Tony: Today I’ll be playing Blood Bowl against my friend Brian Haskell, whom I’ve played multiple times before and never beaten. He’s like a Blood Bowl machine. On the other hand, I’ve only seen him play the Norsemen, who seem pretty OP. That’s a thing about Blood Bowl you’ll either love or you’ll hate; the races have a delightful pre-Eurogame asymmetry. One of our friends picked the defenseless halflings in our last league. After some hilariously one-sided matches, we started calling them “garlic knots.” Garlic knots might have been more challenging opponents.
In this league, I’ll be playing the fast, skilled anthropomorphic rats known as Skaven, and Brian will be playing, uh, Corn Demons? Ha ha. Brian’s the Corn Demons.
Brian: That’s KHORNE Daemons, as in Khorne the Blood God, Lord of Skulls, thank you very much. Although I did make their uniforms yellow and tried to work in a pun about HFCS into their team motto. (I failed.) Like you say, I’ve been stomping you into the dirt with the Norsemen since you joined the fracas, so to stop all the OP talk I’m going to stomp everyone into the dirt with a team that’s completely absent the Norse’s bread and butter, the Block skill, at least as a rookie team.
After the jump, wait, why are we playing Blood Bowl?
Tony: Blood Bowl II will be released on September 22, so what better time to start a Blood Bowl I league than right now? That may sound sarcastic, but it’s not. French developer Cyanide’s treatment of Blood Bowl I was as cynical and money-grubbing as they come, and there’s every sign they’re doing exactly the same thing with the sequel. The studio pioneered what is now called early access development before it was called that, releasing a gimped game in 2009 with only 8 of Blood Bowl’s 20 races. Every year or so they released a new, full-priced edition that threw in a few new races, until finally completing the game in 2012 with the “Chaos Edition.” Sorry, everyone who paid full price for the previous editions! Pay full price again! It’s ready now!
Well, as ready as it was going to be. There are still tons of problems with this game — player-disappearing bugs, confusing team management screens, an interface that may actually cause brain damage — but if Cyanide were to fix that stuff, that would be a “patch,” and you can’t charge for a patch. Unless you call it a “sequel.” Oh, look, that’s what they’re doing! Don’t buy Blood Bowl II until it’s done, sometime in 2018.
Try as they might, Cyanide couldn’t kill what’s fundamentally great about the tabletop version of Blood Bowl. It’s a tight, fast game about understanding and mitigating risk, beating up your friends, and the eternal question “what would happen if orcs played football against vampires?”
Brian: The Khorne Daemons are a medium-fast, medium-agile team with perhaps the polar opposite of the Norse team’s starting skill set: a whole lot of Frenzy. As opposed to the Norsemen’s ubiquitous Block, which is probably the single most useful skill in the game, Frenzy is a double-edged sword, requiring careful planning to avoid your blockers frenzying themselves into bad-odds blocks. And there are only four slots on my roster for players without Frenzy.
Against Skaven and other fast teams especially, I think, if my team gets too disorganized and spread out due to poor Frenzy control, it should be simple for them to run the ball and score before I can get to them. The thing that might swing in my favor is the Khorne’s big guy, who should be able to pulp a few of those lightly-armored ratmen over the course of the game.
Tony: Ooh, Corn Demons don’t start with Block? That’s great! Brian’s right, Block is the most important skill. Also, unrelatedly and confusingly, Blood Bowl calls tackles blocks. (Maybe that’s a British thing?) When you try to tackle, you roll dice. You either roll one die, or two dice and you choose one, or two dice and your opponent chooses one, depending on the relative strengths and skills of the players involved and adjacent. Sometimes, when you’re way over- or under-powered, you’ll roll three dice. One of the die faces is “both down,” in which both players, predictably, fall down, and the attacker’s turn ends. But if either player has the Block skill, that player doesn’t fall, and if the attacker doesn’t fall, the attacker gets to keep playing. So the Block skill transforms one of the possible bad die results into a good one, every single time you roll the dice or get the dice rolled against you. And dice get rolled a lot.
Only two of my guys start with Block. But that’s two more than Brian has!
Brian: Yes, I’m going to miss Block. Hopefully, I won’t need it as much when I’m pushing your guys off the pitch.
Tony: Blood Bowl calls fields “pitches.” Another British thing?
