So what’s this all about, then? I suppose I feel that as newly installed NAF Tournament Director (TD), I should be talking about tournaments. Well, SHOUTING about tournaments. There are two parts to that; firstly I want to talk about tournament stuff; updates the NAF make to improve your tournament experience, great work being done in the community, advertising huge upcoming events, that sort of thing. I’m going to do that over at thenaf.net. However, I also want to talk about tournaments I’ve attended as I attend them. Hopefully not in the form of an ever duller list of dice rolls and tales of woe (although, feel free to call me up on that when it inevitably happens!), more of a look at some tactical decisions I made and an insight into the tournament world for those that aren’t yet a part of it or aren’t too familiar with UK / European events. As well as a public list of injustices for which I demand reven… Oh, wait. Not that one! First up, here is a blog discussing my experience of the UK Team Challenge (UKTC), the UK’s premier team Blood Bowl tournament.
The UK Team Challenge (UKTC)
The UKTC is a pretty impressive bit of tournament organisation. One of our most established and respected tournament organisers (TO’s) Brendan / Pipey (a former NAF TD himself) spotted a gap in the market for a UK unifying and bombastic beginning to a Blood Bowl year. A previous tournament, the Poo Bowl, had once occupied an important space in the calendar by kicking off the year with a bang and bringing coaches together from all over England for a big, high quality January party. Only Brendan has now gone one, two or several better. Now in its fourth year, the UKTC is already the essential start to a UK Blood Bowling twelve months, and teams from Germany, Italy, Spain (the Basque region!), France and even the internet have joined us in York for one almighty shindig. The rules are simple, vanilla and clean (5 normal skills for tier one, only slight help for T2-3), the teams four-man, the coaching quality high and the partying hard.
The UKTC in action. The venue is to be upgraded next year, but the Priory Centre in York has been our home for four cracking UKTC instalments. Two thirds of the field played in this hall, and some side rooms housed the rest of the draw
Once again I was to team up with Joemanji, JimJimany and Geggster under the Clique and Destroy banner. With Dark Elves, Wood Elves and Undead swiftly hoovered up respectively, I occupied seat four on the team, and selected Chaos Dwarves. I felt that most good teams would feature both Wood and Dark Elves, and I’m not sure those races are really fond of playing against CDs. Also, CDs aren’t too bad against Undead, and I thought I may not see as many Lizardmen (the worst possible draw) as usual in a format where they will probably draw Woodies one in four times, so could be left at home. As important as all of the strategic thinking, I do really enjoy them and I have a beautiful team that Nippy_Longskar painted for me I don’t use often enough.
Chaos Dwarf team ‘A Plan Comes Together’. I am available for wedding photography at reasonable rates, but as you can see, you’d be foolish to hire me. These are lovely minis, but my photography skills are perhaps not the best. I shall work on this…
Roster choices with CDs are always a bit tricky. Here, with 5 skills, I felt I needed 3 Guarding Dwarfs before thinking about anything else, they would be the core of my team. A MB Dwarf and a BT Bull followed, leaving one Bull naked, which is perhaps a touch sticky. 12 men, 3 RR and an Apo left no room for a risky Minotaur gambit, but I was perfectly happy to leave him behind. Didn’t much fancy him having to chase Elves on a 4+, anyway!
Friday Night Shenanigans
As ever, the weekend proper began in the pub on the Friday night. Blood Bowler after Blood Bowler filtered into the York Brewdog, and hugs, beers and New Year pleasantries were exchanged with friends both old and new. I got to meet FUMBBLer Endzone for a second time and long-time online amigo PurpleChest for the first; as expected he was a thorough delight. The French arrived as a huge posse (doing the cheek kissy thing 15 times with all of that stubble is surprisingly painful; I’ll pack aloe vera next time), then the Basque, the Norwegians, the Germans… Thanks to a prior draw, I knew I was to be meeting tough hombre CandleJack in the morning, so some banter was exchanged when he arrived. He was to be using Dark Elves, and I was happy to hear he had a (useless in our game) Tackler.
Game 1 – Candlejack’s Dark Elves, 1-0 win
Candlejack post-match. I had forgotten I was planning to do this, so only took his photo after the game! Guess the result?!
Clique and Destroy were to begin with a very tough fixture – ze Germans. Each opponent was a long standing, international caliber coach, and we knew we were in for a tough round. CJ had the riskier (for my money) DE roster variant of 4 Blitzers, 2 Witches, Runner, Assassin and Linos to 11, 2 RR. Some Dodge, some Block, a Wrestle Witch, Tackle Blitzer. I prefer 3 Blitzers and Leader on the Runner to top up to 3 RR, but I know this is a source of much debate.
Mid game Jim. No, me either.
