Blood Bowl is often a frightfully difficult game to talk about. If I had a pound for every time I asked a friend ‘How did your game go?’ and then immediately wished that I had not; my eyes glazing over as I drift in and out of conversation… ‘I rolled a 1. This guy died… (I wonder what’s for dinner later)… then a Blitz!.. (that’s a lovely picture on the wall behind him. I wonder where that came from?)… and finally, I punched him in the face (wait, what?!)’… I’d probably have approximately £274. We all remember ‘key’ dice rolls and incidents immediately after the battle; but we rarely pick over the minutiae of a drive. The tactics, the strategy, the decisions, and how they underpin a result.
Luckily, we have a super tool with Kalimar’s client. A tool that we can use to record a game and then break it down, work out it where it was won and lost, analyse positions with the benefit of distance, a cup of tea and hindsight that you cannot in the heat of battle. You may have rolled a 1, but did you need to? What led to the position where you had to try to roll a 2? The dice are never as interesting or as important as the decision making when going over a game; afterall, you can’t learn from dice.
Joemanji had the idea that we, as an interesting tactics article, should find a pair of willing combatants / test subjects, ask them to play and then analyse their game. Luckily for us, Stonetroll and happygrue agreed it might be a good idea (mwhaha, the fools!), and the below is some analysis (between the four of us) of what happened.
The game can be found here. My suggestion is that you fire up the replay, and following each turn, take the time to read the in-depth commentary of the coaches. Decide if you agree with their reasoning, their rationale. Discard dice rolls from your analysis; luck is not the interest of the day here. You will also find below some ‘key points’ that I have highlighted with some analysis of my own. Do you agree with my thinking? Is everyone, the coaches and the commentators alike, wrong? Is it even a key point? I hope this will form a rewarding hour or so of your time, and leave you with something to think about going into future games of your own. Or, it’s utter garbage and you’ll be renewed in your knowledge of your own tactical mastery. Either way, worth a go!
Let’s remember that, as with any sport or game. it’s always easier to watch than play. We have never made a mistake spectating, we are always perfect. Luckily, yhis is quality Blood Bowl right here, and much of what follows are simply ideas or interesting points for discussion. No-one is right or wrong, but talking about this stuff is fun! Disclaimers over; let’s begin.
happygrue and Stonetroll are FUMBBL veterans of over 5000 combined games. They’re well known as two of the site’s big guns; two men to spec as and when you get the chance. I have locked horns with both of these individuals in the past, and I look forward to a tough game when I next get the chance to do so. This classic bash v agility showdown is a game to savour.
For Stonetroll: 13 Orcs. 3 Stand Firm in total, 2 BOBs and a Troll, an MB / Tackle / DT Blitzer (handy against Elves), an MA7 ST 4 Blitzer and no Thrower. For happygrue: 11 High Elves. A superb MA9 AG5 Catcher, an MB Frenzy Catcher and some all important Blodge Guard on a Blitzer. An interesting choice in a Grab Blitzer too. The TV is middling, the teams are interesting, and the stage is set.
Before Kickoff: Orcs induce a Chainsaw and win FAME. Elves win the toss, elect to receive.
<Stonetroll> lets have a good game
<happygrue> have fun!
<Stonetroll> I was thinking I'll try out the saw for this one
<Stonetroll> its sort of random, but I like it against blodge
<happygrue> That makes this choice harder - I almost always kick, but with a saw in play I'm not sure...
<happygrue> I also like to play Defense with more players, and I probably won't have 11 next half
<happygrue> yep, agreed
<Stonetroll> for this I think I just want to keep 2 guys back for blitzing, in this case the saw and the tackler
<Stonetroll> and this forward set up is kind of what I like to do with stronger teams these days
<happygrue> I thought you might have tried to stuff the diving tackler on the LOS, but I think your setup is solid.
