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RPG Codex reviews Dungeonbowl

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RPG Codex reviews Dungeonbowl

Review - posted by Grunker on Fri 3 August 2012, 17:03:38

Tags: Blood Bowl; Cyanide; Dungeonbowl

Dungeonbowl - Blood for the Dungeon Master

[A Dungeonbowl Review by Grunker, edited by Crooked Bee]

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Grunker is a board game, P&P and video game player, and a long time Blood Bowl fan. He has played both FUMBBL and the Blood Bowl board game for around 10 years, and has also played Cyanide's Blood Bowl.

Once upon a time, there was a video game developer whose banner shone promise of incline. The promises were many, from “we are making a party-based, isometric RPG!” to “we are bringing Blood Bowl to the PC!” For these reasons, there was much to be happy about for gamers of the sort one might find at the RPGCodex.

Perhaps these golden promises are the reason Cyanide Studio is not exactly a beloved developer at the Codex. In the end, the games they produced were littered with bugs, not well-supported and extremely unpolished. While I haven't played Cyanide's sports games (they are mostly known for Pro Cycling Manager), I have played almost all of their other games. Chaos Bowl was a poor man's Blood Bowl clone, Confrontation was a shallow, unpolished action RPG, and Game of Thrones: Genesis was an unfocused mess of a strategy game. The only game by Cyanide I found myself really enjoying was the Game of Thrones RPG, which is only playable if you can appreciate story having as much weight as the actual gameplay. The combat and the character customization was, while not bad, more or less a copy of the much-debated (at the Codex, at least) Dragon Age: Origins.

Blood Bowl itself, when it was released, was nearly unplayable, and even though it is supposedly the most supported Cyanide game besides Pro Cycling, glaring bugs remain to this day that Cyanide apparently ignores in the hope that gamers are gullible fools. And, even at the Codex, this seems to be the case, judging by the throng of users, myself included, who gather to play in the Codex' Blood Bowl tournament. The version of Blood Bowl released on the Xbox was plagued by such “fun” design decisions as the removal of team customization (no leveling up for you!).

Now, while Blood Bowl is still in a state many would call unfinished, Cyanide releases Dungeonbowl – a 15€ variant of the Blood Bowl we all know and love. What this review will hopefully answer to a satisfying degree is whether Cyanide has once again produced an unfinished, underwhelming mess, or if they have learned from their past mistakes.

A Bowl of Dungeons
The board game Dungeonbowl is a variant of Blood Bowl in which two teams of fantasy creatures play American Football against each other with a violence only mirrored in Australian rugby and Ukrainian parliamentary meetings. However, instead of the traditional football-field known from Blood Bowl, Dungeonbowl takes place in a dungeon, with all the shenanigans that entails: pits of lava, teleporters, treasure chests, narrow corridors and so on. The perfect setup for an even more brutal take on the favorite American college pastime. Players can level up, and teams be developed, just as in the regular Blood Bowl. The game is turn-based, and actions, beyond simply moving unhindered, are resolved by dice rolls. You serve as your team's "coach", controlling the actions the individual players attempt.

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Teams begin on opposite sides of the dungeon. You start with 6 players in the dungeon and can teleport additional players in each turn – remember to do so each turn, because the game will not remind you. The ball starts in a single, random chest out of the few of them scattered around the dungeon. When a player opens a chest, he will either find the ball or, which is more likely, a booby trap joyfully waiting to deliver the chest's explosive content to whatever poor sod took his chances on it. The teams bash each other to a pulp (or death), run circles around each other, or teleport, in an effort to bring the ball, once found, to the opposition's end zone. The game ends once a single touchdown has been scored.

Cyanide's Dungeonbowl is for the most part a 1:1 implementation of the board game Dungeonbowl, as far as the basic rules go. Besides the game's objective, maneuvering in the dungeon is made difficult by the aforementioned pits of lava or water, which can harm unfortunate players. Teleporters are a quick way to get around the dungeon, but they are random and there is a chance that players using them will be lost in the warp. There are no wandering monsters like giant spiders or dragons in Cyanide's Dungeonbowl, but Cyanide gets a pass here, since wandering monsters are an optional rule in the board game.

