Do the Risky Things First? - Part 2
The previous issue of the GLN contained the first part of a two-part article on Wood Elf Tactics. It continues here.
Playing with Wood Elves Against Any Opposition
Luck and the big plays
Playing in this way, I have often (to my surprise) been called a 'lucker' by my opponent. Of course, the other coach may not realise that although there are times when I succeed in such a grandstanding play, there are also plenty when it goes wrong, and that I am painfully aware of that fact! However, because I will almost always score (or make the ball safe for a later score) whenever the big play does work, that is a trade-off I am happy to make.
Note that none of this should be taken as meaning that you should always go for the big play. Sometimes that Guard-packed cage with the Sure Hands ball-carrier is just too tough to attack. In such cases I recommend just ignoring the cage and blitzing and gang-fouling a selected opponent: Wood Elves who suddenly seem to ignore the ball and foul can provoke an angry response from the opponent, which may also mean a less well-protected ball next turn.
Many disciplined coaches won't care how much you foul though, and won't let it disrupt their plan. Sometimes you just can't break a cage: and there is no sense in man-marking with fragile elves in a futile effort to slow one down. If you feel lucky, and have your apothecary in reserve, throw the Wardancer in: but don't put the entire team at risk.
A more advanced form of this risk-based strategy can add some even more unusual elements. For example, I will sometimes offer the opposing coach a shot at a blitz on my ball-carrier: but only if the opposing player will have to Go For It to do so, and I have spare players near the ball and don't think the opposing team is likely to secure it. Often the other coach gives in to temptation, and you are rewarded by a failed GFI, skulls, or just a neutral block result. Even if your ball-carrier is taken down, you should be able to collect the ball again next turn: and the opposing coach has used his blitz against the player you wanted him to, and not where he necessarily would have chosen otherwise.
Of course, you have to accept that every once in a while when you try this the Orc Blitzer will make his GFIs and roll a POW! to take down your Wardancer, the ball will scatter neatly for the Orc Thrower who will make his GFIs, pick it up, and throw it accurately to a pack of Orc players who will quickly cage around it. When you live by agility rolls, sometimes you will die by agility rolls.
Another extra spice to the mix is elf-stalling. Far more risky than ordinary stalling, this assumes that most of the opposing team has been sucked out of position into the middle of the field, and there are only a few opposing players anywhere near their own end zone. With fast movement, and screens or semi-cages, the ball can often be made almost certainly safe while delaying the touchdown. Against teams with little passing ability, even if your ball-carrier does get knocked down, you should usually be able to snatch up the ball and score nonetheless. While elf-stalling, you can also get in a few SPP-earning completions.
The point of elf-stalling is not to stall for an entire half: this is rarely practical. Instead it is to give the opposition just a little less time to score. The strategy of slow teams against Wood Elves is to make you score quickly, so that they can score safely at their own pace, caging, stalling, and brutalising your team all the way. Your priority is to give them less time, forcing them to hurry their game, increasing the chance that they will make a mistake before they get the ball into a cage. Wood Elves can get the ball out of a cage, of course, but it's far easier when an Orc trips on a GFI he wouldn't have had to attempt if he'd had more time, and your Catchers can grab the ball in the open field and score themselves.
The limits of this style
This style of Wood Elf game is much less effective against an opposing team which is comparably mobile and agile. Against other elves, Wood Elves at least still have a slight MA advantage, but Skaven are certainly the most fearsome opponents for them to face. (Please note that when facing other elves or Skaven, almost none of the above should be taken to be good advice!)
On paper, the Skaven list is slightly slower, but in practice Skaven teams can usually afford all four MA 9 Gutter Runners, while for Wood Elves four Catchers would be a rare luxury. Skaven have the pace to cope with all your efforts to outmanoeuvre them; Gutter Runners have the agility to capitalise on your failures however much you try to shield the ball from them; and when you do score, Skaven can match your ability to equalise in one turn. All this would make it a pretty even match-up, except that many Skaven teams will also throw in a Blockle Stormvermin or Linerat, whose Claw has your Wardancer's name on it ...
In addition, there are certain skill mixes that any opposing team might have which upset this kind of coaching approach entirely. Diving Tackle (especially in combination with Stand Firm), Tentacles, and an excess of Tackle are the worst culprits. Fortunately these skills tend to be relatively rare: I would rather put my Wood Elf team up against a team whose main threat was a single Claw/RSC Blockle blitz each turn, than against a whole team of Diving Tackle Tacklers. Against such a side, resorting to a block-based strategy again can become the only option, and it's not an attractive prospect.
