pitch

Just hit everyone, we’ll sort it out when they’re dead.

Overall then, we’ll recommend Blood Bowl in this category – the assumption from the base set is very much that you’ll be doing a paint job on them, and given the ethos of Games Workshop that doesn’t seem an unreasonable expectation.  Even if you don’t plan on doing that, the colour clash in the box set is limited to the rarer Tritanopia/monochromacy and adjacent conditions.  The unique profiles of models ensures that no information is genuinely lost.  It does impact on flow, but it doesn’t break the game.

Visual Accessibility

Visual accessibility is going to be a problem in a number of ways.   First of all, while there are standard dice provided in the game, there’s also a very unusual d16 (huh?) and a pile of custom block dice.   The block dice are d6s but they’ll need a lookup table if they’re going to be replaced with an accessible variant and you’ll need three of them.  It’s quite rare you roll a three dice block, but it does happen on occasion.   There are dice roller tools available which will ease that burden though – the one linked for example gives the symbols in a larger form that is easy to magnify.  That’s good, because otherwise not only are the faces custom they’re not easily visually differentiated if acuity is low.  They are quite high noise, and there are some iconographic similarities between ‘attacker down’ and ‘both down’ and ‘defender stumbles’ and ‘pushed’.   You can of course rely on a sighted opponent to give you the available choices, but in an intensely competitive game like Blood Bowl that requires a fair degree of trust.

Blood Bowl dice

These will betray you, even visually

The game board is six-fold, and double sided.  You get an orc pitch and a human pitch.  Both of these are marked with crosses at the corner points of the grid squares.  Close up, they’re easy to see (you can see them on the dice image above).  At a larger distance, they are poorly differentiated on both pitches.  The colour gradient across the pitch changes too, so there are patches of the board where they are all but invisible.   Consider the orc pitch:

Orc pitch

It’s the blood that gives it this distinctive colour

Can you see the crosses?  I bet you can if you let your eyes adjust but it’s certainly not easy.  The contrast here is extremely poor.  It’s better on the human pitch:

Human pitch

The green green grass of groan

But even here, the centre area hides the crosses (and this makes setting up lines of scrimmage a chore) and the darker patches of green grass can make it more difficult than it should be to identify the exact constraints of the spaces.   Familiarity will ease this problem to an extent, but with sixteen squares per grid section there’s a large possibility that careless positioning will move players into and out of tackle zones that should apply.

This is important, because with twenty-two models on the pitch at any one time (assuming nobody has been killed or knocked unconscious) it’s vitally important that everyone knows how the tackle zones interlock.  I’d go as far as to say that this is the single most fundamental element of the game because it has a profound impact on everything that follows.   Everything is modified by the tackle zones that apply to particular squares, and misjudging even one will greatly alter the risk mitigation process that is fundamental to play in Blood Bowl.   Well contrasted squares, and not just corner marks, would have greatly aided here – what’s on offer is much less effective.

The dug-out area is used to track score and state, including round counters, KO’d and injured players, and available re-rolls.   Like the pitch there’s an orc and human side for these.   The human side does pretty well for visual accessibility, with large text (albeit poorly contrasted) and a relatively easily examined physical layout.  Re-rolls are right along the bottom.  Score is right along the top.  The turn counter will be lower or higher depending on which half of the game is being played.   This keeps a lot of state information in front of you.  That’s nice.

For everything else… well.  The pitch is very visually busy:

Busy pitch

Beatdown Boulevard is the toughest street in town

The special tools are somewhat difficult to read when dealing with throw-ins and scatter:

Scatter tool

Scatter gory

Some of the (optional) special event cards are very information dense:

Special event cards

I’m going to need a bookmark

And when trying to associate players to positions without the benefit of identifying decals and the like, you sometimes need to do a fair amount of close visual inspection.  Consider the human team:

The last hope for humanity

The last hope for humanity

And consider a lineman next to a blitzer.

Lineman and Blitzer

Separated at birth?

Which is which?