Having lost the toss, I was put in to drive, and life was hard. I tried to throw in enough Dwarvern contact and Guard to make it so that CJ could not simply screen the pitch off in one line while rolling very few dice to back off a touch turn to turn, but I didn’t make fantastic progress and his Elves were adept at making escapes and the odd 3+ to reposition and not give me an ‘in’ or a route around. I failed to get anything ahead of the ball (always an important part of a drive; establishing the push), and come T8, a moderate dice sequence to score was failed. CJ had done well, the tempo was all his and I was unable to develop enough thrust to be deserving of a score. I had, however, amassed a 2 man advantage following some favourable KO rolls, which was to prove crucial.
The 2 RR DE roster can really struggle while driving. It only takes an early muffed pickup, a double skull or an early in-turn dodge fail to be down to 1 RR and to look fragile very early, and with CJ being a couple down, I felt I could really exacerbate this by getting stuck in, walling the pitch off with Guard assists and generally making everything CJ had to do a dice roll. The mantra was ‘nothing for free’, and CJ’s RRs went early, something crucial failed and more armour breaks followed. I was able to scoop and score on T16, and there was little CJ could do with his few remaining Elves.
The spoils were shared between the teams with a round draw. We had hoped this would kick us back into the pack for an easier game 2 encounter, however…
Game 2 – Cerumol’s Wood Elves, 2-0 win
UKBBL West in a room made for four, Cerumol to the right. We could still hear French celebrations through the wall!
We next faced committed Cyanide outfit UKBBL West. We’ve had the pleasure of playing them before, and they’re certainly a team that can compete at the top end of the event. Another toughie!
Cerumol had a slightly non-standard Wood Elf roster. He was expecting Sure Hands everywhere, so both Wardancers had Tackle. He followed this up with Block and Sure Hands Catchers and a Wrestle Lino, no Tree. While his logic may have held for the event as a whole (in the English meta right now, a Tree is perhaps less useful than an Apo, although I’d have a Tree in Europe where big bash is still often used), against me I felt this was a nicer roster to face than standard. My ball carrier may catch a break without Strip Ball, no Tree helps with offensive progress.
I won the toss and received, hopeful of getting some attrition. I nearly always kick against Woodies (do what they don’t want – don’t let them defend with 11), but here I felt I needed to wear into the 12 man team for success, and with no Strip Ball or Tree, I could be looser, freer and use more resources to mark opposing players forcing dice, more blocks or both.
Cerumol opened with a Blitz! Curses. Although this got me into trouble, I was able to get the ball down following a catch and scoop with a Break Tackling Bull. Although the immediate danger had passed, this recovery sapped a lot of tempo from my drive. I was able to recover and score in 8 (OTS fail, phew), but I couldn’t structure the drive in the way I would have chosen to maximise my blocks and generate attrition. Surviving the Wood Elf Blitz! is a huge thing in itself anyway, so I was very happy to be 1-0 at half time.
I tried to show a great deal of discipline in the second half. I didn’t want to push forward and mark too many Woodies, but I also didn’t want to march backwards and leave it to a turn 16 Wardancer leap / dodge to overcome a passive defence (probable success). With this in mind, I defended halfway as best I could; deploying Guard and ST4 such that getting around me was one dice at very best, and any push to put Woodies in contact could be blocked off of my line. This went relatively well. Although Cerumol leaked around my defence (and sent WDs over it), it was a strained push involving a little over-extension, and I was able to collapse on the ball, forcing the turnover. It was hairy in there for a while (and Woodies like it hariy more than Hobgoblins do), but I held on, scooped and got the 2-0.
We had better results as a team this time for a much needed 3-1 overall win to get us back into contention for the weekend.
Game 3 – Jawa’s Necro, 1-1 Draw
In France, where the meta values Chaos Dwarves more highly than in the UK, they see this as a sticky game for CDs, and I can see why. Jawa had gone for the more conservative Leader Necro option than the aggressive MB Wolf variant, and I think with two Guard Flesh Golems, he was always going to be a really tough nut to crack. I missed facing Elves, bullying this lot was impossible!
I kicked off, and Jawa immediately pushed down a flank. Perhaps he had pushed too hard; I was able to get right into the cage, mark the ball carrier and force a dodge or two. This was successful, and we repeated the dance down the other sideline. This time, I was able to push harder, surf the ball and perhaps also surf a Block Wolf to sew up the half. Sadly (for me, at least!) I had some misfortune here, a Ghoul promoted himself to hero and Jawa got in for 1-0. I suppose I could have not gone for the surf-clinching GFI (snake, fail, oh dear), or not pushed as hard and tempted Jawa into a T4-5 score, or simply been more passive. But I went for the big play to be 1-0 up at the half, and it didn’t go well. A very deep kick nixed my two turn response, and we went into the second half.