ELF TURN 1
<Stonetroll> but, you're just giving away 1 square backwards here, not too bad
<Stonetroll> and controlling most of the space too
The Kickoff Recovery
The first interjection on my part comes as early as the kickoff. Stonetroll is defending the flanks with Stand Firm (SF) and the centre with high ST SF. happygrue has the big Catcher near the ball, the Guard mobile and has passively backed away from the Orcs. As he notes in his chat, what to hit? A common Elven tactic, ‘suck and go’ (inviting the bashers forward only to spring the trap and accelerate past them) is offered, Stonetroll will doubtless attempt to ‘hold the line’. happgrue’s passive beginning is aligned with my conservative agility tendencies, and Stonetroll’s initial setup attempts to generate tempo by not giving the Elves an easy beginning. Quality ‘feeling out’ in the early rounds of the contest.
Much of the flow and tempo of the first half now depends on how Stonetroll approaches passive Elves. Will he tie up Linemen and try to induce a 2+ failure, or trap one or two in 3+ dodge situations? Will he passively hold the line around half way? Will he throw the ‘Saw into action or leave it as the threat happygrue knows is lurking?
ORC TURN 1
<happygrue> but what I'm going to do is just sit back here and make the orcs do something, while I look for a hole
<Stonetroll> and I don't really want to overcommit on your defence just yet
<Stonetroll> nothing too big yet, just pushing them back a little
Getting Past the Ball
At the beginning of turn 2, happygrue makes a decision that may shape his whole drive. With one Guard and a wall of pretty strong looking Orcs ahead of him, punching through the line is going to be tricky. It appears Stonetroll is not going to simply dive in and give him something easy. Getting a man ‘ahead of the ball’ is important for any team on any drive; neatly moving a square forward a turn with the cage at the front of your formation is a recipe for shipwreck on the rocks of a ‘double banked’ or flat defence. Leaving a receiver in the opposing half sucks a marker out of the defensive line (you can’t just leave him there), and can be a pivot around which an offence moves. It’s also important not to be too passive. Consider turn 2 from the High Elves, would you have moved forward here, or awaited something better? With the man ahead, the ball was transferred to the super fast, agile Catcher. I like this move from the Elves; making the punch through in the middle or late in a drive can be fraught with danger on a few pushes or a 1. happy alludes to farming spp with the Catchers in the game text as a reason why the Blitzer makes the move, but I like the fastest men being close to the ball, and AV7 hidden. When the explosive movement comes, it can be decisive.
Stonetroll now had to acknowledge the threat of a man ahead of the ball and respond.
(Key: 1, Guard area target, 2 movable Orcs, 3 Player to move through the line, circle, target area)
ELF TURN 2
<Stonetroll> only one elf through, so I can mark him
ORC TURN 2
<happygrue> I'm still not sure if I will end up needing to score fast or will end up trying to stall this out, but I wanted to do something threatening to make the orcs change up from "just bash and stand"
<Stonetroll> and don't want to GFI to blitz here yet, it looks like a bait
<happygrue> good bait: as this is my strip baller, but also a saw or MB blitz might backfire anyway
<Stonetroll> I think I'll just sandwich him for the future
<Stonetroll> and hope the troll wakes up eventually
<happygrue> ideally, I would not have use that blitzer, as I want to protect him - but due to my running catchers back to farm SPP passes, I didn't have a catcher who could get through
<happygrue> so that innocent pass turns out to cost me some position here
ELF TURN 3
<happygrue> we're just going to run back and stall
<Stonetroll> yeah that is the problem with speed sometimes, if you can get out of range you are 100 % safe for that turn
ORC TURN 3
<Stonetroll> still, even sending a slow guy back is worth it, but here is where I should have sent my stat freak
<happygrue> as he could have been surfed
<Stonetroll> I was looking for that
<happygrue> some risk, as I really didn't want to use a RR on any of that, and catcher had to dodge away without dodge, among other things
