Games Workshop and Cyanide’s Bloodbowl 2 is one of the most hot-and-cold games one can play. Based on Games Workshop’s long-running tabletop strategy game, in which the Orcs, Skaven and Dwarves of the Warhammer universe play a simplified and bloodied version of American Football, Cyanide’s home console port is, at best, a complex and rewarding strategy game, and at worst, a ghost town of a franchise, whose enthusiastic community has been killed by poor design choices, and slow and expensive DLC. But controversy aside, the game is built on undoubtedly solid mechanics, and can be a blast to play. This article isn’t going to explain the rules, but go over some basic advice and tips, and introduce you to the terminology and ideas that I’ll be using for the remainder of my Bloodbowl 2 pieces.
For complete beginners, here is the official, and rather effective, introduction to the game; and here is the introduction by YouTuber Sheepdog Gaming, whose tutorial and gameplay videos are some of the most accessible and informative on the site. From this point on, I’m going to assume you have a basic understanding of the rules, so we can dive straight into the tips.
Quick Race Guide
I’ll be producing far more extensive guides in the coming weeks, but here is a rundown of the sixteen races in the game.
Versatile, resilient and surprisingly strong in the passing game. Mobile enough to stretch the field, yet tough enough to make tackles, they’re the jack-of-all-trades team that is perfect for beginners, and offers a range of positionals for any situation. Rank: joint-6th out of 16
Slightly slower and tougher than their human rivals, the Orcs are a bashy team with enough skill to play the ball. Their Black Orcs and Linemen grind down opponents, opening space for Blitzers to smash opponents, and Throwers to rumble untouched into the endzone. Useful for slow, sluggish drives down the field, controlling the game, and injuring opponents. Rank: joint-4th
Infuriatingly fast and implausibly lightly-armoured for a game the encourages murder, the game’s vermin boast an unparalleled running game, and a strong Big Guy. While they are too fragile to play any kind of defence effectively, they are a ruthlessly high-scoring team. Rank: 3rd
Billed in the game as ‘ideal Bloodbowl players’ due to their toughness and aggression, the Dwarves are in reality much harder to wield. The slowest and one of the most technically incompetent races in the game, the Dwarves are masters of injury and grinding out desperate 1-0 wins. Rank: 15th
Their fans love them, and their enemies call them overpowered; a very agile and technically gifted team with a diverse defence and a chaotic, fluid running attack. While they lack a Big Guy, with the right coach they can control any game against any opposition. Rank: 1st
Loftier and, admittedly, more boring than their malevolent cousins, the High Elves excel at the passing game, and are robust enough to offer a stout defence against most opponents. While their players and tactics are somewhat predictable, they are a difficult team to stop. Rank: 8th
The most brutal race in the game; Chaos teams are built to maim and injure opponents, yet have the Agility across the board to be a nominal threat in the passing game. While they lack Skills as rookies, within a few games, and a few level-ups, a Chaos team can become a consistently effective murder-team. Their defence is undermined, however, by their low mobility. Rank: 2nd
A hilarious fan-made race that excels at providing coaches with funny stories about their exploits, rather than anything on the Bloodbowl field. Overly-reliant on expensive Blitzers and Blockers, they lack both a passing and running game on offence, and can be overpowered and outrun in defence. Rank: 16th
The first DLC race are essentially High Elves on steroids; faster, better at passing, yet much more fragile. They are second to none at long passing, an approach that is unstoppably by all but a few sides, yet lack the toughness to defend, or use a running game. Rank: 10th
Half bashy and lumbering, half stunty and agile, the Lizardmen are a very diverse team that can score touchdowns as fast as anyone. Yet their Skinks are too valuable, being their only players with a hope of picking up the ball, and are easily injured. Rank: 11th
Think Dwarves, but sacrificing armour for mobility. Able to keep pace with most opponents, and strong enough to hold their own in any fistfight, the Norse are plagued by their lack of armour, and few agility players; this is a team that can frustrate an opponent, but will struggle to win games outright. Rank: joint-13th
One of the most diverse teams in the game offers a stout running game and a surprisingly robust lineup due to their Regenerate Skill that causes 50% of all injuries to be ignored. Yet they lack any specialised Agility players, and their skill players, Ghouls and Wights, are critical to their success; if a few Ghouls become injured, an Undead team can quickly fall apart. Rank: joint-6th
