Happy New Year! One of my strategic-level resolutions is to “Produce more, consume less” in 2013. One of the things I haven’t been producing lately is blog content, so I figured I’d kick this off with some hardcore gamer nerd talk about the most recent Blood Bowl computer game release.

I haven’t written about Blood Bowl in the past, save for a link to the most awesome blood bowl pitch ever. It is probably the first Games Workshop game I ever became enchanted with, when Voodoo showed me the rules to one of the first editions of the game. This version was so amazingly complicated that it included most, if not all of the stats from an ancient version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

The latest version on the computer is called Blood Bowl Chaos Edition. The rules are available for free online via the Living Rulebook. It seems that they only added a couple of new races since Legendary Edition, including Khorne worshippers, which is awesome, BUT I had wanted to try playing an Ogre team for awhile, and so I christened the Auckland Ogres in a fresh campaign and went looking for trophies.

Why I Love Blood Bowl

Before I talk about the amusing experience of managing an Ogre team, I should talk a bit about Blood Bowl in general. In the past, I had played Skaven exclusively. I really liked how fast and squishy they were. If they got the ball loose they could score in one turn on you, just like real ‘skill’ team. The first and best piece of advice I got upon starting a Skaven team back in the days of the OLBBL and its ilk was “Don’t get attached.” This is because in Blood Bowl, your dudes can get hurt or die, and when they die, apart from a really shitty chance to save them with an Apothecary, they don’t come back.

Yes, permadeath is one of the main reasons I love Blood Bowl. It places a context around risk evaluation that is just inherently absent from other game types. Blood Bowl, played properly, operates much like a roguelike in that the classic gameplay can kill characters, and does.

Death isn’t the only thing that can cause you coaching stomach ulcers. Your players can get injured, reducing vital stats that can make them worse at things like blocking, dodging, throwing, or getting hit without taking damage.

Of course, there are upsides to taking risks and making plays with your players. They get Star Player Points (SPPs) for successfully completing actions that help your team win a game (Scoring, Intercepting, Passing , causing Casualties). More SPPs means more levels, and with each level the player gains a new skill. The skills are arranged into categories, and some categories are not available to certain player types without an exceptional roll. This allows you to mature your players and build in specialization with skills like Catch, Pass, Block, or Mighty Blow.

What I’ve found is that after watching lots of NFL football, and playing lots of Blood Bowl, is that Blood Bowl does a pretty decent job of ‘simulating’ football-style action and decision-making at a strategic and game-management level. Here is a quick list of things you can do in the game that strongly resemble things you might do managing a football team:

  1. Use fast and agile receivers to spread the defense out, making room for your running game.
  2. Use defenders good at stripping the ball to attack the ball carrier and create a turnover.
  3. Use more conservative play when ahead, and riskier play when behind.
  4. Keep options open on offense. If you can threaten both run and pass on every play/turn it will make the defense’s job harder.

There are several other fun things about the action. Risk management in particular is very interesting. You can take the dangerous route and let your star runner loose and get him in scoring position all alone, but you stand a chance of letting him get surrounded and getting blocked and/or fouled, often with disastrous results.

So, back to Skaven. I loved playing them, but they died. Lots. I found it difficult to get anything that wasn’t a Stormvermin to a decent level. The Gutter Runners could get to decent levels but they are extremely desirable targets due to their low armor value and their ridiculously high movement allowance. A typical Thrower would last to about level 3 before taking a hit that ended him. The linerats were fairly cheap, but at 7 3 3 7 and no skills they weren’t that useful at much other than gumming up the shoes of the opponent’s Blockers and Blitzers.

I was enjoying my Skaven teams until it was pointed out to me that they were considered a top-tier race in Blood Bowl. Never one to continue playing for too long on EZmode, I decided to find a tier 2 or 3 team that would amuse me.

I tried playing a Goblin team for awhile, and while the sekrit weapons were really hilarious, it seemed a lot more like an exercise in focused murder with the hope you could score a touchdown near the end of the game. It was pretty futile, which was a bit nice because the pressure of winning is essentially off every game.

Ogres sans Donkey

The Ogre team has been pretty fun. I’ve played to the point where I’ve got 4 Ogres (and one Snotling!) with Block and they’re looking pretty good out there. You’d think an Ogre team would be nigh unto unstoppable, since you get 6 Ogres on the field at one time, and with ST 5 they pretty much solo 2D block everything. If you give a bunch of them Guard, and put them in a line or a big scrum, they tend to 3D block everything (which is good since they don’t start with the Block skill). They are, however, equipped with the ‘skill’ Bone-head. Every time you activate one of them, there’s a 1/6 chance they forget what they’re doing. And lose their tackle zone. And can’t assist Blocks until you succeed at a bone-head role next turn. Or the turn after that.

The Ogres level up pretty quickly because with their high Strength and Mighty Blow they cause a lot of casualties. With an AG 2, however, it’s REALLY hard to pick up the ball. I’ve found that if an Ogre somehow ends up in possession of the ball, that they should just blitz and run their way down the field for a touchdown. It is very, very hard to Blitz a ST 5 ballcarrier when he is properly caged by some tough guys.

The Snotlings are a different story. At ST 1, they are a 2D or 3D AGAINST block unassisted. They do get Side Step, which can be a nightmare for the offense when trying to break a receiver free from a Snotling with a block. Their skills “Stunty” and “Titchy” affect a great many things–essentially they suck at throwing, they take ridiculous damage when they get knocked down, but they are really really good at dodging around in a scrum (they IGNORE tackle zones on the destination square when dodging). They also have the Dodge skill, and get a +1 to all Dodges from either Stunty or Titchy (can’t remember).

The way this plays out, is that typically you’ll have 1-2 Ogres fail their Bone-head roll, and the Snotlings have to run in and put bodies on people to keep them from running all over you. Sometimes, you’ll have all the Ogres succeed and it’s a huge block-fest. Sometimes, however, every single freakin’ Ogre will fail the Bone-head roll and you’ll be screwed. In normal circumstances, the Snotlings can sort of behave as ‘mortar’ for your Ogre bricks in making an impenetrable defense. You can put Snotlings on guys to take out their Assists, or put them on guys to force a Dodge roll, or add them to an Ogre to get a 3D block in many cases (Only need 1 assist for an Ogre to get a 3D block against an ST 3 player).

Maybe I’ll try to get my buddies to play a ‘tier 3 team’ tournament online and bring Ogres. Could be hilarious.