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The RPS Cup: It's A Skull

There will be blood.

Hentazu enters the game convinced – thanks to Janek's coming on top in the battle of the elves against the Green Mist – that he hasn't a chance at the top spot. I enter the match... well, I do have a shot. My final match is against Janek. I need to do two things against Hentazu to have a chance.

Firstly, not lose.
Secondly, make sure I actually have a team to play against the Raging Naturists.

Going in, the second one is the one which weighs on my mind. Yes, Hentzau plays an orc team like the two other greenskins in the league. But Hentzau doesn't play It's A Skull like those orcs. His strong point is basic common-or-garden absolute brutality, and – if you read his match reports – you can clearly see people try play against him, only to realise he's not playing the same game as them. My favourite was his game against the Naturists, when the orcs have formed a tight heavy cage. (See his old-forum write up for full details - https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/oldforum/pc/the-official-rps-bloodbowl-thread/page-18/ - scroll down to “Hentzau”). The elves form a typically lose defensive line, moving their star Wardance down-field to keep an eye open for an opening and be ready for the break. The way most people many would progress would be to slowly grind forward towards the touchdown. What the orcs did was march the entire team back down the pitch to pile onto the isolated Wardancer, push him to the ground, and then stamp him into the ground. No permanent injury, but he missed the next game. Final score was 1-1, the first time Janek was kept from the win.

It's A Skull, of a similar team value to the Skaven Blighters, aren't actually the bruisers you may expect from someome with that sort of approach. The star is undoubtedly Gornik, a Blitzer with Sure Hands, Dodge and Stand Firm – which makes him almost a finesse player and terrifyingly difficult to get the ball from. Their offensive line is understandably violent, however - the splendidly named Gorfang Eat'Elbow will be the core, having both Block and Guard (Meaning he can help out others). Standing beside him is the also awesomely-named Bad Idea, a Strength 6 troll. The other Blitzers are Takrad, who is a man-marker thanks to his Tackle and Shadowing skills, and Grimfang, who's an all round competent orc with Pro (A personal re-roll, basically) and an enhanced move of 7. Nippy, for an orc. The team's filled out by some more competent linesmen – Grath who has Dodge and Block, and another chap with a move of 7 – a couple of trained Blocking Black Orcs and the thrower, who with an enhanced agility and accurate skill is actually a nifty little player. Shame orcs aren't exactly good on catching, eh?

My main casualty if Rhiite Wing, my Strength 4 Block-skilled Linesman, meaning I'm lacking even my small amounts of rodent muscle. My plan is simple. Score quickly while quietly eating down the clock more than I usually would. And, for God's sake, don't leave anyone who I'd like to remain alive anywhere near his orcs.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. Especially contact with an orcish fist.

The pitch full of skaven. This does not remain true for long.

I'm trying something different in my set up, trying to ape the three-step-touchdown of The Unlucky Thirteen. So I retrieve the ball and run backwards, out of range of all the orcs with my thrower – who finally manages to pick up the ball after the poor showing in the last game. No lynching for you, ratty. I start to set up my troops into tiny groups, some on the touchline, some further into the orc half – the idea that these clusters will defend each other, and whoever survives best will be the route I go next turn.

Goes wrong when the two-headed Nurgut dashes forward and is tripped. He falls, injuring himself. It turns up as a -ST injury and the next game out. I turn for the apothecary re-roll, which turns up... another injury, this time for -1AV and the next game out. It's adding insult to injury. Literally. I end up choosing the -1ST, because Nurgut already has a -1AV, and a Gutterrunner with AV5... well, he's made of paper-mache, isn't it? I suspect with hindsight, I'd have gone the other way.

But really. One turn. A major piece of my offence out – and out for the next game too. My nerves were bad anyway, but they're shot now. I take far too long with my turns – at least, a long time for me. I can't work out the angle to make the tactic work. The line on the left gets pummeled, with Deeamute Squeak getting one to the head and is out for the game. Casualties mounting up, the orcs encroaching on my touchline-thrower and no obvious route for the touchdown.

Thankfully the AG5ST3 Wunderskaven Stricut steps forward, recieves the ball and pushes through on the right. He rushes to the endzone, and out of reach of the defence. The Skaven take it as a cue to retreat, running for their lives from the orcs. The greens don't go after Stricut, prefer to have a little stomp on John Walker. Standing on the touchline, I work out whether I should play for time a little, knowing his offence doesn't have the speed of mine... but I decide not. I need something on the scoresheet. 1-0 on turn 4.

