by Jeremy Vetock (Blood Bowl Home of @rnholm)
Since the new version of Blood Bowl was released, the staffs at the American Games Workshop office in Baltimore have been running a very intense Blood Bowl League. In a frenzy of high-voltage gaming we have already completed two exciting Tournament Cups and are about to start on our third.
Although I had already been very successful with my overly pugnacious Ogre team, even pulling off a miraculous win in the Spike Magazine Trophy final, for our next “Cup” season I decided to retire my Orcs for a while and see what it would be like to coach a team from one of the other Blood Bowl races.
A quick scan of our leader board (an ingenious poster with all the teams listed alongside their win-loss records) showed me which teams had already been entered. There was a plethora of Orc and Human teams and strong representation from many of the other races, but nobody was fielding a Halfling team. Since I wanted something different, I thought to give them a try and so I ran to check out their rules in Death Zone!
It is true that Halflings run at half-pace compared to most other teams and it is also a fact that the better portion of a Halfling team can gang up to block an Ogre with little chance of success. Yes, I know Halflings are too small to properly throw the ball and therefore suffer range penalties and I have learned (through bitter experience) that any Halfling knocked over is likely to wind up in the Injury boxes or worse. Given these tremendous handicaps many people wonder why Halflings even bother playing Blood Bowl in the first place!
The stunty and dodge skills
I have to admit, that after looking at their stats I had some serious doubts about winning with Halflings, but there were a number of good points to them as well. The most important of these is that all Halflings come endowed with the twin skills of Stunty and Dodge – a wickedly effective combination.
In Blood Bowl, each player exerts a tackle zone on all of the squares adjacent to the model. As a result, whenever you attempt to move through an opposing players tackle zone, you have to make a dodge roll. All Blood Bowl players may attempt to dodge, but some races, like Elves, are more graceful and adept at dodging than others. To counter a particularly agile player from sneaking through his lines, a cunning opponent will stack up his players in order to create multiple tackle zones. With more tackle zones come cumulative dodge penalties, but this is where Halflings excel!
The Stunty skill represents the fact that Halflings are too small to be easily grabbed – they just duck under arms and run between legs. In game terms this means that Halflings can ignore the multiple effects of tackle zones and they always dodge at their basic roll of a 3+. To make things even better for the little guys, they also come with the Dodge skill, which allows them to re-roll a failed dodge attempt once per move.
By making use of Dodge and Stunty, you can easily slip your ball-carrier or a receiver straight through your foe’s best defence in an extremely effective, but nerve-wrackingly suspenseful play! In several of my games, the outcome has hinged on one of my Halflings making a last-ditch effort to score by dodging through a literal maze of opposing players, where each die roll could have meant certain doom…! Of course, when you do pull it off you also have every right to jump up and down, yell a lot, and mock the puny efforts of the opposing team.
Picking your Team
Every Blood Bowl coach starts off with 1,000,000 gold pieces with which to select their players, buy team re-rolls, purchase a fan factor, and add extra coaching staff, cheerleaders and a whole lot more. This is a critical stage for all teams, but especially so for Halflings.
First off, Halflings have never developed any but the most basic Blood Bowl skills. As a result you don’t have to bother with Throwers, Catchers, or any of the specially players that other teams may choose. Halflings are always Linemen. On the bright side, the low points cost (a mere 30,000) for a Halfling means that you can easily start off with a roster full of players. Given their fragile nature, I heartily recommend buying as many as possible. The following list shows how I started off my Halfling team – the Southshire Stoutboys:
13 Halfling Linemen390,000
Treeman Star Player180,000
Fan Factor 550,000
Halfling Master Chef150,000
A recipe for success
Despite their obvious weaknesses, the fact that Halfling teams are allowed to recruit Treeman Star Players goes a long way towards rectifying the balance of power! These towering arboreal monsters can pile-drive opponents straight into the pitch with their Mighty Blow skill, and there is a fair chance that anyone a Treeman can get close enough to block, will be carried off on a stretcher. I certainly jumped at the chance to recruit Star Player – Deeproot Strongbranch onto my team and I know of another Halfling team that managed to start league play with two of these awesome creatures.
The Master Chef is another nasty trick up the short sleeves of Halfling teams. Unable to purchase a wizard like most other races, the more culinary-minded Halflings may instead hire a Master Chef for their team. The fantastic food will inspire your team to the tune of one to three extra Re-roll counters per half. Even more diabolical, the delicious smells emanating from the Halfling dugout are so distracting, that other teams must reduce their team re-rolls in direct proportion to your bonus. By not allowing your opponents to re-roll any of their misfortunes you can often force them into crucial tum-ending mistakes. For an authentic looking Master Chef model I found the cleaver-bearing cook from the Halfling Hot-Pot crew to work especially well. The poised-to-fire Stewpot, crewed menacingly by my two assistant coaches, is equally brilliant.
