The RPS Cup: Darker Tide

By Kieron Gillen on September 10th, 2009 at 8:08 pm.


Orcs and Goblins. Skin of green. Surly. Violent. They’re the same, surely?

Well, no, despite sharing some of the same characters. So while Goblins and Orcs both have Trolls and goblins, the Goblins have a variety of dangerous special weapons and the orcs have a full team of specialists, including throwers, heavy-duty-Black Orcs and Blitzers. In other words, they’re a serious, brutal contender.

I think they’d suit Sprint, their coach. I’ve played him before, with my Human team. He was elves but – if I remember correctly – he played them as the most brutal bashy team I’ve yet to face in any league. It was clearly mental tactics involving sticking the whole team forward and piling on those blocks. I won something like 3-1, but being beaten up by Elves for the majority of match was somewhat embarrassing. I’m wondering what he can do with a team who can actually hit, y’know?

The advantage is that his team, like Markoff’s, is a new one. A little experience, but no star players yet. He’s also got a small team, with no line-orcs, and all the specialties maxed out – two throwers, four Black Orcs, four Blitzers and a troll. In other words, quality players, but no room for any casualties. This is less a problem with us two, as the enormous difference in team values means that he’s going to have 700,000 gold to spend on things to even up – which will inevitably include mercenaries and probably a Star Player.

My tactics are fast rush offense. If he manages to form his defences around the ball-carrier, I’m screwed , as I don’t think I have the specialists able to pull the ball clear. If he manages it, I’ll play a harrying defence, backing up slowly and trying to annoy him into making a break for it. But really, the best aim against that is try and get a lead and force him to play to my pace.

The teams take the pitch, I’m disappointed. He’s got mercenaries, but no Star Players. Like Markoff, the option wasn’t there. This makes me suspect the game’s somehow removed the option for Star Players – that it was one of the options when starting the league and I somehow turned it off. And since I didn’t play with any options, unless I miss-clicked, it implies the default is no Star Players, which would be terrible. Not having the legendary bruiser-of-bruisers Morg ‘N’ Throg turn up in these diaries will make me sad.

Still, it turns out that he doesn’t need him. I elect to kick, send the ball flying into his half as his touchline annihilates my scrimmage line out of existence, with two sent to the injury den. Seconds into the match, we’re two rats down. In my go, the Gutter-runners start their streak into the backfield – and the first immediately trips over (a feat that requires double-ones).

This is not a good start. When Rhiite – my strong linesman – gets knocked out and the orcs manage to cage-up their defences on the half-way point, I’m considering deliberately backing off and letting one in, just to get a chance for the KOed people to recover. What was I thinking choosing to kick off to him,eh?

Still – we persist. Since he’s only guarding four corners, it’s possible for a Gutter-runner – and abstractly possible for a Stormvermin if he rolls REALLY well – to get near to the ball-carrier. Stricut does so, and the ball’s loose – but he fails to retrieve it. The orcs take their time, beating all the Skaven back so there’s clear space near the ball. In close combat, this is a key tactic. If enemy are nearby, it’s harder to pick up the ball. Get rid of them.

Nurgut gets hammered, taking another injury. A serious injury, which would make him lose another point of armour. Now, Nurgut’s the chap who has already lost a point of armour. Losing another… well, he may as well have electrodes tied to his testicles and the controls passed to the opposition: they’d be able to hurt really badly whenever they want. I use my once-a-match Apothecary, and get an injury with no long-term side effects.

At which point, things get odd. The player hasn’t actually gone to the injury pen, but is waiting on the sidelines, ready to come on again. I’ve seen this happen before – players who should be casualties from their injury just moving to the subs. I presume this is more Blood-bowl programming twitchiness. The quick-moving rumble continues, and eventually the ball bounces clear, and Sneek manages to rush it in for the first score. 1-0 Skaven.

[EDIT: Apparently this is actually as the rules should be - selecting injury just gets them off for the drive. However, the in-game text still says they miss the game, which is somewhat foolish. Yet again, the hiding-the-rules aspect of the PC version comes to the fore.]

