Dug-Out of Doom
by Andy Chambers (Blood Bowl Home of @rnholm)
After a long and succesful career as coach of the Skavenblight Scramblers I finally decided to hang up my running shoes and try something different. I wanted to play with a slower but harder team than Skaven, a team with players which didn’t give me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time they got blocked. Although I was tempted by the Orcs, I was eventually seduced by the lack of subtlety of the Chaos team and the mouth-watering selection of hideous monsters that will play for them. After winning both the Spike Trophy and the Chaos Cup and getting to the semi-finals for the Blood Bowl, I must say that I’m delighted with my choice.
There are only two kinds of players available to a Chaos team: Chaos Warriors and Beastmen. There is only one skill possessed by these players and even that isn’t a skill, its the physical ability Horns which is possessed by the beastmen. This ability has nothing to do with clever stuff, it just makes them Strength 4 if they move at least one square while blitzing. Other than this, no skills. None! Natch! Zero! Nil!
But wait, the players themselves are quite good. Chaos Warriors have Strength of 4 and an Agility of 3 which makes them exceedingly tough players who can punch out most opponents, handle the ball well and dodge with a good chance of success, unlike the Black Orcs or Dwarf Long Beards they often end up facing. Though their slowish Movement of 5 stops Chaos Warriors being real Blitzer types they can still outpace the Blockers from other teams and once they’ve got the balls they’re very hard to stop. The only real downside to Chaos Warriors is that you can’t have more than four in your team and they cost the earth to recruit!
The Beastmen are less well armoured than the Chaos Warriors and a bit quicker, so with the help of their horns they can do some blitzing and chase opposing Catchers around in the backfield. Other than this, the Beastmen have to fill in for all the other duties on the team – Thrower, Catcher, Lineman, etc as best they can. The main advantage of Beastmen is that they are relatively cheap so they can be used to pad the team out and to replace losses.
So the Chaos team has players which are good basic allrounders and particularly adept at breaking heads. This means that if you are playing in a league you get a clean slate to start developing your team with. As your players earn skills and you get enough cash to buy Star Players you can take the team in whatever direction you like. Whichever way you want to go, there are a number of plays you can use to confound your opponent and improve your chances of winning.
Blood and Shekels
Because the initial Chaos line-up is so lacking in skills it’s a good idea to start off your team with a Star Player to take some pressure of your rookies. This means the rest of your team won’t have to perform flawlessly for the first few matches. Another thing to consider carefully is how many team re-rolls to buy when you start out. Team re-rolls are expensive for Chaos teams (doubtless because the players are too busy ravaging cities to practice together regularly!) but they are vital to keep your game alive because you won’t be getting any re-rolls for handy skills like Catch, Dodge and Sure Hands that other teams take for granted. Here’s the team I started our Studio League with:
Gnashrak Blackhoof, Minotaur Star Player 160,000
4 Chaos Warriors 400,000
6 Beastmen 360,000
1 Team re-roll 70,000
Fan Factor 1 10,000
With the benefit of hindsight I can tell you that one team re-roll isn’t enough! This is especially true in a league because once the team is set up you have to pay double to purchase extra team re-rolls unless you are lucky enough to draw an extra Extra Training Special Play card. Having Extra Training is only useful if you just happen to have 70,000 hanging around in the bank (which is like waiting for the spirit of Christmas to reach to the Chaos wastes). This means that each extra team re-roll costs you 140,000! That’s equivalent to the price of a new Star Player, so get them early while they’re cheap.
Of course one solution is to take Lord Borak the Despoiler as your first Star Player and get an extra team re-roll for his Leader skill, or in a league take Leader as the first skill you get. But neither of these options takes advantage of this golden oppertunity to kit yourself with with team re-rolls while they are cheap. Personally I’d now replace either the Minotaur or two of the Chaos Warriors with Beastmen in the starting line-up, buy an extra team re-roll, and spend the ecxess on improving my Fan Factor. Additional fans are always handy as they can give you an advantage on some of the results on the Kick-Off table, and they bring in much needed cash.
