Blood Bowl 3 Preview – can Cyanide line up a gridiron great?

Blood Bowl III has returned for yet another iteration, with a whole host of new features, many of which are coming straight from the revamp of the new tabletop edition that was put out in 2020. I had some hands-on time with an early build of the game, to see what’s going down on the gridiron.

Cyanide’s new version has graced us with a visual overhaul for Blood Bowl III, making things look a lot grittier and gorier than the previous entries, which were slightly more cartoonish. This fits especially well with the two new teams that lead this edition: the fancy, feather-bedecked Imperial Nobility and the brutish, vile Black Orcs. The tabletop versions of these teams are incredibly detailed, and the advanced fidelity really sells these new teams. As a bonus, Blood Bowl III also contains the Elven Union as a choice, which is great if you fancy trying out a (far) more fragile team with an aptitude for passing.

Elsewhere, things are largely business as usual: set up your defenders, then your backline, kick-off, and the brawl. Team re-rolls now have no limit per turn: you can throw them all away if you want to, which if you’re anything like me you may well do when you mess up your setup and end up getting tackled to the dirt.

The new control system is more granular, allowing for you to pick from regular moves, blitzes, passing, and jumping over a downed player (a new feature on the Tabletop) but I encountered a number of issues with the UI. There’s no in-depth tutorial so it might just be a lack of knowledge, but the feedback for selecting moves like passes and tackles currently feels clunky and unintuitive.

As ever, Blood Bowl is a game that makes it feel incredibly unfair when the dice are stacked against you, and like you’re a tactical genius when you manage the improbable 5+ dodge roll to sneak out of an enemy formation with the ball. Animations are brutal, crunchy and swift: no more waiting for long scrums to play out, everything is snappy and responsive – except when the AI is mulling over what to do, but that’s just Blood Bowl. You get used to it, and having time to think when you can see the pitch is useful, whereas having to wait through overlong animations of slipping, falling and tackling is frustrating.

There’s a selection of teams that you could purchase in the beta, including lower value versions that let you mess around with inducements such as re-rolls, cheerleaders, coach calls, as well as special star players. It’s worth having a play around with these, and with everything really, to see how it works. Having lots of re-rolls available is especially fun for stringing together incredibly risky runs through tackle territory, or over-extension.

Despite this, you’ll still end up fudging an annoying number of rolls. Keeping an eye on the little notifications in the dialogue box in the lower left-hand corner will help to demystify the maths somewhat, otherwise it’s a trip to the help menu, Cyanide’s website, or a handy youtube video to get the details.

Blood Bowl III remains every bit as particular as its predecessor, a lavish yet slavish adaptation of the most recent board game, with the benefit of a fancy new engine that promises new features such as in-depth customisation of characters, which will likely take full advantage of the upgraded graphics.

The current version has a few bugs, which are to be expected. Along with the often confusing and unresponsive UI, there are a handful of animation glitches, AI stalling at times, and though it isn’t a bug, the timer on AI games is very tight, especially if you’re rusty or new to the title, which is worth being aware of.

Cyanide have suggested that roughly 12 teams will be ready for launch, and it’s likely that as teams receive new stats and rules in the tabletop game, they’ll be transferring over to the digital version. We’ve just had a glimpse of the Campaign mode too, with its star players and sponsorship deals looking to bring some character to proceedings. Luckily there’s plenty of content to work with, and ensuring parity between the two versions will likely make Blood Bowl III the best it’s been yet.

Blood Bowl III is set to launch into early access on PC this September – stay tuned for more!