The blitzer is the one on the left, and the lineman is the one on the right.  You know that because the blitzer has a bare hand.  The profile of the two though, even on close inspection, is not particularly distinctive.  True, most models are more effectively differentiated, but there are occasional moments of visual frustration when trying to pick out particular players in a crowded field.

The orc team

They’re pretty on the inside

It matters too, because the stats associated with each player are going to dramatically alter the risk triage assessment.  A catcher has a strength of two, making him a terrible prospect for throwing a block.  The blitzer has ‘block’ which makes him more resilient in a melee.   The lineman is a good all-rounder, but has no special skills so you will want to hold off using him until your safer rolls are out of the way.   It’s all vitally important information.

Representing players which have spent their action is handled by rotation, and when a player is stunned they are placed face down on the pitch, as opposed to simply ‘knocked down’ where they lie face up.  All of that adds difficulty to parsing the game state if a player is visually impaired.

And then, every time you do anything you’re going to need to consult a lookup table to see the modifiers that apply – at least until you’re used to what’s going on.  You’ll need to assess tackle zones on particular squares, determine adjacency and freedom of action, and a whole pile of other things.  It’s an awful lot of information, all of which is represented visually.

We strongly recommend you avoid Blood Bowl if visual accessibility is important.  There’s too much information that doesn’t easily yield itself to even relatively moderate visual impairment.  There’s also too much implicit relationship between the various mechanics to permit your opponent to offer you the necessary contextual overview of the actions you must assess.

Cognitive Accessibility

Blood Bowl separates out the ‘simple’ rules from the ‘advanced’ rules – the latter of these include assists on blocks, star players, special play events, the kick off table, fans, weather, ‘going for it’, interceptions and fumbles.  A lot of these are fundamental to making Blood Bowl interesting, particularly the block assists.    While the manual does permit you to leave out this ever changing calculation, it dramatically alters the feel of play for the worse.

Star players

Star power

But is the ‘simple’ rule variant of the game cognitively accessible?

No, not really.   Even with the simplest set of rules Blood Bowl is intensely cognitively demanding.  The rules are cumbersome and often situational, and the impact of any action is modified by a whole range of contextual information.  A defender is knocked down when the ‘defender stumbles’ block is chosen, unless they have dodge.  They also get to reroll if they try to dodge out of a tackle zone.  If a defender has ‘block’, they’re not impacted by the ‘both down’ block result, but their opponent is.   Dodging out of a tackle zone is modified by the number of players that can tackle in the destination square, as is picking up the ball.   The number of dice that go into a block depends on the strength of each player, and the player responsible for picking the die that handles the outcome changes depending on which player is strongest.   Moving a single lineman into another square might reverse your fortune here.  Stats change the base success values of agility actions, with further modifiers provided by skills and pitch placement.   Player can choose to ‘follow up’ on blocks, and so on and so on and so on.  The rules are not simple, even in the ‘easy’ version and changing any of these elements would radically alter the game, and not for the better.   This is a game that is battle-hardened through years of tournament and casual play.   The rules are so cumbersome and ugly because they’ve been patched up over the years to be bullet-proof.  They are intensely resistant to amateur tinkering.  I’m not saying you couldn’t house rule a cognitively accessible variant of Blood Bowl.  I’m saying that it would be so difficult and so unlikely to offer a satisfying game that it’s easier to just look elsewhere for your fun.

The game is deeply built around both explicit numeracy and implicit understanding of risk and probability.  You need to know the odds of an action succeeding before you commit to it, and those odds change as the disposition of the players is altered.   A large part of what your turn involves is manipulating the odds so that they’ll be in your favour, and you need to appreciate the tools you have for accomplishing that.  Every risky roll in Blood Bowl has to be prioritised and queued up, to make sure that when you roll those inevitable bad dice you’re in a recoverable position.   That is costly across every cognitive faculty.

So, it’s not for those with fluid intelligence impairments.  What about those with memory impairments?

It’s still not good, unfortunately.

