Sunday, April 26, 2009

Way of the Orc

I started trying to write a post on Orc strategy, and I realised it was getting a bit too complex, at least in my head if not elsewhere so I've decided to break this up into multiple blogs. At least then I might get some of them published! This is the first post so really designed to give a feel for an overall approach to Orcs. More will follow with detail on specific aspects of the game.

Orcs are an immensely popular team. They came in the 3rd edition boxed set, have a great, flavoursome background story, and are a good team too. All these combine to make them the most popular team among NAF coaches.

Orcs have a strong background in all fantasy genres, obviously within Tolkein and are present in all the core GW games. In Blood Bowl they have always been one of the main teams - from 1st ed all the way through to today. Thanks to their popularity in other systems there are plenty of choices for minatures to use - from GW's own BB range, Shadowforge's Female Orc team and conversions from WFB & 40k.

From a gaming perspective Orcs offer an unusual set of options. Sometimes Orcs are described as a more "balanced" bash team. IMO they aren't really - they are a 1st rate bash team with options. Very few teams have a clear strength advantage, and those who might be better at skilled blocking (e.g. Dwarves) often find it hard to keep up once the Orcs are skilled. However unlike a great many bash teams Orcs have dedicated throwers and can develop a reasonable passing game. To top it all off they have the option of using the Troll/Goblin combo for throw team mate plays.

All this means that there is a good variety of options for team building and development, meaning Orcs offer a bit more versatility than some other races. These strategies for Orcs I'd crudely break down into three core "bash" strategies: Guarders, Killers and Deniers. As well as at least one passing strategy.

Guarders emphasise guard on all the positionals - giving Black Orc Blockers (BOBs) and Blitzers guard as a first skill and relying on it to ensure winning the bash war.

Killers emphasise the destructive skills available - Block, Mighty Blow, Piling On - with an added flavouring of Frenzy & Tackle.

Deniers love the ability of Orcs to control position effectively. Stand Firm is the skill of choice here which means that a great many teams will find themselves unable to make the holes they need to penetrate the powerful Orc defences.

Passers tend to use the throwers Orcs have available to them to build a decent passing game - Accurate & Strong arm on doubles for the throwers, Blitzers taking Dodge & Catch, and maybe fielding a couple of goblins built as receivers.

Most Orc coaches take their own blend from these different strategies. combining them to make something unique. There is another level of sophistication which is that the different strategies are optimal for facing different opponents, so within a typical face to face league you might emphasise some more than others to help you beat the competition. An obvious one is that in a league with a high proportion of Elf teams you'll want more tackle than one full of Dwarves.

Way of the Orc: Black Orcs

The Orc team is blessed with Black Orc Blockers aka BOBs. Strong and tough with general & strength access. A 4429 stat line is almost optimal for the position they play - no unnecessary AG or MA to inflate the price. So they are cheaper than Chaos Warriors and just as good at the blocking job.

I'd describe BOBs as the engine room of the Orc team. They do all the heavy lifting on the LOS which provides the platform from which the blitzers operate. Without BOBs to back them up Orc teams just don't have the oomph to win bash wars or effectively channel flair teams where they want.

The problem with BOBs, which is common to other low AG S4 unskilled players, is that they skill up very slowly. Lack of Block means they aren't reliable hitters. So you tend to rely more on MVPs and the lucky cas to get a skill until they've got the crucial accelerants.

Accelerated Development
My rule of thumb is that on average an unskilled BOB will gain about 1/2 SPP per game. That is almost all MVP! So an obvious thing to do is to give them "SPP accelerant" skills to help them develop faster. As a blocker the obvious candidates are Mighty Blow and Block. Mighty Blow roughly doubles the number of casualties caused, whilst Block makes you more reliable blocker. So even though Mighty Blow is much more effective at getting cas when blocking you don't use it as much because the BOB still isn't that reliable - so you are hitting at the end of the turn - and lack of block makes him easier to put on the floor. From a team perspective Block is better because you don't use as many rerolls or cause as many turnovers. So I think they are roughly even - doubling the number of SPPs gained to 1. Take Block first because of the turnovers!

A lot of coaches will read that paragraph above and decide that the best progression then for BOBs is Block & Migthy Blow (which seems to be worth about 2 SPPs per game on average). That's a perfectly valid option too for those who want a "Killer" emphasis. Doing so puts the emphasis on getting Guard on the blitzers - or giving up Guard since you don't feel that there is much competition in the strength war.