Fear Is The Key
You’ll note that my starting line up only includes eleven players and no Apothecary. This isn’t as bad as it seems as you should be able to afford an Apothecary after your first or second match (getting one is highly recommended) and soon after that a few extra players to pad out the squad. The thing to remember is that Chaos teams aren’t going to start off being well-balanced no matter what squad you pick. The only sure way forward is to get some games and progress.
In these early games you might end up playing with only nine or ten players for part of the match, so practice some defensive and offensive set-ups with less players – this is good practice to prevent panic setting in half way through a game if you are a few own down. Overall the toughness of the Chaos team means that your casualties should be light, especially if you pick on weaker opponents like Elves, Humans or Skaven for your first few games.
These early games are also a vital stage in creating the best weapon in your armory – a fearsome reputation. If opposing coaches perceive your team as being terrifyingly strong and aggressive they will be scared stiff of leaving their players in range to get blocked or blitzed and this will inhibit their plans. If you utter a few choice phrases like “Well we’ve got no other skills so we’ll just have to smash you up a bit before we score” you’ll reinforce the opposing Head Coach’s growing sense of apprehension.
Naturally, if you actually inflict a few actual casualties, you will drive the point home even further. This is where having a Minotaur or Lord Borak in your starting line-up is essential. Both of these well ‘ard Star Players can flatten the toughest opponent’s and with their Mighty Blow skills can often put them out of the game altogether!
Chilly Khorne Carnage
So, what about game winning strategies? Personally I think that a powerful and aggressive defense is what wins games of Blood Bowl, after all it’s so much easier to carry the ball into the opponent’s End Zone from his half of the field than your own. To this end I use one of two defensive formations depending on the opposition.
A. The 3-4-4 defence leaves no gaps for catchers to run through without making at least two dodge rolls. If a couple of your players have picked up the Tackle skill, this set-up is almost impenetrable.
The first formation, the 3-4-4, is for use against faster teams which use passing or lightning quick runs to get the ball down field; Elves, Skaven, Humans, etc. Although this formation spreads your players a bit, it does make it near impossible for the opposing team to blitz a hole and make a straight sprint for the End Zone without having to make a string of dodge rolls.
On your turn, you should attack any of the opposing Catchers who might have broken through, remembering that if you can get an assisted block against a Strength 2 Catcher your Chaos Warriors or Beastmen will count as Strength 5 and roll three block dice. This will make splattering the little scuttler a virtual certainty.
By using your stronger Chaos Warriors to bolster up your Wide Zones you can force the opposing team more towards the centre of the field where your whole back row can move in and shut down any Catchers that slip through. Alternatively you can place the Chaos Warriors on the inside and force the Catchers towards the side lines so that you can smash them into the crowd.
While this is going on, you just concentrate on holding the centre and front line while you batter anything left in contact and try to cause some casualties. If this goes stunningly well you could be in position to threaten the opposing Thrower in the next turn but it’s more likely that you’ll end up grinding down the opposition for a few downs before the ball-carrier starts to panic and you get an opportunity to pile on the pressure.
When you play against a fast team it’s always advisable to keep two or three of your own guys covering open areas of the field in case the opposition makes a break for it. Nothing is so frustrating as being caught with no one close enough to bring down a player who’s going to score. This sounds obvious but in the heat of the game it’s all to easy for most of your players to get drawn into the flight to get through to the ball-carrier, leaving you vulnerable to passing play.
The disadvantage of the 3-4-4 formation is that you can’t fully capitalise on the Kick-off table ‘Blitz’ result because your players are too far back. It also leaves your players vulnerable to being outnumbered and dragged down if your opponent has tough Blitzers or Star Players, although the greater strength of your players will make this difficult. Having said all that, the 3-4-4 has served me very well through the seasons and remains my favourite set-up if I’m unsure about my opponents plans.