Blood Bowl provides some state tracking, but it expects the rest of it to be handle through general convention.  Once a player has made their move, you turn them around so they face the other direction.   There’s a difference between players that are lying face down on the pitch and those that are lying face up.   None of this is formally represented as anything other than a common convention – you just have to remember the procedure and what things mean.   It’s tremendously easy to forget to do things here – whether it’s moving on the turn counter or rotating a piece, especially when you’re making them stand up after they’ve been knocked down.   Players that stand up have restricted options as compared to those that begin on their feet, and if you’re not extremely disciplined about what’s going on you’ll easily miss things out.  Worse, you can lead yourself to second guess the state of play because you also need to remember to rotate pieces back at the end of turns.   Is that player genuinely spent, or did you just forget to turn him around last time?  Did you move him?  Or did he stand up?  Can you remember?

Special events

Let’s spice things up!

On top of this, you need to consider situational events – especially if playing with weather, or special random occurrences.   Some events add temporary modifiers to rolls, such as changing the difficulty of passing, catching or picking up the ball.  Whether skills apply is going to depend in some cases as to whether they’ve been used before – ‘Dodge’ for example only works once per turn when escaping a tackle roll.   Whether you’ve used your blitz isn’t cleanly represented in the game, although as with the piece rotation outlined above you can house-rule a system for handling it.

There’s a lot of reading to understand what’s happening in the game, and it’s not a game that permits easy memorisation of the rules until deep familiarity has sunk in.   You get a double-sided ‘quick reference’ card to provide a convenient lookup for the most common rules.  This is what it looks like:

Quick reference guide

Bedtime reading

Not so much a quick reference sheet as quick reference book.  The difficulty of handling these inter-related rules is compounded by the jargon (GFI / Blitz / Turnover / Drive / Etc) and the fact the manual doesn’t come with an index.  It’s not easy to simply check to see that you’re properly following procedure.

Finally, there’s a significant problem in terms of the way actions can be punctuated by context shifts.  You move out of a tackle zone – you compute modifiers.  You roll the dice.  Then you resume movement, perhaps rolling again to skip out of another tackle zone.  You don’t move and then resolve rolls – you need to weave in and out of these whilst retaining the key information in mind – how many moves you’ve made, whether you used special re-rolls, and so on.   Couple this a blitz action, and you may find yourself making tripartite actions consisting of moves, blocks, dodges and maybe even picking up  the ball.    Every move is precious in Blood Bowl, and you need to wring the maximum benefit out of them.

With so much to keep track of and no integrated visual mechanic of doing it, we can’t recommend Blood Bowl in either cognitive category.  It just asks too much of people, and doesn’t lend itself well to house-rule tinkering.

Emotional Accessibility

Oh god.

Let me tell you a story of my shortest Blood Bowl match.  I was playing a guy I had played many times before.  I had the edge in wins, and it was a league play match so my team had leveled up a fair bit.  To make up for that, the league system provides for ‘inducements’ – match based awards of gold that can be used to purchase temporary boons to balance things out.  He bought a tremendously expensive star player, one that was going to wreck havoc on my team of peace loving wood elves.   He knew it would – he made sure to taunt me with it.  It worked.  I was duly uneasy about this alarming development.

He kicked off, which meant I got to take my turn first.  On the first block, of the first round, one of my elves threw an elbow at his star player.  He went down.  I rolled for armour, and passed through.  I rolled on the injury chart, and killed him outright.   On the first block.  Of the first round.  That was a big deal, because it robbed my opponent instantly of around 25% of his team value.

He cursed and swore, as you would, and then played his turn.   He knocked my elves around a bit, because that’s agreeably cathartic after a painful loss.  I played my second turn.  On the first block, of the second turn, I hospitalised his troll – his expensive bruiser that was the foundation element of his offence.  That was maybe 10% of his team value right there, gone in the second turn.

He rage quit the game instantly after that.  And I thought ‘Yeah, that was the rational move’.

