The RPS Cup: Blood Bowl Campaign Diary Intro

By Kieron Gillen on September 7th, 2009 at 6:53 pm.

There's no Chaos Warriors in the actual RPS Cup, which is something of a shame, as they look TRES SEXY
I’ve been playing Blood Bowl to the death – mostly other people’s, occasionally mine. I can’t actually do a Wot-I-Think review, due to feeling uncomfortable with my conflict of interest. But I’ve played so much, with its UK release imminent, I wanted to do something. As such, with the second season of the RPS Cup now under way, I thought I’d take you with me on the rise and fall of the Skaven blighters. Why don’t you join me? Join me..

Brief introduction:

Blood bowl is a hyper-violent American Football analogue. It’s a turn-based board game, converted with impressive faithfulness by Cyanide. There’s also a real-time mode, which no-one appears to play, and as such isn’t really worth discussing.

The aim of the game is to score touchdowns. Some teams take the approach of killing all the opposition so they can’t score touchdowns, and then walking in one to win, but its’ still judged by touchdowns. Whoever scores most, wins the game.

Matches take the form of sixteen turns for each player, divided into two halves. At the end of the half, the game restarts with another kick-off – in other words, when turns start getting short, you’re justified taking increasing risks to score.

Blocks are your active attacks. If you start the game by an opposing player, you can attack them. This is the main way of hurting people. Tackles are your passive attacks. Anyone moving through the squares around any of your players has to make a dodge roll to not fall on their faces. Strength is the statistic for blocks, Agility for dodges.

Each turn you have a selection of one-off options. You can make one pass. You can make one hand-off. You can make one foul – that being, an attack against someone who’s already lying on the floor. And you can make one blitz – which is an attack after a move, and the primary device for getting in quick and fucking people up.

And finally, the big rule which defines the game’s character. Any time you fail a roll in a serious way – you miss a pass, you get tackled, you get one of your own knocked down by a block – your turn ends. In other words, the primary skill is in assigning priority and playing the odds. It’s a lot like poker or similar games. Do you go for the easy success with a limited reward or the trickier success with a bigger pay off? Do you try to be greedy when there’s an easy win just there?

For an example of the latter, you have a team-member about to run in for a touchdown. The second you score, the turn ends. If you’re a bashy team, you may want to do a load of attacks before then, to see if you can cause any injuries. Of course, if those attacks fail, your turn ends, and the team-member doesn’t get a chance to score, allowing more time for a counter-attack. For an example of the former… well, they’re trickier. Take something where your ball-carrier would have to take a longer route around the defensive line due to a player being in a certain place. You do the block to try and clear the route, risking a fail – so not advancing downfield at all – to gain the chance of advancing slightly further.

It’s a game of risk assessment. That everything could go tits up at any second provides tension. And impressive levels of frustration where it all goes wrong.

It’s quite the game, with an elegant brilliant design. Whatever problems Blood Bowl has very, very few parts of it are to do with the core board game design.

This is actually from the first game of the season, but it amuses me to see Trolls KOed.

THE RPS CUP: SEASON 1

There’s a couple of RPS leagues ongoing. This is the first, whose initial season that was plagued by drop-outs, as perhaps expected. It was a new game, so players would simply find they didn’t actually want to commit at all. But with four out by the end, it was tricky to judge who actually did well, and who just didn’t play any games.

The exception was JanekT’s rampaging Wood-Elf team, the Raging Naturists, who won every single game they played – and that he played the drop-outs before they did that meant he ended with either a 8-0 or 9-0 record. It’s hard to be sure, because I had to re-create the league to go for the second season (frustratingly there’s no ability to alter things like size of the league once it’s already started), so all previous records were lost. Though I’m not sure you can even look at old records anyway.

(You actually have to go into individual team management to look at future and past fixtures in a single season. It’s not accessible when looking at an actual league. The league management is somewhat slipshod.)

So, second time there’s eight in the league – six players from the first, some with newly created teams as they abandoned their previous teams for being absolutely brutalised and/or not actually much fun to play, and they’d rather be playing something sexier and/or greener. Plus two two hardened newcomers.

