The two Templehof teams represent half of a bet between two rival Necromancers, Johannes Rosencratz and Emmanuel Guildenstern. Both swore to provide their vampire sponsor, the elusive Lord Ruthven, with the perfect Blood Bowl team to ensure his dominion over the sporting world continued into eternity. Their difference of opinion over exactly how this was to be achieved has seen the two become sworn enemies, and each has founded a team in order to demonstrate their approach’s validity.
Rosencratz’s Templehof United have successfully leveraged their purchasing power into the hiring of up (from the grave) and coming (back from the dead) players from all over the world, including two pairs of Ghoul twins from the Plain of Bones, and two ancient Khemrian mummies who lend their millennia of experience to the modern game. Guildenstern, meanwhile, is a passionate believer in fostering local talent; Templehof City sponsors ambitious necromancers, alchemists and bonepickers in the creation of new players from unfortunate citizens of southern Sylvania, and relies on loose, experimental plays rather than the tried and tested routines.
The two teams have an absolute and impassioned hatred for one another; the typical derby game results in the greatest number of fan casualties in the eastern Empire, and keeps the local grave-diggers, grave-robbers and grave-detectives busy for months to follow.
I have a deep love for undead factions in games, and Blood Bowl has something of an abundance of them. But which one’s best? The classic Undead team, with its solid set of starting skills, or the more eccentric capabilities offered by the Necromancer team? Or is it the Vampires, with access to six superlative statlines and cheap rerolls – or the Khemrians, with… umm… whatever they’ve got? Okay, so it’s not Khemri. That said, I’ve played ’em all at some point in the last year and I’m going to bend your ears about my discoveries, discussing the pros, cons and league play viability of the four variants. Team shots are all via Sons of Twilight.
Pros: excellent skill set and variety of players. Four fast players with average Agility and Dodge means they can play a competent running game, especially with two almost-as-fast players with similar stats and Block to back them up. They also have cheap, resilient linemen in the form of Zombies and Skeletons (or ‘tackle zones on legs’, as they’re sometimes known), and a pair of Mummies. Mummies can’t dodge for toffee and they’re absurdly slow, but it takes three human players just to start a fair fight with one, and their Mighty Blow skill makes them good at inflicting casualties.
Cons: average at best Agility, expensive rerolls and no easy access to Throwing skills mean that actually getting hold of the ball can be a bit dicey and passing is ill-advised. This limited reliability means that Undead teams will normally blow their rerolls on getting hold of the ball once and keep hold of it, playing for the 2-0 or 2-1 win; if they get greedy, they’re likely to lose the ball, turn over, and inflict more turnovers on themselves trying to pick it back up again.
League viability: six players are just one advancement roll away from Blodge* and the dominance of the block die that skill set implies. Those six players with Block or Dodge are also the team’s most capable ball handlers and runners, and will therefore be scoring most of the touchdowns and getting most of the advancements. Of course, getting the ball to them in the first place can be quite tricky, meaning that the rate of development is quite slow – especially for Mummies, who will seldom be scoring at all and are thus dependent on injuries and Most Valuable Player awards. The Undead play a solid game early on in a league, but they can be left behind by more agile teams who can pass reliably and maybe knock up four to six touchdowns in a game.
Pros: Like the classic team, the Necromantics have six players with decent Agility and Move Allowance, but only two Wights and Ghouls. They make up the numbers with Werewolves, who – while very pricey – move eight squares in a turn, and have Frenzy and Claw (in essence, they can block again after pushing someone back, and find it easier to inflict injuries). Instead of Mummies, they come packing Flesh Golems, who are harder to shift (Stand Firm and Thick Skull mean they’re not moving back or going off the board as often as other players), a little bit more mobile (they’re hardly dodgy, but Move Allowance 4 and Agility 2 is not a total write-off), and still fairly strong. They can play a solid defensive line of Armour Value 8 Zombies and immovable Flesh Golems, and have their fast players running around looking for opportunities; when receiving, they can also get the ball upfield very fast, especially since their rerolls are that wee bit cheaper than the classic Undead’s, thus potentially leaving one free for a cheeky pass.
Cons: only four players have easy access to the holy Blodge. Their supporting players are slow (no Move Allowance 5 Skeletons) and their answer to the Mummy is both weaker (only Strength 4) and harder to develop (no Mighty Blow means fewer injuries). Werewolves lack any of the reliability skills like Block, Dodge or Sure Hands and so have a tendency to cause turnovers and fall down a lot, especially since Frenzy makes them roll more dice than other players, and especially especially because they’re so much faster than anyone else that they lend themselves to risky plays where they’re out on their own, without assists. Finally, and crucially, their best players are also painfully expensive, with two above the 100,000 mark; you’ll not be fitting all eight of the good statlines available into your starting lineup and saving up for that second Werewolf can lead to awkward choices if you have to replace a Ghoul early on.