The second undead race, boasting Flesh Golems instead of Mummies, but bringing the Werewolf, a fearsome hybrid Runner-Blitzer. It’s the wolves that give Necromatic teams an edge over their cadaverous cousins, and makes them a threat against any opponents. Rank: joint-4th
Slower, clumsier but just as deadly as their Chaos-worshipping relatives, Nurgle teams excel on defense due to their combination of Disturbing Presence and Foul Appearance, throwing both bashy and passing gameplans into disarray. While the Rotters are fragile for Linemen, and the limit of four Pestigors means a skilled opponent will be able to injure out most of a Nurgle team’s ball-players with ease, this is still a diverse and exciting race. Rank: 9th
Khemri teams can bash, and nothing else! Without a single player with greater than Agility 2 they’ll struggle even picking up the ball, let along throwing and catching it, but their squad of four Tomb Guardians, Strength 5 monsters without Skills like Bone Head that render Big Guys unreliable, can inflicts injuries and deaths like no other. Rank: joint-13th
More mobile and diverse than the Dwarves, the Chaos Dwarves have all the bashy, sticky skills of their cousins, with cheap Hobgoblins and hugely mobile and tough ballcarriers in the Bull Centaurs. They still lack a passing game, but can offer a more diverse attack than the Dwarves. Rank: 12th
Using the ranks listed above, a somewhat unusual pattern emerges. In order from best to worst, the races are:
1) Dark Elf
8) High Elf
10) Wood Elf
12) Chaos Dwarf
Are High Elves really intrinsically superior to Nurgle? Are Dwarves really worse than the Norse? Clearly, a lot of this is dependent on the skill of the coaches, and the will of the dice-god Nuffle, so these rankings must be taken with a pinch of salt. They were arrived at by assigning each race a rank, from one to sixteen, in six categories: strength of running game, strength of passing game, strength of bashing, strength of pass defence, mobility and toughness. Then, the ranks were added up to generate a total rank value, and that total value being used to arrive at the final ranking table. For instance, the Dark Elves were ranked no.2 for running, 4 for passing, 13 for bashing, 1 for pass defence, 4 for mobility and 13 for toughness, giving them a total rank score of 37. The Chaos, meanwhile, were ranked 6, 8, 3, 8, 9 and 4, respectively, giving them a total rank score of 38, only just higher than that of the Elves.
There are obvious flaws with the system – such as each category being given equal weighting, and I understand that being able to defend against passes is by no means as important as being able to bash in Bloodbowl, but the table does not reflect this – and so these rankings are by no means absolute; a Bretonnian team can fell a Dark Elf team on their day. This is simply to give an idea of roughly how skilled each team is in the various aspects of Bloodbowl.
While Bloodbowl is a simplified version of American Football, and so the differences in position aren’t quite as pronounced as the real-life gap between a quarterback and a defensive tackle, there are positions that many players across the races fit into, giving coaches an idea of how to use each unit.
Referred to as a ‘cog’ by the in-game description, Linemen are the jacks-of-all-trades on a team, and tend to embody what makes that race distinctive. Dwarf Linemen, called Long Beards, for instance, are slow, clumsy and tough, whereas Skaven Linemen are mobile and fragile. Other names for Linemen include the Chaos Beastman and the Undead Skeletons and Zombies; a Lineman is any player which a coach may have sixteen of on their team.
These players are at their most effective when picking up the ball and passing it to their teammates, but tend to be robust enough in contact, too. They are generally slow, yet come with Skills such as Pass and Sure Hands.
It takes two to tango, and Catchers are the natural compliment to Throwers. Most Catchers are fast, yet lightly-armoured units that excel when given space to make a catch, and run down field. Paradoxically, many teams with Throwers don’t have a catcher, like the Orcs and Norse, so they are somewhat of a luxury purchase.
Arguably the most useful position on the field, Blitzers are fast, tough players that excel at recovering possession using their Block Skill. While their usefulness deteriorates as opponents level-up, and Linemen begin picking up the Block Skill to counter that of the Blitzers, they are still highly effective players. Other names include the Norse Berserkers, Wood Elf Wardancers, Undead Wights and Skaven Storm Vermin.
