In the UK, the month of February is illuminated by all things Waterbowl. From humble beginnings in the local bookstore (Waterstones, hence the league name), Manchester’s finest have come a long way. Now, a 50 strong league meet fortnightly in the North West Gaming Centre (NWGC) to fight it out for Lancastrian dominance. More importantly from a tournament point of view, the Waterbowl is one of the UK’s most prestigious, and is a solid lock in the calendar for most of England’s best coaches. 78 competitors met in the NWGC over the weekend of 17/18 February 2018, and a relatively vanilla ruleset awaited them (it’s sometimes lovely to go old school, isn’t it?). Coaches from Germany, Sweden and Denmark had come to join the party, and party we did. Some of us too hard on the Friday night (shout out to Stanley), but 77 of us made kickoff!
Leipziger / Alex. Male model, speech therapist, runner, masseuse, fidget spinner sales executive, foodie and Waterbowl supremo. What a man!
My pick for the weekend was Lizards. Partially because they are housed in the most obvious, easily accessible miniature box in my pre-move packed house, but also I have a bit of an unreasonable Lizardman chip on my shoulder at the moment, and I wanted to get back on the horse. I had used the Lizzies in the big time at the last Eurobowl and World Cup events, and I had felt as if I’d gotten the rough end of things. Specifically, I had felt as if I had taken more than my fair share of casualties, partially fuelled by a continental willingness to up the risk / reward ratio by sticking the boot in and fouling the big Lizards until they go away (rather than sit back and struggle with 6 x ST 4 and a Krox). The Lizard roster weakness (Wood Elf game apart) is that you can’t usually cram in 12 men, an Apo and three re-rolls, and I think the right move in such rulesets is to forgo the 12th man. That said, when you then see the tens rolled upon the big Lizards, things can very quickly unravel for you. Of course, there is a fair amount of conformation bias at play here and I doubtless forget the previous games where the AV 9 held and opponents simply couldn’t break down the 7 Lizard ST 4+ wall. I guess this is why I wanted to dispel my doubts and get over the hump in Manchester!
My Lizardman team, White Isle Whiplash. Now coached by WB2018 gift the Disco Sizzler, pictured in the centre. If you haven’t heard of this legend of a man, keep reading these sub-photo bits for actual Sizzler facts. Did you know? The Sizzler is legally barred from dancing near flammable objects, such is the power of his footwork. The sparks fly with such regularity; it’s basically an exposed, naked flame
This time, perhaps bringing my recent baggage along for the ride, I opted for a roster featuring maximum player resource. I took a Kroxigor (Leader), 6 Saurus (3 Block, 2 Break Tackle) and 5 Skinks, 2 RR and an Apo. It’s not a roster I’d opt for if Eurobowl was tomorrow and using this ruleset (11 + Apo, Block Krox is probably better, I think), but I just wanted to stave off as many armour dice issues as I could and stay in heavy attrition games as long as possible. 3 Block + 2 skills is pretty standard, and I think Break Tackle is the best option of those available (Wrestle, Tackle, more Block). It gives your big boys mobility, provides a constant threat and keeps you in it when you’re men down or chasing Elves.
I should point out here that the Waterbowl is an audio-visual extravaganza. As an early bird bonus, the first 20 payments come with the opportunity to select a track for the WB CD. I’ll drop in links to selected tracks as I move through the blog, but beware. Your ears may never be the same again. Track 1 – Eye of the Tiger, the Waterbowl theme.
The Waterbowl CD, 2018. I now hate every one of these songs, having heard them on repeat for 20 hours. Did you know? The Sizzler is a prolific gambler. He once won the rights to all CDs in a grotty Grimsby casino, but his delight was short-lived when someone reminded him that in 2017 this is old news and they’d throw in Betamax and MiniDisc as well. He later sold the entire bundle for a gourmet hot-dog, although he later threw it on the floor during an argument over whether a hot-dog is a sandwich
Game 1 – Honeybadger’s Necromantic, 2-2 draw
Honeybadger here, looking alert in spite of an early start. Perhaps he’d had less beer on the Friday night than me… Did you know? In the Sizzler’s home town (Wigan), on a clear night, you can see Will Grigg on fire from your front window, regardless of where exactly in the town that is. Only Sizzler can put him out, hopefully before your defence is terrified
If I was to get over my hump, the beginning of the WB was not helpful. I shipped 14 casualties in my first two games, the going was tough. However, in such situations, there are still interesting tactical questions to answer. How does one cope men down? When is the time to get aggressive and try and make the most of what remains, when do you trust the speed of the remaining Skinks to back off hang on? Let’s focus on that bit rather than injury dice.
