Myself (and Merrick) at Elflympics. Think this was about four GFIs into his spot prize-winning ten GFIs attempt!
I was really honoured to be invited to write an article for thetacklezone.net about advice for new tournament coaches… is how I’d like to start this article.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t asked, I just figured, a few tournaments in, there were some things I’d learnt that I would have probably benefited from knowing before I went to my first NAF tournament, so I shoved this article in front of the tacklezone.net webmonkeys.
Why am I qualified to write such an article? Well, I’m not qualified, I’ve only been playing for about a year, which kind of makes me qualified by default, I suppose!
Across the various Blood Bowl forums and groups there are often requests from new coaches for advice and guidance about how to approach their first tournament experience. Mostly, these are “what roster should I take to <insert tournament name here> next weekend?”, which this article definitely doesn’t cover. With only thirty-three NAF ranked games under my belt, all I can tell you, so far, is that giving a human lineman Thick Skull probably isn’t going to bag you the top spot when the prizes are being dished out. The more interesting “what should I…” posts, for me, are from people who are a little apprehensive about tournament etiquette and what to expect, beyond the games they’re going to play.
Some of us may have played lots of different games systems before Blood Bowl caught our attention. All of those systems (Warhammer 40,000, Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, Age of Sigmar, X-Wing etc.) can be played competitively, which means you can probably find tournaments supporting that competitive gameplay across the world. Different games systems bring different types of player, resulting in different tournament atmosphere. For me, the very few Friday night Magic: The Gathering tournaments I went to were a real baptism of fire, so I stopped going. Disclaimer: Others’ mileage of M:tG may (and definitely will) vary. One thing that seems to be a universal truth with Blood Bowl though, is that it has one of the most welcoming tournament scenes of most table top games. It’s an easy game to play, but a tough game to play well. The term ‘beer and pretzels’ seems to have been created to fit Blood Bowl perfectly.
If a negative experience at other games systems’ tournaments makes you wary of trying a Blood Bowl event, I’d implore you to take the risk, you’re really missing out!
Hawca (UK National Co-ordinator for the NAF) and Kfoged, 2017’s NAF Championship winner
So, what advice would I have given myself, before I rolled my first Blood Bowl tournament dice against Hawca at CakeBowl 6 (I lost 3-1, he was playing Wood Elves and I probably scored my consolation touchdown by accident!)?
- Play some games with the roster (and race) that you’re taking. Don’t have your head turned by web lists, or whatever the trendy roster of the day is. You know how you like to play the game, and what you enjoy. It’s really tempting to start to question your ‘safe’ roster the night before a tournament and have people convince you on Facebook that taking Leap on a Treeman will be totul lulz. It won’t. You’ll have a long day ahead of you where you just get more and more frustrated. Experienced coaches will take crazy rosters (the all-Snotling [each one with Block, Guard and Dauntless] list proposed for Elflympics is one that sticks in my mind!), which are really fun to play against, but stick with what you know when you’re starting out.
- Within most tournament rule packs you’ll have the option to allocate additional skills to your players. Don’t make the mistake I made at GertBowl VI last year.
I’m new. I want to learn all the skills as quickly as I can, so I’ll just take thirteen different skills (inc. the aforementioned Thick Skull!) and I can see them all in action, at once. I won’t need to playtest this, I’ll be all-knowing by the end of day one – I am a genius!
Nightmare. I literally ran out of different coloured bands to distinguish who had what and spent most games looking at my own roster. Keep it simple.
- Keep an eye on the clock, (this is my main struggle, Glowworm once named a Zombie after me ‘cos I’m so slow). Friendly games you’re playing at home may take several hours with the accompanying chat and theoryBowling. Whilst there is plenty of opportunity to get to know the opposing coach(es) you’re playing at a tournament, times flies like an airborne Doom Diver, and you run the very real risk of being put on the clock. This can mean you get put on 1-minute turns which is horrible, particularly if you are a new coach and still not sure of what you’re doing. Being put on the clock tends to attract other coaches who have already finished their games, which makes it even more of a spectacle. At worst, your game may be called; ended prematurely. Whilst some tournaments allow coaches to play into the lunch break, you need to eat at some point, so time-management is really crucial. Keep that in mind between rounds, too. If you’re late back to start a game, that limits the time you have to complete it. I got lost on the way back to a venue after lunch on one occasion and ended up missing the first half hour of the round. This meant I was chasing the game, and that my opponent’s (the wonderfully patient Leipziger) experience probably wasn’t as enjoyable, too.
- With regards to marking skills, as long it’s clear to your opponent, I think anything goes. I use loom bands and just go with whatever colour comes to hand. If pink means Block, then pink means Block. As long as everyone with Block as an additional skill has a pink halo, my opponent can’t moan. I’d also suggest writing down what additional skills your opponents have given players, too. This will help you to make informed actions during the game. I’ve gone to roll a (failed) dodge with the Dodge skill, before being reminded that the player I’m trying to escape has Tackle. No team re-rolls, turnover.
- Check your roster before you print and/or send it. Check it again. Some online roster builders may not have the accurate stats or costs, so it’s always worth digging out the Blood Bowl rulebook to check you’re not going to fail the Countdown numbers round on the day. If you’re not sure, get the tournament organiser to check it in advance.
