This weekend was the third instalment of a semi regular event, Blood Bowel Live, which is held in a pub in London. There's a group of us who play Blood Bowl, predominantly on the Cyanide PC version of the game, and over the years we've all got into the Tabletop version. Some of us play more than others but through a common bond forged on the PC game we all get together and play the game as it was meant to played. Originally we met on the Gamesblog pages of the Guardian newspaper website and when Cyanide first released Blood Bowl we were quick to set up a league - The Blood Bowel. Over time the league has grown to be the largest continuously supported game played by members of the Gamesblog and at it's height had 30 coaches signed up to play. Not big by some standards but not bad for a niche game based on a 30 year old board game played by a group of people who's main interest was video games. It's from that group that a core of about 10 of us decided to meet up and play tabletop Blood Bowl as means of socialising, drinking and playing the game we've come to love and loath in equal measure. It's not really serious and we're all there just to have fun - or as much fun as you can have rolling 1s and swearing a lot.
This time I decided to take Humans, the archetypal middle of the road team. Jacks of all trades and masters of none. My team is the Grim Bay Hackers and they had the history to do well.
The event was based on the NAFC rule set so TV was 110 with 6 skills & one of those could be a double. Having said that this wasn't a serious event I did deliberate for a long time over the best roster to take. Initially my plan was to fit in Mighty Zug as the thought of taking what was basically an Ogre with no Bonehead was very tempting. On the downside, he was a lot more expensive than the basic Ogre and I lost a lot a rerolls to fit him in. Then I considered Griff Oberwald. I've used him before and he worked well but, again, he's a lot of extra cost and I had to lose some players and, again, most of the rerolls. As good as Griff is, at TV110 he's just difficult to justify. I finally settled on what I thought was the best balance for the Human team and took 4 Blitzers, 2 Throwers, 2 Catchers (No's 11 & 18), 3 Linemen (No's 69, 21 & 70) and the Ogre. I had 3 rerolls and 2 Fan Factor. 2 of the Blitzers had Guard, 1 had Tackle, both Catchers had Block and the Ogre was given Block as the double skill. On paper, it looked OK as 7 of the 11 players on the field had Block, 2 had Block and Dodge, there was some mobile Guard and the Strength of the Ogre. Of course, on paper is one thing and on the pitch is a whole other matter. I could have dropped a Thrower and taken an Apothecary instead (along with 2 Fan Factor, an Assistant Coach and a Cheerleader) but I felt that the extra man was a better option so went with the 12 man team.
First game of the day was against Ziploc and his Dark Elves. He loves DaE and has played them in every league and Tournament we've had in the Bowel. It's all he plays. His roster was 2 Witch Elves, 2 Runners, 2 Blitzers, 4 Linemen and an Assassin with 2 rerolls. Skill choices were a little left-field with Pro on a Runner, Mighty Blow and Strip Ball on the Witches, Dodge and Dauntless on the Blizers and Sidestep on the Assassin. Everything started off really well when I won +2 FAME and the kick off so elected to receive. After that it started to fall apart quite rapidly. This was partly due to poor dice and partly due to very poor coaching. Turn 1 saw the first reroll used on the second block of the game when double skulls popped up. The second reroll was used in T2 when my Ogre rolled double Both Down. Rather stupidly I forgot he had Block and so rolled the Loner roll, passed that, rerolled the Block and got the POW I wanted so it was kind of OK but then, after I ended my turn and had time to go back over the previous events I sudden;y realised what I had done. I was not particularly proud of myself there. The problem was the Ogre had no skill ring on him - he's based on a large base and skill rings don't fit but I thought it would be OK, what kind of idiot forgets his Ogre has Bock? right? Then, in T4 my second set of double skulls popped out and that was all my rerolls gone for the half. Weirdly, once the rerolls had all gone, I stopped getting bad rolls. Maybe the Zug roster could have worked after all. I caused a couple of casualties to the Elves and in turn 7 Jarred Mankin ran the ball over the line for the first touchdown. My joy was short lived as in turn 8 'Slay' Mathews, one of my Guard Blitzers was carried of the pitch with an injury. So, it was 1-0 to me at half time, I was kicking to the Elves for the second half and I was a Guard player down. I was in the lead but I wasn't feeling confident. My confidence dropped even further when Ho-Ho Dixon-Clint was KOd in turn 1 but I managed to contain the Elves until I got the chance to Blitz the Runner who tried to dump the ball off but failed and I soon had the ball in the hands of the team's star Thrower, Aaron Dodgers. In turn 6 Jarred Mankin dodged free and ran to the end zone, A-Dod ran as far as he could up the pitch and launched a short pass to the waiting Mankin to make it 2-0 to the Hackers. The last few turns were played out but the elves failed to make any inroads and the game ended 2-0.
