Blood Bowl

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Blood Bowl is a fantasy boardgame made by Games Workshop, creators of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000.

It is a game of "Fantasy Football", loosely based on the rules of American Football. Players field teams of Humans, Orcs, Elves, Dwarves etc and roll dice to decide the outcome of passes, tackles and dodges.

In its initial inception, the game engine was closely based on that for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and the background was consistent with the established Warhammer setting. However, the rules tended to bog the game down in a series of mid-pitch fights and the 1994 re-release of the game totally reinvented the rules to produce a more free-flowing game, as well as starting to take the game in a different, lighter tonal direction: In an alternate Warhammer world, warring armies found that their battlefield hid an ancient temple to the god Nuffle, whose worshippers in the land of Amorica practiced a brutal but highly entertaining combat ritual called Football. The troops decided to give it a try, and soon they developed their own version of Nuffle's Amorican Football.

However, like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Blood Bowl ended up being dropped by Games Workshop as it was not a game that sold lots of miniatures (maximum sixteen players on a team, plus a few optional coach/cheerleader/physio models). The copyright to Blood Bowl still belongs to GW, under the aegis of their "Specialist Games" division, but the rules are maintained by an online committee and the "Living Rule Book" is freely available online.

Each team moves one player at a time, and if any player fails an action then their entire team turn is ended - this means that players quickly learn to prioritise actions and get very good at working out the best sequence of events to affect dice multipliers. The Random Number God (referred to in the fluff as "Nuffle", a pun on the NFL) is very much in evidence as entire games can turn on a single failed dice-roll.

League play is encouraged, with players earning "star player points" for successful actions, which can lead to advances after the game at certain levels. Most commonly, players acquire extra skills but can also end up with stat increases or, in the case of Chaos and Skaven players, mutations. Fans also come and go with the success of a team, and some dice-rolls during a game can be affected by how many fans have turned up (not to mention affecting the gate takings, and therefore the winnings generated.) A handicap system ensures that weaker teams are given advantages to "even the odds" a little - this has been overhauled in the Living Rule Book and now includes temporary hire of Star Players, the ability to Bribe The Ref, numerous different Random Event/Special Item cards and the like.

Blood Bowl, despite receiving next to no advertising budget since its last official release in 2001, continues to be a popular game thanks to a combination of its "casual gaming" nature, addictive league play and rules that continually evolve in response to the experience of real fans.

A second video game adaptation has recently been released, with most reviews thus far positive. There was also a comic adaptation released by BOOM! Studios in 2008. There also exists an old, 1990s DOS-age game, rudimentary as far as graphics go, but highly entertaining due to multiplayer requiring only one computer.

The rulebook can be found for free online here.


Tropes used in Blood Bowl include:
  • Amazon Brigade: The Amazons. Whoever would have guessed?
  • Announcer Chatter: Jim the Vampire and Bob the Ogre.
  • Awesome but Impractical: Vampires have one of the best stat lines of any non-specialist player in the game (starting with a 4 in strength AND agility as well as an above-average 8 armour), regeneration, can hypnotise enemy players and to top it all off can select skills from almost any discipline. Unfortunately they also suffer from Blood Lust, meaning that for every action they try to take they have a 1 in 6 chance of either latching onto one of their nearby Thrall teammates and draining him (knocking him out of the game) or running off the field to attack a spectator (causing the action to fail, ending your turn and moving the Vampire to the Reserves box). Additionally, Thralls themselves aren't very spectacular players.
    • Ogre teams can fields up to six ogres. Six OGRES! No other team can even approach that kind of muscle! Unfortunately, while they don't have Loner like ogres on other teams do, they still suffer from Bonehead, making them painfully unreliable, and their only other players are Snotlings, who are... weak. This is so impractical, in fact, that it reduces them to a Joke Team.
  • The Berserker: Players with the Frenzy skill throw two blocks in a row (stopping only if they or the opponent is downed) and will always follow-up. This makes them very hard to manage, especially if you try to use them for busting cages.