He dresses left – does anyone ever dress right? - and I kick really deep. I start actually extolling the joy of having someone with Kick on the team, which no-one else I've faced has actually chosen, prefering to go for more violent skills. In fact the kick's so deep that I suspect he may have trouble getting the ball to a cage. I move around the field, positioning skaven between his main line and the ball – but, most importantly – be ready for a counter-attack if the dice turn right. The Orcs rush forward, ganging up on the ST1-Lhuit whose two heads are sent spinning. KOed, so he'll be back later in the match. Meanwhile Alec Meer rushes in to try and block the ball-carrier... failing. Perhaps unsurprisingly. It was an optimistic block, to say the least.

The orcs start mashing forward, fracturing Alec's leg, but messes up his blitz-selection so the ball-carrying ball-carrier Gornik only moves a square (You have to select the Blitz button on a player before attacking if you want to move afterwards. Basically). I'm trying to break apart the cage, with John Walker's frenzy bashing his way through... until he rolls badly. I try to re-roll the block, but because John's a loner – AND IN THE GAME! - it requires a roll for it to activate. It doesn't activate. He falls.

(And the re-roll is still deducted anyway, which is my least favourite rule in the game. Not getting to use the re-roll is punishment enough, y'know? It normally means you'll turn over to the enemy, and it's easy to miss who are the loners on your teams, because there's no warning that “this re-roll may not work”).

Anyway, problems are ahead, because to help Walker's offence, I moved hyperstar Stricut upfield to support. Since the block failed, he's out of position, and I can expect an 8-person foul from the orcs, who will have given up trying to score this half. Takrad moves in, punching him down. And then comes his friends. And then comes the foul and...

Bastard Irony.

The sound of a spine snapping echoes around the stadium – well, at least inside our imaginations. Game presses on as I go and look up the table for what the injury actually does.

Yes, it's actually AG-1. The dice give, the dice take away. He's back to how he was before the last game.

I suspect this is somewhat ironic.

The half comes to a close to the sound of bleeding Skaven. Alec Meer doesn't recover from the KO, wisely deciding to sit another drive out. This means that there's no Gutter-runners on the pitch. The pair of Blitzers are the whole of my offence. For a team whose primary strength is their speed, this is somewhat problematic.

I open with another pretty nifty kick deep to his left – bless that guy's legs - but news arrives that the Ref's been scared off. This means that anyone can now foul at will. I find myself rolling my eyes at this. Despite all those fouls in the first half, he hadn't sent off a single orc anyway. What's the difference, the bastard? He's going to have a visit from the Clan Eshin when he gets home.

I take my time with the blocking, and while I do pretty well I'm thinking defeatist thoughts. If I fall back and let him press forward, perhaps he'll just score, and I'll have a chance at a 2 turner to win the game, assuming Alec gets back up. The team, I know, has been brutalised long term – three of those Gutter Runners aren't coming back next game – but I know they can still score. I suspect that Hentzau, with a taste for blood, wouldn't take it, and happily spend the rest of the half kicking the living hell out of the remaining Skaven. Events on the pitch make such thoughts irrelevant.

Something goes my way. An orc is thrown a quick pass and it falls through his thick fingers. The ball's free, deep in their half, and I have two Skaven positioned to act like Faux-gutter-runners to rush a quick one in to bring to 2-0. I just need to retrieve the ball. 4+ to pick up. I see my thrower – with his sure hands skill – is within reach. That's... 75% chance of getting the ball.

Well, there's lots of other things that could go wrong with this too, as you can see. Both dodges would have been 3+, with one with an option of re-roll. There's two 1-6 chances for the GFI to fail. And then the pass. Still - nothing TOO unlikely.

The Thrower rushes in and... well, does exactly what he's become famous for, and fails the pick up. My notes at this point become unprintable even at a pretty-foul mouthed blog like RPS.

Gornik recovers the ball, and pushes forward, getting a cursory cage. There's a direct route for my horned blitzer to charge in. He fails – Gornik, even with two dice is a hard man to get a ball of – and continues his advance. Someone else rushes in for a last chance, and gets tripped on the way due to me selecting the wrong square to move to. It's one of those interesting parts of Blood Bowl that there's no way to stop a move – even if it involves running half the pitch like this one – after it's started. Which is annoying, shall we say – though it almost certainly wouldn't have made a difference here. Gornik runs in. 1-1.

It's always nice to take a break from beating the living hell out of little skaven and score a touchdown, I find.

I prepare to receive the kick, and Alec gets up. Except I realise I misread a name. It's not new boy Alec. It's actually two-headed weakling Lhuit who was KOed. He's an actual Skaven of character, and exactly what I need. I dress heavily forward, as Hentzay has set his Orcs well back on the field, expecting me to do... well, what a Skaven is always going to try to do. The event roll turns up blitz – which means that the Defenders get a free turn before the kick. Swearing.