My drive became much easier after a couple of Zombies were KO’d and I could focus on trying to suck those pesky FGs out of position with an overload of players. With this achieved, I felt my drive was very secure. At this point, I looked down the line and a draw in my game was enough for the round win and a team scoring bonus, so I didn’t risk putting it in early for an attempt at 2-1, however tempted I was. 1-1 was achieved, and we could move onto the real fun, the night out.
For those that don’t play tournaments too often, this is where an event like the UKTC really comes into its own. 160 coaches descending on a town centre and sharing the evening together is a really fantastic social occasion. OK, so there is some explaining of that thing that went wrong and then a Ghoul was KO’d. Then I rolled a 3, he rolled a 6, and a thing happened to smile through as your eyes glaze over, but after that, you can share a beer and merriment!
30 of us had imposed on a Latin chain restaurant for a good meal. Many things happened. Large cocktails. A number from a birthday girl being offered to JimJimany (who says that a huge NAF ranking isn’t a hit with the ladies? I’m sure she just wanted to see his infamous ‘Senor Bighat’ – a Wardancer, before you get other ideas), a whole restaurant chanting for BEARDMAN. Classic scenes.
Cocktails! I think there was a language issue here, but when it arrived it was gratefully recieved…
Romantic intentions. We did debate whether or not we should send images of our toy soldiers to the redacted phone number. We didn’t, in the end
From there to a pub, to the infamous Popworld and a revolving dancefloor. I’m afraid to say I was somewhat tipsy by this point, no thanks to my round four opponent, Thibault (see him skulking under the green light below, just ensuring I was being a drunken idiot), who knew we were playing on the Sunday and offered me the traditional Spanish double tequila shot greeting. This was not a good idea for me, but being super polite, I put that away and went back to the revolutions. At one point I was on a final warning, for what I’m not sure (being too funky?), but eventually we retired and thought better of our outing.
Don_Vito and I, revolving
Game 4 – Thibault’s Skaven, 1-1 Draw.
Thibault looking fresh as a daisy. Curse him
Having managed 3.5-4 hours sleep, my head was fuzzy, to say the least. I arrived at the board to find Thibault looking absolutely gorgeous, as if just home from a spa weekend. He cheerily explained he had found another bar post Popworld (so… At 4 am) and then opened a can of Fosters, offering me one too. As it turns out, the Basque are part Terminator. Good to know. I should say here that Thibault was offering fliers for the Bilbali Team Cup, the very best tournament I attended last year. Keep a look out for that one!
Thibualt follows the continental method of Skaven play; remove opponents at the same pace your AV7 gives up and you have the fastest, most agile players in BB to exploit the remaining space. It’s an effective strategy, especially in games like this where being more conservative may give the Chaos Dwarves enough room to decimate the Rats. Fortunately for me, a Linerat went away very early as I received first, and Thibault’s DP was quickly shown to the stands (thanks, ref!). With a 2 man advantage, I could park a Dwarf on the Rat Ogre and grind towards an inevitable T8 1-0. The OTS was foiled by a Blitz! kickoff, and we went into the second half at 10 v 11 in numbers.
The Rat Ogre very quickly turned that around, and I was soon 2 men down. At that point, with the ball on a Thrower, I went for it all. Everything was pushed into the cage and appropriately marked to give Thibault a really uncomfortable turn of 3+ rolls and headaches. Pass it and he would be free to score at leisure, but better that than an unchallenged glide to the endzone; wearing down an undermanned, passive defence. Pass it he did, and even though I had 2 turns to respond, another very deep kick meant that 1-1 was assured and I could locate more paracetamol, which was the most important thing at that point!
The teams tied, so with a record of 2-2-0, Clique and Destroy were out of the running for another year. We have finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th at the UKTC, always thereabouts, but never there! Another one had slipped through our fingers, although all I could think about at this point was how I could have turned down the dancing and had some lovely sleep…
Game 5 – Overgone5’s Orcs, 1-1 Draw.
Overgone5. Does he even lift, bros?
Next, we came up against a crew for the London Dragon Bowl league, and my opponent had the new GW Orcs. Blimey, those things are massive! I felt as if I was playing a team of big guys. It often feels that way anyway with CDs v Orcs; it’s tough playing a team that does everything you do but with more strength and higher overall armour. It was going to be tricky… Overgone5 had two Blocking Black Orcs, an MB Blitzer, a Tackle Blitzer and a Guard Troll.
First half, and I kicked. OG5’s Thrower was not at the races, and two missed pickups gave me room to get in and really mess the drive up. With the strength disparity being what it was, I never got into a favourable block / scatter / scoop situation, and although I shut the Orc drive down, I couldn’t steal and score myself. Still, I was happy enough with life at halftime; job half done.
