We recently spoke to Blood Bowl III project manager Gautier Brésard about the approach Cyanide Studio has taken to building on its successful Blood Bowl II formula. Fan feedback and careful iteration have both played a critical role; understandable for a beloved tabletop game with over thirty years of devoted fandom.
Blood Bowl III releases on February 23, and you can read our Blood Bowl III preview to see what we make of it so far. The game uses the most recent tabletop rules, as found in Blood Bowl Second Season Edition, and Brésard’s team has taken pains to remain faithful to that design.
If you don’t fancy digesting this whole article, we’ve pulled out some of the most interesting information for separate articles exploring the challenges of balancing Blood Bowl III multiplayer while staying true to the tabletop rules, and the team’s efforts to make Blood Bowl III games as quick as possible. We’ve also written about an annual challenge between AI designers to create a better Blood Bowl AI.
Wargamer: Which version of Blood Bowl did you start with?
Gautier Brésard: I started with Blood Bowl II actually, I came late to the party.
The digital version?
Yeah. I barely play any tabletop game, because I’m too impatient, it takes too long for me to paint the miniatures and set up everything. I like my game to be over quickly.
Do you have a favourite team?
So out of the 12 teams that are launching with Blood Bowl III, my favourite team is going to be the Dark Elves. I like a more agile playstyle. But I also like my players to survive to the next match. And I feel that the Dark Elves are there, they have enough armour, enough aggressive skills to make the best of both worlds.
I thought I would like the Black Orcs more, because they are quite like the Lizardmen, which I also like very much. But I finally felt that they were too slow.
And for readers who don’t know what a Project Manager does, what does your job entail?
It means a lot of things… I manage the development team, I manage the relations with the publisher Nacon, but also Games Workshop as well.
What’s the process like for making content and getting Games Workshop’s approval on it?
We have a licencing manager attached to Blood Bowl III, we send him everything that we have, everything that we want to include in the game. And then depending on where it comes from, there’s back and forth to get to something that suits everyone and that can be stamped approved by Games Workshop.
Sometimes it goes really fast. It’s quite easy. For example, all the main players are directly based on the miniatures. So it’s just a matter of ‘Oh! we have the miniature’, we follow it carefully. And then we send it to Games Workshop – if it’s well made, it gets approved immediately, there’s no additional steps needed.
Sometimes it’s more original Cyanide concepts, and then there’s some back and forth to be sure that it’s tightly compliant.
How much of the extended Forge World range of Blood Bowl characters are you going to include?
It depends on what we need for Blood Bowl III. Let’s say the Imperial nobility team – we look at what exists currently, we have all the players so we just make our models like the miniatures, and it’s done. And then what do we need? Well, we need a coach. There we decided to use the official new Gryff Oberwald with the Imperial Nobility skin.
But for the cheerleaders, we had nothing. So then we had a brainstorm, and we did some sketches and arrived at a specific concept that we sent over to Games Workshop for approval. So that was a completely Cyanide original concept.
Sometimes it’s in between: for example, the Chaos Renegades cheerleaders are based on artwork in a Spike magazine.
How much expansion content from Spike magazine will you include in the game?
So not related to the Spike magazines, but the different pitches with their gameplay rules are included in the game. The special play cards, we’ve been working on them, they’ll be coming back later.
As for the other inducements like faction specific wizards or regional league rules, they are not present at launch. It’s something that we are studying and that we may add after launch at some point.
What’s the challenge there?
Prioritizing. Blood Bowl is a big game with lots and lots of rules, and they’re being changed over time, since it’s a quite new edition. So we have to spend some time working on the core main rules, obviously that’s more important than adding special play cards that were distributed in some White Dwarf.
But there’s nothing that’s off the table where we’d say “No, we won’t do this” for sure. It’s a matter of what’s more important, and what is easier to implement as well – not all Blood Bowl rules are easy to implement in a video game. There’s a lot of factors, and obviously, what the community wants as well.