These players are fast, ball-carrying individuals who excel at retrieving the ball and running into, or dancing around, enemy lines. They tend to be more lightly-armoured or fragile than their teammates, and so are often a luxury purchase for teams who have already established a core of resilient players.
Said to be blocking specialists in the game, these players are some of the toughest and most robust on the field. They tend to be slow, technically limited players with at least 4 Strength, and can bash most opponents into the dust. These players include the Orc Black Orcs, Lizardman Saurus, Norse Ulfwerener, Chaos Warriors and Undead Mummies
These units are easy to spot; they’re the ones with the Stunty Skill. They tend to be wildcards on an otherwise bashy team, players of flair and dexterity hidden within barriers of bigger, stronger players. As a result, they can become the only ballcarriers, or de facto agility players, on their teams. They include the Orc Goblin.
Different to the Big Hitters, only one Big Guy may play for a team at any one time. These are heavy-hitting, slow-moving monsters that dominate the Line of Scrimmage, yet are always plagued by unfavourable Skills such as Really Stupid or Bone Head that render their awesome destructive power somewhat unreliable. They include the Human Ogre, Orc Troll, Skaven Rat Ogre, and Dwarf Deathroller.
These players defy convention, and are specialised for individual races. Their roles and functions vary wildly, and must be considered and utilised individually. They include the Dark Elf Witch Elf and Assassin, Necromatic Werewolf and Dwarf Troll-Slayer.
These are elite, highly-paid mercenaries that can be hired for individual games by one or both sides. They tend to be high-level versions of existing players, such as the Skaven Big Rat, a more robust and hard-hitting Rat Ogre. Star Players are also, on the whole, locked by race; the deadly Morg’n’Thorg can be hired by any team, but only the Norse, for instance, may hire Wilhelm Chainey.
General Offensive Tactics
Offence can be split into two broad schools: running, in which a single player picks up the ball in their own half and looks to return it all the way to the enemy endzone; and passing, where several players toss the ball between themselves to move quickly downfield.
Running games can be easier to carry out due to the fewer number of Agility rolls required than the passing game; once a player has picked up the ball, all that is required is for their teammates to block their opponents into oblivion and walk in for the touchdown. The key to an effective running game is to protect the ballcarrier, as the enemy will undoubtedly target them, and this can be done in one of three ways: cages, screens, and solos.
Cages are the most conventional means of protection, and one employed by AI coaches endlessly. Cages involve placing a teammate in the four corners to the top-right, top-left, bottom-right and bottom-left of the ballcarrier, so none can reach the ballcarrier without a Dodge roll, and should they choose to Blitz them, they will have several assists to overcome. This is a very solid formation, especially if the four cage players are kept out of enemy Tackle Zones, as this means the opposition will only have one block, that which comes from the Blitz, to try to break the cage. However, a cage is only as strong as its caging players; should a 3-Strength Lineman be placed in a caging position, it is not impossible for a 3-Strength opponent to knock them down, and flood enemies into the cage. Once a cage breaks, the mess of friendly and enemy Tackle Zones means it can be difficult for the ballcarrier to resume their march down the field, and many opponents will simply try to stall the offence in this way until the end of the match, rather than actually recover the ball. The majority of the races in the game use cages effectively.
Screens are a more open, fluid version of the cage, and are best used by 4-Agility teams. This involves placing teammates around the ballcarrier, approximately three squares away from them, and two squares away from each other. This means that while no friendly units are in contact with the ballcarrier, the carrier is protected by a meshing network of Tackle Zones that even the most nimble of enemies will struggle to dodge through. This gives the ballcarrier more space to maneuver, and allows the carrier to pass the ball to any of their unmarked blockers to advance the ball downfield more quickly. Teams that use screens effectively are the Wood Elves, High Elves, and especially Dark Elves.
Solos are the most risky approach, as they involve leaving the ballcarrier almost completely exposed. With the ballcarrier already in space downfield, teammates are placed in enemy Tackle Zones, keeping their hands busy and distracting them from going after the ballcarrier. This works especially well for teams with mobile Linemen armed with Tackle to wrap up enemies in their Tackle Zones, and ballcarriers with Skills such as Dodge or Block, who can fend for themselves in contact. While this does endanger the blockers, it can be a useful strategy for an outnumbered team to score points. The Skaven and Norse teams use solos effectively.