Guards! Guards!
However the best skills for an individual player are not necessarily those for the team. A classic example of that is kick. Absolutely no benefit to the player with the skill - however a huge benefit to the team. For BOBs this team accellerant skill is Guard. Why is guard so good for BOBs?
  • Guard is best in the thick of the melee - which is where BOBs spend their time
  • Guard is best on players you don't mind getting hit. S4 & Av9 means they are tough.
  • Guard is best on players who are hard to get out of the way - S4 again makes a big difference.
If you have a wall of four guarding BOBs and a guard Troll then there really isn't anyone who can out muscle you. Lizards and Khemri will be about even. Dwarves don't have the natural strength to compete and Chaos are too busy trying to get some skills on the team as a whole. Your opponent ends up with one or half dice blocks to try and break through the line.

My experience tells me that against other Bash teams Guard is a massively more useful skill than Block or Mighty Blow - and Guard on BOBs is generally more useful than on the Blitzers because they are big & strong so harder to move and happier standing next to opposition players. Against flair teams Guard tends not to be as useful, since they can dance away. However the solid line that multiple guarding BOBs provides can allow you to force them to go the way you want - and on offence is a pretty unstoppable cage. Block probably gives a little bit more but not much and in most leagues bash teams are more common than flair teams.

My rule of thumb for BOBs is take Guard first, unless another BOB already has Block. In which case take Block. So when you first BOB makes it 16 SPPs and gets Block to compliment his Guard, then any BOB takes Block next. The reason for this is that once you have Block BOBs you will naturally want to block with them first. So you'll find the number of blocks made by Block-less BOBs dwindling, so they never catch up. When you have Block/Guard and Block BOBs you'll naturally end up using the Guards to assist more - so the lower skilled Block players will make more hits and get more Cas.

After Guard & Block, Mighty Blow & Stand Firm are both really good skills. Grab might creep in too, particuarly if you are having trouble with teams with many sidesteppers.

Generally speaking I think there are no better skills than Guard & Block for the first two slots, other than +ST. AG is a waste on a AG2 player anyway and +MA/+Av don't give a lot compared to Block/Guard. Doubles are also comparitively poor. That's not to say don't take them but that taking them probably means you've got a worse player for a long time as none of those increases help improve the SPP rate.

However once up to the 3rd skill the alternatives become more interesting. 6,4s are full of options. Av10 can be nice, particularlly in a league without any Claw. However I'd often take +MA instead as being a bit faster makes a huge difference for keeping up with the cage and providing more mobile assisting/blitzing opportunities.

Doubles have a couple of competitive candidates. Dodge, Diving Tackle and Jump Up. Dodge is good because players with tackle tend to be designed to hunt catchers rather than S4 blockers. The Block/Dodge/Guard/Stand Firm combination is about as annoying as you can get.

Diving Tackle is excellent because it makes the BOBs much better at pinning opposing players. Even Elves with dodge won't want to run away early in the turn because of the 1/4 chance of a turnover - meaning you are more likely to get chances to hit.

Jump Up is also worth a mention since it also works well with Stand Firm and helps compensate for the low speed. If you want to develop a real killer BOB then Jump Up makes Piling On a much more palatable option.

That said, ignoring the doubles & stats is okay since you probably end up with a player of roughly equivalent value anyway - and 10k less to TV.

So, all in all BOBs are a crucial element in any successful Orc team and are blessed in that their normal skill access gives them everything they really want or need. Take them all and skill them up as fast as you can. In games you are dominating use touchbacks or hand offs to get the ball to the BOB who most need the SPPs!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Leviathan 2009 - Rise of Underbelly

Leviathan is one smaller BB tournaments in Sydney, run by the Western Suburb Gaming Society its been going for while. The BB tournament used to be run by Emma Bigwood, but a couple of years ago Tribalsinner took over and converted it into a 1.1m resurrection format. The main difference between this and Euc Bowl is that Leviathan allows multiple skills to be bought on each player.

As one of the first tournaments to allow the 3 new BBRC endorsed teams I thought I'd try one to see how they did and get another Australian #1 NAF ranking. The team I had the minis for was Underworld - a mix of goblins and skaven - and I was hoping no one else would take them. However GardenGnome did, so I had some competition! The roster I took was
  • Troll, with Guard & Claw
  • 2x Blitzer with Claw & Mighty Blow
  • 2x Line rat with Wrestle & Tackle
  • 1x Thrower with leader
  • 7 Goblins with nothing
  • 2 Rerolls
I thought the three Claw/Mighty Blow "tin openers" might give me a chance against the bashier teams and help keep the numbers fairly even. The line rats would act as safeties or to help punch holes and I had enough players to keep 11 on the pitch when the inevitable casualties mounted up.

