Do the Risky Things First?
Playing with Wood Elves Against Any Opposition
Since the release of third edition, and the introduction of the turnover rules, the mantra of the experienced Blood Bowl coach has been: 'Do the easy things first!' In fact, do the automatic things first (roll over stunned, stand up, movement); then the easy things (two dice blocks with Block); and leave the crazy dodge, pass, catch, dodge, GFI moves until the end of your turn: if you're going to do them at all!
Now this is sound advice in practically all situations: however, perhaps not for all team lists. In particular, I'm thinking about Wood Elf teams here (this might apply to Pro Elves too, but who would care?), which in my experience actually require a different set of coaching assumptions to get the best from them. For AV 8 Elves, man-marking and blocking the opponent back (with a little dodging and other unorthodox plays mixed in) is a much more viable strategy, so far less of the below applies to them.
Now, while Wood Elves can become one of the most effectively vicious teams (MA 7 AG 4 is great for setting up gang fouls), I think it's unheard of even on FUMBBL for Wood Elves to be run as a genuinely bashy team. Therefore, they are forced to depend on the agility game, with only selective, targetted blitzes and fouls.
Reliability of the blocking game vs the agility game
The agility game is inherently more unreliable than the blocking game. Even the most dependable agility roll (2+ with a re-roll) still fails 1 time in 36 attempts. Almost all agility roll failures end in turnovers (and Stand Firm is not available to Elves). The most dependable common Block (two dice in favour with Block skill and a re-roll1) fails 1 time in 1296 - or, to be totally accurate, that would be the chance of failure if coaches only ever re-rolled double skulls, and not any other result. Quadruple skulls might not feel that rare at times, but they are!
So: a careful blocking coach with plenty of re-rolls, who blocks only with Block players, and doesn't re-roll too many neutral results, can expect to go many games without seeing a turnover from their blocking. To block is a fairly safe action, offering fair returns, which tend to build up the more you make. This is why block maximisation (ie making as many two dice blocks as possible through chain-blocking and skill selections like Guard and Frenzy) is such a predominant style in third edition play that it sometimes seems universal.
In general however, Wood Elf coaches simply don't have the option of this strategy. What's the point in maximising your blocks against Orcs, say, when they tend just to get up again whenever you hit them? And hit back harder? Agility rolls - quite a lot of them - have to be made at some stage.
This is where the problems start. Other teams may envy Elves their 2+ with re-roll agility rolls, but sometimes forget that Wood Elves (at least) need to make a lot of these. Wood Elves may typically make about 5 or 6 dodges per turn (and not all of these will have a re-roll available, either due to Tackle, or lack of Dodge skill); add to this a fair number of ball-playing rolls that they will tend to make in their plays; and you can expect to make maybe as many as 100 'easy' 2+ rolls per match. Even in the highly unlikely event that all these rolls have re-rolls, that can be expected to translate into at least three double-one turnover events per match. Elf coaches: don't complain about your bad luck at rolling double-ones unless you can exceed this average!
The actual number of turnover events will probably be higher than three (due to some rolls being made without available re-rolls, and some requiring a 3+ because of tackle zones). So, while many teams with a block-based game can hope to go an entire match without experiencing a turnover event, Wood Elf coaches can expect at least 1 in 4 of their turnovers to be caused by failures: more with fewer skill and Team re-rolls, and more the riskier the plays that are attempted.
Stunty Leeg Turbo!
Of course, it is high movement which balances this out. While even four turns is an above average speed at which to score a caging touchdown against a serious defence, Wood Elves can easily score in two turns, and sometimes even in one. This means that you don't need your game to be perfectly reliable: if the dice come off for you just a few times in the match, that should produce enough touchdowns to beat anything a slower team might manage.
Some coaches know this as Stunty Leeg tactics: try some crazy, high pay-off move, and just hope it comes off. Wood Elves, however, can take stunty-style tactics to a new level, because: higher AG means that more of these crazy stunts will actually work; higher MA means that when they do work it is easier either to score from them, or to move the ball to where the opposition can't get it; Wood Elves are (somewhat) more survivable than stunty players (especially if they have Blodge), and so should usually have enough players remaining to carry on with these kind of tactics effectively throughout the whole match (7 is plenty, fewer can still be enough depending on the opposition).
The key to this kind of play is counter-intuitive to many coaches: do not block unless you have good reason! Just because you could bring up an assist to create a favourable two dice block with a Block player, does not mean you should automatically do so. Your opposition will almost always have higher AV, and you won't have much Mighty Blow or many other skills to counteract that. You are not going to win many games on a basis of eliminating more opposing players than the other coach does your own. Thus, choosing to block offers far more limited returns to a Wood Elf coach than to many.
More importantly, by choosing to block you lose flexibility in choosing where to place your (often few in number) elves. Assuming you have brought up one elf to assist, and used another to block, these are two elves, close together, who - even if they are not actually in an opposition player's tackle zone - are probably close to other opposing players, possibly in danger of being surrounded. If they are where you want them to be on the pitch for your overall strategy, this is fine. If they are now stuck in some irrelevant quarter of the pitch, it's not. Whenever you take a block action, that MA 7+ you paid out for is wasted - you might as well be an Orc!
If the ball goes loose elves already have the advantage. If they are spread out across the pitch that advantage is redoubled, all the more so if some are unmarked. Think about where the ball might go if it somehow went loose. If it is out wide, I even like to have some elves on the diagonals along which it would be thrown back in should it go out of play. It may be unlikely, but it's generally a better use of a spare Line-elf than as more block fodder for an opposing Black Orc.
Doing the risky things first
Dodging away instead of using a two dice block to push the opponent away is generally more risky, for all that it offers more flexibility. For that reason, my tendency with Wood Elves is actually often to do the most risky, high-return things first. When on offence, assuming I have the ball safe and deep, I will frequently do my blitz - or other effort to create an opening for the score - before dodging my Line-elves away, or making any block actions I plan to make. Similarly, on defence, if I mean to make an attempt at going for the ball-carrier, I will often do this straight away, instead of saving this often risky move till last.
The reason for this is that all those dodges away are risky! Far more risky than two dice blocks, as noted above. I do not want a turnover before I get the chance to make my big move, nor do I want to end up wasting a Team re-roll on something that matters far less to me than that big move!
What is more, if the big move does come off, I want to have players who still have yet to act and can capitalise on its success. This applies particularly on defence. If the Wardancer knocks the ball loose from a cage, it will often be possible for it to bounce clear to a huge number of different locations: wherever it ends up, I want to have a Line-elf not far away, who hasn't acted yet, available to cover that ball, and another to go for the riskier pick up, who can then attempt a throw to the elf who should always be waiting to score.
To be continued...