I’m staying with my boys.

THE SKAVEN BLIGHTERS
Yeah, good runners, bad dancers.

I have a soft spot for Skaven. I’ve actually got a code somewhere which allows you to disguise yourself as a Skaven in Warhammer, and I’ve been resisting the urge to go native as the one boy from the undercity. They’re as evil as anyone else on the darker side of the Warhammer universe, but doubly treacherous and with lovely pelts. As such, they’re terribly effective Blood bowl players.

Each of the races have their own vague style of how they play, which is roughly analogous to various approaches to American Football. Apparently. Well, Troy Goodfellow says so:

Wood Elves are the West Coast offense, Dwarves are the classic Pittsburgh Steelers, Chaos are mutant Indianapolis Colts, the Goblins are cheating New England Patriots…each race has a personality. This is not a game about countering your weaknesses – it’s about emphasizing your strengths.

Skaven are a running team. In fact, they’re the running team. In a stand up fight, their low armour means they’ll accumulate injuries faster than if they were in a vivisection lab. Their passing game is merely acceptable. But in terms of pure speed, they’re incomparable. And, as Troy says, I’ve tried to push that as aspect of them as hard as I can. The Skaven Blighters are a fearsome team to make a mistake against. Fail to pick up the ball from kick off and one of the Skaven will get to it before you can. On an advance, even against an enemy endzone, a loose ball can lead to a one-turn touchdown when the Skaven are motoring. It’s high risk, all the time. When they win, they win big. When the dice are even slightly against them, things fall apart quickly. And if the enemy manage to cage-up – that is, create a proper defence around the ball carrier and slowly move down the field – then Skaven are going to be piled waste high before I get anywhere near it.

The Skaven Blighters had a pretty good first season. We suffered a lot of hurtage early in the season, leading to some awkward niggling injuries in some of my best players. Conversely, I had some enormous wins, gaining a lot of experience for the team – including a 7-1 victory, which I believe was the most brutal trouncing of the season. By the close, despite not winning, my team had the highest value – being the value where teams of differing value can be compared.

That’s the key thing with Blood Bowl, and why League play is addictive – there’s a relatively rapid increase in player competence. It’s the MMO-esque grind, but focused down neatly. Seeing a team develop from fairly incompetent into something genuinely brutal is the real joy. Also, like much of Blood Bowl, what advances you get has a hefty element of random nature in, so working out the best build from what fate has given you is a big part of it. There’s also a sense of Jim-esque Eve-risk. Players can get injuries, making them only suitable for early retirement. Players can just die. As such, trying to work out how to best advance your players – both gaining XP and not dying – while not losing matches is a key tactic.

For the Skaven Blighters, team-building was my primary focus for the first half of the series. I didn’t have enough players in my line up to cover for the inevitable match-injuries, so I was playing with less than the full eleven men for a lot of games. It was only near its close when I was capable of fielding a full team regularly.

That’s when I met the Raging Naturists. 2-1, to Janek, which… grates. I couldn’t even blame it on the dice. Equally, I couldn’t entirely give it to Janek’s play. I made a couple of really key tactical errors. So on the bad side, my fault. On the better side… well, it was my fault. Don’t make the mistakes, I can beat him. My main season aim is the biggie: To beat him and everyone else.

(So, yes, if you were to analyze my weaknesses, arrogance would certainly be amongst it. Like, no, really. Also, impatience, perverseness and a pathological belief that a touchdown that takes more than two turns to score is somehow immoral)

Let’s meet the Blighters who are going to try and pull it off.

See the handy space for the Rat Ogre to come. Hopefully.

The core of the team – and any Skaven team – are its Gutter Runners. They’re close to ludicrously fast and nimble, with only Elf Catchers in the same league – and Elves are far more expensive to buy. I’ve managed to get my maximum allowance of four. I’ve had some lucky rolls, which have allowed them to advance into a nasty formation. I’ve also had some unfortunate injury rolls, meaning my two finest players are walking dead. It’ll only take one orcish forearm to end them.