Brian: As Tony said, every time you roll dice, you risk failure. And pretty much every type of failure results in the immediate end of your turn. What Frenzy does is force you to attempt an immediate second block if your opponent is still standing after the first block. If the opponent is merely pushed, the frenzied blocker must follow the opponent … possibly away from supporting teammates and into the tackle zones of additional opponents. Two chances for a successful block means two for a failure as well, so Frenzy can get bad fast if you don’t watch where you’re going.
Brian: Huskers win the coin toss! I like to kick off first, guaranteeing that I get the ball first in the second half, and can eat up the clock before scoring, hopefully.
Tony: Interesting! I prefer to receive first, because it gives me the first shot at tackling, and putting your guys in the hospital or worse. It’s the only chance anyone has to permanently remove another player’s dudes before those player’s dudes get to even take a step.
Brian: True. Though the way I like to set up, you can only usually get a shot at 4 of my guys on the first turn: the minimum 3 on the line of scrimmage, and one with your blitz.
Brian: Wow, that demon is big.
Tony: Shut up! I have a big rat. He’s strong. I swear.
Brian: Never having played a Khorne team, I’m kind of taking a shot in the dark with my initial setup. Keeping the Giant Scary Demon off the line, because with the Horns “skill” he’s a better blitzer than a blocker, and other than that just trying to cover the backfield as well as possible to prevent the dreaded Skaven sneak touchdown.
Tony: Meanwhile, I’m doing my usual thing — fast guys who can pick up the ball in the back, and a row of toughies up front to beat you up.
Brian: “Tough” Skaven, that’s adorable. We lose a turn as the ref lets the clock run before the first kickoff! Blood Bowl refs are not known for their reliability. This favors the Skaven, as they start with the ball and can score faster, potentially leaving the Khorne Demons without enough time to retaliate. That’s when electing to kickoff first will pay off.
Tony: For my first turn, I knock out one of Brian’s players, scoop up the ball with my Thrower, and bring it up just behind my Wall Of Rats.
Brian: Tony’s smart to get the ball to the center early; Khorne may all be frenzied cultists or demons, but they excel at getting people to, and over, the sidelines. Or so I hope. Nobody’s knocked down, so step 1 of my BB Rules Of Order doesn’t apply: Always stand up downed players before doing anything else. I didn’t start the turn with ANY players adjacent to Tony.
Tony: That was intentional. I tried to tackle you a lot, and only succeeded once… but I got to push many of your guys away.
Brian: So I’ll only get one chance to kill someone this turn: my blitz. And I think I know who’ll be taking that blitz. Now it’s just a question of whom the target should be.
Brian: Well, that didn’t work out so well. My plan was to crush your right side on the line, and attempt to kill or injure one of your runners right away. Instead, I get two pushes and burn a reroll to avoid going down after the first one. Frenzy can force you to move beyond your allowed movement value, forcing a “going for it” roll. I had just enough to reach that first space, but I failed the GFI roll when I followed up for the second block.
Tony: Great news for the mice! That’s one thing the game should warn you about, maybe. “This may result in a GFI roll.”
Brian: Yes — also for dodge rolls. I’ve seen so many players get pissed when they got done trying a 6+ dodge that they didn’t know was a 6+ dodge.
Tony: Uh, yeah. That was often probably me. The game tells you what you have to roll for a pass. Why not for everything?
Brian: Just remember, +1 to the number you need to roll for every tackle zone in the square you dodge INTO. The number of zones you’re in when you start your dodge doesn’t matter.
Tony: Now you’re using math.
Brian: The target number is 7 – AG +1, -1 per TZ, if you want to know.
Tony: Brian has left kind of a wide open hole in the middle here… I’m going to try to get through it.
Brian: I HOPED YOU WOULD FALL FOR THAT!!!! MWUHAHAHA. Really, just a really poor first turn on my part. I just know that without Block I’m less eager to line up against your team, and that wall of rats at the line of scrimmage would be hard to deal with one-on-one with no players with block available.
And just the lucky break I need! Tony attempts to block a Cultist with a Gutter Runner, rolls “Both Down,” and the ratman suffers an injury. Now comes Phase 2 of my brilliant “leave the entire middle of the field open” plan: swarm and kill the ball carrier from behind. Also, free SPP for me!