Blood Bowl is the only game I have played where I view rage quitting with sympathy.  This is not a game that is good for your calm.   Overall, the better player will win through careful positioning and leveraging of tackle zones to maximise benefit and minimise risk.   The better player knows turnover will happen, and never rolls the dice until there are no safer options available.   The better player acts like every roll is a turnover event waiting to happen.   Most of the time, skill trumps luck.  But the times where it doesn’t are incandescently infuriating because they don’t only signify the loss of an outcome, they represent the loss of momentum.  Your punishment isn’t just ‘you don’t get to do that thing’.  It’s ‘you don’t get to do that thing and your opponent gets to take advantage of that’.  Mitigating risk is a key part of play, but there’s only so far you can go with it.  You will never completely eliminate the possibility of a horrendous outcome and all the upset it will cause to your carefully laid plans.

The worst thing that goes along with losing players to injury is that each time it happens the game becomes incrementally more unbalanced.   If you lose one player, you can probably hang on without too much difficulty.  If you lose two, that’s a problem.  Three and you really feel the pain.  League play permits, over time, for teams to buy up substitutes and the like.  The base game doesn’t cleanly support that in any way that permit for roughhousing to be an effective game strategy.  Some teams are built around the idea of winning through killing and wounding players.  It’s not just possible, it’s enthusiastically encouraged.   There’s a whole section of your dug-out explicitly for you to dump the wheelbarrows of corpses that you’ve stretchered off the field.

Nowhere is this gleeful aggression more clearly demonstrated than in the foul mechanic.  You can gather your players around someone on the ground and make a foul – you all pick up your feet and stamp on the poor sod on the pitch.  Everyone able to assist adds one to the armour roll.  With enough people, you can pierce right through even the toughest armour and hospitalise or kill a player.  If you have the numerical advantage already, you can even devote players to the sole task of removing your opponent’s players from the pitch.  True, if you foul you might get sent off but it only happens if you roll doubles – a one in six chance.  Imagine that – you’re already losing, and your opponent actively chooses to gather their forces and foul one of your stunned players.  They break through the armour and hospitalize them, and most of the time they don’t even get punished for it.   They just get to sit there looking delighted – and it’s not that they’ve cheated, there are rules to handle this.   Fouling is diegetically frowned upon in the meta-narrative of Blood Bowl, but a game mechanic for the one we’re playing.

Did that make you giggle, or did it make you wince?  Let that be your guide here.

The other side of this coin is that on those occasions where skill trumps luck, the better player is going to win.  If the skill disparity is significant, they’re going to make you feel like an idiot as they do.  Imagine kicking off only for your opponent to score a touchdown two turns later.   With faster, more agile teams (such as Skaven) that’s very common and there’s often little you can do about it other than play very defensively.  That in itself opens you up to counter strategies – a good player knows just how to probe your defences and make their way through.   I mentioned in the review that if the game feels like it’s entirely luck based you’re probably playing it wrong.  It takes time to grok these systems in such a way as to permit literate play.  Until that happens, you’re at the mercy of more experienced players.     The skills you develop too won’t necessarily be transferable.  It’s very different to play a Dwarf team versus a Skaven team, and your skills won’t even be reactive when you play against someone fielding a different team with a different strategy.   Fluency in Blood Bowl is earned through a crucible of ongoing humiliation.  That can be emotionally upsetting.

Turnover alone would be enough to make us wary of recommending Blood Bowl.  With the rest of this taken into account, we strongly advise you avoid Blood Bowl if you need to consider the emotional impact of play.   I still don’t think my buddy was in the wrong for quitting on turn two.  Sometimes the only winning move is not to play.

Physical Accessibility

It’s looking increasingly likely that I won’t have anything positive to say in this teardown, isn’t it?  I swear I do love this game even if all I’m doing here is kicking it over and over and over again in its soft parts.

Yes, physical accessibility is a problem.  The positioning required for pieces is not as precise as in the X-Wing Miniatures Game.  It does though tend to happen in dense knots of models with limbs that get in the way.  Even something as simple as rotating a piece to indicate its action has been spent can cause other pieces to be scythed wildly out of position.   You’re best to pick them up and rotate them but that causes its own problems given the tight constraints of each square.