Lhiut is the best. He scored 6 of the 7 goals in that 7-1 match, a feat which moved him to Star-player level when most people were still trying to work out whether you had to pick the ball up with your hands or your teeth. As well as the always-useful Block skill (better fighting, basically) and Fend (which means when an enemy pushes him, they can’t follow up – so handy for separating yourself from your attackers), he’s grown a second head. Skaven mutations are a joyous thing, giving a further bonus to dodging tackles. He’s a classic deep penetration gutter runner. In a standard situation, he dodges a tackle on 2+… and then gets a re-roll on that if he fails. In other words, unless something goes deeply wrong, he’s going to position himself wherever he wants on the pitch, whenever he wants. The problem is a smashed collar bone has reduced his strength to an incredibly tiny 1. There’s a relatively small chance to knock him down – 1 in 6 thanks to the combination of Dodge and Block – but even a Goblin gets two shots at it. Nurgut is close to identical to Lihut, lacking only the fend while still having those agreeable two heads. However, due to a serious concussion, he’s got a reduced armour value. Skaven already have some of the lowest armour in the game. Nurgut is, basically, doomed. Snabfle Sneek is the latest and least Gutter Runner on the team, starting to work towards the skills of his peers. He’s got a block skill so far.

Nurgut, Lhuit and Sneek take similar roles, normally finding themselves deep in the enemy half. Fate has taken Stricut in a very different direction. He managed to get a strength bonus. In other words, he’s as tough as the average person in the game, plus the ability to move close to half the pitch in a turn. I use him like most teams use their Blitzers, as a ball-retriever – something he excels at thanks to his new Strip Ball skill, which means that even if you only knock someone back, they’ll drop it. He generally hangs back, acting as a last line of defence to any break through. Conversely, if the moment presents itself, he can run forward through the lines and throw a block on the ball-carrier to break a cage.

So if I use my Gutter Runner like a Blitzer, what do I use my Blitzers for? Well, not much. The pair of Stormvermin start the second season with no star player sklls, a victim of how much the Gutter Runners have been hogging the play. The only other star players on the team are a couple of linesmen, one of who has picked up a strength bonus – who I use as a roaming block support, throwing in wherever things are bloodiest – and another who’s picked up the kick skill, which is essential for certain of my tactics (Precision kicking=putting ball where you want it=ball retrieval). But really, that’s small fry. I have four skilled Gutter runners and not much else.

As such, my second season aim is to develop the team. Keep the best ones alive, if I can. Knowing that I won’t, build enough replacements. Try and spread the experience a little more evenly, so the (fragile) Gutter-Runners don’t take it all with them when they meet the big bad rat exterminator. Oh – and save up and buy a Rat Ogre, because it’d be nice to win a punch out for once in my life.

So that’s the Blighters. I’ll introduce the other teams as I face them. It promises to be an interesting season. Looking at the running order, it seems that my final game is actually against those troublesome elves. Let’s hope someone has turned his Wardancers into treeman fertilizer by then, eh?

Wardancers? I’ll tell you about them later too. In short: SHHHIIIIITTTT.

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90 Comments »

  1. 357SIG says:

    I’ve wanted to play this for a while, yet after reading this article it’s hard to tell if we speak the same language.
    Will I start talking like this if i purchase it?

  2. Fumarole says:

    How sad is it that I bought it but have only dabbled with the tutorials and half of a skirmish?

  3. Vinraith says:

    God damn I love this game. I wish the AI were stronger and more varied (or at least open enough that such could be modded in), but even single player is still a blast.

    I should probably play a bit with you lot, though. It certainly sounds like a good time.

  4. Coded One says:

    Wow… That sounds like a fantastically snazzy concept for a game, I will certainly check this out.

  5. Greg Wild says:

    I’m really, really looking forwards release now. It’ll be great to get some big league play on the go.