The kick goes deep into his half. Yet again, the scrimmage line is hammered, and his orcs advance. However, his thrower… well, his thrower is deep in the backfield, with a load of Orcs between us and them, but no-one actually standing with him. I think Sprint doesn’t actually realise exactly how good the Skaven Blighters are at taking apart this kind of formation. Three Gutter Runners lazily glide through the backfield, surrounding the thrower and actually KOing him.

It’s a beautiful play – totally what I play the Skaven for – but totally wasted. Sprint recovers and starts gets the team organised again, around another thrower. Stricut sweeps in, pushing back the thrower, which would normally mean a loose ball – but, as a thrower, he’s got a Sure Hands, so keeps hold of the ball. The orcs move upfield, and getting some more KOs with some really nasty fouling. He’s within striking distance of the Touchdown, when the Gutter Runners manage to get in and get the ball loose. I’ve, in a small way, screwed up. In my panic, I brought back all my troops from his half, meaning there’s no-one to pass the ball too and get a sneaky one. The half ends 1-0.

I receive the kick off, deciding to try something a little sneakier. I concentrate most of my Skaven on the left flank. The thrower recovers the ball, and sends a short pass at the appropriate Gutter Runner. Fail. Thrower screws up and the ball ends up in the hand of the Gutter-runner. He also fails to hammer his way through the lines, and can’t hand off to anyone else.

Skaven scramble to perform an unprecedented event for the Blighters: forming a functioning defense. It feels strange. I don’t like it.

The melee actually goes the Skaven’s way. I was planning to hand off to Sneek, who’s fast enough to run in from even this distant point… but it’d involve a little dodging. Since the numbers are in my favour, I decide to clean the way with some blocking. There’s much violence, but due to foolish choices, I actually block the path to the end zone with bodies. The Blitzer ends up fighting forward, and I start thinking about whether this slowing down actually is okay – the more time I take, the less time he has to grind out a goal. In the end, the Stormvermin hands off to Rhiite – the world’s strongest Skaven, who’s recovered from his beating – who runs in to score the goal. I have plans for that boy.

After lining up my team, I head off for a toilet break, thinking I’ve plenty of time. Due to an impressive amount of fluid inside my body, I return to find the game’s automatically taken the kick and sent it flying off the pitch, meaning Sprint gets to give whoever he wishes the ball.

Curses. My bladder: Sprint’s greatest ally.

The cage forms in his half. I position Skaven as best as I can around it, and Nurgut goes in to try and block. He’s the weaker party, so the opposition roll two dice and get to pick which to use. Luck – and the help of Nurgut’s block skill – means the thrower goes down. Ball bounces clear and Sneek recovers, darting for the endzone. The Orc-to-watch Grimfak catches him and tears him down, only for the Gutter-runners to catch up and pummel him, sending him into touch. The ball’s thrown back into play, and Lhuit darts off, recovering it and scoring again. 3-0.

The ball goes off the field from my kick-off again – my skilled kicker has been (er) kicked, and is quietly resting off the pitch, chewing medicinal cheese – and the Orcs form up on the half-way ground. Blitzers streak into my backfield. Foolishly, my defences are wide open, and there’s a direct path they could march down. Half my forces scramble backwards while the remainder try and break the cage, in a similar method as last time. Nurgut goes in, and repeats his two-dice-downhill success sending the ball free, before being brought down by the mass as he attempts to leave. Sprint’s first attack actually brings his turn to the end, leaving time for Stricut to recover the ball and head downfield, where Sneek was goal-hanging. A hand-off and a fourth goal.

There’s no time left for anything. Well, nothing other than Rhilitch the linesman getting hammered and getting a smashed collarbone. Since it reduces his strength – thus making him pretty much useless – he gets sacked immediately and probably gets fed to the larger, stronger members of the team. Skaven are ruthless.

