This month, in an attempt to further broaden my BB horizons (and also to have a lovely holiday), I traveled to Budapest with five British chums to play in the third PalinkaBowl.
But, hang on, I hear you muttering, wasn’t this the month of the NAF Championship? I’m sure many of you were expecting me to cover my NAFC games, especially as I did reasonably well. Well, truth be told, I decided way in advance not to talk about the NAFC here. Quite rightly, we give the tournament all manner of coverage and love. It’s massive, it’s brilliant and it’s a superb party everyone should have high on their BB bucket list. However, there are other tournaments in May, and it’s nice to shine a light elsewhere. Along with this, I always get incredibly giddy that so many lovely BB types I so rarely see all come together in the same building and proceed to get fantastically drunk on the Friday night. I apparently can’t help myself. I had to stop my first game on the Saturday morning several times to potentially see my breakfast again, and I was certainly not in the right frame of mind to take mental notes for a blog!
Having said all of that, I was lucky enough to have a great run and make the final. I really do mean lucky enough; I used moderately tepid Humans rather than a red hot, tier one juggernaut, and in a field so vast, the 40-50 or so people that could possibly win get whittled down to one via bad draws, bad luck, occasionally bad tie breakers and via knocking each other over. I jammily navigated all of those choppy waters and came through two lots of Lizardmen (the nightmare draw for Humans, I feel) on the Sunday morning / afternoon, pretty much using all of my ‘lives’ in games 1-5. When Podfrey played well and rolled everything he needed to end my challenge in the final, I couldn’t really complain, and won’t start here. Congrats to Geoff, a worthy winner!
PalinkaBowl 3 – for real this time
Anyway, back to lovely Hungary, then, and I traveled in high spirits. What a town Budapest is. I know this isn’t a travel blog and you all have Google Images, Wikipedia and a host of more professional travel reports at your fingertips, but the destination is more important than the Blood Bowl when you get on a plane for these nerd holidays, so let’s dwell for a moment on a fantastic place. Budapest is an old, romantic joining of two cities across the Danube. There are plenty of winding hills with spectacular views to navigate on one side of the river and no end of gorgeous landmarks on the other. I think we ticked them all off, as well as a slightly less gorgeous but no less exhilarating pinball museum, where I half expected to lose J_Bone for a month. I won’t dwell for too long, but you could easily get lost for a fine week in Budapest Blood Bowl or not, I really enjoyed the bohemian ambiance and old-empire feel of the place. Please see some on-tour type photos below, we look like the world’s least appealing boy band reunion in many of them, but the architecture in the background is nice.
Blokes on the water. J_Bone the cameraman, I think he did this to Paul on purpose
This bridge was a big deal, being the first joining of Buda and Pest. See – you’re learning
A rather beautiful view without any of us in it (much improved when compared to some of the other shots)
Brilliant architecture. Less brilliant shirt. Dave Downes
To Blood Bowl business. I had Dwarfs. Now that I’ve blogged a few times, I feel I’m among friends. I can share unpopular opinions with you, dear reader (not the Dear Reader; although I presume Blood Bowl blogs are all the rage in Pyongyang when not absorbing Twitter outbursts). I can tell the truth. I think Dwarfs are quite a tough gig, so far as tier one races go. Sure, they have all of the advantages you’re currently shouting at the screen (armour, Block, Tackle, Guard everywhere, brilliant facial hair), but they’re also super-unresponsive. I tend to find that good coaches eventually gravitate to fast teams. Not because they’re all Elf loving, ear point sympathisers, but because the faster a team, the more reactive they are and the easier it is to capitalise on an accumulation of small, turn by turn gains generated by strong positional play while taking few moderate or big risks. With Dwarfs, the moment you’re men down, you muff a pickup or something else goes wrong, reacting is very difficult, even if you’re doing so optimally. Not only that, you commonly have to win a half two or even three times. Made a hole? Can’t exactly dive through it and be away. Popped the ball? Can’t exactly scoop and whip it to the other end. It can be tempting to play Dwarfs too well; when you need three chances to win a half, creating three chances can take a bit of a scrum and rolling a few more dice than you’d normally like. Scrums and more dice are not usually the concern of the good coach, so you need to alter your mindset and loosen up with the stout ones. Not my cup of tea, being starch collared and straight laced as I am in BB terms. Or any terms, really.
