I have always been rather puzzled by this initial shot of the famous 'astrogranite' Bloodbowl pitch which arrived with the second edition of the game. It doesn't look right does it? There is something different about the pitch seen here and the one we all played on for so many years thereafter.
Strange, isn't it?
The image above is taken from White Dwarf 101 and in many ways that edition of the magazine served as a 'launch issue' for the game. The iconic '80s artwork adorned the front cover of the mag, just like it did the big box, and inside the pages were a number of irreverent articles in support of the new game.
I have already mentioned the 'Big Box' era of games and Bloodbowl was the very first. I find it hard to explain to younger gamers how exciting this period of GW history was. Everything was new... you were never really sure what was around the corner. Sadly, the last 25 years or so has not really been about innovation but repetition, and many have taken it for granted that such a wealth (in production or not) of GW games existed!
Think about it! Bloodbowl, Dark Future, Space Marine, Adeptus Titanicus. Advanced Space Crusade, Advanced Heroquest.... The games seemed endless. And the excitement of purchasing one of these games was incredible. The weight of the box. That smell that opening the lid for the first time unleashed. The joy of seeing row upon row of mint plastic miniatures on sprues, card counters and playing surfaces.
Bloodbowl's pitch was the ultimate though. For those of you who don't know, the pitch came in three sections. A middle (with a nifty skull design and Bloodbowl logo) and two identical 'ends' the completed the piece - there was even space for you to add your laminated card team colours! All in a milky grey polystyrene material.
Here's an extract from one of the '80s ads for the game.
Now compare the two boards. They really are quite different are they not? The original is more streamlined, less bulky and lacks the cracked stone paving around the edges. If you peer closely at the circular blow ups on the first image you can also see that the iconic Bloodbowl design in the centre of the pitch has simply been painted on.
In truth, they are utterly different!
You are probably thinking 'how on earth did I not notice that over the last (nearly) 30 years'? Well don't worry, I have been researching, collecting and writing about old school Games Workshop for nearly five years... and I didn't notice it either!! If it hadn't been for our friend Darren Matthews mentioning it in passing, I doubt we would have ever known.
Here is what Darren had to say:
DM: One little thing that I have remembered is that the very first Bloodbowl board used in the advert in White Dwarf was made out of... wood! I had to spend over two days trying it to resemble the polystyrene foam that was going to be included in the boxed game... I loathed having to paint it and I was never a fan of the game or it's miniatures afterwards!
As the saying goes - you learn something new everyday! And today we discovered that the very first brutal tackles carried out in Bloodbowl second edition were on MDF, rather than the legendary 'astrogranite'!
I asked if he could recall who built the original wooden board for the game. I suspected Trish Morrison but this was just a hunch based on the fact that Bryan Ansell has since told me she built the first Mighty Fortress model out of, yes you guessed it, wood!
DM: I don't remember who made the first Bloodbowl pitch, but Phil Lewis dumped the project on me after he had become frustrated with painting it. I had start all over again... repainting Phil's work with my own. In the end I think it took about six different coats and shades until management where happy with it. One of those 'advertising production nightmares' no-one ever finds out about!
I asked if he could remember any other 'challenging assignments' that would match the original Bloodbowl pitch in difficulty.
DM: I remember Sid (the mysterious 'Evey Metal painter) throwing the very first Juggernaut of Khorne in the bin for being too insulting for us to paint. He said that it looked 'worse than Battle Cat from He-Man'! We all nearly died from laughing but were told off by our managers. It did stay in the bin though, for about five hours until I relented and removed it to work on. Later on, a second version of the Khorne Juggernaut arrived in the Studio and we painters all drew straws to see who would have to paint it! Everyone hated that figure in the studio and it wasn't often we received something we didn't like.
And here is the earliest Khorne Juggernaut I could find in a Games Workshop publication and one that Darren confirmed was one of his. Whether it was the unfortunate model that ended up in the bin I guess we will never know. One intriguing question does raise it's head here, though...
We all know that there are unreleased 'prototype' Beasts of Nurgle. Could there be 'prototype' Juggernauts of Khorne out there waiting to be discovered too?
Perhaps the Nuln Spearman is riding one?