Didn’t go the way I expected. Yeah, there was a lot of violence, but in the games between our first meeting, Sprint’s learned a lot more subtlety. The problem with his earlier all-in tactics was that he won the mid-line fight, but once you got past the lines, there was nothing to stop the troops running in for a goal. I think the game was a little closer than the scores suggest. But still – victory and all. Afterwards, I note that the linesman Lhytzh has picked up the Wrestle skill – more on that later – and there’s enough gold in the coffers to finally splash out on the luxury toy he’s been lusting after. The coach gets on the phone and orders a Rat Ogre.

This chap turns up.

Hello, John Walker. Welcome to the Blighters.

Next up: Kermit’s Green Brigade. More orcs.

, , .

65 Comments »

  1. The Pink Ninja says:

    God Botherer!

  2. Pundabaya says:

    Once you’re 3 down as orcs, forget the ball and try to do enough damage to force the other coach to concede. It’s the only way you’re going to win.

    Also, in a repeat of the FEAR 2 Fiasco, KG hasn’t checked his facts. Orcs get throwers, not Catchers. D’oh.

  3. oatish says:

    When does this sucka see a XBL release?

  4. Pundabaya says:

    Oh, and very dubious team selection on the Orcs team… four black orcs, two throwers and a troll?

    lots of strength, but a very slow team. Also Black Orcs are useless at ball handling, and take ages to skill up. There is also no-one to assist on blocks without tying up a very valuable player… along with the other valuable player telling the troll what to do.

    My usual starting line-up was:
    4 blitzers
    1 thrower for ball handling duties
    2 black orcs
    and the rest spent on linemen and re-rolls.

  5. Markoff Chaney says:

    I think I enjoy reading these almost as much as I enjoy playing this game! Thank you for doing this, Kieron. I’m a’feared of that Rat Ogre. They are brutal buggers.

  6. Jolima says:

    Actually, the apothecary thing is working as it’s meant to. If you use an apothecary and you get to chose “Badly Hurt” as the result (even if it was the original roll) the player is just sent out for the drive instead of the match.

    See, I did take your advice of reading up on the latest version of the rules Kieron.

  7. Railick says:

    My wife is interested in starting to play BLood Bowl with me ;) This is a great read and makes me want to start as soon as possible but sadly we can not afford at the moment.

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    Jolima: Splendid. Then the in-game text not saying that is probably a bad idea, eh?

    KG

  9. Vinraith says:

    Great stuff Kieron, keep it coming.

  10. Meatloaf says:

    Mmm… I’m looking forward to seeing that Rat Ogre in action.

    Also, I think it’s supposed to be “once-a-match” not “once-a-math,” unless you’re only allowed to use the apothecary once every time you do math.

  11. Janek says:

    Actually the apothecary is working as intended. From the LRB:

    “If the player is only Badly Hurt after this roll (even if it was the original Casualty roll) the Apothecary has managed to patch him up and pump him full of painkillers so that the player may be moved into the Reserves box.”

  12. Janek says:

    Blast!

  13. Shalrath says:

    This almost makes me want to try it again.

    Then I remember the beta… and decide against it.

  14. cowthief skank says:

    Yeah I concur with the praise. Really interesting reading, thanks for taking the time!

  15. Sprint says:

    @Pundabaya: I’m sure that you’re correct, I’m still learning the game rules let alone the finer points of all the races. Thank you for the advice about trying to force the opposition to concede though, I’ll try that next time the chips are down.

  16. BobbyBob says:

    Oh dear. I get to be the first to play against the Rat Ogre.

    This could end badly.

  17. Earl_of_Josh says:

    Must… own… game… Waiting for my copy in the mail. Once I er, learn how to play I’ll be increasing the US EST crowd by one!

  18. EGTF says:

    How can you be sure your rat ogre won’t break down and cry each match?

  19. Blast Hardcheese says:

    I think John will learn to be quite ruthless.

  20. Ian says:

    Loving the write-ups, Kieron.

  21. Railick says:

    I didn’t realize Rat Ogres could heal?

  22. kalidanthepalidan says:

    Great read! Keep them coming!

  23. kwanchu says:

    me want to play when does it come out in the colonies?