First up was Creature and his first ever game with Ogres. Four break tackle ogres & 9 Snotlings, 3 with diving tackle. This was pretty close to a perfect game. The first five or six blocks removed 4 snotlings, including all the diving tackle. The troll cas'd two of the ogres and I just ran riot. 4-0 TDs and eventually a whopping 11-1 on cas. That was easily the most cas I've ever scored in a game and plenty of tournaments I haven't even got 11 cas!

That put me up against GeoffWatson and a heavily tooled up 'zon team. 12 linewomen, 2 with wrestle, tackle, strip ball & frenzy, one with block, sure hands & KoR, the rest with block. Even with two wrestle I knew this would be a tough tough game and I expected to get thoroughly hammered. I received and the drive turned to mush and I got turned over and scored on. Geoff received and went down one flank. I managed to sack the ball carrier and after a little to-ing and fro-ing he threw over the thrower who promptly rolled a 6 for the intercept, ran upfield and scored. If I remember correctly I then got a blitz which disrupted his offence enough to stop a winner. 1-1 draw, with 1-2 on cas.

Third game was Chaos Dwarves, normally a nightmare opponent. Their coach, Emily is a very inexperinced coach, and that was the decisive factor. The can openers kicked in and two CDs cas'd and 3 KO'd in the opening drive left her feeling badly mauled and defensive. Another quick score and it was 2-0 to me before half time. With the game effectively won I tried to give some coaching tips which ended up costing me a couple of goblins! Another two TDs meant it ended up 4-0 and 2-3 on cas.

2 wins and a draw left me in third place overnight, with only Sangraal & Angryman undefeated I could feel a podium finish with a tier 2 team. Thomsy was next, with an Elf team I'd designed for him. 2 Blitzers one with tackle & one with strip ball, 2 Catchers with block, leader on a thrower, kick on a lineman and 4 wrestle linemen too.

This was probably the game which swung most for me all tournament. I received and just had another offence fall apart. The troll was stupid two turns in a row and then the thrower rolled quad both downs to turnover and give Thomsy an easy TD. The next drive went a bit better with me managing to get a few elves KO'd and by some fluke I managed to get into position to equalise, but dropped the catch in the endzone. Second half was just awful for Thomsy. He rolled a 1 on almost every dodge allowing me to turn him over relatively easily and equalise. With the numbers my way Thomsy once again suffered a bout of 1s diease giving me two chances to pickup the ball - I failed both and disasterously scatter the ball to a waiting catcher who had an easy waltz into the endzone for their 2nd. Two turns wasn't enough and I lost 1-2, with 1-2 on cas too.

Redcard was next, with a 3-0-1 record and a brutual LRB5 Khemri team. Things looked good at the start with pouring rain, a blitz and him leaving a mummy off the pitch. I swarmed the backfield, he failed the pickup on 5s and I turned him over and scored. However I burned all my rerolls doing so and he killed the troll who failed to regen. He still had time to score and the kick went towards the LOS - giving him time to score. I then had an awful defence, 1 dice blitzes against the mummies with the can openers rolled skulls and I couldn't dodge - an easy equaliser for him. Second half I was badly outnumbered and out strengthed - then he got a perfect D, so I decided to withdraw, keep the ball safe and make a play on turn 6 or so to try and nab a winner. Things were going well until a quad skulls from a can opener left the ball carrier exposed and I got turned over - once again a bouncing ball landing in my opponent's hands to win him the game. Lost 1-2, and 2-6 on Cas.

Kurt and his Orcs were next. This was by far the most luck affected game in my favour. I received and hit a brick wall and bounced off. I tried breaking upfield, but lost possession and the ball changed hands a couple of times. However I managed to recover and scramble upfield. A blitzer came in to whack the thrower with the ball, snake eyed the GFI and then killed himself. The same turn the can openers took out another one. Then in the dead turn another blitzer managed to kill himself blocking a goblin - no Orc blitzers to start the 2nd half and I had a big numbers advantage. Things just got better with the can openers tearing the remaining orcs to bits and the rest of the team running in 3 2nd half TDs for another 4-0 win. 7-3 on cas (against Orcs!).