Warriors of Diversity
Apart from being played in a dungeon, Dungeonbowl further differentiates itself from its more mainstream cousin, Blood Bowl, by mixing the usual Blood Bowl races across different teams. Instead of races competing against each other, Dungeonbowl is the arena for battles of great wizards who use Blood Bowl players to settle disputes. In practice, this means that instead of the regular Blood Bowl teams, Dungeonbowl has ten different wizard colleges. Each of these colleges, or teams, use different players from different races, obtained from the regular Blood Bowl teams. For example, the Bright Wizards may field up to 16 dwarves, 6 halflings and 2 norse (though there is a cap of 16 players total on any team). This is one of Dungeonbowl's real strengths: that it mixes up your usual Blood Bowl experience by allowing you to combine the strengths of different teams to hilarious (or brutal) effect.

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In a completely baffling move, however, Cyanide has chosen to implement only three of these teams, namely the Bright Wizards, the Light Wizards and the Rainbow Wizards. On the one hand, the decision to only implement three of ten teams is surprising considering the fact that almost every single possible player in Dungeonbowl is already implemented in Cyanide's Blood Bowl. On the other hand, the decision is unsurprising considering that Cyanide originally released Blood Bowl with only 8 out of 21 teams, and still haven't implemented the Chaos Dwarves. However, back then, Cyanide could at least argue that implementing all the different players was a strain on their budget. This time, almost all of the players already exist in the engine. Cyanide recently revealed, as expected, that the remaining teams will be sold as DLC. They have already released a DLC consisting of two teams - the Grey Wizards and the Jade Wizards - with a price-tag of 6€. As the game itself costs 15€, this is nearly half the price of the entire game for two teams. If this is indicative of the prices to come, you will have to pay more than 32€ for the "complete" game. A price tag that is certainly debatable - not only considering the game's limited scope, but also its other flaws.

The lack of teams is Dungeonbowl's biggest, most glaring flaw, but it is, by far, not its only one.

Interior Decorating
Cyanide's Dungeonbowl is made in the same engine as Cyanide's Blood Bowl. The graphics, players, GUI, etc., are for the most part identical to Blood Bowl's. There is not much to say about Dungeonbowl's graphics. They are nearly identical to Blood Bowl's by virtue of the almost complete lack of apparent changes made to the engine. The graphics do a good job of differentiating players from each other and are, for lack of a better word, serviceable. It is clear when players are knocked down, stunned, knocked out, pushed into lava or otherwise interact with each other or the environment in painful ways. There is also some graphical customization in team creation where you can select different skins for all your players, and though subtle and sometimes difficult to spot in game, this is a nice returning element from Blood Bowl which helps you personalize your team.

The GUI, however, is another baffling element of Dungeonbowl's design. Cyanide received very harsh criticism on the subject of Blood Bowl's GUI. It is unintuitive, and icons rarely give you a hint as to what they do. In what can only be described as an impressive feat of bad design, Cyanide has managed to make Dungeonbowl's GUI even worse. The exact same problems exist, yet are more pronounced, and new problems rear their ugly head. For example, in the original Blood Bowl, after being somewhat fixed with the expansion “Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition”, the team management screen was comprised of a single screen where you could see your players, purchase re-rolls, apothecary and so on and so forth. To purchase new players, you opened a separate tab and went on your merry way. While not an optimal GUI, it was far better than on Blood Bowl's initial release. In Dungeonbowl, team management is a completely blank and useless screen displaying only TV, team history, name and such. Two secluded buttons called “Team Roster” and “Equipment” hover by themselves below this info. Clicking “Team Roster” brings you to another screen where you can view your players, and here, clicking the “Purchase Players” button will bring you to another screen where you can purchase players. Even here still, you have to use a drop-down menu to switch between players of different races. Clicking “Equipment” brings up a very small window with information that could easily be displayed on the main screen. Here you can buy fan factor, an apothecary or additional re-rolls. There is absolutely no reason for this window not to be worked into the main team management screen.

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These flaws in the GUI permeate the entire Dungeonbowl experience. For example, to teleport players currently on your bench into the dungeon, you have to click your team's name, displayed in the top right corner of the screen. There is no indication that this is the case, no icon or descriptive text, simply your team's name hovering in the corner of your screen.

Another problem, which Blood Bowl also shares, is the game's log. In a game as complex as Blood Bowl, sometimes you need to see the dice being rolled and get information about why something went as it did. This is true even for those who have read and understood the rules (which you should, since Dungeonbowl offers no tutorial or other helping hand here). However, the game's log is obscure: the font is very small and the information it gives you is seldom complete. It will tell you what you rolled, but not always why you rolled or for what.