Tony: SPP are what Blood Bowl calls XP. It’s a British thing.
Brian: “Star Player Points.” Unfortunately, I didn’t really consider my positioning here, and now is where Frenzy might screw me. The demon is too far away to blitz the ball carrier without dodging twice at 5+ each time. He’ll have to settle for a 3-die block instead. That leaves a lowly cultist, or my preference, my Khorne Herald, who would have to go for it to make the block. Dare I risk burning another reroll so soon?
Tony: LOL. Corn Herald. Brian’s giant beast stuns one of my Gutter Runners — that means he’s knocked down for two turns. Fine with me. He’s far from the action and now he won’t get hurt. Oh but now he just pushed another Gutter Runner off the field. Great.
Brian: This is what the Khorne are supposed to excel at — removing players from the field, who are then out of the game until the next kickoff. And possibly injured or even killed by the crowd.
Tony: It’s also what Brian excels at.
Brian: I like to think I teach people to fear the sidelines. Which is wise and good in Blood Bowl. Tony quickly stuns my Khorne Herald, but that’s okay — he’s not injured, and he’s a slight impediment to Tony’s movement, as players cant move through a square containing a downed player. Of course, KO’ing another cultist is not as okay.
Tony: Aw, fuck — I just tackled a guy with my Thrower, thinking he could then hand off the ball to a faster Gutter Runner who could take it into the endzone. But he can’t, for some reason that I suppose we’ll have to call the “rules.”
Brian: Ha ha, nope. One “special” action per turn, per player — so no combining blitz, throw, or handoff in the same move. Ouch, I’m gonna need some more cultists over here. Tony’s Rat Ogre — whose name is Krakut but seems more like a “Phil” to me — just badly hurt someone, who will be out for the game now.
Tony: Well, I’m in a great position — I’ve taken out a bunch of Brian’s players but due to my tenuous grasp on Blood Bowl rules, I have the ball in the middle of nowhere and no way to get a touchdown this turn.
Brian: Perfect! Your strategy is impeccable, sir.
Tony: Brian has an outside chance to stop me with his skeleton crew before I’m all but guaranteed to score on my next turn.
Brian: I’ve got one guy who can blitz the ball carrier, but it’s a risky 1-die block. I’ve really got no other options here, though. AND I’ve already burned both my rerolls, so everything is extra-risky.
Tony: Not risky enough! Brian just ran right up to my Thrower, knocked him down, and stole his ball. Great.
Brian: Now I have the ball, surrounded by Tony, in my own half. Another risky Frenzy block worked out: even though I pushed on the first 1-die block and the second was a 2-dice against — meaning Tony had more strength/assists available and was therefore able to choose the die result — I rolled two “Both Down”. I’ll take it. Just like Tony will take the ball right back.
Tony: Yes! I stood up my Thrower, then blitzed a Lineman over for a two-die block against Brian’s ball carrier. I then had to spend my second and final (for this half) reroll on picking up the ball and limping a couple more spaces toward the endzone. Honestly this long slog to the touchdown is a good thing, as long as I make it — Brian will have less of a chance to tie the game before halftime.
Brian: Yep. That’s when receiving first in the second half will be to my advantage — at the least I should have a decent shot at a tie, even if Tony ends the first half up by one. That was part of the “strategy” of keeping the middle open before — I thought if I couldn’t stop you somehow, you’d at least score quickly and leave me time to tie it before the half.
Tony: Well the joke’s on you! You never guessed how long it would take me to get a single point!
Brian: One of my downed cultists manages to make two GFI rolls to assist my blitzer. With no re-rolls, my heart was in my throat — either of those failed, and Tony automatically scores, more or less. Now, I have a 2-die block attempt to get him down, and possibly luck out and grab the bouncing ball. And it sort of worked. I got the ball loose, but it’s sitting next to one of Tony’s players.
Tony: And two of yours.
Brian: Picking up the ball is a crap-shoot normally without certain skills like Sure Hands, and it’s made harder by each enemy tackle zone the ball is in. So, I would need a 4+ to pick it up, plus a 2+ just to move into the square for a “Going For It” roll, and a 5+ to make the dodge. So, not today.
Tony: Wait, no wonder you always win.
