Interview with Neoliminal
GLN: Hello John Lewis - for some better known as Neoliminal. For those who might not be familiar with your name, could you explain to us who you are?
I've been playing Blood Bowl since it first entered the market. Paper sheets and all. As the game evolved so did the way I interacted with it. When it finally matured to the Death Zone supplement it reached a maturity level where entire communities started to play. Leagues formed, rivalries began, and my enthusiasm for the game was infectious.
At the time I lived in Ann Arbor, MI. We had several core players and many leagues were played. Online newsgroups started to become part of my daily life and Blood Bowl was no exception. I had very strong opinions about the game and online I butted heads with several other coaches who also were strong minded. My particular beef was with fouling, which I felt was very over powered (which it was.)
I would travel to play in tournaments, in particular the tournaments in Toronto run by a great league there. It was then I realized two things. I would always be a second best Blood Bowl player. Just slightly above average. I have a long history of coming in second at tournaments.
I helped found the BBRC (more on this later).
There was talk of starting a dedicated player run club. Something world wide and I had big ambitions. Christer, Anthony, and many many others dove in with me and we started NAF. We had rankings and a website and, most importantly, for keeping the site alive, we had special Block Dice. Honestly, the group would never have stayed quite so competitive if we didn't have different Block Dice every year. I got to pick the first years colour and I wanted the exact opposite of what was in the game. Black and Gold. Getting my hands on the first set was like being a king among minions. They didn't block any better, but they felt like they did.
I got to travel to England and play in the Blood Bowl resurrection at Games Workshop. It was their largest event, ever. Amazing, eye opening, and pushing the limits of what Jervis had created into a full blown explosion.
After a few years of being the President of the NAF and being on the BBRC I had to retire from running things. I had burned myself out, running tournaments, travelling and recruiting. It came at a time when I needed to get away from gaming and so I stepped down, reluctantly, from all my positions of power. Blood Bowl never left my heart. I feel it is an amazing game and I've learned so much from its design.
Now I live in Costa Rica, and no one here has even heard of Games Workshop, much less Blood Bowl. I played on the "official" version for awhile and enjoyed it, but my internet connection here is not great and the FUMMBL client is much better for that. Now I play here.
GLN: How did you come into contact with the Blood Bowl game?
My first contact was in a hobby store in Ann Arbor. One of the salesmen there showed it to me and I freaked out. It looked amazing. I purchased it and a Halfling team (from blisters) immediately. The salesman and I ended up living together and that's when the first league started with the new rules. It just grew from there. Shane would sell Blood Bowl at the hobby store and we would have a new coach.
GLN: What would you consider your favourite team to play and why?
I love playing Orcs like they were Elves. My best painted team was my "Blue Orcs". Horridly ugly bastards that colour clashed something wild Orange and Blue. I joke that I won some games just because the Orcs were hard to look at. I eventually sold them online to someone in the EU. Not sure where they are now. I miss them.
I enjoy the passing game, but since I only had the Orcs, I learned to play them like High Elves. It takes a lot of Re-Rolls but you can dodge and pass with a nice doubles roll on a Blitzer. He does need a cage and if he falls, well he has a nice high armour value.
GLN: How much Blood Bowl do you get to play these days?
Much to my wife's disagreement I'm averaging about a game or two a day recently. Not sure how long my luck will last with that because we have a newborn daughter and our restaurant will be coming into tourist season which requires more attention. Most of my games are played late at night, Costa Rica time.
GLN: How did you get involved with the NAF?
It was Jervis' idea to start an organization outside of GW control. He gave us wide latitude to use some terms, like NAF. He sold us the NAF Blocking Dice and provided them every year. I became the President by default since we didn't have an election process yet. It progressed through the work of many many people. Luminaries of the early days.
At the time of the NAF there was a great forum in place and we were trying not to duplicate the use of that forum. We made the NAF an exclusive club. If you wanted to look at the content you had to join. Again, I think most joined for the dice.
GLN: How did you get involved in the BBRC between LRB1 and LRB5?
I was on a newsgroup dedicated to Blood Bowl and at the time Jervis would come and go as he could, which wasn't much. I noticed it was all too much for him so I offered to be his front man on the newsgroup, collecting questions and giving them to him all at once and then returning the answers. He liked the idea and after a couple of posts he came up with the idea for the BBRC.
Here's something I've never shared before. I was actually responsible for picking the first online members. I never spoke of this before because there was already so much tension in those days. Too many disagreements about different rules. It was a hard decision process because as he had outlined it, we would be looking over the entire rules set and fixing problems we found there.
I purposely chose some members because I didn't agree with them, but I respected their knowledge and enjoyment of the game. Chet and I fought like cats and dogs online, but he knew his stuff and I never regretted bringing him on. I also had to cut one of my friends from the short list because we were from the same league and I wanted a range of experiences. I would often consult with him about some ideas because he was really the best player I have ever seen, but I couldn't include him. (His name is Doug Webber.)