Tight constraints

There’s not a lot of room to move sometimes

The pitch is large – a six fold board which is accompanied by a dug-out for each player.  It takes up pretty much all of a decent sized table when you take into account cards, dice, distance tools and so on.  As such, reaching across the board can be difficult depending on where people are sitting.  You’ll probably want to sit along the sides rather than the ends, but that tends to restrict the room available for your score track.   There’s a lot of sprawl in the game, and you’re often doing your manipulation at awkward angles to avoid upsetting game state.   There’s a lot of manipulation too – eleven players, each doing a whole pile of things.  Whether it’s standing players up, flipping them over, turning them around, or moving them from place to place – it’s not necessarily easy when you get into the thick of the action.

As a ‘temporary’ problem too – the assembling of miniatures comes with a host of issues.   They’re not especially difficult to put together, but it can be quite frustrating if you’re not used to the process.  Everything has to slip in at the right angle, and if you mix up your pieces you may as well just roll a dice when you try to put them together.  There are assembly instructions, but they’re not particularly useful – just images of vague shapes with other vague shapes pointed at them.   But that’s not the real problem.  The problem is that everything in Blood Bowl is spiky, and if you need to apply even a little pressure to attach one piece to another your fingers are going to end up pierced as a result.  If you don’t have proper clippers, you’ll likely hurt your fingers even removing them from the sprues – you can’t just twist them out.  Even when you’ve clipped them out you need to spend a bit of time cleaning them up if you want to get the best out of them and ensure a clean fit – on occasion, the seam between two pieces is where the sprues are attached, and they won’t fit together until residue is removed.   Glue is required for some models – not a lot, but there are a few that fall apart without it.

But that spiky thing – Blood Bowl comes with a number of balls for each team, some of which have plugs for attaching to the base of figures to indicate ownership of the ball.

Blood Bowl Balls

Get your balls out of my face

I don’t use them, because it is painful to try and slot them into the hole.  They don’t slide in easily, and the spikes on the ball mean it’s not a lot of fun to try and make it happen.  I just rest a ball on the base and hope it doesn’t fall off.  It will though, so you need to keep track of that.

The assembly issue goes away of course – once they’re assembled you don’t need to worry about it until the next team arrives.   If physical accessibility is an issue though you’ll likely need to have someone ready to do that work for you.   That’s a not insignificant investment of perhaps ninety minutes to two hours before you even get to play.

What of verbalisation?

Again, not a strong point.  The pitch, despite having explicit grid lines and squares, has no useful reference system.  That matters, because each player has a movement budget and the explicit path taken through foes has a major game impact.  As you move in and out of tackle zones you provoke dodge rolls, and the difficulty of those rolls depends on the specifics of player arrangement.  You can’t just say ‘Move my lineman next to your troll’ – the path matters.  Sure, you can make your own grid reference figures and lay them around the pitch at the appropriate place – you really shouldn’t have to though.

Decals

Apply with care

Without the decals attached to the models there’s no way to uniquely identify players.  You get six unique models per side, and each of those is repeated to make up twelve miniatures per team.   For linemen, there are six of these presented in three different poses.  ‘Move my lineman’ doesn’t convey enough information to uniquely differentiate.  You can attach numbers to the pieces, but that’s done as a cumbersome process of its own and usually after the models have been painted.  You could put identification stickers on the base, but otherwise it’s going to be difficult to precisely articulate your actions.

Again, we can’t recommend Blood Bowl in this category.   Oof, the game is getting as much of a kicking as Ploosk in the Ballad of the Fancy Lads.

Communication

The game requires a degree of literacy, but this is just in terms of consulting the rules and handling special events.   The special event cards are optional, and the rules will (eventually) become second nature.  However, until that happens there is a lot of cross-referencing required for specifics and the manual text is very dense and tightly relates to other sections.

Otherwise, the game has no communication requirement, and can be played in passive aggressive silence as you grind each other down into a runny red paste on the track.

