Now things get tricky.
The Green Mist are Wood Elves controlled by Jolima. This is tricky on two points. Firstly, Wood Elves are the best finesse team in Cyanide's Blood Bowl (You could make arguments about other teams which Cyanide haven't put in the game, I suspect). As a running team, their fastest players – their Catchers – match my Gutter Runners. Add to that serious throwing abilities. Even their lines-elves are phenomenally agile, and the Wardancers are simply the most cursed players in the game. They're able to block like blitzers, dodge like catchers and leap over the heads of the opposition. And that's out the box, before they've had a chance to train at all. As a team, if you're into scoring more than straight hurting, they offer a fascinating array of options.
Secondly, Jolima's a good coach. He's solid, methodical, good at blocking and getting the most from the elves. Like Janek – who we'll come to soon enough – he also quietly winds me up by playing them in a slightly different way than I would. Jolima's also a pretty quiet player, with little of the chat at the table, thus making it tricky to read in play. Before we go into the match, he's sitting third in the league and faces less of the top league members in his final matches than anyone else. In other words, if he wins this, he's in a good position to move to win the league.
Also, playing on Sunday morning, as aficionados of the Sunday Papers will give testament to, means that I'm pretty hungover. The basic maths to calculate odds is beyond me. Keeping my eyes open is, in fact, somewhat beyond me. I have a bad feeling about this.
As the next hour and a half proves, it's both justified and unjustified.
Before going in, I scan the Green Mist. Thankfully, not choosing tackle last game isn't as disasterous as it could be. Jolima's developed a large number of his players, with only Catcher Elvananfel having obviously many more skills than anyone else, picking up Block, Sidestep and Fend, a set of skills which mean he'll be difficult to actually counter. The other catcher Nimund has Block and Nerves of Steel, meaning he'll be able to ignore my Skaven trying to annoy him while plucking the ball from the air. The two throwers Aethbane and Trielyth both have picked up Accurate, increasing their already-impressive throwing skills. The pair of Wardancers – Thatyth and Mylmanwe have Strip Ball and Mighty Blow respectively. I'll expect to see the former try and hunt my ball-carrier and the latter just hunt people. There's also some trained linesman, with fighting skills, and he's carrying a couple of star-player casualties meaning the dodging-skilled Linesman will be sitting out the match. That said, I'm also suffering heavily from Casualties, including John Walker having a nice sit down. That means I've no-one to counter the towering Treeman who'll almost certainly make up the centre of the Green Mist's offensive line.
Oh – this is also the first game which I've got a lower Team Value than the opposition, meaning I get free gold to spend. Alas, I don't get to spend any of it because I'm in another window talking to Jim about the mess of the adverts launching over the weekend and the game doesn't give sound effects to tell you when it's up to stuff. Minor Sigh.
(Which occasionally leads to, when setting up team members, a player not noticing he's meant to be kicking off until the timer runs down. Also, any sound effect on the timer running down would have been useful. And... oh, I'm getting distracted).
I win the toss, and horned stormvermin Lhykit recieves the ball from a short kick, bashing through the thin eleven line to push to the right touchline. A small cage forms up around him, which costs a lot of Go-for-it (GFI) rolls, which is terribly greedy for this early stage in the game. The tacklers move in, and one of them fails their own GFI line, allowing Lhykit to just impale anyone in the way and run through for the first touchdown. 1-0.
The Elves receive the kick, dressing their line heavily on the left. The ball is placed right in the far corner – I'm increasingly appreciating having a specialist kicker – which he retrieves, and forms a cage inside the Elves' half. While most of my team form a defensive line in front, Lhykit – fresh from the touchdown – goes in and blocks the ball free. Alec Meer goes and annoys people. I can't get to the ball, but I'm pleased.
I shouldn't be. A few blocks allows a catcher to grab the ball and heads to the far right of the pitch. Since I'd moved my skilled-gutter-runner Safety to the left to fill a hole in the line, it means that he can't actually reach him. A linesman manages to go in, but barely knocks the catcher back. Mylmanwe comes in, punches the uppity rat out the way, and the catcher runs in. 1-1.
