On the Shell Case thread where I was asked to give a basic run-down of the beautiful game, sixeleven suggested talking about the Orc and Human teams in the box as a way of unlocking the tactics and strategery of the game, and the different styles in which teams can be played. I also want to talk a bit about leagues, and the long-term development of teams over campaign play (in which the real depth of the game emerges).
Let’s get on with it then.
Given the number of ways in which you can force a turnover on yourself in Blood Bowl – pretty much everything you have to roll dice for has at least a one in six chance of prematurely ending your turn – the basic tactical approach should be fairly obvious.
Don’t roll dice.
I’m serious. The secret to winning games of Blood Bowl is to roll as few dice as physically possible during your own turn, and to stack modifiers on your opponent’s die rolls in order to maximise the chances of them turning over. You do that by wrapping tackle zones around enemy models – marking them, is what I believe they call it – and lining up yours so they offer assists to each other and become harder to block.
However, you’ll have to roll some dice sooner or later. It’s a rare and fluky game where your models can grab the ball on the opponent’s turn (dud passes, interceptions and models falling over and dropping the ball can all give it away but the odds are against the ball ending up safely in the hands of one of your dudes). This means that sooner or later you’ll have to get hold of it and move it up the pitch, ideally through a route that’s been cleared of enemy tackle zones so that your ball carrier doesn’t have to Dodge, risking falling over and dropping the ball automatically.
How you go about doing this varies depending on what your team has available. Strategery (team selection) defines tic-tacs (sensible choices during play), although personal preference goes the other way and influences strategic choices (the way you like to play should have some influence on your choice of team, i.e. you pick something that’s good at what you like to do).
SO. How do teams go about being good?
Human teams are generalists. Unspectacular in the statistics department, barring a couple of decent Move Allowances and a high Agility on their Catchers (balanced out by said Catchers’ mediocre Strength and Armour Value), their great strength is controlling the rolls of a few die rolls every turn. Their Throwers can reroll their AG roll for picking up and catching the ball, their Catchers can reroll theirs for dodging and catching it, and their Blitzers have the vital Block skill that means they can block an opposition model and only have a one in six chance per die of falling over while doing it. Linemen lend assists, drop tackle zones on opposing models and can in a pinch attempt a positional model’s job with the team’s re-rolls (bought during construction). Their only unreliable player is the Ogre, and even he is the most reliable Big Guy (large hulking monster drafted into a team to provide extra muscle) in the game, with a trifling one in six chance of standing around scratching himself for a turn and a credible AG stat.
A Human team has access to four Blitzers, four Catchers, two Throwers, and mid-priced re-roll tokens. They can be tailored to throw out several reliable Blocks a turn, or have a variety of angles for passes available, and still have some spare bodies to mark up opponents – but they need to line up some assists and layer some zones in order to deal with particularly strong or agile opponents, ’cause those base line stats are almost entirely average.
An Orc team is superficially similar to the Humans; their Blitzers, Throwers and Linemen are identical apart from trading a point of MA for a point of AV. The Black Orc, however, is the exact antithesis of the Human Catcher: slow, strong, tough, but with a lousy AG that makes it very unlikely that they’ll pick up the ball or get very far if they have to dodge past anyone. Furthermore, they can field four Black Orcs and four Blitzers if they want to, and still only two Throwers. Some variants of the game allow them a Troll (like an Ogre, but less agile, less reliable and even harder to injure) and some Goblins (very very good at dodging, but not very strong and very easy to hurt).
Orcs are what hardened Blood Bowl players call a bashy team. They don’t move too fast and none of them are exactly brilliant at catching, but they have a potential eight reliable blocks per turn and Goblins are surprisingly hard to knock down when defending in blocks (Dodge means there’s only a one in six chance per die of them being knocked down if an enemy tries to block them). The typical Orc strategy is to grab the ball with a Thrower, form a tight block or ‘cage’ around him with the other Orcs, and then batter downfield, moving into contact with enemy models and letting them knock themselves over trying to Block their way into the cage. At a pinch, Goblins can get into position to receive a pass, but they’re not especially reliable and will probably need a team re-roll to make the catch. Chaos, Undead and Norscans also play the bashy game (the Norse are particularly interesting as they’re a bashy team with lousy AV and ST stats, relying on their skills and cheap re-rolls to manage the risks of single die blocks).
Other teams win by playing the running game. The Skaven are the absolute masters of this, having four models with high MA (9!), high AG (4!) and Dodge (free re-rolls!). Get the ball to one of those and pelt it down-field – the high MA means moving around tackle zones rather than through them becomes possible, the high AG makes picking up, catching and dodging more reliable, and the Dodge is insurance. Most running-game teams have another string to their bow: Amazons and Wood Elves come with reliable passes built in, while others display signs of bashiness, like the Dark Elf, Necromantic and Lizardmen teams.
Some teams are cheaty teams -made up of not-very-good models that has some way to bend the rules in its favour. Consider, if you will, the Goblin. The Goblin is a weedy little runt who’s not really good at anything apart from running away from things. Even the presence of two hulking great Trolls in the Goblin team roster should not fill you with confidence, given that Trolls are slow and stupid. However, the Goblins come packing… extras. Goblin teams can sneak four models onto the pitch carrying SECRET WEAPONS. Chainsaws, pogo sticks, bombs and giant spiky balls on chains are all part of the Goblin armoury.
When your blitz can carve through Chaos Warrior armour like it’s not there, your runner can jump clean over enemy tackle zones, and you can break cages wide open by bombing out the ball carrier and everyone in contact with him, having terrible stats doesn’t necessarily matter – especially not when your re-rolls are so cheap that you can just about scrape through the actually-scoring-touchdowns bit provided there’s nobody left on the pitch to stop you.
And some teams are just Halflings, who are rubbish.
Anyway, that’s four teams, including the two in the starter box, and a brief consideration of their playstyles. Next time: league play.