Final position was 7th out of 22, which I'd have taken pre-tournament but I'm a little disappointed having been 3rd overnight not to place higher. Even so I got 24 cas and 15 TDs - 2nd placed in both categories. Congratulations to Thomsy who won with a 5-1-0 record. Redcard was 2nd with 5-0-1. Angryman was 3rd, pipping Grumpsh on TDs. Emm won most cas (25), Mathfuric sports, Sangraal painting, Linda encouragement and I picked up TDs. Unless there is a miracle on the NAF ranking Gnome's 3-0-3 record ought to be worse than mine giving me a 6th Australian #1 ranking :)

On Underworld I think this was a very favourable format - maybe about a favourable as you'll get in a tournament. Resurrection means the fragility of the team as a whole isn't a big problem, 1.1m to buy players and skills means money is tight so my 13 players, 11 skills and 3 rerolls (includng leader) meant I had a level of robustness others couldn't match. Finally multiple skills really helps. The ability in particular to field 3 Claw/MB players meant some teams just couldn't live with damage I could inflict. However the fragility, and general weakness of the team overall definitely played a big part in Redcard's win and to a less extent contributed to the loss to Thomsy and draw with Geoff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Blood Bowl History

Well here it first real blogging. I'm going to use this Blog primarily to talk about my #1 Hobby - Blood Bowl. For those who don't know Blood Bowl is a game of fantasy football - fantasy as in Orcs & Dwarves, Football as in American Football / Grid Iron. It was created in the late 80s by Jervis Johnson, whilst working for Games Workshop, and has gone through several rules editions. The most recent rules have been developed by the BBRC, or Blood Bowl rules committee, of which I've been a member since 2005 (is it really only 4 years?).

I've loved BB since I first played it when 3rd ed came out in the early 90s and was introduced to it by a friend of mine, Colin Lewis, who was working at the GW Preston store. We played it loads with other friends in Lancaster & Morecombe but then I went off to work down south and never really played again. It was also one of the those small isoloated leagues where we didn't even use the Citadel Journal expansions (just BB & Death Zone). Perhaps the only unusual thing was that I managed to independently invent Sigurd's injury rule to help curb the excessive death rates.

After moving to London in 2001 I was surfing the net and came across a small league playing in a pub close to my work. I thought it looked something interesting to do on a work night so I joined the Edinboro Castle Blood Bowl League (its not in Edinburgh!). JJB joined the same time I did and that makes him the longest continuously playing member - Marcus wandering in & out of the league.

The ECBBL is now one of the most famous BB leagues in the world - maybe thanks to the "Blackshirts" uniforms we wore to tournaments. The current NAF president, Lycos, is a member who played me in his first ever game of Blood Bowl. Geggster is on the BBRC and they as well as several other coaches are prolific tournament attendees.

When in Europe I managed to attend several Blood Bowls, helped Haggislad organise PK&Q, went to over the UK and to Koln, Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam to play in tournaments.

In 2004 my Aussie wife & I emigrated to Sydney, Australia, so it was bye bye to the ECBBL and the European tournament scene. I hooked up with the Bell Tower Blood Bowl League and started going to tournaments. The scene was very different. In Europe tournanments are generally weekends away from home, only Blood Bowl is played and the scene is much more social as a consequence. In Australia many touraments are local - so people go home at the end of the day - and usually associated with bigger cons. Also tournaments were universally played using normal league rules (aka progression) rather than the European convention of resurrection formats.

Anyway I played at a couple - MOAB, CanCon, Leviathan, and with Chunky organised the first Eucalyptus Bowl in 2005. That was based on a European format - BB only, resurrection and played in an RSL (which for those outside Australia is a bit like a bar/casino/restaurant). Euc Bowl was a raging success and was consistently competing with CanCon for the largest tournament in Australia. I managed to win it in 2006 (with Chunky doing the admin work).

2005-6 was also very busy with the PBBL. Jervis decided on having a relatively open process to develop the new version of the rules and I provided a lot of input into the process. However with the birth of my daughter in 2006 I needed to take a break - leaving Galak to handle the last year single handed.

2007 I managed to get 8 months back in the UK with work, which was great from a Blood Bowling perspective - with me attending Pearlies, BB GT, Rendez-vous, Tulips and the NAF World Cup. That said I had really poor run of results for me - partially I think because the tournament scene in Europe had moved on a lot whilst I'd been away. I think I learnt a lot from the experience and turned it to my advantage winning CanCon in Jan 2008. Since then I've attended many of the NSW tournaments - Leviathan, Euc Bowl (thanks to Virral for running it!), MOAB, Mountain Bowl and CanCon again in 2009.

One of the best things about the past year has been the development of the Sydney League of Blood Bowl. Surprisingly there wasn't really a good league operating in central Sydney and SLOBB filled the gap. Starting off in Good Games near Central this fizzled out after a couple of months. However Rabid Bogscum got it up and going again. 12 coaches in the first season, playing one game a month. 20 in the second season. Who knows where it will end?

Anyway I've got Leviathan this weekend, where I'll be taking Underworld in an attempt to get another #1 Aussie NAF ranking. My next post may well be about how that goes.