<happygrue> if I had used a RR and failed somewhere on that turn I would have been in a relatively poor position, without scoring threats and with lots of contact
<Stonetroll> stuns are good
<Stonetroll> and your guys are slow enough that I have time to react now if you got down
<happygrue> so now one blitzer is quite pinned, both catchers are down and the other blitzer was stunned
<happygrue> so options are very limited - that was far better than trying to surf for the Orcs IMO
ELF TURN 4
<Stonetroll> and with the guard out for a turn there is no easy way to hit the saw and get rid of him that way
<happygrue> we're going to try to hang back with the ball and start to get elves into that empty space in the bottom
ORC TURN 4
Forcing the Issue
At the end of the fourth Elf turn, happy had dropped the ball back, knowing the fast, agile Catcher could launch the ball almost where he wanted it to go at any time. It was a passive move that knowingly surrendered some tempo. There were a few Elves deep, and the Orcs were not the flat, immovable wall they once were. With no armour breaks. Stonetroll had to do something to change the half – this Elfstall was going too well. The answer was contact and pushing forward to pressure the ball. The end of the turn left happy needing to roll dice. None of the Linemen had Dodge, everything at this point was dangerous. Stonetroll had successfully wrestled back a chunk of the initiative. Did too many Elves advance, not leaving enough layers between the Orcs and the ball allowing easy escape? Was this Orc smothering just too good? Crucially, the ‘Saw was advanced, leaving happy knowing that he had a decision to make.
ELF TURN 5
<happygrue> I have several 2+ rolls to get the ball anywhere safe, and no good passing options
<Stonetroll> still, feels like I really should have used the fast blitzer to threaten the ball instead of doing linebacker work
<happygrue> I could use the ball to tag his wrestle lino and then blitz with my blitzer, trying to setup a little cage there near midfield, but that could end in disaster
<Stonetroll> saw and bobs are really not good for that
<happygrue> we're going to try something with some risk, but that would make the ball safe, then we can try to work on scoring threats
<Stonetroll> but at least the saw can reach every square on this side now with GFI's
<Stonetroll> and there is a critical snake
<happygrue> that is a costly mistake
<happygrue> the snake is unfortunate, but really, I should not have dodged there
Even though the ‘Saw went down, a roll failed. Whilst the turnover was caused by a snake, happy knew that the Elf standing still to be hit would have been successful 100 % of the time, rather than dodging 35/36 times.
A BOB was free to take down the ball deep in the High Elven half.
ORC TURN 5
<Stonetroll> it still needs the bob to sack him with a POW
<happygrue> I should have just left that lino to tie up the BOB and then start dodging elves up the pitch
<happygrue> if I stay up, it's looking like maybe I will be trying to run away now and just run the ball in
<happygrue> with 1 RR left and several turns, I really don't want a passing play that could leave me with 0 RR
<Stonetroll> I'm going to keep that lineorc for last just in case the ball gets free and bounces my way, so I wouldn't have to pick up with the black orc
<Stonetroll> foul doesn't need to move for it right?
<Stonetroll> so the lineman has a more important job now, just need to stun the ag5
<happygrue> pickup was an interesting choice there
<Stonetroll> I would much rather trust some 2+ rolls than a crucial 4+ pickup
<happygrue> 2+ 4+ and then maybe I don't get it back
<happygrue> or if it fails, I have an EASY pickup and am away
With the breakthrough achieved, happy was in trouble. But for how long? In the event the Catcher could simply stand up, the ball could still be miles away next turn. Stonetroll’s decision was to foul the Catcher. It must have been a difficult choice between the high reward Foul and the BOB pickup, as the text describes. The foul is about 60 % for a stun +, the pickup 70 % with a TRR having GFI’d, but those numbers don’t tell the entire story, numbers never do. Stonetroll chose not to try and maximise his breakthrough by picking up (he could have then fouled ¾ of the time), and it’s an interesting discussion point.