My turn to kick off, and the Skaven show their tiny, pointed teeth. Both Elf linesmen have to be taken from the pitch, leaving the Treeman standing alone. I see a rare chance to actually hurt the big guy, and gang up brutally on him, allowing Stromvermin Kreeite Wing to take the actual skin. He rolls a skull. A re-roll. Another skull, before failing his injury roll and knocking himself out. Skaven really shouldn't get ideas above their station.
Still – I'd moved the ball up the half-way point, and have an acceptable defensive line by that point. He manages to hammer the thrower out of the way, but a Wardancer KOs himself trying to retrieve the ball. Stricut picks it up, runs it forward, hands off to Alec Meer who runs in for his first touchdown. 2-1.
Kick off. Yet again, the Green Mist dress left. Yet again, I kick deep. Yet again – though I didn't mention it before – the Wardancer hammers Lhuit, who's Strength-1 is proving a terribly temptation to everyone. Unfortunately, another elf fails a block, meaning the ball is still loose from the kick and no-one's picked it up. Alec takes it as his cue to rush forward and retrieve it. Problem is, he's by himself, with no support. He's beaten up, and the thrower retrieves the ball. There's a pause as Jolima plays the maths. Does he throw to the Wardancer who can score from where he is, or play it safe and give it to the catcher on the half-way line? He ends up throwing short, and the Catcher runs to near the Rat's goal.
Safety-Gutterrunner Stricut comes in and punches the catcher down, sending the ball bouncing off the pitch. It's thrown on near the half-way line, by my catcher who tries to pick up the ball. Tries. Despite his sure-hands skill, it falls through his fingers. I realise this is bad. I could have afforded to move more men to support him before picking up – I didn't want to move them all, because my plan was to get the ball, just hand off to Alec and then run in for another one, but I could have afforded a few. As it is, the ball's free and it's a perfect position for a mobile team like an elf to retrieve and run in. They do exactly that. 2-2 and half-time.
The character of the game's clear. It's a penalty shoot out. We each take 2 turns to score. The first person to miss a chance of scoring is the person who's almost certainly going to lose the game. I'm thinking this as I kick off, forming a defence on the left while a catcher runs to the far right – meaning that I'm going to split my defenses to cover them all.
Stricut goes in, hammers Nimund, hurting him badly, and the ball lands in his furry hands. Sadly, he double-ones on the dodge away, dropping the ball. I'd been more cautious this time round, bringing up people to support in advance, but it's still one which is retrievable by a team like the elves. At least I'm winning the casualty war, I think, exactly as hefty linesrat Rhiite wing fails an injury roll, and is only kept from the grave by spending my apothecary. The elves get the ball, and a run-hand-off-run takes it directly to the endzone for a 3-2.
I'm beginning to get annoyed at this point. I feel that I've managed to break his offence each time, and a terrible roll has stopped me taking advantage of it – the dodge away by Stricut being the most obvious. I'd just need one of these fuckers to pull off, and I'd be winning. Conversely, Jolima's having bad luck with the injuries, which are thinning out his team. But still – for my money, he's in a strong position here. He kicks to me now, and if all stays the same, I get a two turn goal. He recieves the kick, and only has to dawdle a single turn to force me to try and score in one turn – which really requires a lot of luck to make happen. He's in control, unless something changes.
I receive the kick, and form a square towards the centre – he's playing a pretty symmetrical defence, and I'm playing an equally symmetrical offence. He punches through my line beautifully, getting the ball. Stricut comes in and retrieves it with a blitz – which ends in his hands. Since he's blitzed, he can't hand off to anyone else. Immediately it's clear this will be the first longer-than-2-turn drive. Stricut heads to the right touchline, forming an improvised huddle. The Wardancer isn't having that, stripping the ball, which flies off the pitch.
It's thrown back on deep in his half. It's retrieved by a lines-elf who short-passes forward – the ability of all elves to be decent passers is another boon for them. We're pushing on the left again, and he's a couple of squares from my touchline. Ouch. I decide to send a linesrat with wrestle over and do a one dice block. I figure I have a re-roll, and it's abstractly a 50% chance even without it. I think about bringing a thrower forward to help out would be worth the expense of a few dodge rolls, but my brain hurts whenever I try and work out the probabilities. Let's get this over with.