Honeybadger is a relatively new coach, and an ex-WH 40 k England international. He had a flat 11 man Necro roster. MB Wolf, Sure Hands Ghoul, Blocking FGs, Guard Wight. I won the toss and kicked in the rain; immediately losing a Saurus to Throw a Rock (Apo’d), exposing the soft Skink underbelly. HB’s drive went relatively well from there, and although I did my upmost to suck the killing Wolf into frenzy traps and hit it back whenever I got the chance. With little blocking success, I was being iteratively ground down by the Necro advance and couldn’t assemble a wall to negate it. Following a turn where I managed to stymie HB with a couple of stuns and appropriately position my remaining Saurus to mark what I could, Break Tackle did me a favour and I popped the ball loose. However, I was never able to recover and a final 1/81 (skull or both down re-rolled into skull or both down) with a non-Blocking Saurus ended any remaining resistance for a turn 8 score.
Three turns into my drive I had a decision to make. HB was down to 1 RR and was a player down on the pitch (KO, mine had returned for now). It was also still raining. I had gotten the ball loose on his drive and had all but one big Lizard still in the game, so things looked OK for me; I thought I was likely favourite if I scored quickly. It’s rare that I push to win rather than accept a draw in such circumstances, but I was feeling aggressive, and in I went. A Saurus died in the process and HB’s KO recovered, but the die was cast by then; I had committed to playing to win.
On HB’s second drive, I went a man down swiftly and knew I had to turn up the pressure or perhaps lose. Skinks flew forwards and Saurus jumped into tacklezones. There was some luck as the Skinky hit-squad found a POW on the Ghoul ball-carrier, who was alone fielding a moderately deep kick. I recovered, but then had to score in T6. Down to 6 or so for my final defence, the best I could do was try to throw players in and make HB roll dice without remaining re-rolls. Sadly for scale enthusiasts everywhere, he was able to field, hand-off and score in the rain for 2-2.
Not a bad result considering 8 CAS received in the end, and I was happy with the choices I made during the game. Pushing for the win was probably the best decision on the balance of play, and turning up the heat when men down was the right thing to do.
The Waterbowl in full flow. Smell the Blood Bowl goodness
Game 2 – Bim’s Necromantic, 1-2 loss
Game 2 brought more Necro, and I was to face Swedish coach Bim. She had 12 men; this time featuring a +AG Ghoul and Block / Wrestle Wolves, rather than the MB.
Bim pre-game, considering her next Saurus murder. Did you know? The Sizzler can identify a correct pie filling from 100 paces. Greggs have banned him from all future pastry filling identification tournaments until 2022 (pending appeal from the Court of Arbitration for Sport)
Again I won the toss and elected to kick. Bim’s drive was less than straight forward, and more than once the AG 4 Ghoul found himself under duress as progress through the passive and reactive Saurus wall was tricky. Break Tackle was always sniffing around, and it tightened Bim’s formation a little. The Saurus / Krox, however, were regularly finding skulls and 1 / 81 s and sapping re-rolls and position. By turn 5 or 6, I had found 10 dice at the ball, but the Ghoul having survived them all, the Lizard position was worse than it could have been (having committed), and the ball carrier got away following a critical Kroxigor failure. Still, Bim had to find a 4 + / 2D push to score in turn 8 without re-roll, but the pesky Ghoul got in. In the face of sub-optimal blocking dice, I suppose I could have abandoned hitting the ball and focused on reinforcing my positional defending instead, but I felt the odds of a counter score were really good if the ball went down, so went at the chances my defence had generated. My OTS attempt was dramatic in that the Skink made it all the way to the line, only to fall over and kill himself. D’oh!
I again had the choice of sitting on a possible tie or pushing to win. I suspect at this point I was trying my best to fight frustration. Bim wasn’t as badly off as Honeybadger had been in the previous game; she still had re-rolls and was level on players, but I felt if I’d managed 10 dice in the first half, I’d probably get 4 more and was likely to get the ball down. In I went in three turns (again, a Saurus died just as I went for the score), and again I’d bucked my usual conservatism to try and get the result.