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    Railick: They can’t. Much like John.

    KG

  25. Riotpoll says:

    I bought this game on monday evening, whilst mildly inebriated. I am having rather good fun bashing cpu heads with my chaos team, of which only one player is any good at picking up and running with the ball. I do like the Tentacle mutation, love stopping sneaky skaven/elves in their tracks when they try to run away/past my units with tentacles.

  26. JuJuCam says:

    Very compelling series, makes me almost want to try out the game despite having little to no experience with board wargaming of any kind. But not while it’s as expensive as it currently is.

  27. Skeleton Key says:

    Orksies are never defeated in battle.
    If we win, we win
    and if we die, we die.
    So it don’t count as defeat.
    And if we runs away we can always come back for anuvva go, see?
    - Commonly held Ork view of warfare

    Thanks for these write ups, Kieron. This game looks like it will re-kindle my love of the Blood Bowl universe the way that the Dawn of War games reminded me of the fantstic 40k background.

  28. Pijama says:

    Kieron, stop being a pansy and play with another team around the same level GODDAMMIT! ;)

    Really enjoying it. Keep it up! Blood Bowl sounds awesomier with every report.

  29. Sunjammer says:

    I really wonder why BB doesn’t have ACTUAL replay functionality. You’d think replay files would be of tremendous value to this game, considering it doesn’t allow spectators, which is another hilarious flaw.

  30. Sunjammer says:

    Also, yeah, i’d much more enjoy this if the matches started even. Veteran team trouncing beginners makes for less excitement, no matter the extra assists.

  31. shon says:

    I am curious how the Wild Animal trait works for you. I find that when I can finally afford a big bruiser for my teams, their negative traits turn them into this frequent landmark on the board. The fact that they have the loner trait which gives them a chance to waste a reroll really puts the hurt on a well oiled machine.

  32. Hentzau says:

    I used to think Wild Animal was fairly useful in comparison to the other Big Guy traits, but this is only really the case if you Blitz with them every turn – and if they roll a 1 regardless, that’s your one Blitz totally wasted. And if they get knocked down, good luck getting them back up again. At least if Really Stupid fails you’ve not lost a great deal, and the 2-3 casualties a Troll causes per match is usually worth the hassle.

  33. JM says:

    Unless I’m completely wrong, Really Stupid makes the trolls lose their tackle zones, and Wild Animal doesn’t. That’s huge.

  34. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Now this is sports coverage I give a shit about.

  35. DarkNoghri says:

    I find that I want to play this game. I have zero interest in (most) sports, and I don’t know anything about the BloodBowl boardgame, but I want this.

    I just don’t want it 35$ much.

  36. bill says:

    This really makes me want to play this game! Though it doesn’t sound like the old bloodbowl i used to play as a kid… sounds like a later version of the rules.

    Have they fixed the AI yet?

  37. Vinraith says:

    @bill

    I played back in the days of second edition and while a few things have changed, it’s basically the same mechanics that it always had. I can’t vouch for first edition, of course.

    And the AI is… ok. I do wish Cyanide would make it a priority, since the whole point of a CRPG version of Blood Bowl IMO is to be able to play against AI. There were, after all, already online clients for MP. I’ll grant this is prettier, though.

  38. Choca says:

    It’s too bad Star Players seem to be unavailable for your league, low value teams are gonna get hammered each and every time and people playing goblins are pretty much screwed.

  39. Ging says:

    I’m sorely tempted to pick this up so I can join in. Well, hopefully the talked about “novice” league, it’s been a while since I played BB – and even then I fielded a halfling team with disastrous results!

  40. Choca says:

    @bill : “Have they fixed the AI yet?”

    The AI is good to get accustomed to the rules but is still too weak to pose any threat to a human player even on impossible match-ups.

  41. Kieron Gillen says:

    Bill: If you nose at the first part of this series, I do an overview of the basic rules. It is quite a bit different. The current Living Rule Book 5 is actually free to download, if you want to nose.