League viability: The key word for the Necromantic team is potential. Werewolves aren’t reliable, but there are lots of ways in which they can develop if luck’s on your side, and since they’re your main sources of both injuries and touchdowns they’ll tend to accumulate most of the experience and thus learn to make the most of their stats. Flesh Golems can put out a lot of hurt, but are less independent, more likely to need assists. The Necromantic team is more likely to hinge around a couple of very good players who can advance further in the long run than anything the classic Undead have to offer, but tend to leave their team-mates lagging in the dust. Losing one of them really blows, too.
Pros: Vampires! Seriously, there’s nothing they can’t do. They’re pretty fast, they’re strong, they’re agile, they’re tough, they Regenerate, there’s nothing to not like about them. They can pick up balls, pass and dodge effectively with AG 4, their rerolls are cheap enough that the lack of skills isn’t a problem, and they have some cheap supporting players with average speed, strength and agility in their own right. Oh, and they can take an Apothecary, too, unlike the other three.
Cons: Thralls. Wherever a Vampire needs to go, a Thrall needs to be first; otherwise that Vampire may just find himself leaving the field, causing a turnover, and dropping the ball if he has it (running off for a bite occurs before attempting to pass or, for that matter, score touchdowns). The issue here? Thralls are distinctly average. They’re not especially dodgy, so running them far ahead of the team is unwise; they’re not especially hard, so blocking takes assists or is best left to Vampires, who still need assists to avoid Blood Lust induced turnovers. Oh, and they have a pitiful Armour Value of 7, so falling over (which happens to them a lot) and getting knocked down in blocks (which happens to them a lot) results in a lot of Injury rolls that don’t go their way, even before you factor in the Vampires’ tendency to inflict further Injury rolls on them. Blowing your rerolls on helping Thralls not be crap means that you’re not saving them to help Vampires win games or stop Blood Lust losing them for you.
League viability: I’m not sure. They look like they’ll do all right for themselves if you exercise a bit of restraint in team building. You’ll need lots of Thralls (they will die, or sustain the kind of injuries that encourage retirement), lots of rerolls (four or five), an Apothecary, and only three Vampires, tops. Three’s enough to play the passing game they’re fairly well-equipped for and saves you enough currency for spare Thralls. That’s the theory. In practice, I think they still suffer just because every player will be involved in the play – you won’t have anyone spare to mark, not when your Thralls need to set up to help the Vampires stay on target.
Pros: Skills! Look ma, Passing skills! Sure Hands! Pass! Catch! By gods, it’s an undead team that’s noticed the existence of a ball! And… crikey, four Mummies, with MA4! Four S5 players all lining up for the scrimmage! A couple of quite fast Block players, that’s not bad, and the Linemen all have Thick Skull so they’ll be staying on the board a while. What’s the catch?
Cons: Oh. Oh dear. Agility 2 across the board, except the Mummies, who have 1 ? Move Allowance topping out at six? And… what’s this here, on those Mummies, where Mighty Blow should be? ‘Decay’? What does that… oh. So if anyone does manage to injure them they get TWO Injury rolls? And they’re really expensive, so retiring and replacing them isn’t really an option? In fact… blimey, those Blitzers cost more than Orc ones, can’t handle the ball as well, and take more injuries? At least tell me the rerolls are cheap so I can reroll catches and pretend to be a passing team… oh. 70,000.
League viability: REVISED: okay, so I relented a bit and decided to give them a crack. The double-or-quits nature of having Decay and Regeneration is a bit hair-raising but it’s an unlucky Khemri player whose Mummies actually get hurt that often. Win a couple of games, keep 100,000 in the treasury at all times in case you need to retire a crippled Mummy, and they may be all right. You’ll be praying for doubles on your skill rolls, I suspect, as a few Agility skills or AG increases will do the team a lot of favours. I must admit that AG4 isn’t as huge a drawback on the Thro-Ras as I’d thought; I just wish there was a Catch-Ra in there somewhere too, rather than relying on a running game and overloading the Thro-Ras with skills (they’ll tend to be scoring as they’re the only players who can keep their mitts on the ball).
If I had to say that one was the out-and-out BEST, it’d be the classic Undead. That skill set, and the hitting power of the Mummies, and the pricing that means you can start off with all your positional pieces and a reserve Skeleton or Zombie AND enough rerolls to get the ball in hand and up the field… that goes a long way.
That said, I think the Necromantic team might be more rewarding in league play; the Werewolves will tend to develop faster than the more staid Wights and Ghouls if you take a few risks with them. Depends if you like a solid, unspectacular plod or an elaborate gamble – I will say, though, that my only 20/20 on the Match Rating (the Excitement-O-Meter in the PC game) was Necromantics vs. Wood Elves, and a proper nailbiter throughout.
I’d consider the Vampires good for a one-off game (where the consequences of their actions don’t come back to haunt them) and the Khemri strictly in the ‘wanting a challenge’ category… although you could build some quite cheaply with Tomb Kings Skeletons…
* – Block + Dodge = Blodge, and a player who’ll be staying on their feet for a good long while.