  6. jsutcliffe says:

    How versatile is the team customization (cosmetic, not abilities)? I want to remake my old orc team, but if I can’t get them to look right, I’ll be disappointed.

    I notice Mr. Gillen’s skaven are purple, which I believe is the default colour — is something so basic difficult to change?

  7. Vinraith says:

    @jsutcliffe

    You can set primary team color however you like, but any other cosmetic customization would have to be done through modding.

  8. Web Cole says:

    Hmm, I never really had Blood Bowl on my radar before, but the whole team/character building sounds like the sort of thing I really enjoy. Might give it a look :D

  9. Nick says:

    I secretly believe this series of articles was just an excuse to mention the 7-1 again =)

  10. wyrmsine says:

    Yes, this is a fantastic game. Incredibly frustrating – the brutal risk/reward system described leaves a style of play my brain finds completely antithetical. It took me an entire season to work out that yes, it’s often better not to risk the end of my turn (and a downed player) by attempting a hit; rather, my boyz should be in a position to make the opposition pay for trying hits, or dodges, of their own. It’s amazing to the point I can only play every two weeks or so – it seems to unlock some long-dormant scary tyrant-coach archetype floating around my head.

    Love the ranking system, as well – the first season, I won two games, tied one, and lost all the rest. Came in second in the league, apparently by virtue of having caused more casualties than the rest of the league combined*, and drawn in the most attendance likely as a result.

    Still not getting the training system, though – in my third season now, and I’ve yet to have a player benefit from pre-match exercise – every time, I lose a player to temporary injuries. What am I missing?

    *Worth noting that a good number of fatalities were inflicted on the Skaven – they’re loathsome little bastards, and the only team I haven’t yet beaten. As of this writing, I’ve abandoned all tactics against them beyond executing every last one and having my goblin run the ball up the field. They’z wuz askin’ for it, the runty buggerz.

  11. Nick says:

    Arf. I’ll just apologize one final time too, sorry chaps.

  12. Eben says:

    Wardancers are ok its the catchers that make the win, i exclusivley played the campest team in the tabletop version and so do i now in the digitised version and if i get sometime out from trying to force people into playing Eve i would definately join a RPS league. Either way PLAY IT. It could save your life…

  13. Dolphan says:

    Hmm, 25 quids on Amazon. Tempting. How is it for system requirements?

  14. Web Cole says:

    Ah. Second thoughts, £40 is a wee bitty steep. An Amazon pre-order it shall have to be.

  15. AndrewC says:

    So who is JanekT? Go JanekT!

  16. Vinraith says:

    @Dolphan

    It’s pretty reasonable. The game’s not unattractive, but it’s hardly going to push the boundaries of most systems. Plus it’s turn based (well, the good mode is) so even if there was a little stutter or something it wouldn’t impact gameplay.

  17. Vinraith says:

    Note: For folks in the US, at least, you can get a boxed copy of the international version of the game (which is what I have, and it works fine) for $35 from gogamer.com.

  18. Sprint says:

    @ jsutcliffe: Cosmetic customisation varies. There is both a skin and appearance toggle; “Skin” changes the skin and hair colour and sometimes adds things like tattoos or scales or the like. “Appearance” will make minor changes to the model, perhaps a slightly different face or something, nothing drastic in either case. The number of options for eachtoggle depends on the player and the race but there’s never a wide variety, I think the most you’ll get is about 8 skins and 4 models but the average is lower. The players do go thorugh a noticable visual change depending on their level though, their uniform will become much more impressive at each stage and I swear the players get larger. Mutations are also modelled by the way, which is a really nice feature I hadn’t expected. Three armed skaven or a minotaur with claws (Or if you use the customize team button, a two headed, three armed, clawed, barbed tailed, long legged rat ogre, with horns!) are anextremely obvious and terrifying sight. This last one is just a casual non-tested observation but I *think* If you increase a players strength he will become bulkier as well. There could be other changes but those are all that I’m aware of at this point.

  19. Quine says:

    I’m having a great time in the single-player, though the AI could be a bit better.

