by Mike ‘Da Boffin’ Brooks (www.blood-bowl.net)
Mike is a sort of strange cross between a ‘skateboarding dude’ and a hippy. He’s sixteen and from Ipswich, where he regularly indulges in games of Blood Bowl, Necromunda, and Warhammer 40,000. Blood Bowl remains his first love, however, and he even has plans to write an article based on ‘Star Commentators’, including the sheepskin overcoat-wearing Halfling, John Mootson .. .. Groan!!!
It’s only a Game! (First Half)
With the recent re-release of Blood Bowl, and having played it in it’s previous incarnation goodness know how many times. I felt it might be a good time to write an article advising new players of the game. First I’ll have a quick look at the strengths and weaknesses of each race, then I’ll concentrate on tactics for my two favourites, Wood Elves (all right, poncey, I know) and Orcs (much betta!).
All the backgrounds for all of the races are in the Blood Bowl and Death Zone handbooks, so I won’t bother trying to rewrite them here. Let’s just get stuck in then, shall we?
As you might guess, a definitive passing team. The Phoenix warriors (throwers) can usually pick out the Lion Warriors (catchers) with fairly unerring accuracy, while the Dragon Warriors (blitzers) and the Lineman hold off the other side. The main advantage of the High Elves is the adaptability of their players, since at a pinch a Dragon Warrior can easily stand in for a Lion Warrior, and is harder to hurt. One main disadvantage for the High Ones is their lack of Star Players. Even if you use the Old Star Players from CJ 25 (and I recommend that you do) (Here, here! – Ed), you’re still only left with an exceptionally limited choice. While I certainly don’t think that Star Players are the be-all and end-all of Blood Bowl players, they are very useful, especially when you need a bit of reliable muscle at the beginning of a season.
Sticking with the Elfy theme, we move onto their infinitely nastier cousins. Main difference between the two teams: one has catchers, the other doesn’t. While the Darkies do have skilled throwers, they have to rely on the Blitzers or Witch Elves to get on the end of the passes. Quite honestly, the Dark Elves are the most violent of the Elf teams, having both the Blitzers and the Witch Elves who can beat people up. Ye skill, they lack the muscle of Orc or Dwarf teams. This leaves them slightly uncomfortably in the middle, lacking the all-out passing ability of their cousins, or even the humans with their catchers, yet still not being able to take heavy punishment. However, their high agility means that a fast running play, utilizing their Blitzers and Witch Elves to knock out enemy threats, is an acceptable alternative. A word of warning: be a little careful where you block with Witch Elves. Should you get a couple of Push-Back results, their Frenzy skill could take them away from where you want them to be, leaving a play unguarded, or just cutting them off from help. With their low Armour, a couple of Orcs will walk over a Witchie in their turn.
Star Players? Not much to speak of. A personal vendetta I have is against that bloody Horkon Heartripper with his poisoned dagger – I fine him completely useless! If you must include him, then only try and stab lightly armoured targets like Jordell Freshbreeze, since someone like Morg N’ Thorg with his AV of 10 will probably resist it, and then he’ll flatten the assassin in his own turn. However, Tuern Redvenom from CJ 25 is a valuable addition to any side.
Supposedly the most flexible of sides; I find that this flexibility only comes from their Star Players, since the basic human team doesn’t have messes going for it in my opinion (then again, maybe that’s just because of the way my regular Human opponent Matt plays) (Well, that doesn’t say much for him then, does it? –Ed). Their passing play is their main feature, but they lack the accuracy of the Elves. They can’t run with the ball brilliantly, lacking the amazing speed of Skaven, and the sheer refusal to lay down and die of the Orcs, those other great runners. However, ad Morg N’ Thorg, the Mighty Zug, and Luthor von Drakenburg (a particularly nasty tatic that one – he’s a vampire!) for a bit of muscle, and Griff Oberwald for some speedy punch, and the humans can stand against anyone. Matt does like his big players, so the matches pitching his Humans against my Orcs tend to be very bloody indeed, but this isn’t the way it is recommended to play with them.