We tentatively recommend Blood Bowl in this category – you can compensate for the reading level required with personal instruction when it’s needed.  There’s too much in the way of mechanical complexity though for us to be comfortable saying ‘All you need to do is learn the rules and then literacy doesn’t matter’.  That’s true, but it’ll take time to internalise the rules.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The cast of characters is probably entirely male – all the human players, and likely the orc players, are men (see this comment thread for the reason behind that probably).    The manual though doesn’t do a lot of explicit gendering, if any, in the rules.  It’s 31 pages of tightly cropped text though –I’m not going to comb through it looking for offences.

So, there a lack of diversity in the base set.  As time goes by more teams will be introduced that flesh out the roster with a more varied offering.   Future expansions will introduce, if we can take previous editions as a guide, amazons and a few women star players.  The Death Zone season one companion manual for example introduces one star player that is a woman, with ten that are men).,  Third party manufacturers offer more variety in the models, although that’s largely outside the scope of this review.   Diversity is not good, and doesn’t become much better as time goes by.    Assume I have anticipated the regular ‘blah blah justified by theme etc etc’ justifications from the usual suspects.  If it’s doesn’t bother you, it’s absolutely fine.   If it does though, you’re not going to have much luck simply buying in diversity as time goes by.   Pickings will be slim.

That’s only a portion of the problem here – we come back to the issue we saw in the X-Wing Miniatures Game.  The base set here is a down payment – it’s only part of the game you want, and the actual game is a hundred or so pounds down the line.   The base set is enough to have fun with, but not enough to really bring out the best interactions of styles and skills.   The base set offers a bruiser team (the orcs) versus an all-rounder team (the humans).  There are no nimble teams, or sneaky teams, or teams built around player synergies like the goblins.   You’re only getting a taster here, and each expansion team is going to cost around £20 if current figures are to be believed.   I have the Skaven team expansion, and I laughed out loud at the borderline contempt Games Workshop showed with it.  It’s a box containing the sprues for the models, and a sheet of paper that looks like it was spat out of an ancient inkjet.  There aren’t even any cards (like you’d expect from the teams in the base set).  Games Workshop have a long distance to go before they are remotely up to the modern standards expected of these kind of games.  When you buy an X-Wing model you get the model (assembled and pre-painted), special pilot cards (that work with other ships in the game), and usually a new rule for a new and interesting piece of ship ordinance.  With GW, all you get is a pack of models you need to assemble yourself.  Even the Death Zone campaign book looks like an issue of White Dwarf.

If you want to explore the painting side of the hobby the Games Workshop paint kit for Skaven comes in at a ludicrously eye-watering FORTY FIVE POUNDS.    Do you want to paint your humans?  SEVENTY TWO POUNDS.   Sure, you can get the paints cheaper elsewhere but not much cheaper.  This is a luxury title in a luxury gaming landscape, and it’s really only going to yield the best results for people with plenty of disposable income or a dedicated group of friends that collect teams piecemeal.

And more, it’s a lot of money to spend on what is a two player game.  Between fifty and sixty five pounds for two teams is an awful lot to pay for a starter set.  If you’re not planning to get this to the table regularly, and I mean regularly, it’s a terrible price to benefit ratio.   If you make the effort with it, you’ll find it’s worth the money in the long term.  That’s only if you’re planning to make this a cornerstone of your gaming library.   That’s difficult to do, outside of tournament play, for a game that only supports two players, and ideally two players of roughly equal skill.   The X-Wing core set costs around ~$25 for a pack, and is often discounted deeply.  That’s a low enough price point that I’m willing to say ‘give it a try, what do you have to lose?’.  For the price of Blood Bowl you could easily get two sure things that you’ll almost certainly play enough to see the benefit.  Blood Bowl is a far greater risk for a far greater cost.

We can’t recommend Blood Bowl in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

Identifying team membership is possible through visual identification of models, or by colour differentiation.  It works best if both are possible, but if neither are available we’d strengthen our advice to avoid the game.

There’s no other category, save for communication, for which we’d recommend Blood Bowl – that makes intersectional issues somewhat irrelevant since each individual accessibility category is problematic enough for us to advise you stay away.  So let’s just talk about the generally complicating elements of length and competition.