The green wave comes sweeping forward, hammering all and sundry. The only good thing is that he can't get anywhere near the ball. It looks pretty grim for the Skaven, on a surface reading.

It's not. It's actually the perfect position for me. One orc is bashed out the way. The Thrower gets the ball to Lhuit. And Lhuits simply runs through the gap, with a couple of easy dodges. Hentzau, in the lust for blood, only left a single catcher as a safety. The Skaven pour through the gap, filling the backfield, making it trickier for anyone to catch my star. As we're inching towards the final rounds of the match, I consider playing for time. If I score now, he has two turns left – and a reasonable chance to get a score. If I delay even a turn, it reduces it to one... and I suspect for his team, that's close to impossible.

At which point, a block from an orc kills my kicker. Another block kills Vortch, an unlucky linesman. I decide to score quickly, because frankly, the whole team could be dead by next turn at this rate.

My favourite thing about this shot is how far away all the orcs look. It's very much a 'Wait - wasn't there a Skaven with a ball around here?' moment.

So. Turn 15. 2-1 to the Skaven. I just need to stop him scoring with the remaining handful of Skaven with operating bloodbowling limbs. The kick goes wild and ends just past the half-way line. Not good. Then the dice turn up something surprising – I get a Blitz.

I do something crazily foolhardy. Lhuit goes and gets in position to receive the catch. I'm tired by this point, but it's still – to be polite – optimistic. My Blitzer-with-Guard goes to support him. With his ability to fend, plus block and dodge, Lhuit' abstractly could keep the ball awa... but really, when I've got the number of players on the pitch I have, I can't afford sacrificing anyone who should be in my half of the pitch, between the orcs and the touchline. In short, I do exactly what Hentzau – over responded to an abstractly lucky dice roll and left my defences in tatters.

Lhuit goes down and Gornik gets the ball. It passes to another Grimfang, who presses down the field. There's one safety linesrat in position to do this. He's the chap with Wrestle. This means that he's got... well, 50% chance of down the star. I don't have a re-roll. A plain 50%.

The tackle is good. Gornik's down. The ball's free.

I'm cheering. The team's been pretty much destroyed. I'm going to have 9 or so skaven available to season-deciding match. But despite everything Hentzau did to the rats, they still managed to pull it off.

The Orc's last turn, and despair returns like a black wave. The blitzer? He's Grimfang. The one with +1MV. That means that he can get up, pick up the ball and his two go-for-it sprints just edge him into the end-zone. If it was anyone else, it'd be just short. Sometimes, one square is everything.

I sit, drumming my fingers, praying at imaginary dice. He gets up. He moves to the ball. He picks up (66% chance of success without re-roll, I think to myself). He runs. He makes one GFI roll (1 in six chance of failure, I think to myself). He makes the final one (About 1 in 4 chance of failure, cumulatively with the previous roll, I think to myself).

It was the 3 in 4. The orc runs in, taking it to 2-2.

There's a turn left on the clock, and I fiddle ineffectually, trying to remember fairly exploity-one-turn-touchdown routines. Brain's fried, and can't recall the detail. Do remember that they require a certain roll on the set up, which doesn't turn up. It's traditional to go for a little revenge at times like this... but with the way the injury dice have been treating me, I suspect I'd just end up with another tiny rodent grave. I cut my losses and end the turn.

Whistle blows. 2-2.

This was before the end of the game even.

Quek – the thrower who can't pick up – gets an advance, which I give him leader, allowing an extra re-roll whenever he's on the pitch. I bash my head a little, realising that – yet again – I've forgot to pick Tackle. And I could have done with it next match. Gahk.

You may sense I'm a little bitter about this one. It's less the slaughtering – Skaven are born to die, after all - more the timing of the slaughter and the capriciousness of the dice which lead to it (If you find yourself incredibly happy that someone's just been knocked out, it's a sign of exactly how badly a game is going). And I'm bitter because, fundamentally, I threw away the game in those last two turns.

But there's more going on here than bleeding.

The thing is... yes, I'm missing three gutter runners. Yes, I've lost a clean 500 points off my team value on the knuckles of orcs. Yes, no matter what happens next match, the heart's been ripped right out of the Blighters, with most of their stars carrying injuries which may make it better to sack them all and start again with people with fully operating spines. Yes, even if I manage to draw against the elves, my league position is going to drop to third or fourth.

Yeah, all that's true.

But the thing is... if I win...

Well, I win the league.

All I've got to do is take this broken team of lab-rats and outscore the scoring-specialised team of golden boys that no-one's managed to ever get a better result than “draw” against.

C'mon, Raging Naturists. Bring it.

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Blood Bowl

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Kieron Gillen


Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.