  • The Big Guy: Most teams have access to a player designated as The Big Guy: A model with natural strength of 5 or more, which you can take in extremely limited numbers (1-2). They tend to have good armour, lousy agility, the Loner trait and commonly some other drawback (Bonehead, Really Stupid or Wild Animal), and lack of access to General Skills: Big Guys can knock your opponents' linemen senseless and little else. The Ogre team is halfway made up of these players.
  • Black Comedy: Mix satire of Football hooliganism with the worst stereotypes of Rugby and American football (and their supporters) and add to the already quite darkly comedic Warhammer-verse. The living rulebook is full of gags and jokes and the game itself leans quite to the silly side of the sliding scale.
  • Blood Knight: The orcs and dwarves are notorious for putting higher imperative on downing the other side's players than getting the ball. Almost every bashing team is also this trope, to a slightly lesser degree.
  • Blood Sport: Beating up the other team is about as important as winning.
  • Boring but Practical: The Block skill. For any player which is going to be doing any fighting (pretty much all of them) not taking block or its counter skill Wrestle puts them at a considerable disadvantage against anyone who has.
    • The cage grind. Take a player with the ball. Put one player in each diagonal corner around him. Run that formation to the opponent's end zone. Unless you're playing an agility 4 team that can pass with any regular chance of success, it's your best bet at scoring but hardly very 'exciting'.
    • As far as teams go, this describes orcs all the way. They only really have one viable strategy—the slow cage grind, with an enterprising coach being able to mix in a few surprise goblin tosses—and most of their players have a skill set limited to 'hitting stuff' (with their throwers also being able to 'carry and throw stuff'). They're also one of the cheapest *and* one of the most well-armoured teams, respond better to losing initiative than the dwarves, and recommended for beginners.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Evil Gits team in the fluff.
  • Chainsaw Good: Goblin teams can field chainsaw wielders. Other teams can hire armed Star Players for one game. One of these players is a chainsaw wielding zombie.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Blood Bowl laughs at this concept. The Heroes of Law and Bright Crusaders in the fluff refuse to cheat, much to the amusement of the rest of the world. The intro to the video game has Jim the vampire pointing out that even proponents of fair play are welcome.
  • The Chew Toy: Halflings in the fluff. The rules currently limiting teams to 16 players were instituted after a norse vs. halfling match that led to several hundred dead or injured players. By sheer coincidence, that very same match also instituted a rule banning giants from playing the game.
  • Crapsack World: The rulebook Lampshades this, pointing out that any world where Blood Bowl is popular must really suck. On the other hand, the replacement of endless gruesome wars with endless gruesome sporting contests makes it absolutely idyllic in comparison with the standard Warhammer setting. See Serious Business.
  • Crutch Character:
    • Orcs, who have tough, cheap players, but little access to any sort of advanced strategy.
    • Certain players, particularly catchers, start their career, with skills which make them the team's natural scorer, even moreso once they have an extra skill or two over most of their team mates. Since every skill costs more than the one before it, these players can suck up nearly all their team's touchdown XP with relatively little benefit. And since any player can be hit by permadeath or a crippling injury, especially if they're a fragile scorer, this can go spectacularly wrong. Many guides recommend taking moderate risks with passes to spread out XP, particularly early on.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: AI teams in the Blood Bowl video game are not bound to standard rules for XP gain and their team values are generated automatically, leading to the computer suddenly re-acquiring two new level 3 players after your last match put their star players down for good. AI vs AI matches being auto-resolved lead to hilarious score results that would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve for a human, and their skill gain is not bound to the same rules humans must obey and leads to teams with an ungodly high frequency of doubles and stat gains, while their number of touchdowns, injuries and MVPs recorded would make it impossible for them to be that high level.
    • AI/AI matchups also never lead to injuries worse than "badly injured", meaning AI teams never permanently lose any team value from playing other AI teams. If you ever see an AI player carrying an injury in the game, a human player inflicted it.
    • Not Playing Fair with Resources: AI teams start at a minimum of 1300 team value, while humans create teams at the standard 1000. Sure, it means 300K worth of inducements... But there's really nothing that can counter the imbalance of running your newly created lizardmen right into an orc team where all the black orcs have Block 'for free'. They also tend to get inducements for free in games without spending from their own cash box even with a higher team value.