Brian: Since I have a lone Cultist facing a Gutter Runner and a Stormvermin on the other side of the field, I feel okay making the 1-die block against the runner. If my guy goes down, it’s not like he was contributing much to this play anyway.
And, of course, he goes down, and gets himself knocked out. Great thinking on my part.
Tony’s going to need to set up some assists to clear the ball so he can pick it up and score. I’m not sure he has the moves left, at least this turn.
Tony: Jesus. So I brought a bunch of my guys around the ball, then sent my Thrower in (who has Sure Hands, a great skill for picking up balls), but he got tackled for trying to move through one of Brian’s tackle zones? Is that what they’re called?
Brian: Yeah, Tackle Zones. “Tackle” is what they call it when someone tries to dodge out of a tackle zone and gets knocked down.
Tony: Oh, so NOW they’re comfortable using the word “tackle.” The ball scattered into the hands of my nearby Lineman. I’ll take it.
Brian: Newer players, I find, always underestimate how difficult it is to dodge into tackle zones. I don’t think it matters how many of your own players are around the square you dodge into, every enemy that’s adjacent to that square is +1 to the number you need on a d6.
Tony: I know, but I had to try.
Brian: Which is why it’s smart to make sure, if you have to do something like that, that you at least have some players around to grab the bouncing ball. When I throw, I like to have at least one player adjacent to my target, just in case. It’s saved me many times.
Again, it comes down to a risky 1-die block with a cultist. I might be able to get the ball loose, or even get Tony’s player off the pitch. Or I might hand him the TD.
Oh wait, I nearly forgot about “chain pushing,” whereby I can hit a guy on the other side of the scrum, push him into someone else and then that person into another square, and hopefully end up with a better block against the ball.
Brian: Ah, except I still have to dodge to do it. Without Dodge and/or rerolls, that’s riskier than the 1-die block itself. I did manage to free up a cultist who can assist, though. BB: all about cascading consequences.
Haha, success! I manage to push Tonys linerat, with the ball, out of bounds. Although the crowd thought it would be funny to throw the ball back in directly to Phil.
Tony: That’s Krakut to you. And you’re about to find that your Corn Demons aren’t all they’re Krakut… up to be.
Brian: The Blood God will have your blood for that!
Tony: Well, I’d stashed a Gutter Runner in Brian’s endzone… ahem… and I think Brian must have forgotten about him because I was able to just dart him over to the ball for a 2+ pickup, and back to one square away from the endzone. I could have “gone for it” and tried to run one additional square for the TD, but that would have come with risk that I don’t want right now. And I don’t think any of Brian’s dudes can get to him. Next turn is my last of this half, the perfect time to score. This couldn’t have gone better if I knew how to play!
Brian: Nope, he’s home free. Which means I can ignore him and focus on hurting as many of your players as possible. Which might not be many, at this point.
Or, I could kill one of your gutter runners.
Tony: Goddammit, Brian!
Brian: Actually, in this case it was the crowd that did it — even though I rolled the injury, since it happened off-field I don’t get any SPP from it.
Tony: I guess that’s a silver lining, though I don’t think his family will agree.
Brian: Yes, and since we both are down to six players standing, don’t you think it’s time to let the healing begin?
Tony: But first, touchdown!
Brian: Some KO’d players recover on each side, plus the non-dead player I pushed into the crowd. Nine players on each side for a pro-forma last turn of the half: there’s no way I can score here, so it’s going to be all about hurting Tony’s chances in for the rest of the game. Hopefully fatally.
Tony: After my touchdown we arranged our players for the next kickoff, and oh, whoops, I didn’t realize it wasn’t halftime yet. I was busy crafting words. Goddammit. So I put a whole bunch of players close enough for Brian to tackle them, and I won’t get a turn to strike back because halftime will happen.
Brian: My cultists lazily push one ratman out of bounds before the horn sends them back to the locker room for a inspirational speech/human sacrifice.
Tony: After halftime, I kick the ball off the field entirely, as usual, which means Brian gets to give it to whoever he wants.
Brian: And I get the “Quick Snap” kickoff event, which lets me move every player one square. I make a few adjustments, but I already had everyone mostly where I wanted — Tony used pretty much the same formation last kickoff.
Well, that went well — I flattened the six guys Tony had on the line, including Phil, and moved the ball to center field, inflicting a KO on a Gutter Runner. Tony’s Skaven can still dodge their way around to blitz the ball, but I like my chances.