ELF TURN 6
<happygrue> now I have a an easy 2+ dodge with dodge, a 2+ pickup thanks to ag 5 and can run far enough to be dangerous
<happygrue> though any failure here is going to be costly
<Stonetroll> but on the other hand your prone catcher can free up the scorers there, so it should be worth it
<happygrue> hard call
<Stonetroll> but 1 dice pow worked out on the second one
<Stonetroll> so I could get a MB hit in too
<Stonetroll> without giving up the DT on either
<Stonetroll> that catcher is still in kind of dire straits
<happygrue> okay, I could risk something up the pitch and then pickup and throw to someone
<happygrue> or I could pickup first and run somewhere not safe, then try to protect the catcher
With the Orcs sucked forward to capitalise on the failure, the Elves could pounce. With some rolls, the ideal Elfstall situation could be achieved; just what Stonetroll didn’t want when he decided to push forward and break his line up. With 2 turns to go, the Elves had everything they needed; a spread field and a full team. The decision here for the Orcs is an interesting one: a) Manufacture dice at the ball and sacrifice defending recievers if it doesn’t go brilliantly, or b) Using the Blitz action to defend the wide open field.
The latter option was chosen.
ORC TURN 6
<Stonetroll> if I blitz the ball I will have to leave the catcher standing
<happygrue> I almost ran the catcher south, as it would have been fewer rolls to defend him
<happygrue> BUT he would have needed several GFI to get into the endzone too, so it was a question of risk this turn or risk in the critical last turns
<Stonetroll> well, again I have to 1 dice him
<Stonetroll> but that way you need a longer pass to score if he wrestles down
<Stonetroll> and the chainsaw is still for the last action risky stuff now
<Stonetroll> this is really late in the drive, so using a bribe would not get much out of it now
<Stonetroll> while keeping it lets me foul more liberally all game long
<happygrue> I agree, I would safe the bribe for fouling more safely next half
<Stonetroll> and he got one last stun in
<Stonetroll> and while this is far from perfect, if you want to score this turn it will take some rolls at least
<Stonetroll> so you are going to go all the way and stall for a turn 8 score
ELF TURN 7
<Stonetroll> a cage down there is probably out of reach for me now
<happygrue> since we can run it in, we're going to try that
<happygrue> and so turn 8 score was the plan
ORC TURN 7
<Stonetroll> seems like my only chance is to go for 3+ 5+ dodges
<Stonetroll> its better than nothing, but probably not as good as TTM
<happygrue> what makes it hard on the orcs, is that if he'd failed to take care of my scoring threats (or if they'd failed to get themselves free) then I could have just lobbed it down the pitch and run it in or stalled at the goal line
<Stonetroll> which is kind of low odds thanks to your kicker too
<Stonetroll> perhaps the BOB pickup would have been the better option, if it worked he had good odds for holding on to it too
ELF TURN 8
Elves score: 1-0
1-0. The TTM attempt to come, and then driving against a full team (minus two LOS attempts). The Orcs are under pressure…
ORC TURN 8
<happygrue> setting up there to prevent a goblin from getting an easy landing if the throw is good
<Stonetroll> and I'm just setting up to cover most basic kick places
<Stonetroll> since the corner kick would be death to the TTM attempt
<happygrue> I'm going to kick it deep, but 4 away from each edge so that with kick (max 3) and a bounce (1) the only way it could go out is with changing weather (two bounces)
<happygrue> which has a low chance
<Stonetroll> orcs finally opening up their cas count
<happygrue> it's about time
<Stonetroll> I can use block to get 3 dice, and foul away with the goblin
<Stonetroll> since his main job is now over anyway
ORC TURN 1
<Stonetroll> now if this was a tourney game it would be easier to plan the second half, just 8 turns of bashing and stalling
<happygrue> well, I was lucky to make it to this point with 10 elves and the lead, considering how it turned out, so this is great.
<happygrue> so if he goes down here, I can rush elves around the top
<happygrue> which we will try!
Stick or Twist
Suddenly, the Elves have gone from 11 and cruising to 9 and worrying. Whilst happy has played a relatively passive game so far; now 3 men down, he needs to start thinking about when to be aggressive. 8 Elves (8 anything) have a hard time passively walling off against 11 Orcs, but what they can do is create local mismatches with their speed and agility, and chase lone ball carriers. happy knows the clock is ticking; he needs to stop this drive to win the game, and to do so, he probably needs to get aggressive. When will he push?