    Skaven are right little sods for grouping up at their end and trying some poncy throws, but my Gecko Hard Crew can usually smush them.

  20. Vinraith says:

    @jsutcliffe

    Listen to Sprint. It’s been awhile since I played and I’d forgotten the per-player customization options. They aren’t extensive, and Sprint’s correct that the most noticeable visual differences tend to be a product of increases in level, mutations, and the like.

  21. Vinraith says:

    @Quine

    There are a few mods that endeavor to either improve the AI or simply make the game more challenging by increasing the value of teams in the campaign/league relative to the player. Anyone that has the game is well served to check out http://www.bloodbowldigital.com/ to see what’s being done mod-wise for this great game.

  22. Flappybat says:

    Is everyone aware that it’s trivially easy to cheat in this online? With the peer-to-peer system people have taken to modifying their own teams and even dice rolls, it’s not as widespread as it might be in different games but it’s still a bad situation and I don’t think the developers have even acknowledged it yet.

  23. Wizumer says:

    This sounds outstanding. I loved the original Chaos League game, but passed on this because of its high price. Sorely tempted now however. Is it easy to get into leagues?

  24. drewski says:

    Between a good level of American football literacy, and a good level of Warhammer literacy, I think I understood most of that.

    Maybe.

  25. Bollox says:

    Funny I just played the last match in the first season with my Skaven team. it seems I have a very similar team setup with 4 gutters, 2 stormvermin, thrower and 4 linemen. I did have a rat ogre, but he died in what was the blackest moment in my team’s career. From then on, I’ve developed the team around gutters.

    I’ve gone a different route with my gutters though. Two of them have wrestle, which helps them separare ball from the carrier. Wrestle means that you can choose to tie down your victim to the ground when you get a both down result with a block. It won’t cause a turnover and if all went as planned, my other gutter is ready to pick the ball.

    Rest of my gutters have block as their first skill. Don’t really see much point in giving them even more speed with sprint or sure feet yet. They are plenty fast as it is.

    Skaven are indeed a high risk, high reward kinda team. Lots of frustration too. I might give my skaven some rest with the next tournament and go with human team instead. It’s not that I don’t like skaven, but it’s so gut wrenching to see them bashed around!

  26. shon says:

    I love this game. I play against the computer about once a day. I am managing a human team and I am stunned by how weak they feel compared to my Wood Elf and Chaos teams.

    One thing I am curious to hear from other players is do you ever fire an injured player? I tend to keep mine around till they die no matter how screwed up they become. There is just something heroic about a 2 ST blitzer with a niggling injury sticking to it.

  27. JM says:

    wyrmsine

    “Still not getting the training system, though – in my third season now, and I’ve yet to have a player benefit from pre-match exercise – every time, I lose a player to temporary injuries. What am I missing?”

    It’s a stupid minigame – you have to click when it’s near the end in order to have a chance of success.

    The REAL answer is “don’t play Blitz mode” :)

    For those of you wondering what the game is like, I have some youtube replays and match reports on my site (clicky my name).

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    Bollox: Yeah, Wrestle is on my checklist of stuff. Doesn’t seem to fit with what I’m doing with (most) of my Gutters though. I suspect the guy at the back may get it instead of block.

    Shon: Depends how much it screws up what they do, really. I suspect I may fire a ST 2 blitzer.

    KG

  29. TooNu says:

    So has it come down in price then??? no has it F***
    F*** the developers F*** Games Workshop’s pricing F*** the whole stupid affair of this game that looks awesome, makes me want to play it but is out of reach due to my un-willingness to pay ransoms to S****Y F*****G greedy digital download price jacking F***FACES

  30. Dominic White says:

    @TooNu – it’s £25 off Amazon. You can stop flipping the hell out.

  31. Markoff Chaney says:

    You can’t have 7-1 without the 1. I, lovingly, provided the 1 for his 7. Far from being completely selfless in my playing, I didn’t actually desire to let him get that 7, nor did I strive to only score once. In our most recent game, I allowed him only 6 to my 1. Keeping with my motto, The difference between 0 and 1 is infinite, I was very pleased with the outcome. Really, though, I feel I did improve quite a lot and changing from Skaven to the Goblins suits me much better, I think.

