Welcome to the third part of my tactical series discussing the namesake of this website – tackle zones! Here we take an in depth look from first principles at the most important aspect of the game, understanding and exploiting the space in the field. As a quick recap:
- In Part 1 we looked at how to mark up opposing players: http://thetacklezone.net/tackle-zones-pt1-marking-screening/
- In Part 2 we looked at how to best create effective screens: http://thetacklezone.net/tackle-zones-pt2-screening/
Now in Part 3 we will look at how to set up your players to make use of assisting to improve block chances. Usual disclaimer that we are starting assuming a basic knowledge of the game so veterans will likely know everything here already. Also we are generally assuming that all players have Strength of 3 and do not have Guard. This skill, and higher strength players, will be touched on at various points to show how important they are, but to do that we need to show the basic principles first. And we’ll be using the same square colours as before (shown in the next picture). Right, enough blurb – on to the article!
The Basic Setup
A common formation encountered, often at the start of each half as the opponent exposes the bare minimum of players, is the 3-wide line. Here it is!
And no surprises that we see that the flanks have just 1 tacklezone applied whilst the middle has more. I think we all intuitively understand this, by experience if nothing else, that we generally attack into the edge of the line and work our way across. The important mechanic here is that assists cut other assists, so as long as all the players who are in contact with your blocking player have their assists cut the general principle is that you block from squares with multiple tacklezones at players with an exposed square. That is to say we take a player in a yellow, orange, or red square and hit an enemy player with a green square next to them (that we have put an assist into). This may seem so obvious it doesn’t need saying, but in order to see the weakness quickly this is the approach to take – look for the green squares.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
The set up is that the skaven player has 3 line-rats on the line (yellow skill rings) opposing the 3 zombies on the enemy side. At present any combination of blocks has to open with a 1 die hit, which is a risky endeavour. All 3 skaven have yet to take their turn, and you can see that they are all in squares with multiple tacklezones applied. This means that we will look to block with them, but first we need to exploit the weakness on the flank by moving a player into a green square to make an assist.
Here another linerat (white skill ring) moves up into the assist square. This allows the the zombie near the top of the picture to be blocked with it upgrading from 1 die to 2 dice.
The Zombie is knocked down, and the linerat follows up. The exposed flank (green squares) shift one over, and the linerat that just blocked now finds themselves in an assisting square. This allows the next rat to have their block upgraded from 1 die to 2 dice.
This time we only get a push, so we select the square away from our other linerat to prevent them being hit back next turn (survival is important when you are a Skaven coach, and I’ve played Vermintide so I know how easy these things die!). Also because the follow-up square is yellow we cannot assist from it, so we choose not to follow up. This allows the last rat to also have their block upgraded from 1 die to 2 dice.
So that’s all pretty elementary stuff. But the principle is important, because just a single weakness at the end of the line allowed a single player to upgrade 3 blocks to 2 dice. This is a highly efficient use of a single player. But that all said it was 4 vs 3 numbers wise, so even though it was efficient we did expect to have an advantage. What if the numbers are equal?
Situations like the above one are generally easy to spot, and this would be a poor article if that were the extent of the insight. It is included to show the optimal scenario. But what can we do to prevent this from happening? This is the most critical of all tactical challenges a coach will have to face. As you only have 1 blitz per turn in order to bash the other side you must first press into them. But this gives them the opportunity to strike at you first. How do you press into another team in a way that means you don’t immediately get smacked back? With high strength players and a lot of guard this is so trivial that it can end up giving coaches a false sense of success, and this means that they don’t learn the correct principles.
Let’s take this scenario. The Undead player has lined up 3 zombies and the Skaven coach has decided to press into them (I’ve seen more suicidal things done by Skaven coaches).
This time the Skaven coach has 5 linerats, and must select the best way to press into the opposing line. The Undead player has a couple of Skeletons waiting in the wings, so this will be a 5 vs 5 conflict. Taking the basic principles of wanting players in the green squares the Skaven coach lines up all 5 in a row. We’ll also flip the coloured squares over to show them from the perspective of the Skaven players.
The Undead coach will look to get as many hits back as possible in their turn. And just like the first scenario we can see the weakness – the rats on the edges of the line can be blocked by a zombie and have a green square next to them. The response might play out like this:
The two skeletons move up into flanking positions applying assists to the edge rats. This allows the 2 zombies to take 2 die blocks at the linerats on the flanks.
This leaves the zombie in the middle with a 1 die block at present, which is not great. We could cheat and give them another player or two (and an assist into the new edge rat plus a blitz leaves that final rat looking quite lonely!). But maybe we could have played the response a little better? After all in the first example we used 1 player to upgrade 3 blocks, and here we have used 2 players to upgrade 2 blocks; not nearly as efficient.