When you implement something, do you make sure it’s true to the tabletop version?
The goal for Blood Bowl III since the start – as discussed with Games Workshop as well – is to be the most faithful official adaptation. So the first priority is being faithful to the board game.
Sometimes it’s not possible, so we have to make some compromises. But we are not trying to rebalance Blood Bowl – this is Games Workshop’s territory. We can give them feedback based on the data that we gather.
Did you pass data from previous editions of digital Blood Bowl to Games Workshop?
I was not in charge of Blood Bowl II so I didn’t personally give any feedback to Games Workshop… They look carefully at it and they learn from the online community.
What’s the onboarding experience like for new players?
That was one of the main challenges of Blood Bowl III, something that we wanted to improve upon compared to Blood Bowl II. Blood Bowl is a very complex game, very hard to get into. There are a lot of specific rules. Blood Bowl II had this long campaign where you were introduced over several matches to really core mechanics, like in the first few matches, you didn’t even have turnovers.
We felt that it was too long, giving players bad habits. The tutorial in Blood Bowl III is much more condensed, it takes around 45 minutes to one hour to complete in its entirety. It won’t teach you to be a pro Blood Bowl player, but it will give you all the basic tools that you need to play regular matches and then get started in the campaign in single player or in multiplayer.
You revealed in December that there’ll be a new competitive multiplayer mode for global matchmaking with a persistent rank.
Every three months, there will be a new season, and this ranking is supposed to last for one season. But at launch, we are only starting the first version of this official competitive environment. That’s something that we still have to work on, and that we will improve for further seasons.
What are you polishing?
An issue in Blood Bowl II already, and that may be more prevalent in Blood Bowl III as well, is the predominance of like, very high Team Value teams, very bashy teams. In Blood Bowl II we had to wipe everything regularly to give everyone a fair chance. Due to the new levelling up system in Blood Bowl Second [Season] edition, that may be even more punishing.
We’ve had very long arguments with the Blood Bowl community about this. One solutions is the implementation of the redraft rule from Blood Bowl Second [Season] edition. That’s something that we are looking toward. There are different ways to solve this issue.
We still have to think about the whole issue, see how the first season performs. How much of this is an issue, is there something else that we didn’t think about? And then implement everything that is needed to correct this and have very positive and good for everyone competitive environments.
So the concern isn’t about features, it’s about what happens when you smack Blood Bowl Second Season edition rules up against a huge pool of players who can grind as many games as they want?
Yes. That’s something that Games Workshop can’t account for. That’s not their issue though. Definitely, that’s something that we have to look at. There’s the redraft rule that is implemented to mitigate this, we’ll have to see if it’s suited to the Blood Bowl III digital environment or if we have to do something else.
Will the functionality for league managers change a lot?
The goal is to give league managers, league administrators at least as many tools as they had in Blood Bowl II. If we add new competition rules, it’s going to be as options that league admins can activate or deactivate. We won’t force our new features on everyone.
Has that been from feedback from players?
No, that was always our philosophy. We come from Blood Bowl II. We have a lot of expectations to deliver for and we want everyone in Blood Bowl to be able to enjoy Blood Bowl III the way they want, so that was always a design philosophy.
Is the game still due to release on all platforms on February 23?
The Switch release has been delayed unfortunately, no date yet. There are a lot of issues specific to the Switch. The performance is not the main one for us, from the start we’ve built Blood Bowl III to run on low end configurations. But there are other specific challenges to tackle like a UI that is adapted to such a small screen, the specific Nintendo requirements.
We wanted to focus on the other platforms. And then when we have a more stable game, and we feel we are ready, we are going to release it on Switch.
Is there anything in Blood Bowl III that you’ve gotten in, that you didn’t manage to get in Blood Bowl II?
There are many improvements from Blood Bowl II to Blood Bowl III. I’m quite happy with the new timer format. That’s something that helps a lot to have faster matches without stressing people too much.