    Re: AI. Yeah, the AI is still all over the place. It’s just something to move the enemy around when you learn the basics – though shouldn’t be used as an example of “how to play”.

    Re: Star Players. There’s nothing saying “Star Players” On/off in the league settings. I wonder if it’s the “Skilled Players” setting? Asked people to try and find out. I agree, it’s a real shame.

    Pjama: Yeah, it’s odd that it’s thrown me in with the two lowest value ones first… unless that’s actually how it does it. It seems that I face the highest team-rated teams last.

    Re: Wild animal. I’ve shunned it because of that, just because there’s already enough randomness in my teams without having to worry about that. What I find interesting is that it seems accepted wisdom that you don’t put the Rat Ogre on the touchline and keep him backfield – which, of course, means that you have to use the blitz to get a decent chance of him actually doing anything. Surely the Skaven should have better things to do with their blitzes than making a Rat Ogre stomp around? I’m sure I’ll find out.

    KG

  42. Bollox says:

    I’ve found that the best use for the big guy is just to stand in the midline and draw attention to himself. With squishier teams like skaven that is usually enough to hold the line together with couple linerats. Meanwhile your stormvermin and gut runners have more room to run around and do their stuff. I usually never blitz with rat ogre, or any other big guys. It’s just too risky.

    Rat Ogre is one of the better big guys because he doesn’t lose his tackle zones if he gets stupid and his prehensive tail keeps the dodgers at bay.

  43. Gothnak says:

    Why no Chaos teams, you crazy fools, they are clearly the natiest bastards in BB, usually have 2 or 3 enemy skaven left standing at the end of a match, must buy tackle though!

  44. Kieron Gillen says:

    Bollox: That’s pretty much what I’m thinking.

    (The tail is why I’m thinking people like him backfield as a hyper-brutal safety, for one)

    KG

  45. Hentzau says:

    Gothnak: Chaos teams are probably the best in the game when developed because of their free access to the mutation skill track, which allows the Beastmen to specialise in just about anything they want, but starting out with them is incredibly painful and puts a lot of people off.

  46. Heliocentric says:

    The ai in this game could be great. Just leave a few dozen learning neural nets playing games for a week on a mainframe. Indeed, they can leave the ai’s playing after the patch and hand in the 3 month of cooking ai in a later patch.

    Difficulty settings could be reduced by “cheating” against the ai on some rolls.

    The neural nets need only be taught what moves are valid and given enough processing power. Turn based games are easy for computers to learn.

  47. Kieron W says:

    Really enjoying the articles, although obviously i think you should’ve concentrated on the Ave Another Go League!

    To agree with one of the comments above, it seems that you’re underplaying the effect the difference in TV will have. If you’re 700 ahead then I’d expect you to win by 3-4, even with Star Players. The inducements system is there to give the overmatched team a fighting chance, but that’s all it is. There’s no pretence at parity.

    Also, your rats scare me. A str3 GR is a lovely thing!

  48. Kieron Gillen says:

    Yeah, totally.

    KG

  49. Choca says:

    Gutter Runners make crunchy sounds when they die.

    They’re my favorite targets with the Skinks. It’s too tempting, you just can’t kill just one.

  50. TNO says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong Helio, but I suspect that you aren’t a programmer.

    “Learning” is a non-trivial problem. And even if you do use a large number of iteration along with some sort of fuzzy math to build a probability matrix that encourages optimal behaviour for certain units sets in certain situations (the permutations would be immense when you consider all possible opponent sets including various upgrades, different strategies for each of the 16 different turns, and multiple scoring permutations), you still end up with an arguably static performance that humans can still exploit. You’ve just spent a ton of time and money developing a complex AI that won’t be much better than something a good dev could whip up in a month.

    As a developer, I think that kinda of solution is incredibly cool. As a project manager, I think it’s also wild overkill.

    If I ran that company, I’d invest a small amount of money building an API which allowed people to mod AI, and then offer to host mods on the official website. Compile the best mods for each race, and offer them in patches. It’s cheap, and you have a small but extremely enthusiastic audience who would definitely contribute.