[Blood Bowl] So What’s This Blood Bowl Thing Then?

A while back I promised docbungle I’d write up an introduction to Blood Bowl and now Panzar of Whelp Slayer has been asking about Blood Bowl too.  I’ll talk briefly about the game itself, and about the Orc and Human starting teams (who represent two basic ways in which a good team is good).  There will be pictures, but they won’t be of my Blood Bowl models because they are either not painted (bad Von!) or badly painted (bad former owner!).  The pictures are all used without permission in the spirit of fair use (and promoting this AWESOME game that you presumably like if you’ve taken pictures of it) and if you want me to stop using yours you only have to ask.

So!  Blood Bowl.

Blood Bowl is a board game which very approximately simulates American football gone Warhammer.  Heaven alone knows why.  It’s presented as a ‘beer and pretzels’ game and it’s certainly fun to play that way, but it also rewards the cruel, relentless tactical-mechanics approach (rather better than most of Games Workshop’s systems do).

The game is played between two players, on a pitch (board) made up of squares (I’ve never bothered to count how many).  Each has a team comprised of up to sixteen models, of whom no more than eleven can be on the pitch at any given time.  The rest, if they’re there, are reserves, and you’re going to need them, because – being a Warhammer game – Blood Bowl is not just about scoring points, but about simulating violence in a healthy, if slightly nerdy, fictional context.

Players take turns (sixteen turns each, divided into two halves) to move their little metal sportsbeasties around the pitch, and use dice (special six-sided ones with pictures on called Block dice) to simulate said little sportsbeasties energetically pummeling each other.  Conventional six sided dice are used for other things, like determining the after-effects of said pummelling on the recipients, whether the sportsbeasties fall over and hurt themselves while trying to run faster or dodge around an opponent, and occasionally even for picking up, passing and catching the ball (for which there’s a little model as well).

Like other games with which the gentle reader may be familiar, models have characteristics that determine how good they are at doing various things in the game.  Move Allowance (MA) shows how many squares they can move in a turn without hurting themselves, Strength (ST) how good they are at hitting other players, Agility (AG) how good they are at running fast, dodging, picking up, throwing and suchlike, and Armour Value (AV) how hard they are to hurt.  Models also have skills, which make them more (or, occasionally, less) capable at movement, blocking, agility-shenanigans or not being hurt.

Each team has a variety of different models that can be part of it (at least two per team).  Some of these are positional, named for their counterparts in American football: there are Blitzers (who are fast precision hitters), Blockers (who are slow, strong and tough), Runners (fast and nimble), Throwers (guess), Catchers (ditto) and Linemen (ordinary blokes) available to many teams.  There used to be other positions, like Kickers, but those have mostly been folded into other mechanics now.

The, umm, less conventional (more Warhammer, less American football) teams have either fantasy-type names for models who roughly correspond to conventional positions (in my Undead team, Wights are basically Blitzers, Ghouls are Runners, Mummies are Blockers and Skeletons and Zombies are two slightly different types of Lineman), or fantasy-type names that don’t (in a Chaos team, the Minotaur is a big Blitzer but the Chaos Warriors and Beastmen don’t really have set positions).

Let’s have a look at a couple of models.

On the left we have a Human Lineman – MA6, ST3, AG3, AV8, no skills.  He’s pretty average.  Not brilliant at anything much.  Run of the mill.  On the right there, we have a Human Blitzer.  He has a MA of 7, the same ST, AG and AV, and the Block skill, which makes him less likely to be knocked down when he has a little tussle with another model.

This Black Orc Blocker, meanwhile, is packing MA4, ST4, AG2, AV9 and no skills.  So he’s slow, and he can’t dodge or handle the ball as well, but he’s stronger and tougher than either of the Humans.

Right, so that’s models.  What can models do?

Well, at the start of a game, you flip a coin to see who’s kicking and who’s receiving.  The kicking player sets up their players on the pitch, and then the receiving player does the same.

See that line down the middle?  That’s the line of scrimmage.  There have to be three models from each team on that line when the teams are set up.  See those long, thin bits that are marked out at the top and bottom (actually the left and right if the board’s set up properly, silly Frugal Dave…)?  Side zones.  You can only set up two of your models in each of your side zones.  The long thin bits at either end are the End Zones.  That’s where the ball has to go (whilst in the hands of a model from your team) if you want to score.

The kicking player puts the ball somewhere in the receiving player’s half of the board, and then it scatters (you use an eight-sided die, a six-sided die and a funky template to resolve that).  Then the receving player gets to do stuff with their models, ideally trying to have one of them pick up the ball.

