I’m a huge fan of Blitz Bowl. I found the Second Season Edition to be a worthy successor to the original Barnes & Noble exclusive. I still believe it to be a stronger more succinct version of Blood Bowl. In fact, the only tabletop sports title I’d put ahead of it is the splendid Techno Bowl, but this is a very different design with an altogether different aim. So, I was excited for this release. The notion of a Blitz Bowl: Ultimate Edition had blood coursing through my veins like an Iron Jaw blitzer exploding off the whistle.
The Ultimate Edition is certainly an improvement. It’s mostly the same ruleset as previous titles, with a couple of noteworthy adjustments. The most major enhancement is both the streamlining and boosting of throwing. This was a slight rough spot in the past, although one which never stymied my overall appreciation of the design. Nevertheless, passing is better positioned as a more frequent and viable option as it appears here.
The change is the narrowing of modifiers. Now, instead of totaling several adjustments based on ball pressure from the defense and intervening obstacles, you still make those calculations but the total bonus or penalty to the throw is capped at +/-1. This ceiling is carried through to other mechanisms like tackling as well, although its impact is mostly felt around that throw action.
Besides the obvious benefit of improving the long game, this is a clever adjustment in that it streamlines the experience tremendously. The math required was never onerous, and it wasn’t really a problem with the system, but the new approach is simpler which leads to an increase in pace of play. It’s easy to eyeball the situation and quickly ascertain that multiple obstacles exist, so you can rapidly move on and assign the -1 to the roll. This enhances the tempo of the system, farther delineating the feel of Blitz Bowl from other competitors in the space.
There is an interesting subtlety to the tactical considerations as well. Since there’s no overt incentive to clog up lanes and pile on modifiers, it leads to more varied approaches with spread out competitors. This is a very positive change from a creativity standpoint.
Finally, this trimming of process aligns more strongly with the product. This is a mass market title and intended to spark an impulse purchase. It’s absolutely a game to be enjoyed and loved by casual hobbyists, and a reduction in mechanical overhead only benefits the player base.
All of the other rules changes are less conspicuous and more subtle – or at least will be encountered infrequently. For instance, you can now stick your boot into the throat of a knocked down player and foul them. A roll of the die determines whether they’re injured or you’re spotted by the ref and ejected. This is amusing and an addition I approve of, mostly because it brings the game closer to the full-blown Blood Bowl spirit. But it’s also something small overall and not likely to define a match.
Similarly, the ability for large creatures to throw their teammates is stellar. This is another Blood Bowl carry-over, with ogres and the like hurling their lighter buddies across the pitch. But you won’t ever see this occur unless you spring for some of the more esoteric teams.
The teams, by the way, have been completely overhauled. Stats have been adjusted, as have abilities, even the composition of players in a couple of cases. The halflings for instance now have a tree-dude. If, like me, you bought the halfling Blitz Bowl team box, you’re now stuck trying to figure out whether you want to spend $30 on a treeman miniature.
You can always use proxy figures or tokens. I do really appreciate the inclusion of 19 roster cards in this set. This is the type of thing that we wouldn’t have seen from Games Workshop a decade ago.
My initial impression also seems to support that the team adjustments have resulted in more balanced play. A couple of groups stood out previously as underpowered – notoriously the humans – and that appears to have been remedied. This is always something that we expect to be improved with new editions, so it’s nice to see that baseline met.
The most interesting aspect of the Ultimate Edition is the influence The Crush! This is the one and only Blitz Bowl podcast that covered a wide range of topics. Hosts Matt and Jody clearly adored this game, and their thoughts on its evolution should be held with the utmost respect.
But it’s absolutely fascinating to me that Games Workshop ran with their ideas. The bulk of rules modifications in this new edition are a result of their commentary and criticisms. It’s actually quite remarkable as the Nottingham miniatures company has a long history of isolation and pride. I wonder, then, how this methodology will bleed into the wider scope of Warhammer and whether we will see future designs and product lines influenced by key devotees.
Despite this appreciation of external influence, I must admit that there are changes here I find disappointing. Matt and Jody, as well as many fans to be fair, were vocal about their displeasure with the Get on with it! rule in the second season edition. This small yet impactful mechanism shot a second ball into play if a team failed to score any points on their turn. It’s now gone, as requested.
The intention of the rule was to incentivize offense and reckless abandon. I found it did just that in my sessions. I also believe Blitz Bowl is better with more chaos and dynamism, and additional balls in play fueled this wild spirit. Thankfully the multi-ball potential game state is not completely gone. It’s returned thanks to a special effect you can employ on the back of some of the challenge cards. This is a solid compromise, as it reduces the frequency of multi-balls and maintains a lower tactical overhead.
It is absolutely disappointing to find the team ball rules gone, however. Previously, balls entering play would possess a special rule corresponding to the strengths and background of one of the teams currently competing. This, again, added a sense of disorder and unpredictability that I adored. These have been replaced with arena specific advanced rules, but I find the change not quite a lateral move.
When you additionally consider that the league rules system from the second edition is also absent, it leads to a logical conclusion that this new box isn’t quite the Ultimate Edition. In fact, to achieve such a preeminent status, you would likely want to port the ball and league rules from the previous box into this new set. That results in the most comprehensive and rich experience. It results in something Ultimate.
Some may be dissatisfied with the inclusion of the human team again. I’m not exactly thrilled with this notion, but I am pleased to find Skaven as the other option. The problem Games Workshop faces is that there are very few Blood Bowl sprues with push-fit miniatures, something they have prioritized in these mass market boxes. I think expecting them to create altogether new sprues for this limited scope product is unrealistic.
What is actually more frustrating for me is a creeping sense of shame spurred on by crowdfunding culture. I’m left aghast examining my consciousness and desires, as I think I’d prefer Blitz Bowl as a big ol’ Kickstarter campaign. Seriously.
Frankly, I want all of the teams. I want them packaged in one big lot. I want them pre-assembled. And I want it all at a price point that is more palatable than the current market. I want Blitz Bowl, courtesy of Awaken Realms or even CMON.
I hate myself for even typing that.
This speaks to how oddly positioned these gateway Games Workshop titles are. They’re incongruent with the offerings of competitors, and they provide a sort of low-cost initial bump with the intention to hook you for life.
There’s a sense of conflict here I struggle with. I find these Barnes & Noble titles a really fantastic line for their intended purpose, but they also leave me malnourished. I’m in the weird – and I think underacknowledged – middle position wanting something more than these light games yet not altogether as complicated or burdensome as the big ones. It’s the same notion I lamented in my Dungeon Bowl review.
But this hunger also speaks to perhaps how warped my expectations have become due to the crowdfunding platform. I don’t need 19 teams to enjoy this lovely design. Just having a handful of appropriate competitors should be enough. Why isn’t it?
The answer to that question requires an essay. It will just have to linger for now.
I’m going to keep and play this game. It serves a purpose and I find it full of stellar moments. Yet I’m working against my own self-interests, at least to a degree.
Despite the melancholy, I must recognize that there’s so much to dig here. This is a sports title that feels intermixed with a miniatures skirmish battler. It actually achieves fulfilling play on both edges of the spectrum, offering you over-the-top touchdowns as well as bone-crunching headbutts. There’s nothing quite like it. And unlike Warhammer Quest: Lost Relics, this feels like Warhammer as it ought to be.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.