ELF TURN 1
ORC TURN 2
<Stonetroll> I'm going to play it really safe since snakes on GFI here would end me
<Stonetroll> and your strip ball can't reach him this turn, so giving up a 2 dice against at worst is sort of okay
<happygrue> a failed pickup would have made this plan a possible game winner, but the blitzer is fast enough with ma 7 to get just far enough to dash my hopes
ELF TURN 2
ORC TURN 3
<happygrue> marking the only orc with MB, tackle, and dt means he will have to either blitz himself free or just hit a lino rather than my important players
<Stonetroll> here we get another playmaker on the ground luckily
<happygrue> my blitz last turn backfired with both downs - again would have been nice to have jugger
<happygrue> wasn't a great plan of mine, and now he gets to foul my hitter
<happygrue> now I see a typical orc wall
ELF TURN 3
<happygrue> I'm fine risking the dodge away from dt because it puts him on the ground here
<happygrue> another time I would have sat there and not dodged, just to block up the place
<Stonetroll> and this is why I like to push from the middle if not forced, because sides are easier to protect with column defence
<happygrue> but with a bribe, sitting there in the path is not as tempting
ORC TURN 4
<Stonetroll> I can go either way now, but top has nicer looking targets
<happygrue> since playing to win, we're going to use the apo there
<happygrue> I'm low enough on elves, and the game will be decided this drive
<happygrue> losing another would be critical, and espeically a wrestler with dodge
Facing the Cage
The BOB GFI failure had left happygrue with an ‘in’. He had 6 Elves able to move, but the Orc position might never be this fragile again. If happy was going to win, this seemed to be his time to make life tough. The cage points are in contact, Strip Ball looms. What to do? Is now the time to go for it, or does he hang on? As it turned out, the attempt was aborted.
ELF TURN 4
<Stonetroll> just in case you are going for something flashy, but with 2 rerolls not worth one
<happygrue> the debate, 1 GTI with my guard will allow 1d to push his blitzer away
<happygrue> then I can -2d with the strip baller
<Stonetroll> and the prone guy is still being a nuisance now, so its good
<happygrue> the problem, no one left to pickup and succeed or fail it could mean my elves get surfed and he walks it in
<happygrue> but I think it's my best shot here
<happygrue> that hurts
<Stonetroll> and now you need to pow him, when pushes would have sufficed without the bob
<happygrue> so now instead of blocking first I need to think
<happygrue> do I bring linos back? Abort the plan?
<happygrue> I think I do
<happygrue> if no pow it doesn't work, thanks to the prone BOB- I'd have to push him into the way of my dodge
ORC TURN 5
<Stonetroll> I was planning on scoring this turn, since defence TD with 3 turns seems a lot better than 2
Orcs Score! 1-1
Playing to Win
With 7 Elves remaining, an Apo used to save a vital player and 1 KO, Stonetroll pushes to win. Whether this is the right move depends on your appetite for risk; what’s more important, winning or not losing? Whittling the Elves down for a couple more turns would have made the one turn attempt an unlikely success, a draw was more or less assured. However, Stonetroll’s team is set up to not allow a quick breakaway, so a win was a possible result. With the game in the balance, the perfect start to the third drive unfolded (if you’re green)…
<happygrue> well done
<happygrue> all tied up!
<happygrue> now 7 elves have plenty of time to score against 11 orcs, with 2 RR each. Really could go either way
<happygrue> safer play would have been to just stall it out for the tie, but the elves might have snuck in and knocked the ball loose at some point. I often prefer to play for the win than the tie also.
<Stonetroll> yep, these numbers look like we both have a shot
<Stonetroll> a bllitz you say?