Basically, models can either block (hit another model in an adjacent square) or move (a number of squares equal to their MA).  They can try to go further but it might not work. [mechanics corrected here, this parenthesis = honesty notice, admission of error] To do that the player has to roll a die – on a one, the model falls over in the square it’s trying to move into.  Models can usually try do do that (‘s called Going For It) twice.

If they move through a square with the ball in it, they can try and pick it up.   That needs dice.  The number you need to roll to have a model pick up the ball is defined by the model’s AG stat (it’s like Ballistic Skill in Warhammer or 40K, in fact I think it uses the same subtract-your-stat-from-seven formula, albeit with lots of modifiers to make some things easier or harder), so we call it an AG roll.  If they move through (not into, but out of) a square adjacent to a model from the other team, you have to make a Dodge roll for that model (again, it’s a single die with a target number based off 7-AG) or it gets tripped up and falls flat on its face in the square it’s trying to move to.

That adjacent-square-to-your-model thing is important; it’s called a Tackle Zone.  All models project a Tackle Zone, and while in an enemy model’s Tackle Zone, your models suffer modifiers to all their AG rolls and have to make Dodge rolls (based off AG) in order to move without falling over.  That’s why Blocking is important.

Pick one of your models.  Pick an opposition model adjacent to them.  Compare their ST scores.  If yours is higher, you roll two Block dice, and get to pick which result applies.  If yours is lower, you still roll two Block dice, but your opponent gets to pick which result applies.  If one model has more than double the other’s ST, three dice are rolled.  If the ST scores are the same, one die is rolled.  Oh, and models who are in the players’ Tackle Zones modify the ST stats up and down… oh, look, let me give you an example.

Say that Black Orc from earlier wants to Block the Human Blitzer.  He’s ST4, the Blitzer is ST3, so the Orc player rolls two Block dice and chooses which one to use.  But wait!  There’s a Human Lineman standing there, and the Black Orc is in his Tackle Zone!  That’s called an Assist, and it adds one to the Blitzer’s ST, meaning their ST stats are equal, and the Orc player only gets to roll one die.

So he rolls his die, and up comes this picture of a skull.  That’s bad.  The Black Orc would fall over.  But wait!  The Orc player has bought some re-rolls for his team (counters that you can trade in to reroll any set of dice, and that replenish at the start of the second half).  So the Orc player re-rolls and gets a skull and a little explosion sort of overlaying each other.  That means they both fall down – that’s better.  Oh, no.  Wait.  The Blitzer has the Block skill, which means he doesn’t fall down when that ‘both down’ result comes up.  Sucks to be the Black Orc, I guess.

Sucks to be the Orc player too, to be honest, because if one of your models falls down, or loses the ball, your turn ends.  It’s called a Turnover.  Turnovers suck.  You also get them for failing to move your turn counter at the start of a turn (Illegal Procedure).  This is a really harsh mechanic that’s open to a lot of abuse (can you move your counter before I can say “IcallIllegalProcedure”?  How about “IllegalProcedure”, or “IP”?), but it’s important because the number of turns in a half has to be strictly regulated for the game to stay fair (since there are so many ways for a turn to end prematurely and capitalising on or recovering from turnovers forms much of the game’s tactical depth).

You’re still a cockbag if you call IP in the same breath as saying “your turn” though.

Anyway.  What else can models do?  Well, one model per turn can Blitz.  That means they move so that an opposition model is in their Tackle Zone, and then they can trade in a square of movement to make a Block roll, and then they can keep moving if they want to.  That’s quite important, it helps get your Tackle Zones into the opposition’s grill and make them more likely to botch rolls and cause Turnovers for their player.

One model per turn can foul an opposing model that happens to be next to them and happens to be knocked down.  Oh yes!  Injuries!  I forgot that.  If one of your models gets knocked down, the other player gets to make an Injury roll for them – two dice (with some modifiers from models’ skills, assists and suchlike), and if they beat the knocked down model’s AV stat, they get to roll two dice against another chart – most of the time this will just knock them down, but it might stun them (you put the model face down, it turns over to face up in your next turn, then it gets to stand up in the turn after that, so it’s basically ‘miss a go’), knock them out (moving them off the board, although they may get to come back – 50/50 chance every time the teams are set up), injure them (out for the rest of the match) or even KILL THEM DEAD on a double six.