Passing attacks, unlike real-life American Football, tend to be conceptually simpler than running tactics. They will often involve sending one, or two, depending on the team, Catchers streaking downfield. This has the effect of dragging the defence with them, as few coaches are willing to risk leaving a Wood Elf Catcher unmarked near their endzone, which in turn can open up space for shorter throws into the space vacated by these backtracking defenders. As a result, passing attacks are reliant on all, or at least most, players having basic competence with the ball, as any player can be expected to become a receiver at any point, depending on their position on the field and how free they are of enemy Tackle Zones. Additionally, passing attacks tend to be more reactionary than running attacks; a running team seeks to grind the enemy into the dust, while a passing team waits for the enemy to leave gaps for Throwers and Catchers to exploit. Therefore, passing easily becomes a very specialised approach, which is why only the Wood Elves, High Elves, Dark Elves, and at a push Humans, can use it effectively.
General Defensive Tactics
Much like offensive tactics, defensive tactics can be split into several areas: bashy defence, in which the defence tries to crush the offence into submission; ball-focused defence, where defenders use precision strikes to hit ballcarriers and ballcarriers alone; and conservative defence, where the defence covers the width of the field in Tackle Zones and dares the offence to Dodge through.
The most conceptually simple of defences, the bashy defence relies on power and clever use of assists to overwhelm the opponent. Linemen and Big Hitters are to be left in enemy tackle zones to make blocks, while smaller, more finesse-based players are to be given space to sprint upfield to make the necessary assists to ensure the defence comes out on top. This is not a “stupid” approach, as the complexity of tackle zones, when factors such as pushed enemies, downed enemies and Skills like Guard and Stand Firm are considered, means the assists provided by smaller players are more important than the blocks thrown by the bigger ones. This approach also requires all eleven pairs of hands to the pump, so no defenders are left deep as a safety, or last line of defence. Teams that benefit from this approach are those with Big Hitters: the Orcs, Chaos, Lizardmen, Norse, Undead, as well as the tough-as-nails Dwarves.
If bashy defence relies on the strength of the team, ball-focused defence relies on the strength of the individual. This is an approach for teams that wish to avoid contact, but can play the ball themselves, and have effective Blitzers. The general idea is that the Blitzer alone will go after the ballcarrier, with Linemen pushing blockers out of the way if necessary, and look to retrieve the ball; skills such as Tackle and Strip Ball cannot be recommended highly enough for Blitzers in a ball-focused defence. The remainder of the team hang back in shells resembling that of a conservative defence, and spring forward as soon as the ballcarrier is downed and the ball hits the turf; from there, they look to secure a quick pickup and move the ball downfield, either through passing or runs from a single fast player. As this is a somewhat high-risk defence, as an ineffective Blitz can undermine the entire approach, it is advised that at least one player, even a Lineman, is left as a safety behind the other players. This is a very specialised form of defence, requiring several key components – an elite Blitzer, several mobile and/or agile second-level players to retrieve the ball – that are only fully available after a few level-ups. Passing teams tend to favour this approach, and so the Dark Elves, High Elves, Wood Elves and Humans can use this effectively.
The most hands-off defence for the least bashy teams, this approach relies on team cohesion and player positioning, rather than the Skills and Attributes of individual players. The idea here is that the offence will only have, at most, eight turns to score, and it would be easier and less life-threatening to simply force them to run out the clock, rather than aggressively pursue the ball. Defenders are to be withdrawn from the Line of Scrimmage as soon as possible, ideally keeping no defenders inside enemy Tackle Zones, reducing the opposition to only being able to make one block, that which comes from the Blitz, per turn. Defenders are to be placed across the width of the field, with two or three yet deeper as safeties, depending on the mobility of the team. The coach must ensure that as much of the field as possible is covered in Tackle Zones, as a single chink in the armour can undermine the entire strategy. This is best used by the Skaven, but the slightly more robust Bretonnians can employ it effectively.
While this list of strengths, weaknesses and tactics is by no means exhaustive, this will hopefully be a useful introduction to what each race can offer players, and how they can be deployed. Over the next few days I’ll be writing more specialised guides to each race, hopefully with additional screenshots, provided Nuffle is smiling on me when I boot up the game.
Special thanks again to Sheepdog Gaming, whose tutorial videos massively improved me as a Bloodbowl 2 player, and made me want to write guides of my own.
Image Credit: PC GamesN