(I couldn’t find the MB logo online, so please accept a shot of the Watermonkey trophy: awarded to the best placed coach across the Waterbowl and Monkeybowl every year)
The Monkeybowl is one of the UK’s big fish. Brendan (Pipey, the TO) claims that the MB was the first NAF tournament to introduce a racial tiering system, and while I don’t know how true that is, it does give you some idea of the history of the thing. The MB is commonly the UK’s best coaching quality tournament (in terms of really good coaches attending as a percentage of the total), and this year was no exception to that rule with several of the most feared English players strutting into town. On-top of the high quality of opposition, the rulespack always leads to some interesting, flavourful Blood Bowl. While Wood Elves and Undead may still stand out as superb (the best?) choices, there is a host of value to be found in the lower tiers. Not only that – with lesser seen skills. Check out the full pack here and have a great time ruining the backs of numerous envelopes (note: this is the 2017 pack, the 2018 one has disappeared from TFF. It’s much the same, you get the drift!). Add all of this theory-crafting to the ‘douletake’ two team gimmick and you have quite the melting pot to negotiate. The MB is held in Hartlepool, the Paris of the north. When I say that, I mean it’s how I expect Paris to look following Skynet becoming self-aware and Judgement Day ravages most of the planet in a nuclear winter. I jest, I jest. It’s lovely.
To business. As is my tradition, I arrived at the Masonic Lodge with my pick of two tier three races and a host of skill rings with which to bamboozle my opposition. The rainbow effect of 9-10 skills requires mental gymnastics not often seen at a Blood Bowl tournament; what is the standard colour of Sneaky Git?! First, I selected Chaos Renegades. Well, I selected Zzharg Madeye, and he came with some friends. A Troll (Stand Firm), a Mino (Jugs), an Ogre (Guard), the DE (Dodge) and a Goblin combined with Marauders to a total of 13 (2 x Wrestle, Dirty Player), two re-rolls and an Apo. This Madeye delivery system was all about trying to stand up to the more bulky opposition I could face, and with plenty of skills, they were perhaps a tad more reliable than you’d usually see. I do like a bit of Zzharg; for 90 k, a ST4, Tackle Dwarf for a half is not half bad value. Plus, he has Sure Hands and AG3, if all goes super wrong. Also a Blunderbuss, which I was clearly banking on (!).
Secondly, I selected probably my favourite race, the Frogs from Space. Slann are a real winner in this ruleset (in my view…), and I could cram a Jugs Krox, 2 Dodge Catchers, 3 Wrestle Linos, a Strip Ball, a Kick Off Return Catcher, 13 men, 3 RR and an Apo into my budget. People always raise eyebrows at 13 and an Apo, but I find Slann incredibly fragile and wouldn’t go without the relatively big bench. With AG3 and 4 x AV7, they are rarely getting out of trouble, and when you commit to an opportunity, more often than not a lot of contact is created and Frogs die in droves. This roster would always be underdogs against Elves of any sort, but with numbers and four Leaping ball poppers, there was a fair chance they could make a mess of an Elven drive and keep it interesting. I’d need to protect them from Undead or other heavy bashers, but reckoned I’d be able to. So then, the Slann were my anti-agility solution.
The Monkeybowl in full flow
Game 1 – Angusdad’s Amazons, 1-0 win for my Renegades
Paddy here, absolutely smashing the cheesy grin
Paddy arrived with Amazons and Goblins, and I figured that Pact were a decent shout against either; perhaps featuring Zzharg’s Tackling threat. I think the ‘Zons featured two Guarding Blitzers, two Sprint Catchers, an Accurate Thrower and Willow Rosebark.
I kicked, and Paddy made a push down my left flank utilizing the lesser spotted Sprinting receiver combo. Willow was actually a huge issue; her Dauntless and Side Step kept my big guy contingent honest and made me reluctant to block her. Anyway, it was clear the Amazons had set up for a scoop, chuck and early TD, and I didn’t want to lose Zzharg sent off or try and pick my way through all of that Dodge on a shortish drive. With this in mind, I committed resource and re-rolls to making Paddy’s attempted score as difficult as I could; Zzhearg got jammed in and everything was left as 1D / GFIs required on Paddy’s intended scoring turn. An early RR was sapped, and then the 1D blitz to release the scorer was a Skull. Phew. I was then able to scoop and steadily advance for 1-0 against serve.