I also made sure to bring in players from around the world where possible.
As the group evolved from consultants to full blown developers it taxed our time greatly. Debates were often backed as much by anecdotes as by statistics. Playtesting happened in our own leagues.
So it all started with a simple email to Jervis Johnson, who I respect greatly for his even handed game design and his ability to muster disparate opinions.
GLN: Are there any rules you miss from older versions of the game?
The cards. They could be game changers or they could be duds, but your opponent never knew. It was most fun playing them on the opponents turn, tripping the player just as they tried to enter the end zone or some other evil trick. It was extremely fun playing over the board with a card in hand and your opponent sweating his every move.
GLN: Why did you stop working with the BBRC for CRP and what are your thoughts on how CRP turned out?
The BBRC has achieved everything I had wanted to see. Players were going to retire after a time, teams didn't have an unstoppable upward spiral, lower teams weren't demolished on the pitch by designated foulers. I had done everything I wanted and more and I was tired. There's only so much you can debate rules until you realize you are saying the same things over and over. In the end, I wanted to create my own games and that didn't seem to jive with being on the BBRC, so I retired.
GLN: I guess we have to ask - what are your thoughts on the perceived CPOMB problem?
The problem here is Piling On, which wasn't used much previously because no one would dare to leave one of their players laying on the pitch for fear of them getting fouled. The skill allows you to Re-Roll Armour or Injury, which was something we removed from the game for standard Re-Rolls. Claw is essentially an equalizer to bring high AV players down, but because it allows modifiers the MB will bring that down to a 7 or more roll.
I've read some house rules that suggest changing Piling On to require a following up roll (similar to a Leap roll) to work. This makes sense on both a game balance and a fluff view. I would use such a rule if I were running my own league.
Having said that, every Sword has a Shield. Elves worry less about the CPOMB because their armour was already low. Fend and Wrestle deflect the problem a bit, but that means you need a dedicated player for each CPOMB you expect to play against. What I find most humorous about it is that it mirrors the problems we had with fouling years ago.
GLN: What are your feelings and concerns on the current state of the game, post BBRC disbanding, Cyanide calling the shots with the creation of the Khorne roster and the prospect of no future rules updates?
I think the rules are good enough now to stand the test of time. You can win with any team, with luck or with skill, in any given game. Cyanide needs to make sales so of course they are adding new teams to the mix. They want people to jump on the newest teams just like GW wants players to buy the latest models. It's a continuation of the old GW system.
GLN: What are your feelings on the Khorne roster, and do you think this should be an official roster?
The team fails to justify the "creating a new position" rules I outlines years ago. You can find those rules here.
In particular they have the most common of errors, Over Description.
"Many new players are "over described". This often comes when designers attempt to convey every aspect of a player. Over description is characterized by players with too many skills or stat variations."
Not leaving growth potential for the new player
Often new players are created with a complete set of skills that round them out. This leaves no room for growth for the new player.
GLN: Why did it take you so long to come back to FUMBBL after your brief stint in 2003?
Christer and I worked so hard together to make NAF a reality. He was the programmer behind the whole thing and we worked together on some of the meta concepts like the ELO system and how to clean the ratings when tournament reports were entered out of date sequence. I joined here to see how the online game worked and I enjoyed playing here, but I was still playing over the table top. It gave me a chance to try new teams and I liked it, but I honestly thought GW would crush it legally at some point.
I was wrong, thankfully. I joined back up when I couldn't get the "official" client to load on my Mac. Luckily Christer has a Mac too so I'm safe.
GLN: How would you describe your current feelings towards Games Workshop?
I think they are a great company struggling with moving their production of miniatures into a world increasingly playing on computers. Many of their old guard still want to play over the table games and I see no problem with this, but I think if they are going to continue to grow they need to accept and expand into the digital realm.
The most common gripe I hear is that they are always releasing new rules and new models that upset the balance of their games, and while this is likely true it has served them well over the years. They would have closed their doors years ago if they didn't. I wish them all the best, particularly Jervis.
GLN: If there were any changes to the rules you could make for LRB7, or any old rules you would like to see return what would they be?
I always wanted a rule called "Progressive GFI". This rule would allow you unlimited movement, but with an ever increasing chance of failure. One example, your first GFI would be a 2+, your second 3+, etc. In play testing it was found that this was too powerful for some teams (re: Dwarves) and that no one ever felt "safe". It also made people feel that anyone could one turn score (which was something I felt was needed, but at high risk.) It never panned out. I think if I had it to work on again I would have it as 2+, 4+, 6+, 6+… and this would simultaneously lower the current chances of one turn scores while allowing for other teams to have a very minor chance at it.
Aside from that perhaps splitting Block into two parts, offensive and defensive. This was patched by including Fend and Wrestling, so it's not that big of a deal now.
I want to thank Jervis for every kindness and for all his support over the years. He taught me much about game design and he is a great person. I also want to thank Christer for building this site and making it available to everyone!