Let’s be honest here: Dwarfs cannot run with the ball, they are just too slow and clumsy. Passing plays are risky to say the least. So, the novice says, how do I win? Simple, the experienced Coach replies with only a hint of smugness; don’t even try to play the game. What you do is spend a lot of time attempting to keep your opponent from scoring, and just grind down their team as much as possible. When there aren’t all that many on the pitch (you’ll probably outlast them, due to your Thick Skulls), form up the tighest block you can and score that Touchdown! You have a lot of good players – Long Beards, although agonisingly slow, are quite exceptional at defence, and the plethora of skills possessed by Troll Slayers means that even big guys have to be careful.
Star Players: Don’t make the mistake I did by starting off with the Deathroller in your side. It’s slow and surprisingly easy to damage, because it has the major disadvantage that once it goes over, it doesn’t get up again. It also tends to get sent off very quickly. Stick to real Dwarfs, such as Grim Ironjaw for starters. As ever, look in CJ 25 for those lovely new/old Star Players (aah, a chainsaw, a bazooka(!), now I’m happy!)
You dirty rat .. .. Properly used, Skaven can be a nightmare to play against. A mutation such as Very Long Legs, or a rare movement advance, can be a superb addition to a Gutter Runner. Not many relished the idea of playing against the Skaven team I coached once with included one of these little nasties with a movement advance and the Sprint skill. This combo meant it could cover the ground from my side of the halfway line to the opponent’s end zone in one turn! An Agility of 4 meant that it could easily dodge through my opponent’s tackle zones, and away we went .. .. If necessary, give one the Right Stuff skill if you get the chance, then chuck it downfield with your rat ogre. The speed of these little devils will mean that you can score a surprise touchdown from a long way within your own half, if you execute it properly. Even without a big guy to chuck them, a few Gutter Runners running all over his half while your Thrower stand with the ball, protected (temporarily at least) by your Storm Vermin can lead to your opponent’s eventual nervous breakdown after a little while. But with all Skaven, beware of being hit.. ..
Star Players: Headsplitter, the Rat Ogre provides some much-needed muscle, but as for the rest, I generally find I can get on fairly easily without them.
Ah, real muscle at last! Potentially at least, everyone in this team can have a Strength of 4 (Chaos Warriors anyway, Beastmen with their Horns physical ability if they Blitz). Use the same general tactics as the Dwarfs: stop them from scoring while you annihilate them. Not many teams can stand up to a Chaos team in a protracted brawl, especially with the abundance of big players (Matt’s other big team, ‘The Anarchists’, boasts a front row of Grashnak Blackhoof, Ripper Bolgrot, Morg N’ Thorg, and Lord Borak the Despoiler!). The Stars in Cj 25 provide for a bit of variation as well. What’s more, don’t forget the various Orcs and Goblins who can play for Chaos as well.
You literally do need a bit of coaching magic to get this lot moving anywhere, let alone to the other team’s end zone. Undead teams, for me, just seem to lack personality. This is nothing to do with their playing skills – what other team not only comes back from the dead, but was already there in the first place? I just don’t like them all that much. They are also difficult to master, having difficulties similar to those of Dwarfs. A powerful Star Player like Luthor von Drakenborg adds a bit of much-needed flair to the guys in grey, and an attack with him at it’s head is likely to have some success, whether its purpose is scoring or slaying. I’ve even seen a fairly effective passing play with some Ghouls. However, it’s not advisable to start off with the Undead until you have a bit of experience. If you must, then I consider as many Ghouls and Wights as possible are an absolute necessity.
Ah, the sneaky little beggars of the game. Goblins are small, cheap, not all that effective, but have an amazing variety of secret weapons and Star Players willing to play for them. It is this that will, ultimately save them form complete and utter oblivion. A chainsaw, a ball-and-chain, a few bombs, and a big Troll or Ogre can mean that the Goblins will pull off the occasional surprise. However, don’t get your hopes up at first, since they’re going to need to hire a few Star Players before anything special happens.