The second half was stickier still, as I made the slight strategic faux pas of drifting my offence right while my Ogre and Troll were tied up left. The Amazon wall was impossible to breach with a bundle of largely skilless Marauders, and I made the mental note that staying closer to the big guys so they could create chaos ahead of the ball would be more sensible in my next outing. Still, I was 1-0 up and the ball was untroubled and mobile (Dodge DE); perhaps I could just threaten pushing forward and sit on halfway, stalling out for 1-0? Paddy apparently is an expert mind reader, and on his T5, he went ball hunting. 4+ dodge, 5+ dodge, 1D POW, dead Dark Elf. A-ha. Now I was in a proper pickle as Willow and friends marked everything, and suddenly a straight forward drive became a huge problem. Fortunately, a Marauder scooped and made his way back to the big guy screen, and I could cling on for 1-0. Phew again. Good move by Paddy that, he had to make something happen, and he very almost did. Committing to the least worst remaining option is something not everyone can bring themselves to do. It could work!
(I mean – Jeff Stelling isn’t even from Hartlepool. He just picked somewhere that sounded gritty for street cred with Merse and ‘Champagne’ Charlie Nicholas. He’s actually from Hackney. I’m kidding, of course, it’s a great town and Jeff loves it.)
Game 2 – Don_Vito’s Halflings, 2-0 win for my Renegades
The face of the Don. I think people have got wise to these blogs – these grins are cracking, aren’t they?!
What is the worst feeling in Blood Bowl? Perhaps snaking the game winning TD, but right up there is sitting down to play an excellent opponent with a poor race. If you win, it’s half a win, really. If you lose… Ouchie. Anyway, Dave is a brilliant player, and this was probably my game of 2018 so far (perhaps even my game of the last 2-3 years), what a corker. I didn’t fancy Slann vs. Dave’s tasty looking Underworld roster, so picked my Renegades and found I’d have to survive against the 3 Block Tree (inc. Deeproot), 3 DP, HMP, Catch 16 man Halfling roster. This was going to get real; knock man over, foul man until it stops moving, profit against 0-1 RRs. What an evil genius.
I kicked, and sure enough, Dave hoovered up 3 RRs. However, I rolled Blitz! and dived left after the short kickoff. While this is clearly a lovely chunk of fortune; having to push at the ball stretched me out of position, and my defence effectively became a poorly structured offence. Dave was able to wall off effectively and hit things with Trees as they marched unnervingly toward the ball. Eventually, I needed to dodge backwards, out of the way to try and find some structure, but instead found a snake. As the ball bobbled towards the Trees, I was suddenly in a worse position than I was probably going to be on a normal defence! Luckily for me, it was raining and Dave couldn’t scoop the ball. What followed were a couple of turns of the initiative swinging back and forth, the ball bouncing to better or worse positions, big guy moves that absolutely had to work (oops, it didn’t, what now?!) and a lot of heartache. Zzharg was pretty ace passively here; marking 2-3 Halflings made Dave think twice about re-positioning out of Tackle and kept me in it a little as I re-positioned myself. Eventually, I was lucky enough to scoop after another Halfling fail, and the Dark Elf was home free. Or so I thought.
A Halfling wandered over to Deeproot and offered himself up for missile duty. With superb accuracy, he flew through the air, smashed into the Dark Elf and knocked it out, sending the drive into chaos once again. No-one was able to secure the ball, and we went into the second half at 0-0.
I dived pretty quickly down a side as Dave’s DP began to make inroads into my team. I think the Troll had died (Regen success) and I was generally down on position, tempo and a couple of men. The RR burned early (Dave had again taken three, but my Leader remained), I was reduced to a 3+, 2+ dodge with the Dark Elf, and he was joined by a Marauder I’d sent down the opposite flank as a distraction / man ahead of the ball and the Goblin, who vitally dodged through 3 tacklezones to create a three-man un-2D-able conga. Dave couldn’t recover, and a naked GFI got me a TD in turn 5.
Dave removed the remaining big guys, and my short defence was fraught. Dave played for the throw ‘Flings forward, HMP gambit, but a final muffed pickup allowed me to secure the ball for 2-0. It had been a really tight, well fought game that was alive all the way to T15, and I’ll remember it for a long time. The Don is a proper player, well played across (effectively) two defences, that man.