In my practice games I quickly learned that a Halflings armour value of six makes them very fragile. During the course of a normal game the Knocked Out and Injury Boxes saw a constant rotation of bruised and battered players. To counter this I started our League with the healing services of an Apothecary. You might want to take a risk and start without a healer, but I find confidence in knowing I can save my favourite players or (Sigmar save me!) the too-expensive to replace Treeman, should they be seriously injured or killed!
Finally, in my experience, many Blood Bowl players ignore the importance of Fan Factor when starting up their team. After each game, depending on whether you won or lost (and influenced by subtle things like how many touchdowns you scored and the number of casualties inflicted!) your Fan Factor will rise or fall.
The importance of your Fan Factor is that it ultimately determines how much profit you receive from each game. High profits allow you to purchase new players, extra re-rolls, and more. Since you are bound to lose some of your Halflings to injury or (ulp!) even death, you will certainly want to make as much money as possible. The Southshire Stoutboys started out with a Fan Factor of 5 and I would’ve increased it even further. However, I also wanted to begin League play with as many re-rolls as possible and so I had to make a compromise. Halflings often need a second chance to pull off a block or thrown pass and so in addition to the Halfling Master Chefs constant supply, I purchased an additional three re-rolls because they are often simply too expensive to buy during the course of a season.
Halfling star players
In Blood Bowl, as your team advances, completes miraculous passes, and scores daring touchdowns, your players gain Star Player points. Once you have amassed enough points your player will enter into the lofty heights of exalted Star Player status. Star Players may then choose skills from the category appropriate to their position, which unfortunately leaves Halflings only selecting from the Agility Skills.
During my first few Halfling games I noticed that my players accumulated Star Player Points rapidly, but also that my players did not last too long afterwards! I was quick to learn that skills, which work quite effectively with other teams, were not as useful for Halflings. Jump Up, for example, is an excellent skill, which allows you to stand up without paying the normal three movement points to do so. When this skill works for Halflings it often leads to spectacular results, but more often than not, a knocked over Halfling has no chance to Jump Up as he has already been carried to the injury boxes!
The skills I have found more reliable for my players are Sprint and Sure Feet. Halflings are not fast, so I find myself using the sometimes fatal “Going for it” rules to move extra squares. The Sprint skill will allow you to go for yet one more square and Sure Feet will let you re-roll any failed attempts. This combination can definitely get your furry feet moving out of even the most desperate of situations. Given the Halfling tendency to make errant passes, the Diving Catch skill is extremely useful in making up for the fact that the ball often doesn’t land where it is supposed to.
Anytime you roll doubles when selecting your Star Player Skills you may choose a skill outside that players normal repertoire. I haven’t been lucky enough to do this yet, but I have my eyes on Nerves of Steel, Sure Hands, and any of the passing Skills. A warning though, Halflings can’t rely too heavily on Star Players! With an armour value of a mere six, the harsh Blood Bowl environment often means that their playing days are often numbered.
The first thing to get into your head, as a Halfling coach is that you doesn’t necessarily have to block someone to score. A Halfling team is simply too fragile to absorb damage the way a Dwarf or Ore team can. A conservative running game formed up behind a closed formation just won’t work for Halflings. In order to score or take a shot at blocking a opponent’s ball-carrier, you will often find that you need you Halfling to dodge three times through heavy traffic and go for an extra square or two. Take the risk! It takes quite a bit o guts to run your Halfling ball-carrier straight into the teeth o an inspired defence, but as often as not, I’ve found that the Halfling will emerge safely on the opposite side! Not eve outlandish play will work for you, and occasionally even a “sure-thing” will fail due to disastrous dice rolling, but the important lesson to learn with a Halfling team is to take the chance. You should be well-equipped with re-rolls and besides, if you stand still you’ll find your team pulped to jelly. While no tactic will guarantee success, here are a few potential game-winners to get you started!