The new system has less time per turn, but also a global time bank. That allows you to have shorter small turns. On the turns when not much happens, you don’t stay there and look at the clouds, you stay focused on the game and you still have more time to play the critical turns were it’s sure that the match will be decided. Thanks in part to this feature we managed to reduce the time of Blood Bowl III matches.
Do you have a figure for the average game length?
Gautier Brésard: Our goal was to reduce the time per match to around one hour. In Blood Bowl II games went from one hour and a half to two hours. It’s still a long game to play, but I think we managed to have games that last around one hour, one hour and 15 minutes.
What other quality of life features have you added?
A formation editor outside matches, that’s something that was really missing in Blood Bowl II. You had to manage and save your formations at the beginning of the match – it didn’t make much sense, you were already stressed for time.
It’s still there in Blood Bowl III, you can set up your formations there. But you also have a specific menu outside of the match, where you can take your time, theorycraft as much as you want, and set up all your templates and save them.
I suppose that’s an advantage of iterating on a game across several designs of several editions.
That’s the bright side of it. But there’s also a darker side to it. Everyone has expectations about what’s going to be in Blood Bowl III and how it’s going to be. So any changes from what was there are harder to accept for people who spent thousands and thousands of hours in Blood Bowl II.
Is there anything that you think people will need time to adjust to?
I would say that there are two main things that people will have to adapt to. One is the action declaration. So in Blood Bowl II, you only had to declare a ‘Blitz’ before moving your player. Now you also have to declare Foul, Handoff, and Pass as well. That change was made because we wanted, as I said previously, to be faithful to the board game and to apply the rules – [action declaration] is quite important in specific skills interaction.
But it was already challenging in Blood Bowl II to remember to declare your Blitz beforehand. And we feel that in the long term, it’s going to be easier because all players will remember to activate their specific actions. It’s not just blitz any more, it’s not an exception, every time you want to make a special action, you will have to declare it.
The other one I would say is the action [selection] wheel. The community was very adamant about this wheel, they felt that it was designed for consoles only. Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a PC gamer at heart, I play with mouse and keyboard. I hate when I have to plug in my controller. it’s a new UI element designed for all platforms to have a unified UI for everyone. It’s a big change compared to Blood Bowl II but once you forget that it’s circular shape, it’s just the same behaviour as before.
So was there a lot of pushback in testing, like, “you made a circle!?”
Oh, yes, a lot! And, yes, that comes from both the general community and our VIPs as well.
Wargamer: How’s the reception been on the Blood Pass?
Quite positive thus far. The philosophy about the Blood pass was to be more generous than Blood Bowl II was. Announcing a new monetization model is always quite tricky to address. There are people who reject battle passes in general because they’ve been burned by other games and more predatory practices.
So it was a matter of being careful in our communication and really trying to show how this implementation of a battle pass system is more generous than what was in Blood Bowl II for everyone, every profile of players. I felt that we managed to succeed in that general reception was quite good.
The factions that are in the Blood Pass will be available in the shop after the season has ended. And all the cosmetics as well will be available at some point in the shop.
Can you say anything about the first team in the Blood Pass?
No. I can’t say anything about it. Except that it’s a great team.
What are you most proud of?
It’s like a.. a certain feeling when everything clicks together very smoothly. You quite forget that you’re in a very strict and complicated turn based strategy risk management game and you don’t have to fight against the UI or look at gameplay logs for five minutes and everything goes smoothly.
You just know what you want to do, the game tells you quite clearly what are the chances, what are the risks. The game understands what you’re trying to do and then you just double click and everything goes almost into cinematic mode and you just watch the beautiful models and animations played out.
Let’s say you have a prone player, you want to stand them up, move them, pick up the ball, move again, two dodges and pass. And the game understands directly “Oh, you want to pass it? I’ll declare that for you.”
And you just have to double click and then boom, you watch as your player stands up, dodges, picks up the ball, passes, and everything clicks, everything goes smoothly, and it’s just beautiful to watch.