    • Rules Are for Humans: Due to the above random generation of skills there is a full possibility you can encounter AI players with the Frenzy + Grab combo, which is illegal.
    • This is the videogame in general. Watch in amazement as a Halfling knocks over your Stormvermin! See the computer never be afflicted by Wild Animal while yours frequently suffer from it! Without it, the computer wouldn't stand much chance against a player with even a basic grasp of how to use their team.
  • Death by Falling Over: If you try to move a player 1 or 2 squares beyond his normal movement allowance, you have to roll a D6 for each extra square. On a 2-6 the player is fine, but on a 1 he trips and falls over, and you have to roll on the armor/injury/casualty tables just as if he'd been hit by an opposing player. Roll very badly three times in a row on those tables, and the player dies.
    • Amusing Injuries: the same thing can cause a gouged eye, or a groin strain. Now, try to imagine how.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: The fluff describes Dark Elves as doing this.
    • It's also entirely possible for a player to stop his own drive dead in the water with a turnover by fouling and getting caught, or failing a block intended to injure an out-of-the-way player, *before* running or passing the ball. Most experienced players will know better than to do this.
    • Essentially the entire point of the Goblin team. In every actual aspect of the game, they are incompetent. However, they have the most secret weapons that have no use beyond wreaking as much havoc as possible before the referee throws them out. In addition, the Goblin team pays less to bribe the referee then any other team, allowing them to cheat without consequence more often.
  • Difficult but Awesome: The rule book specifically notes that several factions are deliberately designed to be far harder to play than others, including Chaos, Khemri Undead and Halflings. They're specifically for "advanced players" only.
    • Some of the teams venture closer to Difficult But Impractical. Ogre teams, for example, are incredibly hard to play, but capable of incredible feats of brutality; however any way you slice it, they're just not as good as most other teams. They're regarded as a gimmick team included in the game for fun, rather than serious competitors.
    • The amount of applicability varies between teams and scenarios. Chaos, for example, has a team of very expensive players with good stat lines, but no real starting skills. It is very difficult to get started, but once you start earning skills, Chaos has the best skill access in the game for all of their standard players, which is heavily accentuated by their average to high stats across the board for all players. A developed Chaos team is potentially one of the best, if not the best, team in the game, but reaching that point is difficult, if not impossible (shorter term leagues don't give enough time for Chaos to develop). On the other hand, teams like Halflings are just bad at everything and revolve around gimmicks, some of which aren't all that useful in the first place.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The special play card Lewd Maneuvers has the cheerleaders doing this to the players.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: There are at least 3 teams of undead. Granted, they specialize in different things, but still...
    • Four teams actually, if you include Vampires, although this is easy to forget as their Thralls are living and the Vampires themselves are more stylish than the average ghoul.
    • There are also four types of elves: Dark Elves, Wood Elves, High Elves, and no-adjective Elves (usually called "Pro Elves" to easily distinguish them from the other three types).
  • Dumb Muscle: Ogres and trolls have the 'bone-head' and 'really stupid' rules, which makes them liable to stand around doing nothing instead of taking action.
  • Empty Levels: Amazon and Norse team are very good at the beginning, since all their players start with one of the two best skills dodge or block. But at the end, when the teams have a lot of experienced players, their advantages fade and their poor stats become a huge disadvantage.
  • Epic Flail: Goblin teams can use ball-and-chain spinning fanatics, just like in conventional Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
  • Fan Disservice: All of the races have cheerleaders. The game inclues undead and greenskin teams.
    • And Ogre Teams. And Dwarf Teams (and yes, the cheerleaders have beards too). And Chaos-Mutants-Dedicated-To-The-God-Of-Disease-And-Putrification Teams....
      • Although the Nurgle cheerleaders are actually surprisingly attractive in the PC version, as aside from the small horns on their foreheads they're basically attractive women in skimpy outfits and a coat of green body paint.
    • At least partially averted in the video game, where Orc "cheerleaders" are actually drummers, the Skaven have Plague Monks and the Lizardmen have Skink priests waving football rattles instead.