Tony: Brian laid waste to my team on his turn and is massed midfield with the ball. So I just try to pick everybody up, reposition them, and get a single block in with Krakut. It results in two pushes. Not great.
Brian: Ah, prehensile tail! I forgot about that. Phil takes down my Cultist as he tries to dodge away to cover the Bloodletter demon with the ball. Who’s vulnerable to a blitz, but is also standing next to Big Scary Demon.
Tony: Yeah, I’m definitely blitzing him. One die and I have a reroll left? For sure!
Brian: And it doesn’t help Attacker Down before the re-roll, Attacker Down after.
Brian: My path to the end zone is almost clear. I send my ball carrier downfield after cleaning up most of Tony’s team — at the start of his turn, he’s only got one guy standing.
Tony: And a couple turns later, Brian ties the game.
Brian: Tony suffered a turnover trying to get a player away from the scrum to cover the ball carrier, so I briefly considered running out the clock before scoring, since I’ll have to kick off again, giving the Skaven plenty of time to score. To get the win, though, I need enough time to take the ball away from Tony after the kickoff and score. If I fail to get the ball, I probably won’t be well positioned to defend against him, and he’ll score. So, do I run down the clock and go for the tie? Or go all-out for the win and risk the loss?
Tony: You’re Brian. You’re going for the win.
Brian: I figure fuck it, the Skaven are fast enough to score in two or three turns anyway, so I may as well go for it. Theres nobody left standing that I can block, and I don’t want to risk turnover/player ejection with a foul, so touchdown! After my demon clubs a Stormvermin, of course.
Tony: This is fucking ridiculous. You have all but one of your guys. I’m missing 4.
Brian: Skaven all have Armor Value 7, which means they’re very easy to injure. I forget the math, but it’s a pretty significant decrease in injuries from AV7 to AV8.
Tony: Brian forgot some math! Now’s my chance!
Tony: Here’s the kickoff, and oh great, now it’s raining. That means a -1 modifier applies to all catch, intercept, or pick-up rolls. I will definitely want to do those things. Fortunately, Brian performs the ol’ “Tone Zone,” and kicks the ball off the “pitch.” So I get to plop it in my Thrower’s hands without even bothering to pick it up.
Brian: Yeah, the kicking is truly unpredictable. From the square you select, it randomly bounces 1-6 spaces straight in one of eight directions, and then bounces an additional square. Having the Kick skill reduces the bounce from 0-2 squares, which is a huge improvement. Without it, you kick out of bounds as often as not. I can’t really get to the ball carrier, but I can end up next to him on the start of Tony’s turn. Skaven have high agility and some dodge skill, so I don’t know if my efforts to contain him at the line will be successful.
Tony: I try to run the ball away from Brian, but I get tackled and drop the ball. Good luck with that -1 modifier to pick it up, bro.
Brian: My plan is to surround the ball with as many of my players as I can before attempting it. I manage to clear out the area around the ball with a blitz & a block, and my Khorne Herald manages to pick up the ball cleanly. Now I’ve got the ball on the back half of the field with my players between it and any of Tony’s rats.
Tony: The outcome of this game is clear at this time — a 2-1 victory for Brian. Now we just have to play it out. That is one of the drawbacks of Blood Bowl for sure, not much chance to come back from a bad position.
Brian: That’s true. At a certain point, the outcome is frequently apparent. Last-turn improbable touchdowns, or getting lucky on a crucial block and holding on to a tie are not uncommon. It doesnt seem likely in this game, though.
Tony: But I got myself into this bad position through some extremely dumb decisions and mistakes — putting a guy close to the edge of the field on the turn before half time, for instance. I ended up losing him for the rest of the match, and the other attrition just left me with way fewer players on the field than Brian for the second half of the game. And that’s the game: 2-1 for the Corn Demons. I still have yet to beat Brian.
Tony Carnevale is a writer whose work has been published by outlets including McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, The Onion News Network, MTV, VH1, BuzzFeed, and this website.
Brian Haskell is a lifelong gamer whose experience spans the Atari 2600 to custom-built gaming PCs. He lived in Brooklyn with his partner, a dog, a cat, and a slightly smaller collection of board games than Tony.