So, Dwarfs have their weaknesses, but I like a challenge, and they’re also not exactly Vampires (let’s not push this thing too far!). Mine lined up for this weekend with two Runners, two Blitzers (Guard), one Troll Slayer and Longbeards to 12 (3 Guard, a MB). 3 RR and an Apo. Super standard stuff in the vanilla Eurobowl ruleset.
The venue was a lovely little nerd cafe underground, ‘Barcraft’, a short walk from downtown Budapest. The walls were coated with board games, video games and nerd paraphernalia, there were sci-fi and gamer based cocktails (some of which you select via a D20), eSports in one corner, LoTR models in the next. A fitting home for a fine event! I should note here that ‘Palinka’ is a Hungarian spirit, I’m told a delicacy. I believe most things that I’m told, so let’s assume that’s factual.
Various shots of the setup at the venue. It was stocked so well that a nerd could survive a nuclear winter without running out of rules to argue over
Game 1 – Dantes’ Dwarfs, 1-1 tie
Dantes, here, sitting side on while I was at an end. Up close and personal!
And so, I opened with a perfect example game for highlighting the issues when coaching Dwarfs!
Dantes lined up with a slightly different Dwarf roster to mine in that he featured two Block Runners and two Troll Slayers. He had four Guards. I won the toss and kicked off, hoping to keep the centre of the pitch jammed up and police whichever sideline Dantes moved down with my Frenzy. I had hoped that my extra Guard and not having to look after the ball would give me the numerical blocking advantage in the first eight turns, as well as a bit of control.
It was going relatively well as Dantes moved slowly down my left flank. My TS had actually become a little clogged up, but that wasn’t a huge issue, as I didn’t feel that the opposing Dwarfs could make a huge push down a side (although – mental note made to not let this happen again when facing faster mens). I was engaging a fair bit, using the extra Guard to leave positions where I might take a block to give a block, but also screening the pitch to stop Dantes pushing through. This went pretty well until the opposing turn 4, where I suffered a couple of stuns. Effectively at 9 v 11 and having a tempo issue (which I felt could get worse with another turn of Dantes moving forwards and marking the stuns cleverly), I spied a blocking sequence that would open the ball up. While this would take most of my team to accomplish, I felt the opportunity was good, and the ball on the floor would allow me to recover my defence after the stuns as Dantes would have to stop pushing forward to take stock and pick up. When I failed to drop the ball on four dice (RR used), my final block of the turn was a 1/9 fail with a Block-less Runner, and my position was destroyed. Dantes stunned a couple more Dwarfs and swept to my right, leaving my whole team behind. I would get a 3, 2, 2 chance at the ball, but upon the fail, half over. Classic unresponsive Dwarfs here; while I’d made the breakthrough, a little misfortune was enough to defeat my resistance. In hindsight, I could have turned the ball shot down, but that 56 % at the ball pop was likely better than a standard defence while effectively two men down. I think a faster team would have had another, easier opportunity at a one man push as the Runner swept right, but that’s not Dwarfs! Perhaps I was too passive for too long, but maybe I’m over-analysing and I simply copped a sticky sequence at the wrong time.
My offence proceeded pretty well. However, as I moved down the left flank I allowed myself to fall into a classic Dwarvern trap. Having made a huge hole to push the ball through, on a few pushes rather than downs in the next turn, I was unable to properly double screen it off and enable a leisurely eight turn score. When a couple of 4+ dodges and 1D POWs hit, my support players were not sufficient to hold up the covering defence and milk the clock (many were left behind), and I had to go in in 6. I should have not pushed as hard and made the hole again (as it were), allowing my team to catch up, a lesson learned (remembered!) for the rest of the weekend. The Dwarvern three turner is pretty tough, and it didn’t hit. 1-1, and I’d had a harsh reminder of all of the reasons I don’t like Dwarfs!
Game 2 – swifty’s High Elfs – 2-0 win
swifty pre-game, thumbs up while the High Elfs were alive
swifty’s 11 man (Apo) High Elf roster was the sort of team build that either works when armour holds or really doesn’t when it fails. This was an example of the latter. I kicked off, and focused on not letting swifty around the corner. When 3-4 Elfs can seep into a Dwarvern backfield with MA7 / 8, it’s nigh on impossible to hunt them all down and / or make them score early enough for a realistic response. The odd one is OK (although it likely sucks up two Dwarfs in response), but not half a team!