    Another minor thing I’d like to point out is that the 7-1 victory was with him actually inadvertently passing 2 of the 16 turns, so that was 7 points in only 14 turns, to be fair. At the end of the day, I was ecstatic I kept him to a single digit. To give some perspective, I have never played a game so far that I haven’t cheered throughout and had an absolute blast playing. I can’t wait to see how those Wardancers destroy my goblins this time around. It’s all about having fun and I’ve had more fun with BloodBowl than most other games I’ve purchased. Great stuff, even when you are getting destroyed.

  32. cowthief skank says:

    This sounds right good. Looking forward to more.

  33. Jockie says:

    Hrmm, sounds very similar to a game I used to be obsessed with called Crush Deluxe that I discovered at HOTU, I’m guessing they sorta ripped off blood bowl in the first place though.

  34. Dominic White says:

    Just a small warning to anyone wanting to buy the game: Bring a sense of humor with you. There WILL be matches that you lose purely because the dice-gods are laughing at you today, and your star players will get their faces stomped, and even the simplest pass will slip through your players fingers.

    And that’s a large part of why it’s so fun. You can be staring defeat full-on in the face, and your opponent just pushes his luck that little bit too far, and screws over his entire plan.

    Just don’t play if you’re the kind of person who flips out and quits the moment your luck turns sour. If you’ve got a sense of humor though, BUY IT NOW. It really is a great adaptation, now that it’s patched up and the drama has died down.

  35. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dom: I’m kind of hoping for at least one match in the season to be a mess for that exactly reason.

    KG

  36. Nick says:

    Don’t go stealing my glory Markoff, that was my 7-1 loss!

  37. Nick says:

    And I gave up after several consecutive games of terrible rolls, 5 deaths in 5 games and a team with a lower value than when they started.

  38. Kieron Gillen says:

    Shit. Maybe I won two 7-1. Am I that good? I MAY BE.

    KG

  39. Nick says:

    Well, I technically scored one of those 7 myself by blocking your ball carrier into my own endzone in a hilarious double push roll..

  40. Kieron Gillen says:

    That was beautiful.

    KG

  41. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I’ve been following a Let’s Play on youtube (by Slapintogan).. and I’m going to get it when it comes out in stores. I just hope they fix some of the niggles, because they seriously detract from the gameplay (as far as I’ve heard).

  42. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Um.. so.. it’s out? It’s OUT?!

  43. Vinraith says:

    It’s been out since, IIRC, June.

  44. Sunjammer says:

    Honestly, the price is what’s putting me off, and the fact that it isn’t on Steam. I’m reticent to buy digitally distributed PC games that aren’t on that service, and Blood Bowl seems quite vile about it.

    I never played it TT (was more of a space hulk/necromunda/gorkamorka type), buti’ve heard nothing but good things.

    I wish there was a demo. It’s a steep price for a game based around a sport i don’t care about, even if it is set in a universe i know and love

  45. Vinraith says:

    @Sunjammer

    Just get a boxed copy. Gogamer.com has them for $35.

  46. Sunjammer says:

    Vinraith i caved and just bought it :P I’m weak!

  47. Markoff Chaney says:

    I could have sworn I was the 1 to his 7 as well… No desire to steal thunder, Good Sir. It wouldn’t surprise me if he defeated a couple of us as soundly. I’ll have to fast forward through the Birthday replay…

  48. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Ordered. From the UK for about €30 (compared to the €40 it goes for on most dutch sites).. and man am I surprised at how much console-folk have to cough up.

  49. Markoff Chaney says:

    And so it appears I was a 1 to his 4. Memory be damned and, also, this means I regressed infinitely as well. He probably would have gotten those extra 2 points if he hadn’t skipped a couple turns. Yeah. That will make me feel better about my game with my goblins.