Kill The Good !
The second defence is for nasty, crunchy opponents who can give as good as they get; Orcs, Dwarfs, Undead etc. Trying to beat up this sort of team is about as effective as trying to outrun a Skaven on a ratwheel! As these teams are slower, a defence in depth becomes less important, though against Orc teams you must keep a wary eye out for the Goblins slipping (or being thrown) past the front line. In this formation, you should move your players up and place two models shoulder to shoulder for mutual support in each wide zone. The players in the middle can also move up to support the line of scrimmage. This should weigh the odds in your favour if a full scale rumble develops.
A. Against hard teams, you don’t have to worry about passing plays so much and can move your team forward. Depending on the opposition’s line-up, the Minotaur and Chaos Warrior can even be set up on the line of scrimmage.
Against Orc, Dwarf and Undead teams the minions of Chaos can happily hold the line but are unlikely to pummel the enemy hard enough to win a battle of attrition. To overcome this, you can fall back on an unexpected advantage – speed! Because the Chaos players are slighly faster than most strong teams you can use your speed and power to break around the line of scrimmage before the opposing team manages to form a pocket around their ball-carrier (which is the most common thing for them to do).
Once you’re around the line a huge slugfest will ensue but after a few downs you can hopefully get your big, spiky gauntlets on the ball-carrier and bring him down (preferably for the rest of the match…!). When the ball is free, bash any opposing players out of the way so their tackle-zones won’t interfere with you scooping up the ball. This achieved, get the nearest player to grab the ball and then leg it off downfield covered by as many players as you can extricate from the centre. Simple really…
Skills – The Unholy Ascension
So, you’ve left a trail of mangled bodies through your first few games and earned enough Star Player Points to gain a few skills, now what skills do you take?
You’ll find that your first few skills are likely to be dictated more by who your regular opponents are than anything else, particularly if you’ve been losing your initial matches. For example, one or two players with the Tackle and Pass Block skills are going to be a necessity if you’re constantly chasing Catchers, Gutter Runners and their like. Against tougher opponents Block and Guard will be required to prevent them gradually overpowering you as they earn their own skills.
However, in between the gaps in your defence you need to give a little thought to developing some new attacking strategies. The first strategy is to develop a stand-in for a Thrower who you can rely on to pick the ball up with either Sure Hands skill or (more preferably) the Big Hand physical Ability. If the player also has Pro or Pass skill he can manage the odd passing play to catch opponents on the hop. Extra speed can give the opposing players coach an extra shock too, Sure Feet or Very Long Legs will give your players a better chance of smashing clear and sprinting for the open backfield.
When you pick skills for players try to think ahead and pick ones that will complement each other in the long run, for example Block and Mighty Blow are two skills that work with each other by helping to ensure a block works and then (hopefully) keeping the opponent down with an injury. Its also a good idea to have in mind a specific role for a player when you pick his skills. Ask yourself if the player is offensive or defensive – is he going to storm up and beat a path all the way through to the End Zone or is he going to stomp around to mangle the opposing players as they try to pass the line of scrimmage?
If you roll any doubles when you’re rolling for skills you can take a physical ability rather than choosing any skill. Whether to go for a physical ability or not really depends on the player and his position more than anything else. Chaos Warriors always benefit hugely from Claw, Razor Sharp Fangs, Very long Legs or Tentacles, because they make them even harder hitting or difficult to run away from. On the other hand if you roll a double for your Beastmen it is usually better to take Agilty skills like Dodge or Sure Feet (Sure Hooves?). Because you have no skills to start off with there are several skills which aren’t worth worrying about until the team is well established, things like Strip Ball, Dauntless and Shadowing. These are all very worthy talents but more basic skills like Block are usually far more useful.