Anyway, I successfully had swifty on the back foot early as he adopted a central, deepish position. Quickly he was reduced to ten and then nine, and I could become a little more adventurous with my positioning, leaving more contact and turning the screw with less risk of a breakaway. I had always been trying to eat re-rolls and position by asking Elfs that fell over to work hard to escape (3+ where possible), and with fewer to herd, that got easier. By T4, I had a tacklezone on the ball, and when the early snake to dodge away came, the game was basically up. I got the ball and to block everything, and armour cracked in quantity.
I suppose this is one of those games that gives Dwarfs a bad name. We were finished in approximately an hour and fifteen as the High Elfs went away in droves, there really was no answer to the rolling cage machine as block after block required injury rolls. swifty took all of this in good spirits, and I was faintly embarrassed. 2-0, and I got to access the bar when everyone else was at half time. Ideal!
Game 3 – Miscanser’s Slann, 1-1 tie
Miscanser, a frogs from space exponent. I mean. Honestly. Frogs from space, is that all they had left in the fluff pile?
This was a pretty surreal game of Blood Bowl. I’ve noted on a previous blog how fragile I find Slann to be. To be faced with a flat 11 and 4 RR was a touch bizarre, and I honestly expected my opponent to struggle for numbers down the stretch. He had 3 Blitzers and 2 Catchers, crucially one of each had Guard. He kicked to me in the rain, and I set about the task of Frogicide.
Considering the numbers at his disposal, Miscanser’s management of the situation was pretty interesting. I blocked the three on the LoS and made a successful blitz. I then tried to trap the LoS Frogs, inviting a Leap away and (I hoped) an armour roll or burned RR. Only Miscanser wasn’t dancing to my tune, and left anything that had fallen over on the turf. For four turns, he made no blitz and just backed six Frogs off in a double bank defence. It was ingenious in a way; it limited my armour dice opportunities and kept Slann alive, but it also allowed me to advance at leisure and position my Guard such that the double Leap Guard combo couldn’t give a ball blitz any more than -2D. I suppose you might label this a rainy day defence, and it has it’s plus points.
Anyway, eventually the button was pressed as I drove into the final third of the field up a flank, and in came the Frogs. Guard came in twice, everything popped up from the floor, and a -2D shot was attempted. Having survived, I managed to clean up the Frogs in my cage and edge into the middle of the field, making screening the pitch off impossible with 5-6 covering defenders. I got in in T8, and 1-0 was in the books.
With so few blocks taken, few Slann left the field. I think following an Apo use, Miscanser had 10 men with which to reply, and reply he did. At speed. While I offered up some defence, I couldn’t quite stop the maximum movement ball transfer, leap and dash forward, and actually, so long as it was quick, I didn’t want to break my neck and burn RRs to do so. Miscanser scored in 3 and was reduced to 9. This would be a straight forward 2-1 grind, wouldn’t it..?
Bloody rain! Two turns of not picking up later and the Slann descended on my hapless Runners. Although I secured the football, I was never able to produce an anti-Guard cage, and in the end, I was lucky not to concede again as the frightners came on and an almighty scramble ensued. With only a few turns remaining, Miscanser wasn’t interested in protecting his guys anymore, and I was swamped. In the end, I had to settle (happily!) for 1-1. An odd game, that. I guess the Slann plan worked, but it’s a risky one to start out with.
Clearly already well oiled, I was surprised by the camera function on my phone, it seems
Saturday night was a classic group BB meal in a low-price eatery. I was introduced to Unicum – which tastes as good as it sounds – and had two or three too many drinks. I wobbled home, too close to oncoming traffic, and luckily lived to see another day.
Game 4 – Janninu’s Dark Elfs, 2-1 win
The Maltese Falcon himself, Janninu. Malta’s finest export since, well, ever. Sorry, Tony Dorago
I awoke with a sore head. Everything was too light, too loud and too present. Fortuitously, it took a little while to get into the venue, allowing extra time for caffeine and pastry from the Aldi next door. What I thought was a sausage roll contained both sausage and a sauce that wasn’t quite ketchup and wasn’t quite fish paste, but not an altogether pleasant marriage. Although, it wasn’t refrigerated, which concerned me. This half-helped, half-hindered the hangover.
Anyway, my game four opponent and Maltese maestro Janninu arrived full of the joys of spring, in spite of staying out far later than me. The bounder, how was he so awake?! He featured the lesser spotted dual Assassin Dark Elf roster, and we sat down to play.
