Defensive Setup in Blood Bowl
So you’ve rolled for weather and gate, and all the inducements have been spent. You lose the coin toss, your opponent elects to receive. What now?
As a defender, you have an interesting menu of advantages and disadvantages.
On the minus side, you have to set up first, so if you do anything too clever, your opponent might find a weakness and set up ready to play to it. What’s worse, you act second, so you can’t afford to surrender control to the offense. For this reason, most defenses are symmetrical, and those that aren’t still usually play to be strong on both sides, or have some sort of trap they can spring if the opponent takes the obvious route.
Setting up first but acting second is a really big disadvantage on the line of scrimmage. You have seven squares, three on each side of the middle square, and you have to put up at least three players. You can expect that your opponent will set up to knock you down, so usually you want to put up your three cheapest players, or maybe your three toughest players for Chaos Dwarfs or Lizardmen, unless you can put up players so strong your opponent can’t or shouldn’t try to knock them down.
Another drawback as the kicking team is the risk of a Quick Snap, which should happen one drive in nine. Sure, it’s unlikely, but you have to be ready for it, which means not having players one square behind scrimmage, unless there’s no way to reach them with Quick Snap. Two or more squares behind scrimmage for everyone but the defensive line, that is the convention. There are exceptions, and some of these will be addressed.
On the plus side, your opponent has to get through you if they want one of those touchdown thingies. This means that even though they get to set up in response to you and they get to act before you, you really get the initiative. The game frequently goes to the one who doesn’t end their turns in contact as much, and since they have to get through you, you can make them come to you. For this reason, proper screening techniques are critical, but there’s no silver bullet as to which technique to use.
The turn counter also kind of favors the kicking team. Going second means you get the last laugh of the half, and if you can force your opponent to score early, you get 9 turns minus the turn number in which they scored to force your own score in, while they get one less turn and can’t respond if you score as time runs out. After all, forcing a quick score and answering with a score of your own on the last turn of the half, that’s the same as holding them out for a scoreless half. Except now you’re 10,000 gold and 3 SPP richer.
Another advantage the kicking team has is that both Blitz! and Solid Defense are major game-changers. There’s no point in setting up your defense around Solid Defense, because not only is it unlikely, but if it happens it’ll just make you reposition. So as good as it is, it doesn’t factor into this conversation. Blitz!, on the other hand, rewards an exterior or sideline setup that can respond to a shallow kick and steal the ball. That said, the odds of getting both a Blitz! and a shallow diagonal kick into the wide zone aren’t very good even for a fast team with Kick, so don’t put too much stock into this.
Finally, if you can win on defense and steal a touchdown, your reward is getting to play defense again. Thus, if you’re really good at defense, you can sometimes create a snowball effect, where you pop the ball, score, rinse, repeat. You can’t do this on offense: if your offense is killer and you zip in a super-fast score, well, now you’re not on offense anymore, are you? This is one of the reasons a lot of coaches are down on dedicated passers: it’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s that it only intermittently adds value.
The exact objectives of defense vary from matchup to matchup, coach to coach, and turn to turn, so there are quite a lot of working philosophies. I’ve broken them down into categories:
I Principles of Defense
II Interior Defenses
III Sideline Defenses
IV Full-Width Defenses
V Hybrid Defenses
VI Asymmetric Defenses
VII One-Turn Defenses
VIII Specialty Defenses
IX Defending Up or Down Players
X Five Popular Defenses
It’s important to note that all these defenses are used in practice, at least occasionally. There’s very little “theorybowl” in this series: I have used or seen every single defense presented here, and while some of them are more broadly applicable than others, all have their place. That said, some defenses are more common than others, so I’ve also provided a quick rundown of the most popular defensive setups: the boat, the chevron, the ziggurat, the bunkers, and the mixed offset screen.
Another note is that Stunty teams have their own defensive philosophies to a certain extent. A lot of the more conventional defenses, like the boat and the bunkers, are popular Stunty defenses too, but there are tricks some Stunty coaches have up their sleeve … and at least for now I will leave Stunty defensive philosophy to more Stunty-minded coaches, or to a later article I’ll release after doing some research. It’s just not my thing, and I’d want to do it justice.
I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it, and that your journey in trying these defenses out is enjoyable and enlightening. The series opens with a discussion on the basic principles
behind all defensive setup; check out five popular defenses
if you don't have time to read it all and you just want to jump in. Either way, have fun and good luck!