In other words, the GUI is a mess. Blood Bowl had one of the worst GUI's I have ever interacted with, with its mixture of oversized icons (that you never use) and miniature ones (which you do), and even though the Legendary Edition fixed some of these, the GUI remains one of the worst on the market to this day. Dungeonbowl is an even worse iteration of these problems that include almost none of the fixes that the Legendary Edition introduced, and it is telling of Cyanide's ability to learn from their mistakes that they not only repeat old mistakes here, but actually make them worse.

Finally, Dungeonbowl shares Blood Bowl's somewhat bland, but serviceable, “epic” score, but this time, the commentators have stayed at home. You will not be accompanied by their joyful cheering when you bloody a poor elf catcher. For some, this will be a mercy, for some, it will detract from the game.

Bawling All Day
A more pleasant side of the game is that it actually plays fairly well. Dungeonbowl is a fun variation of Blood Bowl. It is more random, more brutal, more violent and faster than regular Blood Bowl, mirrored in the 2 minute turn limit for all turns. You can pull off insane plays using the narrow dungeon corridors, bridges over lava, or teleporters – plays that you could never do in standard Blood Bowl. In the same vein, it has never been easier to mess things up for yourself. An innocent trip through a teleporter can end up killing your star player, and a safe block can suddenly get deadly if you stand too close to a lava pit. As passing is of limited use in a dungeon, avoiding the bashing game for more agile teams becomes an interesting run-and-gun experience where the coach, heart in his throat, dances around pits of lava and exploding chests to secure the touch down. Games can sometimes stall as bashier teams block entry-ways and paths around the dungeons, but teleporters do a good job loosening this up.

Cyanide has implemented all this in a way that is completely faithful to the board game. There is a big variety of different dungeons, some favoring agile teams and some bashy teams. Some have little water and few dangers, while some are veritable death pits. There is a good amount of tile sets, and games proceed very differently depending on which of the maps you play on. In the weeks I played it, I never grew bored of the maps. As far as Cyanide's own additions go, the inclusion of a multitude of maps is probably the best. This is reinforced by the fact that Dungeonbowl actually includes a dungeon editor for all your homebrew needs, to be discussed later.

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The game unfortunately has its share of balance-issues that plagued the board game as well. Since there is no half-time in Dungeonbowl (the game is simply played until someone scores a touchdown), players with the Secret Weapon trait who would normally get sent off at half-time, or whenever a drive ended, now stay on the field until the game is over. Currently, this means that any team with access to the Dwarven Steamroller, a Strength 7 juggernaught of death and destruction, can safely ignore the Secret Weapon limitation and go kill stuff good. For goblins, this means that the chainsawing, bomb-throwing psychopaths can stay on the field until someone crushes their face (another reason the Steamroller is unbalanced, since crushing its... face, is extremely difficult if not nearly impossible) or the game ends. Another rule change from Blood Bowl is that players are never sent out of the dungeon for fouling, so feel free to foul away to your heart's content.

On the one hand, this is a balance issue. On the other hand, Blood Bowl, and Dungeonbowl in particular, is hardly a fair game anyway. The game is about luck almost as much as skill, and much hilarity and brutality arises from that.

When playing a Cyanide game, one could reasonly expect it to be somewhat buggy. However, in the time I spent in Dungeonbowl, I only encountered two bugs. In my very first game, the opposing player was not allowed to set up his starting players. The other bug I encountered was the “camera side-lock” which is also a permanent problem in Blood Bowl – the camera scrolls to the side and locks itself. This problem is solved easily by switching camera-angles, however, and mostly happens when you alt-tab back into the game. The game alt-tabs quite easily and without problems for the most part, which can be important in a ranked, online match. It does share Blood Bowl's odd quirk in this regard though, as you have to alt-tab twice on most systems to actually return to your desktop.

The camera itself is another thing which some players might find problematic. It can, at time, be difficult to get a complete overview over the match. As it is the same camera used in Blood Bowl, it can also be tricky to get the camera to show the right angle when you have two players fighting near a wall in the dungeon or similarly being a bit out of sight. While I found these problems more than manageable, some will certainly be annoyed by them. The problems of the Blood Bowl camera are, in other words, made slightly worse by the fact that games now take place in a dungeon with high walls and different kinds of obstacles in them.