  • Fan Service: Mind you, the humanoid cheerleaders are certainly attractive and there are several teams with lots of scantily-clad hotties on them, most obviously the Amazons.
  • Fantastic Racism: Jim and Bob in the PC game have a derogatory comment on practically every team (including Jim ragging on ogres and Bob ragging on vampires, both of which annoys the other), but they seem especially disdainful of elves.
  • Fastball Special: The "Throw Teammate" skill (innate to trolls and treemen) allows the throwing of characters with the "Right Stuff" skill (goblins and halflings). The trolls have the unfortunate caveat that they're liable to eat the person they throw.
  • Final Death: Roll badly enough on the injury table, and this is fate that awaits your star player.
  • Flavor Text: the fluff is funny and quite extensive
  • Fragile Speedster: Wood Elf and Skaven teams. In Lizardmen teams, the skinks. Almost every "Catcher" player on any team fits this trope, excluding Amazon, due to her average movement speed.
  • Gentle Giant: The star player Morg n' Thorg is mentioned to be perfectly nice off-pitch and safe to be around unless you're an interviewer misspelling/mispronouncing his name. He is kind to children, (relatively) nice to his fans, and was used as spokesman for a successful road accident reduction ad campaign. On the pitch... Not so much.
  • Glass Cannon: Dwarf Slayers start with two very good offensive skills (Block + Frenzy) and Dauntless, which allows them to go toe-to-toe with The Big Guy of other teams with a little luck. Like all dwarves they are slow as heck, and have the lowest Armour Value in the dwarf team (which granted isn't saying much; the dwarves' "lowest AV" is 8, equivalent to most other races' linemen and blitzers). They also tend to operate solo a lot and are favourite targets for your opponents.
    • Similarly, Wood Elf Wardancers and Dark Elf Witch Elves are very good natural blitzers but are very expensive and very vulnerable to counter-attacks.
    • To the great surprise of most beginning players, Amazon teams actually fall under this. A lot of people mistake them for a running or passing team, but they don't have dedicated runners, their speed is strictly average (6 on all players) and their passes and receivers are pointedly unspectacular compared to most races (they don't get any agility 4 players or any other special advantages). However Amazon blitzers are one of the few classes in the game to start with Dodge AND Block (the infamous "Blodge" combo), they can have up to 4 on their starting lineup and all their other players get Dodge, meaning they can get Blodge after their first level-up. Amazons actually play as a bashing team, relying on Block to let them stand up to bigger, tougher teams like Orcs and Chaos, but their armour value of 7 means that they're alarmingly fragile.
  • Gradual Grinder: Orcs, Chaos, and Dwarves, especially against the Fragile Speedster teams. Nurgle and Khemri teams as well.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: So, an opponent has bypassed the defenses of your Ork team and almost reached your end zone? Well, your troll can stop him dead by throwing your goblin at him.
  • Guide Dang It: The tutorial of the 2010 computer game is... Somewhat lacking in explaining the actual mechanics of the game, entertaining though it may be. Expect to spend some hours reading the rulebook or a lot of trial and error.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Bright Crusaders and Heroes of Law refuse to cheat, and the latter often has players off doing charity work during games.
  • Horny Vikings: Norse teams, obviously. One of the few Norse Star Players is a fellow named Icepelt Hammerblow, in case you weren't convinced.
  • Hot Amazon: Every player on an Amazon team and their cheerleaders.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Vampires and Trolls will eat their teammates on occasion.
  • Implacable Man: The Block + Dodge + Stand Firm combination (which is thankfully rare) renders a player immune to Both Down, Defender Fumbles and Defender Moved results on the block die when attacked. Barring the attacker having Tackle or Wrestle, only one out of every six blocks (Defender Down) will affect them at all, with an equal chance of the attacker rolling an Attacker Down and going down instead.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Several team names.
    • Orcland Raiders. That is all.
  • Jack of All Stats: Human teams are collectively able to play all the main strategies (running game, throwing game, beat-snot-out-of-opponent game) equally well, but their individual players are too different in stats to allow them to fully commit to any strategy. Human teams thrive at flexibility and taking whatever it is their opponents do poorly at and using that strategy against them.