Here’s another method:
This time we move up just one of the skeletons first. This lets us take the first 2 dice block with the top zombie.
We get lucky with the knockdown (56% chance), and that allows us to follow up out of a yellow square and into a green square. Now an assist is being provided from the next zombie.
Once again the hit is good and the linerat eats the mud. The follow up is into an assist square, but with 2 assists against the final zombie needs one final bit of help…
The final skeleton moves up, but this time adjacent to the zombie. This cuts the assists from the linerats, and gives a final 2 dice block.
Now this approach carried more risk, some of it manageable and some of it not. The first part was fine as it was a non-committal move (well any dice rolling is inherently committal), because if we didn’t get the knockdown we wanted we could revert back to the original plan without losing anything. The second part was risker – we once again needed a knockdown, but this time a push would have left the linerat next to the first zombie, giving up a free block next turn. However in this case the higher risk also had a higher reward, as we used our two players to uprade 3 blocks rather than 2.
Whilst neither of these might sound impressive, focus again on the scenario conditions. This is a 5 vs 5 conflict. But with equal numbers the Skaven team, through nothing but bad positioning, gave up 2 or 3 2-dice blocks. That’s just unacceptable as it kills all the momentum of the press – and possibly allows the knocked down skaven to be hit over successive future turns, or trapped by other players covering their escape squares. All because they moved up players that could be blocked that had a green square next to them.
Cutting future assists
The way to apply the press better is to not provide assists, but to cut future ones. Here the 5 Skaven will move up again, but with an adjustment to the formation.
One of the linerats has moved one over, creating a gap in the line. But this gap strengthens it.
- At the top of the picture the zombie can block the edge most linerat.
- At the bottom of the picture this is not possible as they are not in contact.
- At the top of the picture the linerat that can be blocked has green squares next to them.
- At the bottom of the picture this rat (the second lowest line rat) has no green squares next to them.
So this formation is stronger at the bottom than at the top because the key weakness – a player that can be blocked with a green square next to them – does not exist. Of course the overall formation is still an error because the Undead player can just repeat the process as before from the top, so we’d need to apply this to both edges. This forces 1 vs 1 blocks in the middle, a highly risky prospect. And the beauty of blood bowl – this is just a 1 square difference! Moving the edge players just one square over could be the difference between losing all momentum in the press and putting the other player under so much pressure their formation breaks.
This is not the only way you can prevent the weakness. Remember we are just looking to make sure that any rat that can be blocked does not have a green square next to them. Or at least no way for an opposing player to get there. Here let’s introduce a 6th linerat, who this time is screening to prevent the opposing skeleton from getting to the green square:
The skeleton would have to make 2 gfi in order to get to the green square because of the placement of the linerat with the white skill ring. Not a great prospect, but still achievable. Maybe the screening linerat is better off just removing all those green squares?
And you can see the similarity as before. Whether that square has a rat in or a gap, placing the edge rats 2 squares away from the line of 3 in the middle means the green squares of the flanks to the players in contact are removed. Having the extra player fill the gap has some benefits as it worsens the blocking of the enemy zombie on that side. But watch out for blitzes as they can turn a strong formation to a weak one by removing these edge players.
For those that love a bit of jargon, I define these players as loose. In fact any player that has a green square next to them is a loose player. This is an inherent weakness in your formations that cannot be overcome and so must be managed. And the principle is to avoid leaving loose players in contact with the enemy. For those that love even more jargon, a player that is loose, and also has no friendly players in any of their tackle zones is said to be hanging. This is an even weaker position (they are easier to attack from multiple sides, and you can follow up into their square without being in contact with another enemy player). In the picture above the linerat with the white skill ring at the bottom is loose, and the linerat at the top in the yellow skill ring is hanging.
Guard and Strength
This also illuminates why Guard and higher Strength players are so important – they do the impossible. These edge rats cutting off all the assist squares makes it impossible to formulate an opening 2-dice block in the middle of the formation. There’s just no way, because of the formation, that an assist can be provided. If the Undead player wants to hit the middle rats they must open with a risky 1 die block. But Guard and Strength completely ruin this principle.
The best way to think of Strength, given the prevalence of Strength 3 players, is that your Strength is equal to 3 + x assists. So a Strength 5 player is equivalent to a Strength 3 player + 2 assists to themselves. And these assists are not cuttable, and are from the attacking square. Similarly Guard is an assist that cannot be cut. It doesn’t have the advantage of coming from the attacker’s square (it must be applied to someone else), but it does have the advantage that it can also cut assists from the other side as well. This changes the fundamentals, but that is a whole other article.
Hope you enjoyed this article, and as usual if you have any questions or feedback you can go to the forums or catch me on Twitter @TheTackleZoneBB
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