It pulls off. At the cost of a re-roll, the ball flies free. We cage deep in my half as best as we can. It's a shit cage, and the wardancer is still standing. It's turn 13, but he's got no re-rolls. One! He moves in! Two! He punches the rat's face, sending the ball flying! Three! He gets tackled trying to retrieve the ball.
Thank the horned rat, shall we say.
After a little more violence – hurting the other elf catcher – the ball is moved forward at hyper speed. This is actually Skaven at their best. The turn starts with the ball 2 squares from my endzone. With a pass and a hand-off, I get it to his endzone. Or rather... I could, if I sprinted the remaining two squares. I decide to dawdle a turn, playing the odds.
Now, if I was clever and/or mean, I'd dawdle some more turns stomping on all the elves. Settle for the draw and hurt him. Because if I score, with 2 turns on the clock, all I'm really doing is giving him the chance to win. Up until this point, two turns has equalled a goal for whoever's been kicked at.
I score anyway. This sort of tactical play simply isn't my style. And besides... yeah, it gives him the chance to score. But it also gives me the chance to blitz the ball away from him. That's abstractly the Blighter's specialty, and despite their total failure to do it so far. I have to have some faith in the little rats.
He dresses left again – which is probably a set up for some kind of elf-undergarment gag, I fear – and pushes forward. His turn ends early when a Wardancer tries to leap over my line and ends up performing an elegant face-first landing. His defence is in disarray, allowing my Skaven to rush upfield, not really caring about my half of the pitch. Since he hasn't got anyone within striking distance of the goal, and with only one turn left, can't score. Things have become understandably tense as tiny tumours of Skaven fill the Green Mist's pristine pitch.
He's caged on the half-way point, in an improvised defensive position – but nowhere near good enough to stop Stricut punching the ball free. The ball falls in an empty space. The Skaven are all upfield, ready to be handed off to. And my sure-hand Skaven Thrower is there to retrieve the ball, the man most able to pick the thing up, ready to step forward and...
Yeah, he fails his pick up again. “Sure Hands” clearly means something different in the Skaven tongue.
The whistle blows. 3-3.
Jolima notes dryly afterwards that we probably should be both grateful for that. As much as I'm bitching about how it went earlier, he's probably right. It just always cuts more when it's the last move of a game where it all could have switched around rather than earlier. It's worth noting that in both halves, Jolima had no re-rolls by the close. Then again, it's also worth noting that I always had re-rolls left – because all the rolls I failed were ones which I couldn't use any of my re-rolls on.
Still – a draw leaves the league all open. Things are interesting, with any of the top 5 possible winners. I advance Deamute Squeak, a linesman, giving him dirty player, thinking I need a designated fucker-over-of-wardancers. The second I do it I realise my mistake. I've done it again. I wanted to buy tackle, remember. I realise that I can get around it. When you leave the team management, you get the option to confirm changes or leave without confirming changes. I choose the latter, and go back to see if I can re-take the pick.
It seems that Cyanide have a definition as unusual for “Not Confirming Changes” as skaven have for “Sure Hands”. As in, it actually confirms the changes. I'm stuck with a dirty player.
Sighing, I go and see what I get to pick for rat-of-match Stricut. I'm planning on Wrestle. But the dice actually take me a different way, as he rolls an 11, giving him an Agility bonus. That means he's an Agility 5, Strength 3 Gutter Runner, complete with Strip Ball. In other words, he dodges like the guys with two heads, if he's got re-rolls on the table tosses the ball like the Elven throwers we've just faced and is the go-to guy for picking up the bloody ball. Fuck you, Skaven Thrower. He's pretty monstrous now. It seems that I was saving up all my game's luck for that roll. And – y'know – right now, it doesn't seem a bad trad-off.
Of course, all this has really done is created a really big target for the next match: the league's premier head-hunter. It's A Skull's murderous orcs.