    • Also, although they're technically humans anyway, the Amazons who are even more average than the Humans- ALL their players have the same stat line (even their specialists) except for a few starting skills, and they don't have access to any "big guys" like Humans do.
    • Vampires are probably the best example of a straight Jack when hired. They have average speed, but hit are as strong as any non-big guy Mighty Glacier player and as agile, if not more so, as any Fragile Speedster player. Vampires also have access to most of the skills naturally, though they can only take Passing skills 1/6 of the time. The only skill set they can't get is Mutation, which is specific to Chaos based teams and the Skaven. They don't start with any skills specific to a particular role though, so skill selection determines what role they develop into. Due to the high stats, they are still competent blockers, passers, catchers and runners without the appropriate skills, but not as good at any individual role as most of the more specialized players.
  • Joke Team: Ogre teams are generally regarded as being just plain bad. Sure you get to recruit a lot of powerful brutes who are incredibly strong and tough and the Snotlings who back up the Ogre are amazingly cheap, hard to tackle while running and can be thrown by the Ogres- but in all other regards Snotlings are utter rubbish (slow, PATHETICALLY weak and so fragile they're liable to be 1-shotted by a Halfling) and you can't rely on the Ogres because their Bone-head rule means they have a 1 in 6 chance of doing nothing every turn. To make matters worse, their skill selection is painfully limited and the rerolls they need so badly are very expensive for them. Playing an Ogre team is nothing short of a Self-Imposed Challenge.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Doing this will get the player banned if the ref notices.
  • Lethal Joke Character: Goblins and Halflings. The former use lots of dirty tricks and the latter have inspiring (and demoralizing for the other team) chefs. Both benefit from being too small to grab easily and having big guys that can throw them.
  • Lighter and Softer: Of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle universe. Sure, it's still probably a crappy place to live, but at least it's a funny crappy place to live.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Most teams could develop into this through the right skill and stat choices.
    • Ogres are pretty close to this- they have the standard 5 strength and 9 armour of most Big Guys but also have a decent 5 move allowance (faster than Trolls, Beasts of Nurgle, Deathrollers, Treemen, Tomb Guardians and Mummies) and, more importantly, 2 agility rather than the more common 1. Most significantly, they're the only Big Guy to actually get their own team.
    • Beyond the ranks of the Big Guys, Lizardman Saurus are strength 4, move 6 and armour 9, and the team can field 5 of them at once as well as their Kroxigor. Sure, they're only agility 1, but skill them up enough and a Lizardman team can float like a butterfly and sting like a steamroller.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: 21 official plus multiple fan made ones.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: The dice reroll mechanic.
  • Magikarp Power: Some teams develop like this as the league goes on, especially Lizardmen. Their Saurus have the potential to be amazingly powerful and destructive (they're basic strength 4 and move 6 as well as an impressive 9 armour) but start with NONE of the skills a power player needs (most notably Block) and their poor agility makes it hard for them to earn enough experience to level up early on. But when they do, look out!
    • Similarly, Chaos teams start with very few useful skills and an extra point of strength on their Chaos Warriors as their only stand-out advantage. Easy access to mutations, however, means their all-rounder players can specialize more easily and more deeply at high levels than similar players from other teams.
  • Magitech: The fluff has magically powered cameras broadcasting to magic balls alongside a lot of other tech akin to our world, like something akin to a radio broadcasting system.
  • Metagame: Depending on what teams and skills are popular in a given league, some skills become more or less valuable. The most obvious example is tackle, which serves solely to cancel the effects of the Dodge skill, and therefore is nearly useless unless you're facing many agile teams.
  • Mighty Glacier: Dwarf teams.
    • Most teams have access to at least one player-type that qualifies as this, with Treemen and Mummies being the most straight example.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Many of the named players. And coaches. And one ref.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Chaos Dwarves aren't too plentiful, so most "Chaos Dwarf teams" largely consist of Hobgoblins.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Or if you bribe the ref to look the other way. Or if he's too scared the fans will kill him if he calls you on it.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Motley Horde. The coach has no idea what his lineup is going to be for any game until it starts.