One model per turn can also try to Pass the ball, if they have it.  This uses a gurt big plastic ruler thing (which determines how long the pass is, and therefore how difficult, therefore what modifiers apply to the pass), and two AG rolls.  One for the throwing player, who has to aim the pass properly, and one for the catching player, who has to… umm…  catch it.  Passing is quite a risky ploy as you have to roll two dice to do it, and there are modifiers on making long passes before you even start factoring in Tackle Zones.  Oh, and if the ruler crosses an opposition model’s Tackle Zone, that model can try to intercept the pass (it’s not likely, but it does happen).  Jervis Johnson, who wrote the game, likes passing even though he knows that, tactically speaking, it’s a Turnover waiting to happen (cf. White Dwarf, January 2012).

Silly Jervis.  We’ll forgive him though, ’cause Blood Bowl’s awesome.

Anyway, through a combination of moving, picking up, Blocking opposition models out of the way, passing if necessary, and occasionally being superbly lucky on theirDodge rolls, the receiving player tries to have one of their models, with the ball, move into the kicking player’s end zone, which scores a Touchdown for them (and is an immediate Turnover).  Well, if they manage to lose the ball, and the kicking player’s models can pick it up and move to the receving player’s end zone, they might score.  (My Vampires do this a lot.)

Then you both set up your teams again, whoever scored becomes the kicking player, and you keep going until you’ve played eight turns.  At that point you swap sides; whoever was the kicking player at the start is now the receiving player, and you play eight more turns, and whoever has the most Touchdowns at the end of the second half is the winner!

In terms of gameplay, that’s it.  There’s a bit more to it than that, though.  We still need to talk about the differences between teams, the basics of good tic-tacs, and above all, about leagues (because Blood Bowl leagues are awesome) and long-term strategery.  HOWEVER, this post is now as long as my Ph.D. proposal and only marginally easier to read, so I’ll come back and talk about those things some other time.  Peace out.

Author: Jon

Sententious, mercurial, and British as a bilious lord. Recovering Goth, lifelong spod. Former teacher and amateur machine politician, now freelance writer and early-career researcher.

16 thoughts on “[Blood Bowl] So What’s This Blood Bowl Thing Then?”

  1. Thanks for the post! Sounds like it covers (what I can assume is) most of the important mechanics. Looking forward to playing it even more now! I’ll be keeping an eye out for your follow up post, especially the part about orcs! ;)

    1. Would you believe that I originally said it wasn’t, and then thought “oh no, that must be an AG test, right?”, and moved that piece of text?

      I should start listening to those quiet, nagging doubts. Corrected.

    1. It is. It cheats like fuckery on its rosters (there’s no way the Orc team I drew the other day had the same rating as my poor Vampires, not with all the reserves and multi-skilled players it was sporting) and its way of ramping up the difficulty isn’t playing more intelligently, it’s just rigging the dice.

      1. I apologise in advance – the material ‘pon which it is based was written in a bye-gone era, when men were men, and women were also men. Sometimes, children were men, and sometimes they were chiminey sweeps.

        Where was I? Oh, yes, the war… I *did* mention it once, but I think I got away with it.

  2. Next week’s superbowl would be so much more awesome if it was Orcs vs. Humans.
    I swear if I gotta see Tom Brady in one more damn superbowl…..

    Also, Jervis looks baked in that pic.
    Just sayin.’

  3. “This is a really harsh mechanic that’s open to a lot of abuse (can you move your counter before I can say “IcallIllegalProcedure”?)”

    You can *only* call Illegal Procedure if the opponent moves a model, throws a dice, or stands up a model, *before* moving their turn counter.

    Saying “Your turn, Illegal Procedure” is an Illegal Procedure in itself, and will cost you a Reroll for the first offence, and a punch in the mouth for the second one.

    Also, the current competition rulebook (free download on the GW website under the Blood Bowl resources section) changes the penalty for failing to move the turn counter on as the offending coaches choice of lose a Reroll or suffer a Turnover, which is still unfunny, but not as outright horrible.

  4. Agreed on the computer’s cheating-ness. I’ve seen it roll five 6s in a row to tie the game on the last turn of the second half. Never before have I seen it do something so blatant!

    I will note that typically Illegal Procedure is only called if the first thing you do in your turn is not moving the turn marker – ie moving or rolling dice. I’ve never seen it played so that you must move the marker as soon as your clock/turn starts, just that it must be the very first thing done.

    Had a notable experience though where I learned how important it is to move the marker – T1 of the second half, I get to go first. Throw a 2-die block before moving the marker to 1, block dice shows double skulls. Turnover. Front line proceeds to get pounded by undead. Doh.

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