Blood bowl: The Other Fantasy Football, Part 2: The Block Dice of Sociality

Editorial Note: This is part two of a three part series. Click here to read part one, “Warming Up,”

Round 2: Following our defeats across the board in Round 1, we find ourselves dumped at the lowest table on the ladder facing three Norwegians. This time my dwarfs are taking on another dwarf team. My opponent, in his mid-teens, is one of the youngest people in the room. Dwarf v dwarf encounters generally entail a slow-moving slugfest and my match is no exception, play largely taking place in one small section of the pitch. It ends 1-1, with my final play to win at the death going awry. My teammates manage a loss and a draw, so we again lose overall. We fortify ourselves with a first beer of the weekend from the bar.

Eurobowl 2016 was an impressively large event. It was divided into two competitions: the Eurobowl proper and the ‘EurOpen’. The rules for selecting teams were the same in both tournaments and in both cases each player participated in the same number of games. We entered the EurOpen, where teams of three competed in a ladder system. In each round each player played a game and the average results determined how the two teams were subsequently placed. In most cases, the three players in a team comprised three friends keen on participating together. By contrast, the Eurobowl itself pitted national teams of 8 against one another. It wasn’t clear how one got to be a member of a national team – indeed it’s likely different countries have different selection systems. Although it should be noted that players pay to enter EuroBowl (both competitions). All in all, 30 teams participated in the EurOpen (90 players) and 16 national teams in the Eurobowl (128 players). Several teams also had non-playing ‘captains’ and various friends and hangers on who, along with the organisers, further increased the crowd.

One thing that becomes clear at Eurobowl 2016 is that there is a sense of community relating to Blood Bowl, as with other geek pastimes (for example competitive Starcraft playing), it is integrally a social event. Indeed, it seems that there are a decent number of people who attend Eurobowl most years and know one another. Similarly, among Swedish players, it’s clear that many of the better ones (unlike blow-ins like ourselves) know each other well. As a social event, Eurobowl 2016 extended well beyond the halls of Örebro castle – a game each round was streamed online and results uploaded as they came in. This thus allowed those who were unable to attend to keep tabs on what was going on (my parents did). It was interesting also to see how several players signalled their membership of the Blood Bowl community in their dress (team logos and shirts) and in one extreme case a player had a tattoo of the iconic ‘block dice’ used in the game (see picture 8). Community has been key to the evolution of the Blood Bowl ruleset – as far back as 1994 the game designer, Jervis Johnson, stated “in many ways I feel that Blood Bowl is not ‘my’ game any more, it has developed a life of its own over which I have very little control!” (Johnson 1994:48). At Eurobowl 2016 players are using the ‘competition rules pack’ developed as an add-on rules compilation for the main game from the then current living rules.

08 Block dice tattoo

The boy with the block dice tattoo

Round 3: Still on the bottom table I am pleased to play a team that doesn’t have a ‘bashing’ style of play. My opponent turns out to be a colleague at Örebro University who has a human team. Humans are one of the most ‘all-round’ teams, with a flexible playing style. Next to dwarfs, however, they are weak and I predictably inflict several casualties upon his team. The game itself ends with a 2-1 win to me and, as my team-mates are also victorious, the day’s play ends on a winning note.

Globally, many Blood Bowl tournaments are advertised by the organisation NAF (in game – this stands for Nuffle Amorical Football, the official name of Blood Bowl – but I don’t doubt that the game’s writers were aware of the pun). To quote their website “The NAF acts as a central resource for Blood Bowl coaches the world over – offering news, contacts, discussion, sanctioned tournaments and international player rankings”. Players at NAF affiliated tournaments need to pay a membership fee and become registered on a global rankings database. Players sign up with a nickname (see part 3). Players are then ranked linked to their performance at NAF affiliated tournaments and are linked to the type of team played, thus NAF are able to rank the top players for both High Elves and Undead, for example. Whilst we were oblivious to this beforehand, discussions with other players and scrutinising the tournament player list suggest that Eurobowl 2016 is an event that attracts some very highly ranked coaches. However, whilst some of the play was serious and competitive (particularly the international competition), for most participants part of the pleasure was matching one’s skill against an opponent in a largely friendly atmosphere.

07 naf_globe1

The NAF logo

During the tournament I took the opportunity to speak to the official EurOpen rules umpire. A political science student, he argued that to him Eurobowl represented an example of the ‘EU working’. Despite people coming from different countries and speaking different language a shared love of the game and understanding of the rules creates a social field. Despite the different nationalities of those involved they represent “the same people”. Glancing around the hall there seemed to be some truth to this – for the most part, participants are middle-aged, white men. Furthermore, there is a preponderance of beards and many people seem to be clad in a ‘metal/goth’ style.


09 Freebies

Some of the things collected during the tournament from other players

Following our end-day triumph our team is in a good mood. Our opponents are a good humoured bunch and we pose for photographs with them to mark surviving an intense first day (see picture 6). Our team then heads to the pub, expecting to see many of our opponents. It is to our surprise that few opposing teams appear to be out late – preferring a quieter one. We begin to fear we’ve made an error…..

11 Post game 3

Social life in action! Enjoying a beer after Round 3

About Benedict Singleton

I have a range of research interests and diverse academic background. I began my academic studies within social anthropology and proceeded into international development. I now find myself working within the field of environmental sociology, although I try to retain some foothold in other research areas. I am a theoretical pragmatist, utilising a variety of frameworks and methodologies. In general, I am a constructivist and all of my research to date has focused on discourses in some form. Generally, I am conducting research that is of practical value (whatever that means) and I try to translate theoretical concepts in ways that can be useful for those who are not social scientists. During my career I have conducted research in Zambia, Jamaica, the UK, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

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