They see me bowlin', they hatin'
Dungeonbowl has no single-player mode at all. The game relies solely on multi-player. As a plus, the game does have both LAN-games and hotseat enabled, but sadly, these options are almost completely useless. Just like with Blood Bowl, Cyanide chose, allegedly as an anti-piracy measure, to limit hot-seaters and LAN-players so that they can only play single games, not leagues or tournaments. To top this off, such games can only be played using premade teams, which removes an essential part of the game: developing teams. As developing teams and playing leagues is most of what the game is about beyond just playing a match, this greatly devalues the hot-seat and LAN experience, to the point where it only exists as a way to quickly show the game to a new player, and nothing more.

As stated earlier, there is no tutorial. Before playing, reading the manual is a prerequisite. The Dungeonbowl rules can fortunately be found online and downloaded for free, and they are also included with the game.

As there is no single-player, you are left to playing multi-player games online, either ranked or unranked, through the challenge or matchmaking systems. The latter option is the most common, and it will find you games against teams that are somewhat within your own team's Team Value, an indicator of how strong your team is. In the games I played, I mostly only faced teams within 2000TV of my own, which is not optimal, but acceptable, given the low number of players. However, finding a game can require patience. Usually, it takes everything from two minutes to fifteen (!) to find a game of Dungeonbowl. The player base is visibly small, and this affects the matchmaking system. On a positive note, Blood Bowl was plagued by port issues where players had to go through the somewhat (for the average joe) complicated process of opening their router's ports. I've always had that issue with Blood Bowl, but playing without open ports there were no issues with Dungeonbowl.

However, even in multiplayer there is one great deficiency. For some reason, there is no way to set up leagues and tournaments in the Dungeonbowl client, so you are left with single game challenges or the matchmaking system. Playing in leagues and tournaments is perhaps the most compelling way to play any variation of Blood Bowl, and should really be a required part of the game. That Cyanide chose not to implement something so simple is an astonishing fact.

It also means that, for now, there will be no Codexian Dungeonbowl League. However, Cyanide has said they would like to add league support "in the future."

Building with LEGOs
Out of the blue, Cyanide included a Dungeon Editor with Dungeonbowl, on top of the already great variety of pre-made maps. This Dungeon Editor gives complete freedom to make your own dungeons; you can choose tilesets, obstacles, make pits of lava or water, plop in teleporters, chests and so on. In the long run, this should provide an even greater differentiation in the maps that are available. If leagues and tournaments were implemented, this would be a great way to make all sorts of interesting league-setups with crazy or tactical map pools of all shapes and sizes. However, as is, the feature of the Dungeon Editor is plagued by the fact that it is of limited actual use, even though it, in theory, allows for great freedom.

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The Dungeon Editor is also plagued by the same problem that haunts the rest of the game, namely the GUI problems. Although they are not as noticeable, you are still stuck with huge banners and icons and what you are looking for may be tricky to find. However, once you figure things out, it is easy and straightforward to use for the most part.

In the end, the Dungeon Editor is a great inclusion and will add immense value to the game if the main problems with the lack of teams, and the lack of leagues and tournaments, are fixed.

In Conclusion
So, has Cyanide learned from past mistakes? Evidently not, if Dungeonbowl is any indication. It suffers from mistakes Cyanide has made before, and a few new ones as well. Dungeonbowl is a hugely fun variation of Blood Bowl: it plays well, has few glitches, and for the most part delivers what it promises. But, it has a number of very sizable problems, the main one being the lack of team variety. This is bad to the point where I would not consider playing or paying for the game until a Legendary Enhanced Ultra Mega Super Edition comes out, depending on the cost. The longevity of the game suffers much from the lack of leagues and tournaments, which is the most played version of Blood Bowl in any format.

The game is also haunted by a number of smaller problems, ranging from GUI issues to a general lack of polish. As with Cyanide's Blood Bowl, I cannot recommend it unless it receives some amount of overhaul. Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition is in an OK shape today, and I would recommend it, as well as the excellent fan-made Blood Bowl client called FUMBBL, to fans of Blood Bowl or people interested in the game. Similarly with Dungeonbowl, should it get its own Legendary Edition at a reasonable price, I would recommend it as long as it fixes the main problems with the game listed here.

The conclusion is that Cyanide repeats the mistakes it made in the past. Considering that many reviewers, as well as the community, have pointed these mistakes out before, it detracts both from Cyanide as a developer and from the game itself in that these problems continue to persist, leaving you with the image of a developer that might care about the game they are adapting, but care little for their users or the final quaity of their product.

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