  • Random Number God: As described at the top of the page, Blood Bowl's Random Number God is directly referenced in the game's backstory as Nuffle, the Patron God of the Game, and has been adopted by players as someone to appeal to when they need a critical dice roll to succeed. It works about as well as one would expect.
  • Rugby Is Slaughter: Turned up to 11.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Pro Elf teams, which are made up of the High Elves that actually worked to get into a team.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: High Elf teams are made up of rich kids who bought their way in.
    • Also, bribing the ref, a practice so common that the refs' union actually has guidelines for when and how to take the money.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them: Dwarfs were among the first of Nuffle's priests, so they feel that they are allowed to adjust the rules at their pleasure.
  • Serious Business: Blood Bowl has basically replaced full scale war, and even, in a fashion, brought about peace; even the forces of Chaos no longer try to slaughter the world, instead focusing on dominating the Blood Bowl tournament.
    • The first game stopped a battle between Dwarves and Orcs. Let me repeat that: it stopped a battle between Dwarves and Orcs!
  • Shout-Out: Former champions the Orcland Raiders.
  • Steampunk: A game starring Elves, Dwarfs, Orcs and Goblins also features gas-powered chainsaws and steam-powered steamrollers as special models.
  • Stone Wall: High elves combine the natural passing game of elves with an above-average (8) armour across the board for their players. They're no faster than humans but better at dodging and passing (they arguably have the most accurate throwers in the game), and the players are so expensive that playing with offensive blocking is liable to do you more harm than good.
  • Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors: Most teams have certain set-ups that they have trouble against, but none so bad as Amazons vs Dwarves. Amazons have the advantage of all starting with Dodge (making them harder to hit) to compensate for not being especially tough; Dwarves have the advantage of all their basic players starting with Tackle (which negates Dodge) and are able to do a lot of damage when they hit. It's so bad the best advice you can give to an Amazon player facing Dwarves is "try to bring at least a few players home alive."[1]
  • Taking You with Me: The Wrestle skill counters the Block skill by sending both characters into the floor on a Both Down result, which characters with Block usually ignores. Since you don't roll for armour when using Wrestle, though, there's no chance of either player getting actually injured.
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Goblins are the kings of this. Dwarves run a close second.
  • Unnecessary Roughness: This is basically the entire premise of the game, to be honest. You can make tackles with freaking chainsaws.
  • Unskilled but Strong: As a general rule, basic players who start with very good stats for a role (Saurus, Black Orcs, Vampires, etc.) start with no innate skills necessary to fill that role, which balances them somewhat with poorer-statted specialists who start with those vital skills (most teams' blitzers have Block, for instance). No Big Guys (models with base strength 5 or higher) have normal access to the General skills either, limiting access to the all-important Block.
    • Tactic-wise, chaos. Unlikely to make even an average pass but when leveled up, fully capable of sending half the opposing team to the infirmary.
  • Weather of War: Players may collapse in sweltering heat, or find the ball too slippery to handle in snowy conditions.
  • We Have Reserves: Skaven coaches, due to their race's cheap linemen, and tendency to get turned into a pulpy mess, often end up with this mindset.
    • Also Undead coaches due to their players' ability to recover from serious injuries.
    • Snotlings and Halflings are the cheapest and second cheapest players in the game, and the easiest to kill. Do the math.
    • Finally, vampire thralls have very low life expectancy due to low armour value and being preyed on not only by your opponent but your own players. Vampire coaches tend to fill the rosters with them "for safety's sake".
  • When Trees Attack: Halfling and Wood Elf teems can hire treemen.
  • You Have Failed Me...: It is impossible to buy a life insurance if you are a coach.
    • If you fail one of the obligatory missions in the "legendary edition" story mode, your coach will be abducted and eaten by some ogre fans.
  • Zerg Rush: The prevailing tactic for Halfling teams in both fluff and actual play -- "After all, if you can get half a dozen players in the opposing team's end zone and, by some miracle, manage to end up with the ball, then there is a small chance that one or two of them won't be jelly by the time you throw the thing."
  1. It IS possible to beat Dwarves with Amazons, but by god you're going to have to work for it- and be VERY lucky.