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The RPS Cup: Darker Tide

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.

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Blood Bowl

Xbox 360, PSP, PC, Nintendo DS

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Kieron Gillen


Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.