BLOCK AND TACKLE
By Robin Dews
Originally presented in White Dwarf #177 & #220 and Blood Bowl Compendium #2
Copyright Games Workshop Ltd. 1999
Human teams offer a Blood Bowl coach an almost perfect combination of speed, strength, resilience and agility. So says Robin Dews who ran a successful team called the Deathheads in our Studio League. We asked him to convince us...
Along with many others of the staff at the Studio, I jumped at the chance to get involved in the playtesting and development of the new version of Blood Bowl. I normally fight Warhammer battles with an Empire army and, true to form, have always fielded a Human team in Blood Bowl.
Although, they lack some of the super-strong or tough members of other races (such as Black Orc Blockers!) and can't field so many special weapons as some other teams, their combination of strength, mobility and toughness makes them excellent all-rounders.
PICKING A TEAM
Picking a Blood Bowl team really is a matter of personal preference, but there are a number of guidelines that should always apply.
With a brand new team, try to have at least twelve players in your squad. This means that even when the inevitable casualties or even deaths start to roll in, you will still manage to keep eleven players on the pitch. It is a favorite tactic of Orc, Chaos, and Dwarf teams to try to grind you down in the first half by causing as much damage to your team as possible and then overwhelming you in the second half by sheer weight of numbers!
Although there are tricks you can employ to reduce the damage, nothing will stop it completely and so your only real defense is to have sufficient players in the reserve box to hold the line on the pitch.
At the start of the Studio Blood Bowl league, I therefore fielded the following squad:4 Blitzers 360,000
KNOW YOUR PLAYERS
Whenever you pick a Blood Bowl team (or an army for Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 for that matter) there just never seem to be quite enough points to go around! As I've explained, I wanted a squad of at least twelve players and I'd also decided to include the Mighty Zug in my team form the outset. Although expensive (I could have included another Lineman and a second Thrower or Catcher for the same price!), I wanted him in my squad for two reasons.
First of all, he would put some much-needed muscle into my front line when I came up against Orcs or Chaos teams with their Black Orcs and Chaos Warriors. Secondly, big, tough Star Players like Zug inevitably attract a lot of attention (and hopefully put the fear of God into your opponent). It would suit me fine if the opposing team concentrated their efforts on knocking him down. With an AV of nine, he is difficult to hurt and with his strength of five would most likely be attacked by at least two players at a time in order to even up the number of Block Dice they rolled. All this meant that for the cost of a couple of average players, I could hopefully tie up two or more of the enemy and give the rest of my team the opportunity to break through or outflank my opponent's line.
A similar logic applied to my choice of four Blitzers. These mighty players really are the stars of the Human line-up and I always attempt to play with the maximum number at all times, particularly in the early stages of a league. The main reason for this is that in addition to their movement of seven, they automatically come with the Block skill.
When you attack another player in Blood Bowl, in an attempt to knock them over of grab the football, it's called making a block. What happens is that you compare the strengths of the two players involved and add in any assists they might have. The attacker then rolls a number of Block Dice which determine the outcome of the block and range form merely pushing back your opponent, to having your face smashed into the dirt as the result of a swift counter block.
In a standard attack, where the strengths of both players are equal there is a 33% chance of knocking down you opponent (unless he has the Dodge skill in which case, your chance plummets to a miserable 16% or 1 in 6!). However, if you have Block your chances increase to 50% giving you a considerable advantage in most attacks.
Whilst on the subject of initial skills, there are a couple of other important points to remember about Human players. The first of these is the Human Catchers come already equipped with the extremely useful Catch and Dodge.
Catch allows you to reroll any failed catches, handoffs or interception attempts. Dodge not only allows you re a tell if you fail to dodge out of an opposing player's tackle zone, but more importantly, it also modifies the results of the Block Dice. Although on the surface, these skinny guys with their armor value of only seven might look a little fragile, they are in fact worth their weight in gold pieces.
With their movement of eight, these players can zip around for up to ten squares, if you need them to 'go for it'. The Dodge skill also enables them to sprint through your opponent's line and fan out into his backfield ready to receive passes. This has the desirable secondary effect of forcing your opponent to run back some of his players to mark your men thus weakening his front line.