Game 3 – Stick’s Wood Elfs, 2-0 win for my Slann
Stick here, deep in thought. As is tradition, I’d forgotten about the photo thing, and this was taken after some Elves had died. So you can forgive the lack of grin
Ian is a hardcore Woodie exponent, and I knew he probably wouldn’t risk his Lizards while I had three Slann outings in the bank. With that in mind, I effectively had my choice of match-up here. I decided that a high pressure, high contact Slann plan was the way to go, and Ian put me into drive first (boo). He had Strip / Tackle, a Grab Tree, a Wrestle and a Kicker. 11 men, Apo.
I say he put me in to drive, in reality, I mean murder. I killed three Woodies in my first 4 hits, and the run didn’t end there. Ian was a Gent throughout my CAS jam, and I’m glad because it was awkward rolling all of those tens! I was hanging around with a Catcher under the shadow of my own posts, planning to only advance late in the half. I didn’t need to show my KoR Catcher to that Strip Ball Wardancer, and only wanted to take the risk late on having tried to kill the guy over and over. Ian spotted this and sent pressure in turn 5, about the first time he could have, considering the huge tempo hole my amazing armour dice were creating. I made a couple of twos to jump the ball through the hands and to the other end of the field, and when the Stripper was knocked out, 1-0 was assured.
The second half was pretty lucky for me too. Men up, I focused on pressurising Ian as much as possible; creating high contact, leaving every dice roll as a 3+ and generally closing in on the Elves to make something happen. When the ball carrying WD failed a leap early on, the game was over as a contest as a swift boot to the face finished the hopes of a leaping ball shot for the Elves. One of the jammiest games I’ve had for a while then, and Ian owes me a proper thumping.
The Monkeybowl night out is a fine tradition. Sambucas, a northern, Italian chain provides almost suspiciously reasonably priced scran (I think that’s the lingo), and then to the King John’s Tavern and / or fine nightspot ‘Loons’. No dancing for me this year, just a few nice and cheap beers in the KJT and a sleep, having got up super early to access the freezing north.
(There is that urban legend about how the people of Hartlepool hanged a monkey, believing it was a French spy. I reckon the monkey arrived and took the easy way out when he saw the High Street. Come on, come on. I’m having a laugh. Up the ‘hangers!)
Game 4 – Podfrey’s Wood Elfs, 2-0 win for my Slann
Melon-farming Geoff Porritt. I say ‘melon-farming’, I mean, he doesn’t farm melons. I just don’t know if I can swear on thetacklezone. Or I’d say ‘motherfucker’, as is tradition. Obvs. For those who don’t know Geoff, this is how people pleasantly greet him (for reasons of which I’m unsure!), it’s not mean. 😉
Geoff is a Blood Bowling bully. I mean that in a positive way; his way is to out-block, out CAS and constantly pressurise you, making you make decisions until you have to make one that favours him. This doesn’t change even when he’s using Wood Elves, and you can expect the Frenzy WD to be making with the hits. He also had a Strip Baller, a KoR Catcher and a Wrestle, iirc. No Tree.
I kicked to Geoff, and my intent was to play a high pressure defence, squeezing the Wood Elfs and bleeding position and RRs. Geoff would have to be mindful of my (potentially) four leaping ball hitters, and my defence was the drive I felt I could make an impact on. I lined up the Krox in the middle of my LoS, hoping Geoff would block it rather than run away so I could start the Tail contact nice and early. Geoff hit and stunned it. Bummer.
The first quarter was all about Geoff trying to maximise tempo and bait me while I was structurally weak. The Krox rolled a 1 on T2, sapping my blitz, and Geoff got stuns for four of the first 5 turns. With this in mind, I had to abandon my offensive defence plan, and I backed off, forming a diagonal with enough Frogs such that Geoff couldn’t confidently dash down a wing and create enough space to stall out. For his part, Geoff kept leaving me nibbles. There would be a move 3 guys, 1D block for 1D on the ball with terrible scatter possibilities. Or leap 3 guys for a 3/8 scatter. That kind of thing. While I had zero tempo, Geoff’s plan to suck me in and break my resistance was perfect, and I resisted. This was a gamble in itself; was what Geoff was leaving me the best I’d get?