I can’t lie – I don’t remember much of the game. I was primarily concentrating on staying awake and keeping my relished hot-dog down. I don’t remember who kicked and who received, just that I had two long drives, Janninu had one short one, he was super aggressive and Dark Elves refused to die in spite of 1000 blocks. That’s about it, 2-1 and I had RSI by the end having utilised the dice cup a few too many times. Apologies for my lack of memory here – I presume I got pretty lucky, as Eurobowl standard DE are a tough gig. Speaking of tough gigs…
Game 5 – JimJimany’s Dark Elfs, 0-1 loss
James Gradwell, esq. What a berk
It’s been a good wee while since I faced ‘Furious’ Jim Gradwell, and luckily I was feeling human again by the time we sat down to play. Jim featured the traditional English Dark Elf roster (3 Blitzers / 2 Witches, 3 Dodge, Leader on a Runner, Apo and double Wrestle on the Witches – probably the least traditional bit, that), and I knew I was in for a good one. No apologies for the lengthy report here, it was my favourite first eight turns of the weekend and worth a little chat.
Jim won the toss and kicked off, as is standard. Defend with 11, you can always score with fewer. I began to drive steadily up the middle-left of the field, and Jim enjoyed himself organising his passive defence in various formations around halfway; challenging Dwarfs to somehow break through a Dark Elf favouring solid wall or a double layer. All was standard, and we fell into the familiar pattern of bluff, counter bluff, thrust and parry. Come turn 3, my position was looking stable-ish. I had made little to no real progress and not removed any Elfs (I know that’s how they do it in Warhammer fluff, or I’m told they do, but it still looks wrong to me. Anyway…). Jim could afford to wait as long as he liked for me to make my move; he had resources (both Elfs and RRs) to happily counter any push, and I was struggling to mark enough of his players to make re-positioning any more than a trivial 2+ or three. I needed to make a decisive move.
First, I tried through the heart of the Elven defence. My Guard went in as intricately as I could manage; making it tough for the Elfs to simply block me away and constantly leave the ball in my court. No-one rolling any dice every turn was playing into Jim’s hands, and I needed to break that cycle and force decisions. Jim with a full 11 could choose to take the odd 1D, make the odd dodge and generally meet me head on, and chose to do so. A few pushes later, and progress and tempo were all but denied.
Turn 4, and I felt I also needed a Plan B. While getting more into Jim’s face at the point of attack I’d chosen in T3, my non-carrying Runner and two Guarders attempted a slight break right. I thought I needed someone ahead of the ball; not to receive, but to disrupt and eventually support any push through the defence. I also thought I needed more than one point of attack – I was too static and easy to defend where I was while Jim had a full team. Sadly, this pod of players didn’t down an Elf as they swept right, munching a blitz action, which would have aided the semi-break. At least they were there. Jim went on to say later that he felt this splitting of my resources was perhaps an error that allowed him to more easily shepherd the ball carrier and he may have been right – I could just feel the impending doom of having to stall out on halfway for 0-0. I needed to try something, anything to move the drive on and dictate the play.
In response, Jim was able to rather cut off my remaining eight guys and throw minimal resource at the breakaway three. I’d only be able to use my guys to block, Jim could stand and move, which should be more impactful. I threw yet more Guard into the point of attack, knowing I needed a breakthrough and soon. This time I got some better luck as Jim’s turn bought both downs – I would have the local tempo for a change! Knowing that I’d have an opportunity to perhaps advance, Jim chose to blitz a back corner of my formation to mark the ball. This was intelligent, I’d probably have to risk blitzing the marker off and that would stymie my forward progress.
I decided to take a chance. It was turn 6, I needed to advance, and Jim currently held all of the cards. If I blitzed one of Jim’s players at the beachhead I’d established and it went down, I could dodge with the ball and set up a cage ~ 8 squares out – daylight ahead of the ball. Jim could likely recover partially, but he’d be reacting, not me. Sadly, no down came. I couldn’t re-roll it, knowing a dodge was coming, so set-up some Guard to make the ball shot hard on a successful dodge. The 3+ was a success, but the final GFI to defend the ball a snake. Ah.
Jim decided at this point not to push to hit the ball. This was impressive patience; it would have taken a few dodges and other dice, and destroyed a dominant defensive position if he failed. He instead chose to defend more, figuring 0-0 at half time would be good enough. The Runner that looped to the right had a ~40 % chance to score in turn 8 which failed (on a half dice Quad Skull, which I cheekily said I’d record here as a drive ending Quad Skull), and we went into the sheds at 0-0. Jim’s KO awoke, and it was 11 v 11.