Don't make the mistake of only using Catchers when you are attempting to score. Despite their low strength of two, if you run them together in pairs, they can quickly reach and overwhelm most other teams' players. Even if they don't make the attack themselves, their ability to slip into tight corners and lend that vital extra assist makes them just as valuable in defense.
Of Human Linemen and Throwers, there's not a lot to say. Both are standard Blood Bowl players, with stats much like any other comparable race. The only thing to remember is to either start your team off with two Throwers, or get a second one in your squad as soon as you can afford it. Throwers have exactly the same statistics as Linemen but they come with two solid skills in Sure Hands and Pass. Although at 70,000 gold pieces, they cost 20,000 more then a Lineman, that only works out at 10,000 per skill and either of them could win you the game or save your bacon when you're in a hole!
As your team develops, there are a few skills that you should definitely go for. Your Throwers and Catchers will rapidly gain Star Player points as they score most of your touchdowns. Accurate and Strong Arm make for a deadly combination of passing skills. The +1 on the dice roll together with the one-band range reduction will enable you to pop the ball into the waiting hands of any teammate. The other great Thrower/Catcher skill combination is a Thrower with Hail Mary Pass working together with a Catcher with Diving Catch. Hail Mary on its own can easily get you out of a tight spot as it enables your Thrower to place the ball anywhere on the pitch. Coupled with Diving Catch it becomes a game winner and is sure to frighten the living daylights out of the opposing team's coach.
One final word on skills. Don't try to build a beat-'em-up team out of Humans. Compared to Orcs, Chaos, Dwarfs and other high AV teams, you just can't hack it in a prolonged punch up. Sure, now and again you'll get lucky and put one or two of the other team's guys in the hospital. However, if you try to make this a feature of your play, you'll end up with most of your team stretchered off or worse!
Stay mobile, use Dodge as much as possible to protect your guys in a fight and concentrate on that combination of both a running and passing game.
The versatility of the Human team means that unlike Orc or Dwarf squads, there is no real set pattern that can guarantee you victory. The Human's special talent lies in the way that their players adapt to luck and circumstance. I've won many a game in the penultimate or final down, by throwing a Long Bomb (pulled back to a Long Pass for Strong Arm and with a +1 for Accurate) or watched my opponent weep in frustration as his attempt to Blitz my runner merely result in the player being pushed closer to the end zone due to the ubiquitous Dodge skill.
That being said, there are some key moves that you should really learn by heart. The most important of these is essential either when you receive the ball after a kickoff, or during the game if you manage to grab the ball from your opponent. It's called forming a pocket.
The pocket is not too dissimilar to 'Da Cage', described by Orc coach Carl Brown in his 'Ere we go' article. The major difference is that a pocket is a temporary formation, designed to protect the ball carrier until the runners are safely down the field.
FORMING THE POCKET
As you can see from the diagram, the idea in the first phase of the attack is to create a safe zone into which you can place a receiver. This can be a Catcher, but it's often better to send these guys running down the field and pass the ball to someone with a little more muscle, like one of your Blitzers. Either way, do not pass the ball until the pocket is secure. There are two reasons for this. The first is that should an accident occur (and they happen to us all!) and the pass is incomplete you could be left with your opponent grabbing the ball off you in his turn. The second reason is subtler. While your Thrower is holding the ball, your opponent still has no way of knowing the real direction of the play. The pocket could be real or it could be a feint with the real run coming down the other side. As I've already emphasized, the real strength of the Human team lies in its flexibility and you should take advantage of this by not committing yourself until you have to. This will force your opponent to maintain a broad line of defense.
THE DIAGONAL RUN
For the next turn or two, your aim is to edge forward until you either have runners in the back field or you've reached a point nine squares away from the end zone. From here you strike. Two Catchers working in tandem can either make the run on their own, or if there are enemy players blocking the way, cross over and hand off the ball at the mid point. Again what you are trying to do is maintain maximum flexibility so that the opposing coach has to cover every base. At the same time you also maintain the capacity to switch you attack should the need arise.
ALL'S FAIR IN WAR AND BLOOD BOWL
As my team has developed and I've added Star Players and more skills, these tactics have been endlessly refined and developed. However, the basic principles stay the same. Be fast... be flexible... be brutal!