T5 arrived and I had my Frogs under my control for a change. Geoff had left a nibble, and I felt it was the best yet. The Krox went in, as did a number of Linos, and Strip pounced for 1D. The scatter was moderate. I had two Frogs remaining, and on the perfect scatter, a hand-off and run away with a Catcher was possible. With the actually only OK scatter, the Catcher punt was all I had. And punt I did. I didn’t have the resource to scoop the ball on the next turn, and a couple of turns of a mad scramble followed. Geoff eventually recovered to go coast to coast, leaving his ball carrier (a Catcher) all but invulnerable at the end of his T7 towards my end-zone. All that remained was the Frog Catcher GFI, GFI 1D blitz. Both down. I accepted this knowing that only an armour break or a scoop / GFI 1 combo stopped Geoff scoring, the RR into a Push or Skull wasn’t worth thinking about. The armour cracked, and Geoff marked all possible scoring Frogs, playing for the probable 0-0 at half time. Luckily for me, the blitzing Catcher stood up, scooped and found a long bomb success. A 4+ catch 1/9 blitz confirmed the Linefrog score. Wowsers, what a half, and what a lucky ending.
We were playing in Sweltering Heat, and a combination of that and some fortunate blocking left Geoff a little down for the second half, crucially I think the Stripper was gone. When Geoff rolled Blitz! to rejoin battle, my KoR Catcher actually did his job and left me in a far better position than I could have been in without, what a guy!
A lot had happened to this point. Geoff had been slightly late to the table. The first half was full of delicate positions that required thought. We’d had an extra turn, heat rolls and other generally time-sapping activities. I reckon I’d probably spent about 55-60 % of the time in-game so far, so when we were put on a 10 minute clock to finish the final 6 turns, I felt somewhat guilty. The rest of the second half was a flurry of activity, as thinking went out of the window so we could beat the clock. I don’t remember too much of what happened, except Wood Elfs began to die and the WD didn’t make the Leap -> ball down -> win combo in spite of an awful post-Blitz! starting position for my drive. Eventually I fell over the line with seconds remaining.
It was an unsatisfactory end to a great first 10 turns, and I feel sorry that we didn’t get time to finish the game properly. I don’t think the time decided the result as much as the armour dice did, but it can’t have helped the level of decision making in the second half. Puffing my cheeks out slightly after a rapid ending, I broke for lunch before my fifth game.
Game 5 – HardcoreStig’s Underworld, 2-0 win for my Renegades
SoftcoreStig was unavailable for comment, but I know he’d not be able to match that grin. That’s why this Stig is hardcore!
Stig may have been hardcore, but he only had Underworld remaining. I selected my Pact, reckoning Kfoged was a likely final opponent and I wanted to save my favourite toys for him, if I got there. Glart Jr. and lots of Wrestle / 2H / Horns arrived, and I set about structuring my opening drive.
I was lucky enough to surf Glart as early as Turn 2 with some Minotaur chainpush fun, and it didn’t get better from there for Stig. The Pact took their time and ground down the field, steadily reducing the UW by 3-4 along the way (mostly KOs, most of which later returned). In perhaps the least noteworthy half of the weekend, 8 turns was accomplished, no OTS, and we moved onto the second stanza.
With Zzharg in the game, I tried to be aggressive with my defending, reckoning my extra strength would pay dividends. As Stig advanced with his Thrower, I was able to keep my Ogre and Troll central and funnel his drive down the flank ably marshaled by Madeye. Although Stig managed to leak a player around the other side, the Mino was acting as a kind of unreliable but frightening sweeper and not allowing the quick pass. As Stig’s players began to leave the field, Zzharg jammed in, and a relatively early fail eventually led to a turnover and 2-0. Stig didn’t have the best of games here; he couldn’t make with the CAS and never really got a chink of tempo or thrust on either drive. 2-0 with little to no drama.