Jim killed a guy on the LOS on turn one and then used a RR to hand off and push deep into my half on T2. He knew I was a man down with Dwarfs, and that I was unlikely to score on a short drive if it came to it. Hanging around in his own half likely gave me a chink of light; I could try and force some sort of fail while the drive was infront of me, harder when behind. This decisive push with the ball was the sort of strategy Jim specialises in, knowing the right moment to take a small risk to ensure the game is all but wrapped up at one moment. I was able to force a score in 6, but three turns against a full 11 Elfs (two KOs returned) is almost impossible, and so it proved.
This is the sort of Blood Bowl you love to lose. Yes, I could harp on about it being pretty easy to win while you have a full Dark Elf roster (and in his pseudo-humble way, Jim did point this out after the game), but I was playing a top opponent with a top race and he played better BB than anyone else I’ve played this year. When you drop games to someone playing that well, it’s not the done thing to remember the bits where you didn’t get the rub. My only regret is bringing Dwarfs to the party; I so rarely play Jim that it would have been nice to have had a race I like more and am more comfortable with.
Game 6 – Rolo’s Skaven, 2-1 win
Rolo here in a quite magnificent T-shirt. Buy one yourself!
Chances of winning the tournament dashed, I faced Rolo’s Rats to round off my weekend. His roster was standard enough; Leader, Wrestle Gutter, MB SV, Jugs RO. 12 men, 2 RR Apo, if I recall correctly. I decided to receive, reckoning that I wanted the nasty one turn surprise in turn 8 rather than 16, if it was to come at all.
The LoS went pretty well, and immediately I had an MB shot at the Leader Thrower. Off that went, and my drive had started nicely. I got enough stuns or better to dictate the play as I moved forward, commonly parking a Longbeard on the Rat Ogre and keeping that issue out of my way. Against a few fewer Rats than Rolo would have liked, I rolled my screened cage up the wing opposite to the RO, and the magical 5 or 6+ into the cage and -2D ball pop never transpired. I think Rats are quite a tough gig, and this game did nothing to change my mind on that. They’re so light and reliant on opposing bad fortune; they feel like flat track bullies. I was able to provide a bump or two, and as such, didn’t get bullied.
Anyway, a couple of men down, the OTS didn’t stick and Rolo was to drive. Although his Rats were even further reduced (to 6 or 7) by now, he was able to dodge a Gutter Runner down a sideline, find a few GFIs and a longish pass for a quick score. With so few, there was no stall available, and this is all he had. I ground my teeth a touch remembering the Slann game and worrying history was repeating, but need not have worried.
Driving with a full 11 against 8 for 6 turns was thankfully quite straightforward as the dreaded Blitz! or Runner 1/9 pickup didn’t materialise. Again, the RO was marked out of the game, again the heroic dodge didn’t come off. This really highlighted the benefits of defending with a full team to me; Rolo was unable to wall the pitch off or create any depth to his defence. Once a Rat went down, it was easy to surround or create penetration. With a Rat behind or next to the downed guy, Dwarfs have to jam in more and more players to develop a position, rather than just create one with a single simple blitz. Anyway, 2-1 in T16 followed, and victory was assured. A good game against a nice guy, and a lovely way to finish off.
Final reckoning – 3/2/1 7th place / 28
3/2/1 is the minimum I hope to achieve with a T1 race, and as such, I guess I’m satisfied. I don’t particularly enjoy Dwarfs, and feel they were kind of at fault for my two ties. Having said that, I did have to keep kicking myself and reminding myself to create more contact, more decisions and more chaos, so perhaps I could have done more in each of the five non-Jim games. I could practice that more, or I could put the minis in a case for a couple of years and use faster players. Probably that one.
Palinkabowl was a delight, the hosting was great and the venue a little gem of a place. I can heartily recommend the white beer on tap, and about 4 sorts of goulash from about town. A terrific holiday in the company of some fine fellows; it’s a wonderful thing, being an international Blood Bowler. You should try it. Next month, I’m not actually playing BB, so this blog will take a month off. Enjoy June, and I hope your BB goes well, if you’re playing!
While Jim played well, the git, he left his duty free sausage in my car. I think we all know who really won, don’t we? Still Jim. Waa. It wasn’t even great sausage…
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