A game of Blood Bowl can be over in forty to fifty minutes if everyone is fully conversant with the rules.  For less experienced players, it might run to an hour and a half.  Games of two or two and a half hours aren’t impossible for novices, taking into account the need to check and cross-check the various lookup tables and compute modifiers.    This though, it has to be stressed, is hugely variable depending on how much analysis people are putting into turns.   Ben_S, in the comments, makes a good case for my view on the time being atypical so probably best to err on the side of caution here and assume ‘you’ll be here a while’.

As such, it’s easily long enough to exacerbate issues of modulating distress and discomfort.  It’s explicitly a two player game, so if one player leaves the match is over.  Mechanics are in place for permitting players to concede.  That’s unlikely to be satisfying if a player must give up because of variable symptom severity even though they were in the lead.    In league play, concession awards advancement points to an opponent.  There’s so much in the game that is tightly state dependant too that if you want to temporarily abandon play and come back to it later you’ll need to leave it set up.  It takes up a fair amount of room, so that’s not necessarily going to be feasible.

Blood Bowl is a game of intense, directed, and often mean-spirited competition.  As is often the case, this dynamic tends to discourage collegiality when it comes to helping an opponent that has made a mistake or miscalculated as a result of an accessibility issue.  There are so many ways this can happen too – moving from a tackle zone without realising an opponent was there, or miscomputing tackle modifiers as a result of mistaken adjacency.   For a game as resolutely inaccessible as Blood Bowl, many of these mistakes will be largely invisible and correction will have to be taken on trust.  That means a hyper-competitive player intent on winning can offer misleading advice without worrying about being caught.  Our common advice holds as true here as it does anywhere – play the game with people as interested in the collective fun as they are in their own.

Conclusion

I knew going in to this that Blood Bowl wasn’t going to thrive in an accessibility review, but I’m often as surprised as anyone by what these discussions reveal.  I don’t write them knowing what the grades are going to be – I just have a gut feeling.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t so much a teardown as it was a beatdown.

Colour Blindness B-
Visual Impairment E
Emotiveness E
Fluid Intelligence D
Memory D
Physical D
Socioeconomic D
Communication C

A lot of this is just related to fundamental design elements – it can’t be very cognitively accessible because it’s a mechanically challenging game.  It can’t be very emotionally accessible because the turnover rule is a bastard of a thing that needs considerable psychological control to tolerate.   The collectible nature of the game coupled to the business model of Games Workshop means it was never going to be particularly affordable.  That’s all inevitable.  There are though numerous things that could have been done to make for a more accessible product – as it stand, it is currently the least accessible game we’ve looked at on the blog, stealing that dubious honour from Tales of the Arabian Nights.  As one of my absolute favourites, it’s sad to see.

Radar Chart

Blood Bowl Radar Chart

It always feels somewhat mean spirited to say ‘Check out this awesome game, OH WAIT YOU CAN’T’ with these teardowns, but usually we’re able to offer at least some recommendation to some subset of gamers with disabilities.  Not here, unfortunately.  The best we have is a lukewarm recommendation for colour-blindness, predicated on the fact the expectation is that the models will be painted and it only affects a small proportion of the colour blind population.

I’m sorry there’s not more good news here, because as our four and a half star review demonstrated I think this is an absolutely marvellous game and I wish more people were able to play it.   Perhaps we’ll see accessibility fixes in a future edition, which precedent suggests is a mere twenty years away.


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  • Terry Diamantis

    I get that this is reviewing the board game, but the video game version fixes a lot of the accessibility issues IMO.
    Distinguishing between players, ensuring tackle zones don’t get missed, keeping track of which players have moved etc, they’re all handled nicely by the CPU.
    There’s no getting around the emotional impact since that’s written into the rules rather than a result of the physical components but if someone wants to play but finds the board game inaccessible, it may be worth looking into the computerised equivalent.