If you are truly fortunate you may roll statistic increases for some players. Players with improved Movement or Agility scores should be groomed for specific jobs such as throwing or blitzing by the addition of a few complimentary skills. Agility increases are particularly welcome because they give someone who can pass, pick up the ball and dodge with a good basic chance of success. Blackmane, my precious Agility 4 Beastman, has served as an excellent Thrower with only the addition of Pro skill to give him a chance of re-rolling the dice when the chips are down. In my opinion, Strength increases are rather excess to requirements in an already strong team like Chaos, those double 6’s are best used to pick physical abilities or hard-to-get skills.
With all this in mind here’s my shortlist of skills for Chaos players.
To my mind Chaos Warriors are destined to either become Blockers on the line of scrimmage or Blitzer types who lurk in the Wide Zones. blockers absolutely need Block as their first skill followed by something that increases their chance of harming anybody they knock over – Mighty Blow, Claw or Razor Sharp Fangs, possibly even Piling On. Other skills such as Stand Firm and Guard should be chosen to make your line even harder to push back.
Blitzer-style Chaos Warriors are harder to create because they really need one or two agility skills or physical abilities to give them speed enough to catch who ever they’re after. they still need Block (though they can get away without it) as well as some skills to keep them moving – Break Tackle is useful but the real peaches are the things like Dodge, Sure Feet or the essential Very Long Legs.
A final thing to note that either type of Chaos Warriors can make very good use of the Frenzy skill, because they keep blocking their opponent until they knock him over or they run out of movement allowance. Frenzied Chaos Warriors can use their superior strength to drive straight through the opponent’s line or to push opposing players off the pitch. If you want Chaos Warriors with Frenzy, I would strongly advise taking Block first of all so that they are less likely to mess up and fall over at some crucial moments.
As mentioned earlier in this article, Beastmen get the less glamorous tasks of backfield security and picking the ball up. You really should have at least one Beastman with the Sure Hands skill or Big Hand physical ability which makes it easy to recover the ball after the kick off. It’s likely that the player that picks up the ball will end up carrying it all the way to the opposing End Zone because you can’t usually afford the luxury of risking hand offs, so Dodge and/or Block will also come in handy for keeping the player upright.
The other roles for Beastmen are providing assists for Chaos Warriors and Star Players and covering the rear against fast running plays and passing plays. To keep a lid on dodging types, the Tackle skill is invaluable, in fact I have found that Beastman with the Tackle and Mighty Blow skills is an excellent remedy for Catchers who think they can dodge around your line and get away with it. If they try and to dodge out of their tackle zone there is a greater chance they’ll fall over, if they don’t try to dodge they’re going to end up eating dirt! Pass Block is also very useful against passing plays, though you really need two players with this skill for total coverage.
the last piece of Chaotic wisdom I can pass on about buying Star Players. The Chaos team enjoys one of the widest selections of Star Players available to any team. Considering the death of skills available to the minions of Chaosand the psychological impact of ‘uge slobberin’ monsters, buying Star Players when you can afford them is highly recommended. Here’s your player-by-player guide to Chaos nasty guys!
Lord Borak the Despoiler
Lord Borak makes a natural team captain because he has the Leader skill. His awesome Strenth of 5, Block and Mighty Blow skills make him a good player to place on the line of scrimmage, though he also has the movement and agility of a Chaos Warrior so he can blitz and carry the ball reasonably well. Lord Borak has the Dirty Player skill so he’s deadly at fouling though I usually only use him to foul if the Ref has been got at somehow (either through a Kick Off result or Special Play Carc) so I can be sure he won’t be sent off – Lord Borak is just too tough and useful to spend the game kicking his heels on the side-lines.