- Check your opponents’ roster before you roll the first dice. Don’t assume everyone has read the rule pack correctly, or even at all!
- If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If coaches are playing too quickly for you to keep up, let them know. If coaches are playing too slowly and you’re worried about the clock running down, let them know. Don’t sit opposite a race you’ve never played with or against and be too scared to ask how skills you’ve never heard of impact the game. Only realising how Tentacles works just as you’re about to make your break for the match-winner in turn 16 is not a fun lesson to learn!
- Print off several copies of your roster – you’ll inevitably lose one or two on the day.
- Take a pen to keep notes; this makes retelling other coaches how Nuffle has forsaken you easier if you’ve got something to refer to. It can also be useful to track how certain skills are doing, to help you in future games. In the couple of games I’ve played against NoNumber, he’s constantly scribbling in a little black book, jotting down what worked and what didn’t. Or what he needs to get from Tesco on the way home. Either way, he’s preparing all the time. If you’re a real sadist, keep track of all the skulls and ones. Nightwing’s log of failed Bloodlust rolls at BUBBA Bowl IV definitely flew in the face of the mathematical averages!
- Pack dice, tokens, minis and templates/pitch, if you need them. If you don’t have a pitch, there are often other coaches who bring several with them on the day. I’m pretty nomadic at a tournament, so don’t mind moving around the room to play my games. Some coaches are insistent that they’re setting up camp and not moving for the day; it differs.
- With regards to dice cups, I used a paper espresso cup from whatever coffee place was nearest the venue for my first couple of tournaments. Some people get really funny about using/not using dice cups, it’s personal preference. The argument is that a dice cup prevents dice whizzing all over the place and knocking over or damaging models. For me, a dice cup just gives me a second chance to decide if I’m rolling for the optimal action. If I change my mind, I can cancel the action before seeing the dice. If you’re flashy, you might use a dice tower (though I heard something on the Two Dice Uphill podcast recently, saying a dice needs to hit seven surfaces on a dice tower to roll ‘true’, so I’m not sure about those now!). If you’re really big time, you can get what can only be described as a dice butler, like Cornish had at Elflympics – it rolled the dice for him! Rest assured, whatever you bring, it will almost certainly roll quadruple Skulls, or doubles on a foul at some point.
Foul Bowl dice. I found they developed a guilty conscience when it came to rolling fouls with them!
- Check you’ve got all your models, dice, pitches, trophies (!) etc. before you head home, otherwise your star lineman could be stuck in deepest darkest Coventry for the foreseeable future – screw that! Also, be sure to thank the organiser(s). I’m yet to see a tournament organiser leave the event in a tricked out Ferrari lighting their cigar with a burning fifty-pound note. There must be all sorts of organisational headaches to get a tournament running smoothly, and it probably results in very little (any?) profit, so those crazy bastards deserve some acknowledgement.
- Some people might struggle with this suggestion but, if I’ve played a coach who clearly knows his/her stuff, I’ll ask what they would suggest I worked on with my game, in future. It might seem a bit beggy, but has given me some really obvious suggestions that have improved my overall game. If we keep playing the way we’ve always played, we’ll keep losing the way we’ve always lost.
- Bit of a cliché for the last one, but (try to) have fun! You’re (probably) going to get beaten, you’re (probably) not going to win every game, but you can impact the experience that you and your opponent have of a game. When I tilt; it ruins games for me, and probably my opponent, too. I’m not a table flipper, but I can get bratty on occasion if I make stupid mistakes. This then gets more annoying when I’m actually aware of it ‘cos I get annoyed that I’m annoyed about something as insignificant as toy soldiers! There’s YouTube footage of my second game at Foul Bowl this year (first time playing against Nurgle, coached by Itchen, ft. failed Foul Appearance rolls aplenty!), where you can just about hear me whispering “it’s just toy soldiers” to myself for most of the second half, like some demented madman!
Set yourself a realistic aim before your tournament begins. ‘Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women’ might the first turning on the road to disappointment, but scoring a touchdown each game? Winning one game to begin with? Those aren’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Tournament play isn’t for everyone; some people prefer the occasional pick-up game, or the story that unfolds over an entire season, but tournaments are a great way to meet local coaches and those that aren’t afraid to travel for their fix. There’s always something to laugh about once the dice have finished rolling. Hey, even the last place coach gets to take some form of cutlery home as a ‘prize’!
One final thing, if you’re reading this and aren’t a member already, consider joining the NAF. Membership means your results are logged and tracked against other coaches, so you can see who your bitter rivals are, even after 100s of ranked games. You can also find forums and members areas with useful resources to help new and existing coaches – including upcoming tournament calendars. There’s also annual gifts for signing-up, or renewing, and clearly we all love new toys!
The 2017 NAF gift: two dice and one counter (shown both sides) for signing up or renewing
If all else fails when you sit down opposite your opponent for that first round match-up, just roll sixes and Pows all the time, unless you’re playing me. With that said, if you end up playing me, you probably didn’t roll enough sixes and Pows in your previous game(s)!
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