<happygrue> heh, well I meant that I wasn't going to blitz anyway
<happygrue> but yes, this Blitz! is no good against my meger defense :D
ELF TURN 5
<Stonetroll> had to think about moving the DT guy too
<happygrue> ugly :D
<Stonetroll> to hold your guard just to make it uglier
<happygrue> so the strip baller needs to blitz, and the catcher has to be available to pickup
<happygrue> but the question is, how many other moves first? -2d is not ideal here, but doding others isn't great either
<Stonetroll> and I wanted the blitzer to be in the way of your catcher with wrestle
<Stonetroll> but indeed, this is a tricky turn
<happygrue> so here I could 2+ and have the wrestler tag, then dodge and GFI with the strip baller for 1d
<happygrue> I'm going to go big, and do the 4+ dodge from dt/tackler
<happygrue> as guard will make this a GFI for a 2d strip with my blitzer
<Stonetroll> yeah that will leave options open for the rest of the turn
<Stonetroll> high risk, high reward style
<happygrue> here goes, probably win or lose on this dodge!
<Stonetroll> DT just burned the reroll
<Stonetroll> but the scatter was a hard one
<happygrue> oh my
<Stonetroll> that was another big foul
<happygrue> they just saved it all up for the one foul :D
<happygrue> all the elf rage into one strike!
<happygrue> very bad odds too, with just one assisst
<happygrue> mostly I just wanted to stand next to the ball
<Stonetroll> yep, but double 6 on armour is nice
<happygrue> and with the bribe it was safe enough to foul
ORC TURN 6
The Game is on the Line!
With 5 active Elves and the ball on the Megacatcher, this was it. The Elves faced a crucial decision as to how hard to push, and what route to take. Where would you go? Is there scope to back away and go for a tie, or do you push to win?
Stop the replay and check the skills. Where to, Elven coaches? I’ll tell you where to….
ELF TURN 6
<happygrue> well, I can run back and cage with some chance of holding the ball
<happygrue> but in terms of winning, I have to break through somehow
<Stonetroll> and going through the SF guy again means there is much more chance of fail
<happygrue> okay, I could 1d with the blitzer the lino away and then 2d blitz the SF BOB with wrestle
<happygrue> but it might be no good anyway and I have to dodge through
<happygrue> I could also 1d wrestle blitz the BOB and try to dodge through
<Stonetroll> I thought about placing the frenzy guy next to your blitzer, but that would have let you run up top with no problem
<happygrue> we're going to try the wrestle blitz
<happygrue> I like it better than dodging through first
ORC TURN 7
<Stonetroll> I can get it to 1 dice and the n 2 dice on the second at best here
<Stonetroll> with lots of GFI
<happygrue> might be worth it, hard call
<Stonetroll> and have to keep one guy at least in scoring range
ELF TURN 7
ORC TURN 8
<Stonetroll> I can just try to force one last snake, but nothing more
Elves score! 2-1
<happygrue> thank you
<happygrue> great game sir
<happygrue> thought you had me after that blitz
<Stonetroll> the blitz was big, but the DT dodge turn really settled this
<happygrue> yes, it really was the key play
<Stonetroll> yep, the speed and deep setup made it hard for me to get the most out of it
<happygrue> elves had the better luck on the critical plays
<happygrue> and stayed with enough numbers long enough to do their thing
<Stonetroll> a faster team can protect the ball a lot better too
So; fortune favoured the brave in this situation, well, one of the brave. The Orcs and then the High Elves pushed to win, and a win we got. I hope that it’s clear from the text; this game didn’t come down to those late one dice blocks that freed and did not down the fast, agile Catcher. This, like any game of Blood Bowl, was decided by tens of tiny micro-decisions, overall strategies and the manner in which the coaches approached the game and the result. We each of us may have taken a different path at one of a hundred points, and the game would have been different as a result.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this way of looking at a game of Blood Bowl, and that you’ve got something out of it (even if that is eye strain from looking at a wall of text or the knowledge we three are idiots!). I’d like to thank happygrue and Stonetroll for their informative in game chat and for their work on the project, not to mention a great game to spectate! If you would like to produce something similar for a future issue of the GLN, perhaps analysing a big game from a FUMBBL major or a league you love, approach da management!