Bloodbowl remains the only boardgame I ever really got into. I spent some time with Shogun, Axis & Allies and Settlers of Catan but Bloodbowl checked all the right boxes. After a few glorious seasons long ago in my youth life moved on and I never got to play again.
In 2009 Cyanide released Blood Bowl for the PC and I was in heaven. An online Bloodbowl match against another human takes anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. There’s no pause or resume. You have to sit down and turn off all other distractions for a good chunk of time. I don’t know how many matches I played but I know my favorite team had 176. Household rules were created to respect the sanctity of matches.
As I got deeper into the game I went online in search of strategy and insight. Expecting the standard handful of forums I instead found an entire ecosystem of Bloodbowl sites, separate from those of the board game. It made no sense, the game was niche at best. Upon closer look I discovered that something called FUMBBL inspired all that fandom, not the game I had been playing.
What is FUMBBL?
There is obvious friction between the communities. Cyanide, being commercial in nature (with individually priced team DLC), is the crass mainstream flavor while the FUMBBL community are connoisseurs. And while the users argue who is the bigger fan, in 2009 Games Workshop, the IP owner of Bloodbowl sent a cease and desist letter to Christer, the founder of FUMBBL. I’m not sure how it was resolved, you can see the letter and follow the fan’s concerns here but after I found nothing regarding resolution. Maybe a good scrubbing of all art and mentions was good enough. Regardless, FUMBBL still exists and at this moment has 20 live matches.
I could have been playing Bloodbowl the whole time. That’s the definition of “first-world-problems” but it was vexing for another reason; I spent time online, I read sites and reviews and generally follow my favorite genres. Bloodbowl literally combines all the things I love and I had no idea FUMBBL existed. I searched for “games not on steam” and visited the smaller stores but had never stumbled across it. Even now in researching this article I find very few mentions. The only reason I found it originally was because I sought out bloodbowl data once the Cyanide game came out.
I wondered how many other games existed in that weird nether region of free or direct downloads. Do I need to search for every property I can remember enjoying? Maybe some old obsessive made the deepest squad based tactical game inspired by GI Joe? What about all the original stuff with keywords I’d never guess to search? Are there great games that forgo the online stores for some reason or another and try to sell themselves directly, alone and unheard? Considering how much self-publishing there is in every other medium I can’t see why games would be different.
I remembered another game I played for a year with my girlfriend. Not really a game in any graphical sense, it was a country simulator that provided control only through daily conundrums you must judge over. Based on your responses your nation would evolve using a surprisingly deep simulation. It was fun to see her socialistic utopia’s economy slowly crushed by the weight of saying yes to every social program imaginable while my capitalistically meritocracy flourished at the cost of a few forgotten souls. We stumbled on it by pure accident despite it having thousands of players and being in my wheelhouse.
I can’t fix google’s SEO and I lack the audience to make a difference, but I can at least start compiling such games in one spot. Maybe one day others can contribute and ignored gems can be enjoyed by more. If you know of such a game just mention it in the comments below and I’ll keep the list updated.