While the question ”How can I learn to play better?” has been asked countless times (and how much BB is all about luck is another never-ending debate), why write about positioning? This isn’t a game of chess or even football, its BLOOD BOWL. Just enjoy the carnage and be happy! Perhaps because for some people, enjoyment can be found in the often grueling task of personal growth, of getting better no matter how small the steps. And what started me on this path was the possibilities of double entendre in the word positional. I believe this is a game of many aspects, and usually the difference between good players are the very small things. These different aspects include, and not limited to, risk-management, clock control, team building, planning, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of different rosters, taunting your opponent and being on good terms with Nuffle.
While improvement in general is a highly abstract and hard to measure, improvement in one specific area can be made faster, and with visible results. That is why if this article feels limited, it is because it is meant to be. The other aspects of course influence your positional play, but they will only be referred to in relation to it. But enough foreplay, lets get to to the first big question. What is positional play? Saying it is how you place your pieces on the board would make a really short story, so we’ll try to be a bit better. In one sentence, how you place your players determines the dice rolls you and your opponent will make.
Skills to Consider
The first thing to do if you want to get into a positional set of mind, is to make a change in your expectation of how the dice rolls turn up. This is also written mostly from the point of view of a “bashy” team, because those are the ones I have most experience with. One thing to do is, instead of assuming every block you throw will at least knock your opponent prone, think what happens if it is just a pushback. Can I continue my blocking scheme or do I have to make change?. Same for ball-related rolls, how will the turn look if I fumble this throw? Will the ball still be safe or can my opponent steal it with ease? I don’t want to force pessimism on people, but here it certainly helps. Another helpful assumption is to not to expect to remove opposing players. Plan on them making their armour saves and when they don’t it will be a boon. We’ll get back to that later, but first some lists and, because I like lists. Listing always makes me feel more confident and knowledgeable and stuff. While all skills on players have some influence, there are some skills that are primarily positional in nature. Furthermore, I have divided into three groups called active, passive and holding skills.
Active skills are Block, Tackle, Guard, Juggernaut, Jump Up, Leap, Frenzy, Grab, Wrestle and Strip Ball. All these skills influence the control you have on your blocking and then chances of getting a favourable result on your own actions, or make more options available for you to do. For example with Grab and Frenzy (on two different players), any player in contact with the Grabber and 3 squares from the sidelines is a possible target for crowd surfing. And just having a Strip Baller waiting means that your opponent must carry the ball with a Sure Hands player or risk getting it stolen on decent odds. The point is, just having certain skills can force your opponent into playing or not playing in a certain way, one that is hopefully more beneficial to you, like forcing Elves to break through a Dwarven line instead of running around it.
Passive skills include Block, Wrestle, Guard, Dodge, Stand Firm, Fend and Sidestep. All these skills decrease the odds of successful blocks on your players and increase the risks they have to take. For example trying to blitz a Blodge Stand Firm player next to the sideline to make a route for the rest of your team, if it is no longer enough just to push him then they might have to use a reroll early just to get that POW, or make some risky leaps or dodges if it fails. Or having your ballcarrier marked by a Blodge Sidestepper, you have to spend your blitz move on him or risk a dodge. Which brings us to the last list of skills, ones meant for holding your opponent in place.
Holding skills are the shortest and most exclusive list, meaning they are less available to most teams. Diving Tackle, Tackle, Prehensile Tail and Tentacles. 2 mutations, one agility and one general skill which is also weakest for this role. Maybe Shadowing would fit here if it wasn't such a weak skill. Their job is to either keep opponents in place because they can’t or won’t dodge away or force turnovers due to failed dodges. While mass Tentacles are my favourite, getting stuck in a Blodging, Sidestepping, Diving Tackle Elves is at least as painful. However, having these skills can be very important, especially against Elves and other teams that can dodge away to reset any position you might want to force on them. All of these skills, when and where you have them and how you use them, are what makes this game so interesting.
In a sense, positional play is all about control and how much you have it versus your opponent. Controlling how many blocks you opponent can take, who they can block or if they can even take 2 dice blocks at all. It is all about giving less options to your opponent and making them riskier to fail and harder to pass. You also want to control as much of pitch as possible and leave as little as possible for the opponent to move in. Make the sidelines unsafe by having Frenzy, make blocking you players unsafe by having Stand Firm / Sidestep / Jump Up so they risk getting blocked back if they fail, or having Fend so they cannot keep in contact with your players if they block them. The point of most of these skills listed is that they let you control where your and opponents players are placed. It is usually not possible to take away everything they have unless the game is a real mismatch or dice are one-sided, but you can usually make their rolls harder or riskier. Just pushing any roll from 2+ to 3+, or taking away an reroll can be huge when the ball is involved.