    • This is definitely a case where saying ‘play the video game’ is good advice – it’s cheaper, simpler, and if you can get around Cyanide’s horrible coding, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t know if Blood Bowl 2 is better than the Legendary edition I have, but I play that *a lot*. It’s a very good call for a number of these issues:

      http://www.unstoppablegamer.com/blood-bowl-2/

      (In fact, I’m going to edit that link into the teardown)

  • Kelvin Green

    It doesn’t help much, but the orcs may not be male.

    • That’s actually an interesting point – I know in WH40k Orks are a spore form and largely genderless, but I didn’t think that was the case in the fantasy setting. Certainly whenever I see pronouns used (for example, when discussing Varag Ghoul-Chewer) they are ‘he’.

      • Kelvin Green

        Yeah, I mean Warhammer orcs probably are male but — pronouns aside — I don’t think that’s ever confirmed anywhere. I think it may be better phrased as “all the human players, and probably the orc players, are men” but I don’t think you’re wrong to identify it as a failing.

        • That’s fair – I’ve amended the teardown to indicate that there’s room for discussion there. I think you’re right that they’re probably male in fantasy, but you’re also right in that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it confirmed anywhere other than incidentally in passing with pronouns.

          • Kelvin Green

            That’s fair enough. I hope I don’t come across as a rabid Blood Bowl defender; I do adore the game but I think you’re spot on that GW can do a lot more about gender inclusiveness. I hope this new edition prompts the company to do so.

          • Not at all – I think you’ve been nothing but reasonable. 😀

            I also hope we’ll see a more diverse roster, but I’ll be honest I don’t think it’s likely. I think we’re more likely to see new versions of the old roster, but I’d like to be proven wrong.

  • Ben_S

    “A game of Blood Bowl can be over in forty to fifty minutes if everyone is fully conversant with the rules. For less experienced players, it might run to an hour and a half. Games of two or two and a half hours aren’t impossible for novices”
    Setting aside rage quits, this seems incredibly optimistic for a full length game. At 16 turns per player, you’d need to be averaging less than two minutes per turn. Tournaments generally budget 2-2.5 hours per game, even dealing with experienced players.

    • In tournament settings, where everyone is carefully considering every possible ramification of every single move, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that it takes a long time to play through. Here though I’m speaking about play at home – I’d say games of an hour or so are probably the median for me, but I take your point that this is hugely variable.

      (I added a comment about variability as a result, thanks)

      • Ben_S

        I’d say tournament play quicker than average, largely because there’s normally an expectation to play 3-4 games in a day. The rules recommend 4 minute turn limits, but that still equates to around 2 hours. It can end up quicker due to circumstances, e.g. if one player ends up with most of their models removed from the pitch, while other events can affect the numbers of turns (e.g. riots and blitzes on the kick-off table).
        I know some people who play fast and some slower, but our regular league nights normally involve one game starting between 6:45 and 7:15 and usually finishing any time between 8:30 and 10 I’d say. Anything around an hour strikes me as atypical.

        • Fair enough, I’ll accept my experience is atypical – I’ve added a note of that too in the review, linking down to your comment. 🙂

  • RFT

    This was an interesting article, but I think the “socioeconmic”, well the “economic” side of things has been somewhat exaggerated.

    1: Rules cost – There’s no real need to buy the “death zone” expansion book unless the league you plan to play in insists on it. The “competition rules pack”, which contains full league rules is available as a free pdf download. There are small differences to the Death Zone rules, but much of the community is still using it.

    2: Paint Cost – The bundles quoted are completely over-the top and really only for people looking to do show-quality paint jobs. Gw paints cost £2.55 a colour, and you can do a reasonable job painting a team to tabletop quality with just 8 paints (main colour, main wash, secondary colour, secondary wash, flesh colour, flesh wash, a metallic and a black wash) so, £21, plus a brush (£4) – £25. still not exactly cheap, but nowhere near the prices of those daft bundles and those paint costs can be amortised against multiple teams.

    The more significant “economic” barrier, that wasn’t mentioned, is that the GW team kits don;t really contain enough players to fill out a really competitive squad. most league players will want to start with 4 blitzers and the boxes only have two, for instance.