With 5/0/0 banked, I knew I’d won the tournament. Even a defeat in my last game wasn’t an issue; the best KFoged could do was join me on 5/0/1 and my tiebreaker (two T3 teams) was better than his (T2/3). However, there was still plenty on the final game. It’s not often you get to play for 6/0/0, especially in such quality company. 6/0/0 without conceding a touchdown, having played 4 Eurobowl capped coaches? That’s not half bad at all…
(When they elected a monkey as mayor, I’m pretty sure it was because he was the only person / thing that wanted that on their LinkedIn profile. It’s not going to get you inspirational quotes and recruitment consultant nuisance emails, is it? Actually, maybe I’ll become mayor. They’ll definitely have me after reading this column… I’m still joshing, obviously. The town does have a really lovely marina)
Game 6– KFoged’s Elven Union, 1-2 loss for my Slann
No need to photo-bomb this month, KFoged gets his own mugshot
And so, game six was England v Denmark. Kare’s Elves featured two Dodge Blitzers and an awful lot of skills, a SS Catcher, a Kicker, a Wrestle, I think there was an Accurate in there… He had gone quantity. With 3 RRs and 12 men, I put Kare in to receive the ball first, and planned to really squeeze him. 2 Dodge, 3 RR and the threat of 4 ball hunting Frogs? In I’d go; big aggression. My hope was to bleed Kare’s position, re-rolls and enforce either an early score or a turnover. That was the plan, anyway.
Deep went the kick, and Get the Ref! This would hopefully aid the attrition plan. Kare pushed forwards into the middle of the field, and I began to turn up the heat. The Krox went in and I pushed for as much contact as I could find. If I had to take a block to make a block, that would be fine. Kare would have to make plenty of 1/9 blocks, and his armour was lower than mine. I was also fouling with abandon; making the most of my bribe to try and thin the Elven ranks. I’m not sure I have ever fouled so much in a NAF game, as it goes. I think I never lost the bribe and fouled… 9 times? Not super successfully, as I’ll get to.
The aggressive defending plan went semi-well. Kare’s re-rolls bled away, and eventually he had to push down a side. We exchanged Wrestle CAS, but bar that one CAS, I wasn’t removing Elves at the rate I had hoped or any rate, really (Stick is scoffing somewhere reading this, about time my tens stopped, eh?). Anyway, eventually Kare was forced into an early touchdown, and I had 4 to respond.
It’s tougher to generate blocks and fouls on offence sometimes, and with 3 Side-steppers, pushing through Kare’s well-ordered, anti-leap layered defence was tough. In the end, I needed a fair few rolls and to land an important leap in turn 8 to level matters, and following a dramatic first action double skull, my rookie Catcher did the business. Phew.
1-1 then, and eight turns to negotiate for the sixth win. The tables had turned, and Kare fed me my own medicine, the swine. At this point, we were 11 v 11 and I’d lost two Wrestle Frogs. All of my blocks bar one would have no both-down coverage, and I only had two dodgers. Kare could throw Elves into my formation, hope SS tripped me over and force me to roll over and over. Should I try and go early? Should I play for 8? Tough. I received the ball and waited to see how many KO / CAS would be generated in my first couple of turns.
The answer would be zero, and Kare could throw SS into my cage again and again, forcing Catcher dodge / leap after dodge / leap to re-position my cage laterally as I searched for a way forwards. Finally, in turn 5, I had my shot. 3 dodges and a leap later, I would have pushed past the stubborn Elven defending, and would be dictating the tempo rather than always reacting. I reckoned I’d have a 70/30 score sort of position. As the cage moved, I held my breath on every roll. The four corners had made it, now just for the ball…. Snake. Boing went the ball, and off went the Elves. I had nothing left, and the loss was assured. Kare admitted that if I had made it he was into 5+ into the cage territory, and it only takes one of those to not quite work for the game to end in my favour. Argh! It was fair enough my luck had to run out at some point, so Kare got a firm handshake and my miniature a good talking to. He is now my least favourite Catcher, and should feel thoroughly glum about his performance. For my part, I wonder if I’d tried too hard at the start of the second half to remove 1-2 Elves. It would have been a huge boost, but perhaps I could have created multiple layers and kept Kare’s SS players away from the ball for longer. I was always going to fail something eventually. I don’t know, it’s a shame I don’t have a replay to watch!
Final reckoning – 5/0/1 1st place
You can’t complain with that. A great win in a fabulous field, and as ever, some of the most enjoyable BB I’ll play all year. I love me a bit of Monkeybowl, and I assume that can’t hurt results. I had more good luck than bad (as any tournament winner will have), and got to use my much-loved Slann in a favourable environment. Yey! If you’re of a UK variety, you should look up the Monkeybowl next year. It ticks all of the boxes, plus, you get to visit Hartlepool. The Paris of the north. I do like it up there really, and I hope they’ll have me back in 2019. Perhaps I’ll edit this a touch so they do… Next month I’ll be at two tournaments, expect me to write a load of old rubbish about one of them! 😉
The beginning of Terminator 2: Hartlepool
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