I should say at this point that it was my intention to make notes during each game so that I could refer to them when doing this write up. However, as the games wore on and the pints of beer were consumed I found myself writing less and less. So, I'm having to rely on my memory and it might be a bit shaky.
Game 2 was against my old adversary Henry Pootle. We've played many times on the Cyanide game and he's been coming to the NAF championship with me for the last 4 years. He had decided to bring his Chaos Dwarfs and, in keeping with his reputation as master fouler, he had a Dirty Player Hobgoblin along for the ride. His roster was a little light as he had decided to take a Minotaur with Block, 6 Chaos Dwarfs (4 had Guard) , 4 Hobgoblins (1 Dirty Player), 1 Bull Centaur, 3 RR and 3 FF. If the first game started well, this one was the opposite and started badly for me. Pootle won +1 FAME, he won the kick off so elected to receive and the weather was bright sunshine which would hamper my passing game even more than the Humans AG3 already did. It wasn't looking good. The first half was a brawl played out largely in the middle of the pitch. If one of my players went down he was swiftly stamped on by a Hobgoblin and even with the referees at first ensuring that such deeds didn't go unpunished, Pootle continued to foul throughout the half. As I expected, it was difficult to break Dwarf armour and my players were, rather predictably, being removed from the pitch. I put up a strong defence though and the Dwarfs were held to 0-0 at the end of the half. I received in the second half and Double Skulls re-rolled to Double Skulls in T1, followed by the same in T2 saw my dice cup go flying. A short walk to the bar and the purchase of some refreshments for us both saw me regain some semblance of composure and the game continued. More and more fouls were thrown but the refs were now oblivious to what was going on and only 2 Hobgoblins were sent off. 2 more were injured leaving the Chaos Dwarfs without any foulers. No, they just started using Dwarfs instead. Several times I managed to almost get away but numbers were very short by this stage and I couldn't get the separation I needed. At the death a Bull Centaur had the ball and after making 3 GFI's was 1 square short from a TD with no turns left. The game ended with 2 casualties each and a 0-0 scoreline. The foul count was 7 for the Chaos Dwarfs and none for me. It was a very tight game and I'm still not sure how I managed to hold out but it felt like it was deserved draw. Highlight of the game was the sheer number of times that Pootle forgot he had Blitzed in a turn and would try to do it again. I'm convinced he has the memory of a goldfish. On one turn he Blitzed with his Minotaur, then moved a player next to one of mine and then declared a Blitz with his Centaur! There had been about 30 seconds since he actually blitzed. Brilliant.