Treemen have the Throw Team mate skill, which allows them to pick up and hurl their fellow players. All Halflings have the Right Stuff, a skill that allows them to be picked up and flung. As you can see from the diagrams, the object of the play is to toss the Halfling with the ball over the heads of the defenders. Assuming you make the agility roll to for your player to land on his feet, he can then use his entire movement allowance to scamper into the end zone. I find throwing a player who’s not holding the ball to be very effective on defence as well as offence. Not only can this ploy set up an open receiver deep in enemy territory, but it can also allow you to put pressure on your opponent’s ball-carrier despite elaborate defensive formations. Note that your turn will NOT end if you fail to land feet first (so long as you weren’t carrying the ball, that is). Even if you attempt this play and it fails it will alarm your opponent and help to accomplish the second part of my cunning plan.
Spread the defence
Once your opponent realises that you are maniacal enough to fling your own teammates into the heavens, then he will often spread his players across the field. By this time he will have noticed that the multiple tackle zones so effective against other teams are relatively ineffective against Halflings anyway. Halflings don’t move very quickly and against a deep formation you will find it very hard to break out into open territory. This can still work to your advantage! With the opposition spread out deep downfield to prevent a projectile Halfling from sailing overhead, you can simply gang up on his players close at hand. Three-to-one odds for the Halflings will more often than not give you two blocking dice and a better than average shot at knocking down his players. Save Black Ores, Chaos Warriors, and Star Players for the Treeman! Remember, a Halfling may have a lower strength than most players, but when it comes to assisting a block or fouling, a Halfling is every bit as effective as a Black Ore or an Ogre!
The majority of coaches I have played against panic at the sight of Halflings knocking over their players. To avoid this shame most coaches will collapse their reserves and charge, opening up a perfect slot to toss a Halfling. If the opposition is cautious and maintains his spread formation, advance down field with your three-to-one odds. When you get close enough to attempt it, send in the daring Halfling ball-carrier and hope Dodge and Stunty don’t let you down.
Special play cards
This is the perfect time to mention the Special Play cards from Death Zone. Divided into three decks, Magic Items, Random Events, and Dirty Tricks, the Special Play cards bring a fantastic range of variables into the game. Each coach starts the game with between one and three cards, randomly determined by a dice roll. The only exception is when one team greatly out-experiences the other. In this case, the handicap system should provide the underdog with enough extra cards to stand toe-to-toe with the toughest veterans. I’ve found this card system loads of fun and it can definitely save your hide when playing a game against a stronger team!
When it comes to picking Special Play cards for my Halflings, I always opt for a Magic Item card first. You are allowed to choose any combination of Magic Items, Random Events or Dirty Tricks, but due to the rarity of Magic Items, you may never select more than one. These potent relics can often be used to heal or resurrect dead and injured players (the Healing Scroll and Magic Sponge cards), and you’ll have many of those! There are also plenty of excellent Magic Items that can put an absolute halt on your opponent’s drive, such as the Magic Hand of Jack Longarm card, which, to the dismay of your opponent, lets you automatically, intercept a pass. If you only get to choose one card, make it a Magic Item.
When selecting additional cards, I switch between Random Events and the Dirty Tricks pile. All Blood Bowl coaches develop their own personal preference and every player has a favourite card that they hope for. Despite the fact that the Special Card drawing is random, I’m always hoping for either the Random Event card Special Offer (which would allow me to purchase a Star Player for half price – bringing the second Treeman into an affordable range!) or the risky, but effective Dirty Trick Razzle Dazzle (a stunning play which allows your team to go two uninterrupted turns in a row!).
Used in the right place at the right time, any of the Special Play cards can give your team that extra boost to stop a drive or score a much needed touchdown. If you get several cards don’t worry too much about saving them for the perfect time. If I can pile all my cards into just one touchdown I’m always happy to do so. Remember though, that your opponent is sure to have a few tricks of his own and several cards are perfect for taking out the mainstay of your line, your Treeman!
Short but sweet
At the start of our League there was a constant line of challengers, anxious to pulp my team before they were forced into early retirement. Now I have a constant line of challengers, eager to prove that my Halfling victories have all been a fluke. Winning with a Halfling team is never easy, but it can be done. Halfway through our current tournament the Southshire Stoutboys have won more than they’ve lost, and even the defeats have been by narrow margins. I have had both my share of good luck (my Halfling Bing O’Groten leads the League in scoring) and bad (in a single half against a Dark Elf team three of my Halflings were slain). Over the course of the season I have discovered a lot about playing Halfling teams and I’m still learning. Currently I’m trying to save money to purchase a second Treeman and I’ve even been working on a running play where the Treeman carries the ball! Although it is early in the season, I find myself thinking of the playoffs and the glory (and uneasy angst) I will gain for winning the tournament with a Halfling team!
Good luck and may your stew stay hot!
Published in the White Dwarf #180.