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 Issue 14 - January 3rd 2512
A Contrasting View on Balance

Like everyone else on the planet I read Purplegoo's article on balance but maybe unlike most people I hated every lousy, stinking word of it. I'll get straight down to it and say that a game without balance is not a game at all.

Somewhere in the depths of Hell itself there is a cupboard. It's a black cupboard carved from a single gigantic lump of darkest Onyx. There is a stunning mural painted on the side of the cupboard in a combination of human bodily fluids. A series of vignettes depicting people playing boardgames and losing horribly. There are people crying and playing Monopoly with relatives at Christmas. There are people weeping and cutting their own eyes out with pen-knives and playing Axis and Allies. And then, in an image depicting the very centre of Hell itself, there are people playing Blood Bowl and having their souls torn out by smiling demons.

The people in the mural look much happier to be having their souls torn out than they do to be playing Blood Bowl.

The cupboard itself houses all the games that deserve to played only by the damned. The Game of Life is there. Sorry is there. And yes, the entire catalogue of Games Workshop games is there with Blood Bowl front and centre.

You see, what we have here is actually something from Satan's own board-game collection. The fact that Purplegoo - clearly an agent of the Devil Himself - has decided to defend the terrible imbalance inherent in this damned game is proof positive that Satan is alive and well and working hard on the internet, as if that's at all surprising to anyone who has ever browsed 4chan.

The fact is, every game that's stood the test of time is designed, honed and indeed entirely based around the concept of balance. In all cases, the ONE final deciding factor in a good game is player skill. There can be random chance to liven things up but random chance certainly should not be the deciding factor that often. It's there to make things interesting, to give the lesser player a shot if he can raise his game. Random chance can, in many ways, balance a game.

And then there's Blood Bowl. This is a game where throwing back-to-back skulls happens with alarming regularity, let alone back to back DOUBLE skulls which should basically be impossible and never happen ever, ever, ever.

I am not exaggerating when I say that when I see the random event involving a rock being thrown from the crowd, I know for a FACT that it will be one of my players before the dice is rolled. I wish I had kept a spreadsheet or something because I would estimate my rate of being hit by a rock at around 99% but I would like the proof to back that up. I know that the targeted player will not only be hit, but will be killed. And that player will no doubt be my key Black Orc Blocker who has Guard and Mighty Blow and +1 Strength.

Can you imagine this happening in Chess? Or Poker? Or Backgammon? Or Scrabble? Or even blasted Monopoly? The game begins, and before ANYONE has done ANYTHING, a player is killed. If it was Scrabble you would be presented with all vowels and told you could only draw new letters when you had used all your existing ones. In Monopoly it would be like someone taking the little dog out and shooting it and then sticking it in prison. In Poker you would be told that all the Aces and Kings in the deck were now in your opponent's possession, and only available to him.

But according to Herr Purplegoo of the Third Reich of Bloodbowl, this is somehow a charming facet of the game! Laugh as players you have spent hours honing are torn apart by random chance! Behold! a player with the skill of a fried egg will dominate your team as you lose three players in the first round of blocks! Cackle with manic glee as your team is likely to lose just by dint of their RACE.

Is Blood Bowl balanced? Absolutely not. Should it be? If it's ever to be anything more than a tool of self-flagellation, then yes. Will it be? Absolutely not.

And why? Because this is a niche game. Most people have no idea what Blood Bowl is, and that's probably a good thing. If the world knew about the injustices suffered by my Orcs at the hands of some unpleasant Lizards (8 players out, yes 8, and 3 of them RIP) they would wail and gnash their teeth and cry to the European Court of Human Rights.

The fact is, Blood Bowl obviously appeals to us or we wouldn't play it. It even appeals to me, and yet I am one of those people for whom bad luck, and Blood Bowl has it in spades, hurts the most. I hate it when my brilliant move is undone by the most unlikely of events. And when my opponent's moronic move (Troll passes 'Very Stupid' roll without teammates' help, Troll dodges a tackle, Troll rolls a pow on my blodging Blitzer, AND then GFIs and picks up the ball....it happened, trust me) is transformed into a game-winning one I simply find myself on hands and knees weeping and screaming for justice. But there will be none. And why do I come back? I ask myself this every time I fire up the client.

So, game balance. Is it just something we invoke as, in the words of Purplegoo, "a throw away cure all I-can’t-think-of-a-decent-point-so-here-is-a-word-that-should-fit argument fixer"? Or is it in fact the desperate plea of people who have actually played balanced games and realised - THIS IS THE BETTER WAY. I guess it's up to us all to decide if balance is important. Blood Bowl is certainly playable even when it's horribly, inconceivably and probably demonically unbalanced but wouldn't it be so much better if you didn't look with dread at the race of your opponent in the 'Box? Your opponent's name should strike fear, not the fact he's playing a 2000tv Chaos team and you're about to lose your 1980tv Human team.

So please, for the sake of the poor eternally damned souls forced to play Blood Bowl forever in Hell think about what I've said. Think about it, and then no doubt you'll dismiss it as whining. But then one day, you'll watch people playing a game like Othello or Go and realise "wait a minute...the players appear to be starting from identical positions. There is in-depth strategy here that can only be countered through intelligence and brilliant play, not a simple dice-roll. And look...they're smiling. They appear to be...ENJOYING the game. And when they lose, it looks like they have lost because of their opponent's brilliance. They have nobody to blame but themselves."

And then you'll realise that you cannot foul and kill your opponent's star player on Turn 16 when playing Scrabble, and you'll do what we all do. Come back to Blood Bowl, crying, and praying to God Almighty that you don't get sent to the Hot Place.

 
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