So, game 3 rolled round and with 1 win and 1 draw but no TDs conceded I somehow found myself playing at the top table against Cunningstunt and his Skaven team who were on 2 wins. His roster was a Rat Ogre with Block, 2 Blitzers (1 had Tackle & the other Guard), 2 Gutter Runners with Block, 1 Thrower and 5 Linerats. He had taken Fezglitch, the Skaven Ball and chain Star Player, 3 RR and 1 FF. I can't for the life of me remember what his 6th skill choice was. Again I lost the FAME roll and the kick off. The rats received so they could maximise the use of Fezglitch and I kicked off. I set up a wide defence on the line of scrimmage to frustrate Fezglitch and, sure enough, in T1 he danced around my linemen before finally knocking 1 down and standing in front of my Ogre. In my turn 1 I got the assists I need, punched Fezglitch in the head KOd him off the pitch. With no bribes that was him done. 100k for 1 turn of fairly ineffective shoving and you have to wonder if the Stars are really all they're made out to be. The rats were hard to stop but I brought enough pressure to force the score in T4. I had a lot of turns to bring the pain but although I was breaking a lot of armour I was only KOing them. Cunning felt like the dice were against him but, as I pointed out, they all had a chance to come back whereas the player of mine he had injured was off for good. All my other ice rolls completely deserted me and despite removing 7 players I was unable to score. The turning point of the game was in T8 when I got the ball passed it to a free catcher and he dashed up field to where a Blitzer was waiting in scoring range. I handed the ball off only needing a 3+ with a RR in hand for jut this occassion. Of course I rolled a 1 followed by a rerolled 1. The half ended 1-0 to the Skaven but I was receiving and there were 7 Skaven in the KO box. Without any Bloodweiser Babes to rely on, Cunning then made 6 out of 7 4+ KO rolls to bring back almost every player he had. I'll freely admit that moments like that are immensely frustrating and the fact I was behind because I couldn't roll a 3 or more with 2 dice rolls but my opponent sat there and rolled so many 4+ rolls really got to me. The second half kicked off and before long both my Catchers were gone and I was struggling to make any progress. Yet another Double Skull block put me in a horrible position and the Skaven soon had the ball to make it 2-0. The last few turns passed and I was unable to even get the consolation TD to end the game. A 2-0 loss then but I felt like I played as well as I could and with a bit of luck, or bad luck for my opponent, it could have been different.
So, 3 games and the standard 1W-1D-1L result. A perfectly average result for a perfectly average team with a perfectly average coach. What did I learn from the experience? Firstly, there were moments where I felt like I could really do something with the team only to fall short at the last hurdle. The lack of any real agility players is a pain when it comes to playing the ball and without any reliable strength players it's not easy taking the fight to a game. As a team I thought I had picked a good roster and it looks like it can deliver but looks can be deceptive. I know I need to work on my game a bit more and I think if I get a better handle on how to use the Humans as a team then I'll get more from them.
Secondly, Catchers are great on Defence. I was worried that the ST2 would be a problem and it was but not where I expected it to be. On defence they work fine providing mobile assists and you can block players away from them with relative ease. It was on offence where I had problems and too often I pushed them deep to threaten the opposition and they just got battered. Even with Block and Dodge losing out to 2 dice blocks from opponents (3 dice from the big guys) is just too much and then the AV7 doesn't stand up well and all of sudden you have no catchers. I hate, hate, hate that Human Catchers are only ST2 and I can see no reason, either from a thematic point of view or a game point of view to support why they are. I'm sure better coaches than me can go on at length about how they're not that bad and that they should only be ST2 to balance the team but I just don't get it. Bar the Wood Elf catchers - and they're essentially forest fairy folk with Agility 4 and Sprint so I kind of get it with them - the Human Catcher is the only other ST2 one in the game. Why? Both the other human type catchers, the Norse and Amazons, are ST3. Sure, they have slightly less movement, MA7 and MA6 respectively, but the Norse one has Dauntless! High Elf Catchers have MA8, same as the Human ones, have AG4 and AV8 and are still ST3! The Elf team Catcher is arguably the best Catcher out of the box with AG4, MA8, Catch and Nerves of Steel. They can catch the ball on a 2+ anywhere on the field and they're also ST3. Like I said, I don't get it. I know that the latest game from Cyanide has seemingly drawn from the Narrow Tier Blood Bowl work by Plasmoid and the Human Catchers gets AV8 instead of 7 which I can see being good for long term survivability in a persistent League but doesn't really help in a tournament environment. And if you really want to increase the chances of a Human Catcher surviving a game then reduce the amount Block dice that can be thrown against him by increasing his strength. Would it really unbalance the team that much? Apologies for the rant but I've never used Human Catchers in a tournament before and, after this weekend, I'm not sure I would again without much, much more practice.
Lastly, I think I made a mistake taking the extra player over the apothecary. In the first game it really hurt me when I lost the Guard Blitzer. I've found that the Humans rely on the Guard they can get and having 2 of them on the pitch is great. Losing one to be replaced with a normal Lineman or Thrower isn't a real replacement and it was a struggle from that point on. Yes, I won that game but it was closer than the score suggests and the other two games were demonstrably harder once I lost key positional and even the chance of getting one back would have better than the spare player I had.
So, to sum up, it was a great day with mates with a few beers and some lovely food. The Blood Bowl was good as well, despite my dice strops, and I look forward to doing it again sometime.