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What happens when you take an adaptation of a tabletop game that’s inspired by a sport and make that into a video game? Well, you end up with something like Dungeonbowl, a game that’s reminiscent of American Football and Rugby wherein you control fantasy characters from the Warhammer universe, like Orks. The most interesting part of Dungeonbowl is the characterization itself as a result. It’s a football and Warhammer nerd’s dream.
In that respect, I must commend Dungeonbowl on its ability to convey the uniqueness of the Warhammer style. The models and scenery look very much how an actual tabletop game board would look (without the hours of meticulous gluing and painting). The idea of putting fantasy-style creatures into such a relatable sport like this is both charming and intriguing, but the stylizations are not the only neat idea at play here.
The other features of this game, aside from the gameplay itself, are pretty recognizable by anyone who has played a football video game before. The real differences between traditional NFL video games and that of Dungeonbowl’s gameplay derive from its use of a classic RPG grid system. Players take turns moving their Dwarfs or Orks respectively one by one across a large grid in a dungeon, moving them closer towards the enemy’s territory which is where the enemy characters first start the game. In addition to the grid system, there is the dice roll concept, which makes an obvious translation from the tabletop game and comes into play through multiple ways.
The game handles the drama of physical exertion and chance through the use of dice rolls. If you want to pull close maneuvers around other characters you may want to move as quickly as possible to gain a safe distance. Dice rolls would then dictate if you fail or succeed when choosing to move a few extra squares farther than normal or if you get too close to an opponent’s square. Additionally, whenever you’re passing an enemy square you roll dice, whenever you attack an enemy you roll, whenever you do just about anything, other than move within your ‘safe’ squares, you roll. Bear in mind that if you fail one of these rolls you will most likely end up in a turnover which will prematurely end your turn. Nothing against this rolling concept, as it adds much needed excitement and ensures dynamic gameplay, but the rolling happens behind the scenes and you don’t actually get to see it happen, which is a bummer.
Another standby of the sports arena is the Campaign mode which (in this game) allows you to draft a basic team and play games of Blood Bowl (the name of the sport) to gain experience for your players. As your players gain more experience they can level up and buy new abilities with their newly acquired skill points. Leveling up improves a player’s bonuses in dice rolls and can give them a second chance on these dice rolls as well. The idea of bonuses and dice rolling is a familiar action and theme for any RPG player, but what about the features that are uncommon? Dungeonbowl handles those aspects terribly.
The major fault of Dungeonbowl is not taking advantage of an opportunity that was unique to it being a video game: an interactive tutorial. Actually any tutorial would have been fine. Instead, I found myself having to read up on the rules online and figuring out how things worked via trial and error. This lack of exposition ended with multiple hours of frustration and wanting to hit the quit button. Although I found myself having fun as I was slowly starting to understand the mechanics at hand, the journey to get there was far too long. If I hadn’t had my own reviewer’s motivation for continual play, having to surpass the hurdle of learning a complex game with no tutorial, I would have normally made Dungeonbowl fall to the wayside.
Being that the strengths of Dungeonbowl take from its deep tabletop and Warhammer roots, this is a game that I would recommend to any fans of the Warhammer franchise and especially to those that are into Blood Bowl already. Dungeonbowl is made for those fans and those fans alone, as an outsider I felt strangely alienated until I had passed some sort of twisted trial of researching and earning my right to enjoy the game, which no one should ever have to do. With zero exposition, this fantasy football game just feels like an unfinished game with loads of potential. Dungeonbowl is a good game, but sadly you have to want it to be a good game first.