Forget it. I defy anyone to do will with these lardy cousins-of-hamsters. They are, just like Goblins, small, cheap, and even more ineffective, but don’t have the saving grace of various Star Players and secret weapons. So they can hire a Treeman? So what? The only reason to play with Halflings is if you want a very good excuse for losing. Tactics? Get the ball and get chucked.
It’s only a Game! (Second Half)
In the first half I gave a brief introduction to the various races available to the novice Coach in Blood Bowl. I am now going to provide my tactics and advice for my two main teams, the Orcs and the Wood Elves.
The Wood Elves are, without question, a passing team. The accuracy of their throwers and the ability and pace of their catchers mean they can run other teams ragged. However, achieving this requires some careful thought. Below are three plays which I have used to great effect in the past.
‘The Wings of Isha’
(or ‘Where’s it gonna go?’)
The main problem with this play is that it requires at least three Catchers. Many Wood Elf Coaches don’t like to start with this many in their side, since they want to purchase the slightly beefier Linemen, or the excellent Wardancers. It can work with just two, but it’s better with three.
When you receive, run the Thrower to the ball and pick it up. Since Wood Elves are fairly fast, you’ll almost certainly reach it in one turn. Pull back a few players to form a ‘pocket’ similar to that shown in White Dwarf 220 for the Human team. Then run your Catchers into the opposing half. With two, run down the wings in order to avoid excess tackle zones, but remember to move inwards at the end of their move, in order to avoid being blitzed and knocked into the crowd. If you have three Catchers or are prepared to use a Wardancer instead of one, run down the middle, making sure that at the end of your move you are not in a position to be blocked. Now, your opponent has three players to worry about; any one of them could receive an accurate throw and race in to score. He might og and take out one, and there’s not all that much you can do about it, but that leaves the other two free. He’ll also try and put as many tackle oHo
zones between you and the end zone as possible, but you’ll have to deal with that (this is where a Wardancer can have an advantage – not only Dodge, but the exceptionally useful Leap). The only really effective thing he can do is try to sack the Thrower who is waiting to launch the ball, so beware of playing this with inadequate protection, especially against teams with fast, hard-hitting players like Dark Elves. If he fails, on your turn just throw the ball, catch it, then race in and score that Touchdown.‘The Eye of Orion’
(or ‘Dat’s not what dey did last time!’)
This play is the perfect follow-up for when you next receive the ball after you’ve already scored using the ‘Wings of Isha’ play. This time, using a Wardancer instead of a Catcher in the middle of the field is definitely advisable. Run the Catchers down the wings as before, but don’t send the Wardancer quite as far through the middle. In this way, the Wardancers will not appear quite as much of a threat as the two Catchers, and it is they who will probably receive most of the attention. Normal things: one goes down, the other gets a tackle zone or two to get out of.
Should your opponent fail to take this bait, and instead nails the Wardancer, throw the ball to one of your Catchers as before. However, should things go according to plan, throw it to the Wardancer. Hi is very likely to catch it, then can either make a sprint on his own, possibly using his Leap and Dodge skills to get out of trouble, or run to your other Catcher and make a hand-off. Then, having confused your opponent, run in and score another Touchdown!
‘The Greenwood Arrow’
(or ‘Oi, dat’s cheatin!)
This next play is very beardy, but it almost always works (hey, let’s try and keep this a beardy free zone! – Ed). Personally I don’t like using it very much, since it seems a bit like cheating, but occasionally desperation means I have to. The premise is quite simple: give a Catcher the Right Stuff skill, get a Treeman, get the ball to the Catcher, and huss him for all you’re worth (Is ‘hussing’ a legal move in Blood Bowl? – Ed). Although it is virtually impossible for the Treeman to throw the Catcher accurately, the Catcher is likely to land correctly (especially if you have a Re-roll handy). Then it’s a simple matter to zoom past your astonished opponent and score.