Morg ‘N’ Thorg – Ogre Blocker
The mighty Morg’n’Thorg is not only an excellent blocker with Strength 6 and the Block and Mighty Blow skills, but also fast and passably agile so he can dodge (a bit). However such allround talents doesn’t come cheap so I would recommend either taking a cheaper Star Player instead (so you can afford more in the long run) or hiring Morg as one of your last team members when you can better spare the cash. in terms of player position Morg can play pretty much anywhere he likes (and who would argue) as he has the speed to move rapidly up through the Wide Zones and the strength to wade through the line of scrimmage.
‘Ripper’ Bolgrot – Troll Blocker
Ripper Bolgrot is strong, slow and very hard to injure. This makes him a perfect player to start in the middle of the line of scrimmage, facing up against the worst opposition has to offer. Because Bolgrot is cheap as Star Players go, and has Regenerate ability you can pretty much leave him to lumber up and down the line of scrimmage making the odd block here and there. Bolgrot’s appaling Agility of 1 means that he is useless for pretty much anything except blocking so just stick him in the front line and let him biff people and you can’t go far wrong.
Gnashrak Blackhoof – Minotaur Blocker
Gnashrak is a very useful player because he’s got a good movement and has Horns which increase his strength to a deadly 7 when he’s blitzing. This means that Gnashrak will roll three block dice against most opposing players, almost certainly knocking them over and hopefully injuring them with his Mighty Blow skill. Painful experiences like having Gnashrak KO’d on the first turn of the game has convinced me that Gnashrak has no real advantages over Bolgrot on the line of scrimmage and is more vulnerable to being knocked over and injured. Overall I’ve found Gnashrak plays best by starting in the Wide Zones and blitzing his way forward through the thinly spread opposition. The terrifying sight of Gnashrak stampeding into the opponent’s Wide Zone tends to make them panic a lot and upsets their plans no end!
Scrappa Sorehead – Goblin with Pogo Stick
Scrappa offers some interesting options because he is quick, he can leap over things with his pogo stick, he has the Dodge skill and he can be thrown by a suitably large team mate like Morg or Bolgrot. These are all abilities not normally afforded to the Chaos team so initially Scrappa has loads of surprise value. The problem with the little feller is that he’s very puny and to make good use of any of his abillities he has to leave the protection of his beefier team mates and venture out on his own. Getting the ball to Scrappa is difficult without a decent Thrower and the only alternative is for him to make a lone run for the End Zone with the ball, which is asking for trouble. I always found that opposing coaches kept a close eye on Scrappa and marked him too well to try either of the above.
However at the end of the day Scrappa is the cheapest Star Player available to Chaos teams and he does offer the oppurtunity of scoring one-down Touchdown if he is given a helping hand over the line of scrimmage by the aforementioned big guys. Hence he makes a good choice as a Freebooter for those tricky matches.
Nobbla Blackwart – Goblin with Chainsaw
Nobbla is a useful Star Player for Chaos teams because he may only be a Goblin but he’s got a chainsaw! Nobbla’s presence puts opposing coaches in fear of their player’s lives even more than monsters like Gnashrak and contributes consideraly to your team’s fear factor. In point of fact Nobbla’s best use is to foul opposing players when they’ve been knocked over by some of your larger and more robust players. He can be used to blitz of course but this is best left to bigger, meaner players on your team like Gnashrak as Nobbla is liable to get flattened if he doesn’t get in a good enough hit with his chainsaw to take down whoever he’s attacking. Nobbla needs to be protected because the opposing coach will take any opportunity to lay him out and he’s almost guaranteed to get injured if he falls over. Nobbla is cheap and therefore a good choice as a Freeboter, although when you can afford it he is a useful fellow to have permanently on the team roster.
Coaching a Chaos team can be a gruelling, bloody experience. Sometimes you will gnash your teeth in frustration as your opponents ‘dance’ past in a flurry of skills. Most of the time your opponent will weep in terror as his carefully constructed team gets consigned to the injury area or a black box!
Above all.. hit ‘em… hit ‘em again… then kick ‘em when they’re down! And may the dark gods smile on you!
Published in the White Dwarf #183.