For my sins, I’m pretty confident about the season’s first fixture.
For a start, it’s Goblins. Goblins are a tricky team to play well. Highly amusing, but tricky. As dirty as you like, they’re limited to the eponymous incy greenskins (who are weak, but shifty, pretty able to ignore the worst of tackle-zones) and trolls (who are enormous, regenerating, brutal and thick with a capital lobotomy). Their main attribute is sheer dirtiness, with star players possessing a variety of impractical secret weaponry. A pogo-stick can be taken as comedy. The fanatic with the enormous ball-and-chain and the tiny guy with a chainsaw are funny, exactly up to the point where your star player becomes an exciting smear. The only problem with them is… well, they’re against the rules of the game. Any time the match restarts after a touchdown, they’re sent off. In other words, you only have them for one drive.
Secondly, Da Jokerz Wyld are a new Goblin team. The coach, Markoff, decided he didn’t like the Skaven he was playing and returned to his first love. Rather than a slightly-trained one, he’s started afresh, so they’re generally without skills. Against the honed Blighters, this is pretty unfair – though the game gives a load of extra funds to the lesser team so they can buy things to even it out a little.
And finally… well, while Markoff isn’t the coach I beat 7-1 last time – that was Nick – the last game ended heavily in my favour too.
My primary plan is standard Skaven running game. He’s got two trolls, who I’ll avoid. They’re actually so stupid that if they don’t have a handler beside them at the start of the turn, they can’t act 50% of the time. In other words, rather than fight the trolls, I’ll fight the handler and hope the troll dumbs-down. The secret weapons could annihilate me, so I’m trying another indirect counter – score (or conceed) a goal as swiftly as possible, so getting them sent off. And finally, try and avoid creating any permanent problems for the Goblins. Ideally, I want them to be strong enough to cause problems for people later in the league. Actually working them over and leaving them bloody just makes it easier for everyone else.
The Jokerz have a massive 630,000 gold to spend on bonuses. I’m expecting to see at least one Star Player join the Goblins, but none are forthcoming. It seems that he already had too many. As such, a lot is thrown down on re-rolls and ref-bribery – the latter means those troublesome chainsaw chaps will be around to assail me a little longer.
Match kicks off, and it immediately all goes wrong for the Jokerz. Whenever a drive starts, a random event occurs. I believe it’s influenced by both the team’s popularity and its cheerleaders and similar – which are things which many teams seem to overlook buying. I get one of the luckiest rolls of a Blitz, which means the Blighters get a turn before the Goblins can even move. Instantly, all the Gutter-runners are deep in the Jokerz half and retrieve the pigskin.
Yes, my Gutter Runners are so quick, I kicked the ball to myself.
Sneek runs in to score by turn 2. The fans don’t seem to pleased, and the next kick-off leads to a riot – which means the timer progresses before game can start up again (effectively reducing the length of the game). The Goblins manage to retrieve the ball, forming a loose cage. I decide it’s time to strike with the vicious cage-breaker Stricut, able to get through the lines and throw a block at the ball-carrier. He ends up on the floor. I’d actually forgotten that he, of all the Gutter-Runners, didn’t have the block skill. So when I selected an option which would have brought the Goblin down and left him standing if he had block skill, the Gutter Runner came crashing to the floor and my turn ends. Since it was my first action, it left a dirty great hole in the rest of my lines which the Goblins advance through. A tight blocking match engages before a Goblin does what Goblins do best – that is, dodge between masses off troops – and runs in for a goal. 1-1.
Next kick-off prompts another, bloodier riot. The pitch fills with disgruntled fans. They leave, leaving the recumbent forms of about half of both teams – thankfully, including the ball-and-chain wielding fanatic. While the sensible thing to do would be for the Gutter Runner to press on through the corpses, I give the ball to Lhykit – my Stormvermin – and let him try to power through. It takes an extra turn, but he gets his goal. We’ll make a star of him yet.