Wood Elf players are really quite weedy, except for the Treeman (doh! obviously). However, what about the Wardancers? Why are they quite so expensive? The answer is, of course, because they’re worth it. The Block skill is always useful, the Dodge skill can easily get you out of trouble, as can the Leap skill. Although not heavily armoured they are fast and have a fair bit of muscle, so two of them working together can prevent a Touchdown. Another tactic I like is to put them fairly near the front line when defending, then threaten your opponent’s thrower with them. If he’s waiting for a good opportunity to throw the ball then race down the field and beat him in (remember that Leap skill to get past annoying opposing players). If he sees the threat then he either has to run towards his own end-zone to get away, which will just increase the distance he has to throw it next turn, or he can throw it quickly before you get him. This will mean he has thrown it before he wants to, and any way that you have of getting your opponent to do something he doesn’t want to is good news. If he throws it over you at all, make that Interception attempt! You won’t lose anything, and you might give him a very nasty surprise.
Star Players: I really think that the Treeman is a necessity to give a bit of punch to your team. In the league I play in, we have a rule that although more than one team may have the same Star Player, no Star Player may be duplicated within a team (now there’s a rule that Jervis would be proud of! – Ed), so having more than one Treeman isn’t an option (unless, of course, you have the Blood Bowl Compendium to hand and are following Jervis’s rules for Big Guys – Ed). Nevertheless, he’s very worthwhile. You can only have two Wardancers, so Jordell Freshbreeze is a great addition. An Agility of 5 means no-one’s going to lay a hand on him in full flight, especially with skills like Leap, Dodge, and Side Step.
And now, we present my favourite team of all, the greenskins. For some reason, I seem to have a knack with Orcs (you could call it a green thumb, I suppose .. .. if you were feeling exceptionally sad), which allows me to do things with them you wouldn’t normally expect (keep it clean pelase! – Ed). Effective passing play, bashing-in Chaos teams, organizing a song-and-dance routine, the list is endless.. .. Once I took an Orc Blitzer, dodged into the square the ball was in, picked it up in two tackle zones, dodged out again, ran the rest of my movement, then sprinted without falling over, and finally threw a long pass to a Lineman! Of course, the donkey didn’t catch it, even with the use of my Team Re-roll for that turn, but you get the idea.
Before I present my plays which might just provide you with victory on that field of dreams, nightmares, blood, sweat, blood, tears, and yet more blood, here is the starting line-up of my latest Orc team, before they played any games:
3 Orc Blitzers .. .. .. 180k
2 Black Orc Blockers .. 120k
1 Orc Thrower .. .. .. . 70k
5 Orc Linemen .. .. .. .250k
1 Goblin .. .. .. .. .. .40k
3 Re-rolls .. .. .. .. .180k
6 Fan Factor .. .. .. .. 60k
The team name is ‘The Crackheads’, and all the players are named afta’ myself and my friends. I leave you to draw your own conclusions .. .. (Er .. .. supergroovycool or something!! – Ed.)
‘The Double Header’
A fairly simple play this one, and quite similar to the ‘Wings of Isha’ play from the Wood Elf tactics, in that it concentrates on two teams of wide receivers, one down each flank. However, there are important distinctions.
Firstly, instead of one Catcher down each flank, send one Blitzer and the Gobbo down one, and the two other Blitzers down the other. Since your Orcs are very unlikely to catch the ball in, or dodge out of, multiple tackle zones, they gang up in order to barge their way through. The two Blitzers should have no problems, while the Gobbo, although not much use in a scrap (but his assist can be valuable) is your most agile player, since his Stunty skill ignores tackle zones. If he gets the ball, run off with him, while his Blitzer ‘bodyguard’, discourages pursuit. After the little fella’s got some Star Player points, give him the Catch skill, or possibly the Sprint skill, and watch that scoreboard start to clock up.