Driving is, in many ways, the tougher bit for the CDs here. If someone just lines up a Troll and Black Orcs, it’s tough to generate 2D blocks everywhere and make space, and it feels almost inevitable that here and there a couple of BOBs can account for 3-4 CDBs and open up overloading elsewhere, especially with the CD drive having to cage or screen the ball as well as hit things. I felt I had to push early down a side, and while this worked and I scored in 6 (5 really, we had a Riot), OG5 would have time to respond.
Orcs are slow, but a touchback was helpful. I managed to all but stop the Orc drive by their turn 7, however I wasn’t accounting for the dodge, handoff, thrown Goblin option. All of those dice hit, and another tie was in the books. A real gut-punch here; I felt like I was pushing water uphill in the matchup the whole way and I was going to get away with it, but fair play to OG5, there is always hope! I think this was probably an error on my part. All I left OG5 was the Goblin manoeuvre, so I should really have expected him to go for it. I could have marked the Troll to make the throw harder. Although OG5 hit the dice regardless, perhaps the tacklezone would have dissuaded him and meant he went for a different option.
We won every other game in the round and advanced to the lofty heights of table 3 or 4, where we met more Cyaniders in the shape of UKBBL East. Great to play the Dragon Bowlers; lovely to see a BB2016 team enjoying a NAF event. We all agreed they were a fine addition.
Game 6 – Jimbodeany, Undead 1-1 Draw.
I had forgotten at this point (I blame revolving and tequila, or revolving tequila) that the photos were happening. Trust me when I say that JBD was this hot:
Approximate Jimbodeany likeness
Anyway. I lost the toss and was put into drive. JBD had skilled all four Ghouls (Block, Wrestle) and used them as a posse of sweepers. With the Mummies sucking in CDBs and Zombies surviving many blocks, I found progress really tough. Come T6 I felt I had to shove forward, and I dived down a side. Somehow I got away with a relatively straightforward score; I feel that if it was game 1 JBD would have made the stop, but luckily for me, I got a score past a (perhaps) slightly off-positioned defence. This was a real grind of a half; every time I thought I was going to make progress, a turn of all pushes stymied me. I was super happy to get in in the end.
My defence was trickier still. I was down to 10 men by this point (v a full 11). JBD stunned one of two remaining Guard CDBs on T1 and scooped the ball on a Blodge Ghoul. I had a decision to make here. The Ghoul was within 3 GFIs of a Bull. Even on a POW (~ 50 % on 4D), I wouldn’t be able to put on super-pressure or pick the ball up, in all likelihood. On a push, I’m probably subsequently out-positioned. I thought about it for a while and then went for it. I felt under the kosh and decided that by the time I had recovered from the T1 LoS POW results and the stun, it would be too late to play conventional defence successfully; the CDBs would never recover position and Hobgoblins would get hit too often. I got the POW on the ball, and the ball scattered to the Bull, who caught on a 6! Everyone got thrown into making the subsequent scatter hard to pick up (there was no way to defend the Bull), and we had a few turns of tricky block / scatter / scoop bowl. More than once I thought I had done enough to secure the game, more than once I was foiled. In the end, the Undead scored in T7, there was another deep kick, and a fourth tie went into the record books. Still the right decision, I think. An unholy mess was very likely more favourable than the more conventional defensive stand.
Clique and Destroy took the round to end 4/2/0 for the tournament. Not bad, where would we end up…?
Final reckoning – 2/4/0 / 3rd.
2/4/0 is a funny old result. On the plus side, I didn’t lose. This would be a great result on a six or eight man team with a fringe T1 / competitive race; holding better races while their counterparts win for ‘us’ is the name of the game. However, in four man competition, it’s probably not a sufficient contribution when trying to win the tournament. I think I left a couple of results out on the table, but there again, I didn’t get the racial draw I wanted. So I guess I’m still unsure, but will take the ’0’ to begin my year.
Clique and Destroy added another 3rd to their ‘almost’ record, and 160 coaches dispersed to fight another day. I reflected on the train home that I’m not sure there is a finer UK tournament weekender. They may be better average coaching quality events, there may be bigger or more historic tournaments. But the UKTC has got something. In 2019, a new venue, York University, will house up to 240 coaches. If you can attend, attend. You won’t regret it. This time, there is even a bar on-site. Revolving dancefloor as yet unconfirmed.
More information / photos / fun can be found here at the new UKTC website. I have stolen this picture of the winning team, Three Champs and a Chump, from there. Some of my favourite Blood Bowl people here, so delighted to see their success. Well done, guys!
Three Champs and a Chump
Next month: the Waterbowl. One star on the shirt, 13 years of a fantastic event. Can’t wait. If this was any good, or if you have any ideas as to how it can be any good next time (yes, yes, better images!), shout!
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