In the end, the pure agility game, in which you often make an average of just one block (the blitz) per turn, is not one to rely on for making sure of winning any individual game, and thus may not really be a tournament style. Sometimes I will have a game when one of the first one or two dodges of each turn just keeps failing: the Luck% for such a match can look awful, but as it is based on a smaller sample (since early turnovers have meant that I have rolled fewer dice in total during the game) this is misleading. The style in which you win the games where things go well (which should be the considerable majority) more than makes up for the nasty ones.
Team and skill selection for the agility game
The Wardancer is the beating, blitzing heart of the agility game. From the start of his career, he has the key skills he needs for it: Dodge and Block to stay on his feet when blocked; Dodge again to make his escape from opponents; Block again as he is your first choice as the player with whom to blitz; Leap to get into the tightest cages, and equally to get out of the tightest man-marking. I would not consider making a new Wood Elf team without including a Wardancer. The main problem with the Wardancer is resisting the easy route of scoring with him: try not to let his SPP count outrun that of your Line-elves by too much.
A Wardancer needs skills to help blitz the ball-carrier - Tackle and Strip Ball - and to keep himself alive - Sidestep (essential for minimising chain-blocks when you leave him close to the opponents). Sure Hands can also be a good choice, as a Wardancer will often end up holding, or wanting to pick up, the ball one way or another.
Mighty Blow is attractive on doubles as you might as well make your team's infrequent blocks count, and Wardancers do most of the hitting. Dauntless might seem useful for evening the odds against some teams, but remember that overall you will never dependably be able to match those teams at a block-based game. Frenzy can be effective if deployed carefully, but tends to lure a Wardancer into unsafe positions.
Catchers are a luxury on a Wood Elf team: you don't need them in order to score unless you have an unhealthy obsession with one-turn-touchdowns. Block is essential for their survival, especially given ST 2. Sidestep is again a default choice. Sure Hands can again be attractive as, with MA 9 and Dodge, a Catcher can reach a ball that has been knocked loose almost anywhere on the pitch. The option of one-turning is well-known. As with Wardancers, the problems can come if you skill too fast with Catchers: use them to set up other players for TDs whenever possible.
Throwers are similarly a luxury item for a Wood Elf side, as any elf can pass reasonably and Throwers do not start with Sure Hands. A Thrower only generally becomes a key part of a side when he specialises by acquiring a few skills becoming either: a Long Bomb Thrower with Strong Arm, Safe Throw and Accurate; or more rarely the prime ball-carrier in a more adventurous running style, with the likes of Block, Dodge, Nerves of Steel and Dump Off. You have to give this guy the ball a lot of course, so he needs Sure Hands to help make this dependable; or alternatively Catch if you prefer to collect the ball with a Sure Hands Catcher, or with a Lineman you want to skill up.
Treemen are considered essential by some Wood Elf coaches, but in my opinion this is only the case if a coach is still wedded to the block-based game. Even with a Tree, winning the block battle will be a massive uphill struggle. At higher TRs, a Treeman does become ever more and more important for absorbing a little of the damage that can be dealt out by Claw/RSC monsters, Mighty Blow Tacklers, and Dirty Players. The usual Big Guy progression rules apply. Multi-blocking with a Tree is indeed cool, but is probably not something to base your plays on.
Linemen are critical players to the Wood Elf team, and never just LoS fodder. 7 3 4 7 is the stat line of a ball-playing dynamo! Faster than many teams' positionals, these players are well capable of doing almost anything, with only a little favour from Nuffle filling their sails. And once they get Block and Dodge ...
In addition to Blodge, it should be mentioned that it is very important for strategic reasons to take Kick very early on one Lineman. Good use of the Kick skill will significantly increase the number of touchdowns you will get on the opponent's offence. Guard is an excellent choice on doubles, but Guard-elves need to be used tactically in support of the Wardancer, not as part of an effort to out-block the entire opposing team.
The full range of options in developing your Wood Elf Linemen goes beyond the scope of this article.
Elfing it with other team lists
Some of the experience a coach gains by trying out this kind of strategy with Wood Elves can come in useful when running other teams. It's not advisable as a default strategy for most, but when it is turn 8 and there is still a chance to score, I see many coaches who still take all the two dice blocks before making the attempt at the TD.
Those two dice blocks may be unlikely to fail, but there is a fair chance (at least 1 in 36 for each one) that they will use up your Team re-roll for the turn: and you need that re-roll in order to have the best chance of succeeding at that long shot scoring effort. When these circumstances arrive, in my opinion it's time to play like Wood Elves, and do the risky thing first!