‘The Rolling Maul’
Possibly the simplest of all plays this one, since it consists merely of getting as many Orcs as possible around the ball and charging downfield. Not advised for use against fast teams like Elves unless you’ve already severely depleted their numbers, since they’ll easily outmanoeuvre you and then make your like hell with tackle zones. On the other hand, it can be used as an effective time-waster if you’re one Touchdown up and a few downs from the end of the match, since the Elves will have to be lucky to break down the solid mass of green muscle you’ve surrounded the ball with. With most teams, especially Dwarfs, once you’ve knocked over the ones at the back of your block of Orcs, they’ll find it difficult to get up and make an effective contribution to stop you moving forwards due to the three square movement penalty. A square block of Orcs means it’s impossible for assists to have an effect on you at first, just beware a large monster charging in and laying waste to all and sundry.
A classic Orc tactic, and one discussed in the Blood Bowl book. You give the ball to your Goblin, you go and stand next to the big guy, and you throw the little fella down the field. Simple. Don’t be too worried about getting the throw accurate, just keep the re-roll back for tying to land correctly. I don’t consider this play cheating, like I do with ‘The Greenwood Arrow’, since there is considerably less chance of success. The little guy isn’t as agile, and so cannot land as easily. Also, he isn’t anywhere near as fast, so you’re going to have to throw him further.
I think Orcs are a very good team indeed. Although they lack a bit of speed when compared to Humans, Skaven, or Elves, they have muscle to make up for it. None of these races are going to relish going up against Black Orcs on the line of scrimmage, even though they don’t start with the Block skill. In addition, you can have four of the excellent Blitzers. With Orcs you just need to play to your strengths, and remember the ‘Eight Commandments’ which apply for all races.
1) If you’re playing a faster team, always keep a couple of players back near your End Zone to nail anyone coming through.
2) If you have the ball and can score a Touchdown, thnk about whether you need to. If you’ve blitzed their only deep defender on your way, and he’s now in the Injured and Dead box of the dugout as a result, there’s no one who can reach you next turn, and you’re playing a team such as Orcs with a Goblin and a large monster who can conceivably score in one turn, and this Touchdown will only put you one Touchdown up, and you’re approaching the end of the half, od you need to score, or should you hand around to waste as much time as possible? (Phew! I thought that sentence was never going to end – Ed.) It’s entirely up to you, but remember you might be giving your opponent enough time to remember the Special Play card he’d forgotten about. Also, if you’re playing an opponent who thinks like I do, if he can’t reach you he won’t bother, and he’ll just concentrate on trashing the rest of your team while you ponce about near his End Zone.
3) If you can try to intercept, then do it. Although it’s not particularly likely to succeed, even the least agile of players might come up with a 6 to do it automatically, and if you don’t then you’ve lost nothing. (I once managed to Intercept a pass with a Dwarf Longbeard, but then I’m a jammy four-eyed g*t, as my opponent pointed out to me at great length.)
4) Never get carried away with anything. If youneed to pass the ball to score, then don’t try and clobber the other teams front line first. If you fail, you suffer a turnover, and then all sorts of hell can break loose. SORT OUT YOUR PRIORITIES!
5) Never assume that anyone is invincible. A common mistake made by owners of Deathrollers and Treemen. One assist and a minotaur using his Horns ability to blitz you,and you can say ‘bye-bye’ to your Death Roller.
6) Don’t push your luck. If you’ve make a superb move with one of your players, dodging though five tackle zones simultaneously or some such effort, don’t try it again unless it’s absolutely necessary or your don’t care if you suffer a turnover at this point. You’ll roll a 1 twice for your first dodge roll, believe me.
7) On a similar line: NO-ONE IS INFALLIBLE. No matter how good his stats, your Star Player is gonna come a cropper sooner or later, whether from blocks, or just falling over. Therefore, don’t base a team on a single Star Player. It should be, as the name suggests, a team, able to cope with losses and working together as a unit to defeat the opponent. Ha, ha, ha!
8) Never ask Mighty Zug what species his mother was!
That’s about all for now, so get out there and coach your team of raving lunatics to success! I’m of to win the double of our league title and the Blood Bowl trophy. See you around .. ..
Originally printed in Citadel Journal #28, pages 74-81, copyright 1998