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Dungeonbowl
 

Dungeonbowl

ESRB: Teen - T
Platform: PC Games
Category: Sports, Strategy
 
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A long while back, when wargames and boardgames were king, somebody at Games Workshop realised that, since people played both Warhammer Quest and Blood Bowl, you could mix the two by having matches set in dungeons. Thus, Dungeonbowl was born, a variant of Blood Bowl that used bits from Warhammer Quest, and slightly different rules. It was quick, dirty, and fun, if unbalanced in some areas, and this game is no different.

Graphics

While the game uses the exact same engine as Blood Bowl (Gamebryo), and many of the same assets, there are a few different features that make it stand out. For example, because of the nature of the game, the main pitch areas are more claustrophobic, and traps are generally obvious for what they are (lava burns, pits hurt, and teleporters do their thing). The UI is also quite simple, and very easy to read. Since all the dungeons are moderately dark, the chatbox is also easy to read, a problem that plagued certain pitches of Blood Bowl. Otherwise, it doesn't look too exciting, but it is very clear, and there are easily accessible means of making things even more clear. Being able to see who needs skill points to level with a keypress or two during play is a nice feature, as is marking dungeon features more clearly with a similarly simple press of a key.

Sound

Most of the sounds, including the music, are straight from the main Blood Bowl game. They're somewhat uplifting, and don't tend to get on your nerves, being a basic, looping background. Similarly, most of the crunches, oofs, arghs, and swishes of the original game are still here, but there's a few extra to represent the teleporters. Oh yes, the teleporters. When one goes wrong, and teleports your player out of the dungeon for no discernible reason, it cracks like lightning, but when it works fine, you hear the “SHWSHH” of a successful portation, and end up... somewhere. Which leads us nicely on to...

Gameplay

At first sight, Dungeonbowl is the quicker, dirtier cousin of Blood Bowl, coming from house rules written by Jervis Johnson of Games Workshop way-back-when. And indeed, with a relatively normal team lineup, this is the case. But Jervis, and presumably Cyanide, seem to have failed to take into account how Big Guys play out in the more confined spaces of Dungeonbowl. In matches against relatively new players, with mostly normal players and middle-tier team members like Norse Werewolves, the game plays quickly and efficiently, only stretching out when the players are equally skilled, or it all gets stuck in a massive brawl. Big Guys, who are basically what it says on the tin, can completely unbalance this and make matches a painful, one sided slog.

For example, the Bright Wizard team can field a proportion of (any) Dwarf teammates, (any) Human teammates, and finally (any) Norse teammates, with the secondary and tertiary using less units. This has led to a combination I have quickly grown to despise seeing: The Deathroller/Yhetee combo. In vanilla Blood Bowl, these units are dangerous, but easy to tie up and/or avoid, and are never seen on the same team. In the more confined spaces of Dungeonbowl, they're a one way ticket to victory. Not a guaranteed one, but unless you immediately prioritise knocking out, pit-pushing, or otherwise nullifying these units, they're going to slowly tromp down the field and win by sheer attrition. I've already blacklisted one player for using unnecessary fouls (fouls don't give skill points, and are basically now purely for the purpose of injuring players), and winning, not with the ball which he could easily have gotten to the end of the pitch when I was left with 3 players, but by repeatedly shoving the entire of my team into pits or blocking them into injuries, even killing one player with a block that he didn't need, and the Deathroller/Yhetee combo made this insultingly easy.

In short, due to the difficulty of attacking Big Guys, it's almost impossible to play the game without fielding Big Guys of your own. And Big Guys, while costing the most to field per member, are only rarely injured or killed. Sure, if a Big Guy gets heavily injured or killed, that hurts a team's value and finances, but, as noted, that's relatively rare. So, from day one, we already have a Big Guy arms race, which new players have little way of knowing about until they're challenged by people like the player I blacklisted, who are just going round injuring teams for the fun of it. It's a potentially big problem, hence the potentially big space devoted to it.

So, what with this problem, you'd think the game is bad, right? As I mentioned, with teams roughly balanced to each other, it's actually quite fun, and quick. But the matchmaking and challenging system of online play needs to be looked at, or players at least need to be warned that having at least one Big Guy is now an unspoken must if you want to have a chance against the bullies that inevitably crop up in online games. The hotseat is also somewhat lackluster, being basically a practice mode using pre-made teams, no customisation allowed. So you need to know, this is primarily a multiplayer only game, and the price reflects this.

The price is also reflected in the fact the game starts with 3 teams, the rest being DLC. Yes, yes, we've all got negative connotations with the term, but provided it's fairly cheap, I have no problems with it, as people without can play people who have it, and still have a fighting chance, due to the nature of the teams themselves. The starter teams aren't amazingly exciting (Dwarf/Halfling/Norse, Dwarf/Human/Norse, and Elf/Halfling/Human), but there's enough tactical variety in the possible lineups that this doesn't overly matter.

The various dungeon features can be interesting, such as the teleporters, that add a random element, and the chests, which consist of two things: explosive traps in 5 of the 6 chests (in official maps, anyway), and the ball in one, makes for another layer of tactical depth. The two don't always work together well, and the dungeon design isn't always helpful (many maps have only one, fairly blockable route to each endzone, and maps can't rely on teleporters), but, when it does, it's fairly interesting, and indeed fun. Teleporters essentially move you randomly, and have a small chance of injuring or removing players who step on them, while there are extra tactics implemented, such as bouncing the ball off a wall in the hope that it will rebound to a team-mate who can catch it. It's more chaotic, but played with awareness of the nuances, it can lead to a lot of (good) drama you wouldn't see in vanilla Blood Bowl.

Finally, there's the Dungeon Editor. On the upside, it's easy to use, and I've seen some interesting community made maps, but, on the other, it doesn't have a whole lot of variety in the tiles you can place yet, and the teleporters are currently too risky to use as a main dungeon mechanic. You can blame Jervis Johnson for that one, but the simplicity of making your own dungeons is still a plus side to the product.

Some other things need attention too, such as the “invisible teammate” bug, still there from Blood Bowl Dark Elves edition, or the unnecessary skills/inducements, like the Bribes or the Kick skills, and this makes me a little leery of Dungeonbowl for now. It has the potential to be a fine product, but, as I say in the blog, the original houserules weren't exactly well thought out (and aren't fully implemented), the Big Guy Arms Race needs some attention, and last time I said the devs were working on something (Sword of the Stars II), I ended up eating some humble pie with my estimate.

Overall, for the price they're asking (£10/$15) for the base game, it's worth a gamble that it will get better (and, played with mates who won't enter the Big Guy Arms Race, it's tactical and fun), but I'm not going to say it's a sure thing, however much I wish I could. It just needs some attention. Perhaps if it sees some definite improvement, I'll put it in the news or blog about it, but for now... it needs a bit of work to be all it can potentially be, and I would mainly recommend it for people who have friends to play with, as opposed to the hostile world of pubbies. At least until certain things get a good seeing-to.






A Bit More Detail: Dungeonbowl
 
 

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