The second half starts at 2-1, where the Goblins have their turn at an early blitz. My thrower – yes, a Skaven Thrower – retrieves the ball and actually manages a pretty decent impression of an elegant elf team, throwing the ball from the far right to the far left into Sneek’s welcoming hands. This was, frankly, not something I was expecting. I just wanted it away from my endzone. Capitalizing on this lucky dice, the Runners push downfield to near the endzone. A Goblin injures himself trying to block Sneek, which probably serves him right, and the fledgling Gutter Runner slides in for his second.
The match is starting to go like the last… but it’s worth noting that Markoff’s tactics are improved over the first game. He’s setting up his defences deeper in his half, which allows him to retreat for a second line of defence. The problem is that by not keeping a couple on the lines, I’m able to set up a little more forward with my Runners and not risk an easy block against them. The Runners inch forward a square for the next drive, where the Gutter-Runners immediately rush the ball-carrier. The ball’s knocked free which Nurgut manages run in for another goal. Meanwhile, in the mid-field, the Skaven are actually trying to be a little more vicious, and by carefully selecting their blocks, manage to not just bring down both trolls – but KO the pair of them. They’ll be back, but not for a while. The next kick-off goes even worse for the Jokerz, failing to pick up the ball before the Gutters are back on them, Nurgutt retrieving and then handing off to Sneek to run in.
We’re inching towards the final few turns. The Goblins move forward, and actually look like they’re going to get it into a defensible position on the mid-way. I suspect Markoff was trying to hurry along things quicker, trying a shorter pass… which fluffs, and leaves the ball loose at the half-way point.
For the first part of the match Head Skaven weakboy Lhuit decides it’s time to actually show off what those star-player points have done for him, retrieving the ball, then running diagonally across the whole pitch, entirely not caring about little things like tackle-zones. He’s soon joined at the cusp of the end-zone by most of the Gutter Runners. They say it’s their half? Well, we more like to think of it as our home away from home.
And then Markoff gets a little screwed by the game. Lhuit’s the low-strength Skaven. By lining up the goblins, he manages to get a three dice block against him. One of them turns up as Defender Down. Another turns up Defender stumble. And…
Okay, let me explain Blood Bowl’s blocking. You throw a dice. If you’re stronger than them, you throw multiple dice, and pick which one to use. You’re weaker, you throw two dice, and your target chooses which one to use. It’s a normal six sided dice, with different logos – “Defender Down”, “Defender Stumble”, two separate sides with “Push Back”, “Both Down” and “Attacker Down”. Defender Down knocks pretty much everyone down. Defender Stumble knocks someone down as long as they don’t have Dodge skill. Gutter Runners have dodge. So, if you roll multiple dice and get to pick, you pick Defender Down. Markoff picks Defender Stumbles.
Why would he do such a thing? Well, as a game, Blood Bowl never explains this. There’s no pop up on the dice explaining the difference between “Down” and “Stumble”. Hell, it never explains how many of each symbol are on the dice meaning it’s impossible to calculate the odds of success without researching elsewhere. Markoff has been playing all this time and not picked up that Stumbles is the one which is ruined by Dodge. Blood Bowl is a strategy game weighted on odds, and the game does almost everything it can to hide those numbers from you until it’s too late.
So, rather than being taken down, Lhuit just gets pushed back a square – and because he has fend, the Goblins don’t even get to follow up. Rather than dodge between the lines, he backs off and around, handing off to Sneek to get his hat-trick.
Skaven leave victorious. Goblins leave defeated, but physically in pretty good shape. The season’s away.
My careful farming of XP also pays off, as a couple of the characters advance. My youngest Gutter Runner reaches level 3, and I end up giving him the Sprint skill – which will allow him to try and run another square. My rough plan for him is to try and build him into a one-turn-scorer, a glass-cannon approach which I’ve yet to really try and pursue. Finally a Stormvermin steps up as Lhykit gets a mutation and grows a nasty set of horns. Handy in a fight.
Doubly handy, as a fight comes next. It’s The Orcish Darker Tide. Erk.