The basics of positional play can be best learned by looking at the setups for kicking off and doing one-turn scores, which can be found easily in the help section of FUMBBL. Beyond that, the best way is just to think what your opponent is probably going to do, and proceed to place your players so its as hard as possible to accomplish. So just play the game, and think about what you are doing. However, here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that might prove useful.
Some Numbers, or the Rule of 5
And now for something completely different, a few not so random numbers. The pitch is 15 squares wide, and can be covered fully in tackle zones by 5 players. Not coincidentally, most strength teams have exactly 4 blocker type players with high strength and a big guy. Or 5 rookie players can fully protect their more valuable teammates in a “column defence”, ie. where 2 players are placed in short rows and spaced 2 squares apart. Also, if you want to use a skill effectively you should have it on 5 players, especially holding skills. That way they can cover the entire field with the effect of the skill.
Its all About Speed / Strength, Baby
One thing that I always try to keep in mind is the accumulated total strength of the team on the field. For example a team of Human linemen has a total strength of 33, while Orcs with a Troll have have 39, while a full team of Lizards has 37 but its divided more unevenly. The thing is, if there is a wide difference in strength the team with more strength on field should normally want to keep in contact, while the weaker team would like to keep players free so they can focus in taking down a player with numbers. The same thing goes if one team is significantly faster than the other, the slow team wants to prevent a breakthrough they cannot hope to catch up to.
Guard is one way to overcome a strength difference, and even 1 Guard on an Elf team can make a huge difference. Suddenly even ST4 players on the sidelines can be targeted with 2 dice blocks, making way for their teammates to rush through the hole. Or a Leaping Guard paired with a Leaping Strip Baller makes caging almost redundant unless you can spare your own Guards on each corner of the cage, instead of just 2 opposite corners. Another use of Guards is to have two of them standing side by side in contact to an opposing player, preventing them from taking 2 or even 1 dice blocks without significant assistance from their team.
One last thing to remember about total strength is that in this matter, the attacking team is actually at a slight disadvantage, because they have a player carrying the ball who you don’t want to place at risk. Sure, they might get a small numbers advantage from blocking at the line of scrimmage, but if the numbers remain the same they are essentially playing with 1 man less. So the question to ask yourself when making decisions is, who is stronger and faster?
Holding the Line
As mentioned before, 5 players are enough to cover the width of the entire field. But a line of 5 is still broken through quite easily. This is why with certain teams I like to place a second player standing next to them when kicking on defence, and to place this line just one square behind the scrimmage. The point of this is especially against physically weaker teams to deny them any easy blocking opportunities and breakthroughs. This all depends on if they are able to make extra blocks easily with a Quick Snap kick off event, but if the answer is no then it’s a good way to make the game hard for them straight away. And if your opponent sets up for a Quick Snap he will also be vulnerable to Blitz! and Perfect Defence. Especially teams with lot of guard want to hold clean lines from sideline to sideline at all times if possible, starting from the kick off.
Every Ship Needs TWO Anchors
To successfully hold a line there is a special kind of player needed, who will be placed nearest to the sideline in the position where they usually get blitzed by opponents looking to break through. This player should optimally have high strength, Stand Firm and Blodge. And as the line has two ends, you need two of these players. It can be said it’s a game of inches out there, where a pushback or a failure to get one can decide a game. This is another reason why I think juggernaut is an underrated skill, because very often in closely fought games just getting that one push is enough to make a difference.
Use Their Players Against Them
A good analogy for a positional game is to say it’s a pushing one-turn attempt that lasts 16 turns. And the art of chainpushing your players using the opponents is one that should not be limited to just one-turn attempts. And it’s a thing that can often be missed by your opponent, who thinks his ballcarrier is safely out of range of your players, especially when you both have a lot of players in contact. Another trick is filling crucial positions with prone players, if they only have 1 square to go through failing a dodge to it can be the best move, especially as prone players cannot be blocked away. You could call this tactic the “wall of bodies”, just have to hope your armour holds.
This is the Conclusion, so Where is all the Concrete Advice?
The best part about having a positional frame of mind is that it is not tied down to specific setups or formations. Surely the help section is full of different nicely illustrated setups for one-turn scores and kick offs, but as the game goes on the possibilities are too broad to include in any one guide. Instead, you just have to think what your opponent is going to try to do, and stop them or make it as hard as possible. You are playing against the mind of the opponent and not just rolling dice. Sometimes if you make scoring look too unlikely they might just not try it because they don’t want to fail. Or they come up with something you didn’t think of and catch you by surprise. At least for me, those games of interplay between coaches are the hardest and the most fun.