It went badly, and I was to generate no more dice at Bim’s agile Ghoul. Bim’s armour dice accelerated to remove more Lizards, and then a final 1/81 block to open a hole to hit the ball resulted in a turnover, and all hope was extinguished. In this case, pushing to win was probably not the right choice. Not just because it didn’t work; I don’t think in hindsight that the on-field position was good enough to try. Despite getting the ball shots in the first half, I should have respected the AG 4 Ghoul more, accepted how things had panned out and just played a standard drive to tie. I could have likely absorbed the CAS as they came while I had the football; the Skinks could have looked after themselves.
Anyway, Bim was a delight and I bought myself a beer to commiserate. Always a bit sad when your tournament race is run so early, but thems’ the breaks.
Game 3 – volkmair’s Dwarfs, 1-0 win.
volkmair here, getting his Dwarf on. Did you know? The Sizzler famously claims that vegetables are evil and should be eliminated. Few know that his hatred stems from Wigan school dinners, where peas were replaced with gravel under Thatcher. A whole generation now feature chipped teeth and unreasonable broccoli phobias, but on the plus side, she wasn’t for turning and coal is all icky
volkmair was a relatively new coach, and was sporting BB2016 Dwarfs (4 Guard, 2 MB). This was the first tournament where I’ve played all of my games were on a new BB2016 pitch (see my snazzy Reikland Reavers effort above, I really love it), and it was a bit weird. I just instinctively know how far stuff goes on the old pitches, and having to count everything anew is a little unsettling. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get used to it as time goes on. While making numerous ‘oh crap, I’ve left a hole there’ errors! My Saurus are on unreasonably large bases, so it’s actually really helpful when using them. Thanks, GW!
volkmair was under the pump here, Lizards are the last thing Dwarfs want to see, and actually, I think Dwarfs get a bad rap in general. They don’t react at all well to a bit of poor fortune; they’re super unresponsive. For all the hate they get, when did you last attend a high level tournament where the bearded ones won? I think mine was Waterbowl… 8 (this was 13)?
Anyway, I kicked off, and on five of the opening seven turns, the ball hit the deck. It’s a really tough gig for the Dwarfs, this, and the game followed the script to the letter. While I couldn’t secure a score against serve following a number of double skulls, it didn’t really matter. My drive was relatively straight forward, as Skinks danced away on the Dwarven endzone from pretty early on.
Again, the main decision here concerned whether to push to hit the ball and accept dice to do so, or rely on the racial mismatch and defend conventionally. I think either would have likely worked in this instance, and the extra security of a possible turnover score was worth the effort and the risk of being pulled out of position.
What do nerds do after a day of playing games? Well, they play games. The NWGC bar was to remain open all night, and with takeaway pizza being delivered, we settled in for the board game lock-in.
J_Bone has backed every game Kickstarter since 2005, and some of them even arrived with English instructions. This was one such purchase, and I don’t understand what was going on below. I think John won, but really, we were all winners. Or losers. One of those. There was some sort of Norse thing going on, and everyone had a lovely time.
Game 4 – Darkdan’s Chaos Dwarfs, 3-0 win.
Darkdan here, pictured without his CD hat. Did you know? The Sizzler invented ‘fun sized’ Mars Bars. He wrote a letter in 1989 still framed on the wall at Mars HQ, declaring everything of a single inch in length to be ‘top craic’
Darkdan featured a single Guard CDB, a Block Mino, Block and Wrestle Bull and two lots of MB. Flat 11, 2 RR.
I won the toss, and again kicked off, looking to lure the Mino into a bad place and negate the single Guard by pulling it away and out of position. The plan worked pretty well, as the LOS held firm and the Mino had to think twice about blocking anything. I was also able to hold halfway, and come T3 or 4, the CDs were stuck in a central cage. I took the opportunity to send a Block Saurus off looking to hit Hobgoblins at the back of the cage, and when armour broke, decided to collapse into the formation and leave Darkdan with some tricky decisions and little to hit with only the single Guard and no Break Tackle to re-position. The plan worked perfectly, and it all fell apart for my opponent. By turn 8, all of the Hobgoblins had left the field and I could score at will having scooped the spilled football.
With the Leader Kroxigor dead (killed late on in the first half), I decided to score as early as feasible in the second half, not reckoning on the Chaos Dwarven quick score and wary about only having 3 Block and two RRs. I got in in 4 turns, and was even able to turn Darkdan over for 3-0, in the end. This is another bad match-up against Lizards, and when Darkdan’s Mino didn’t go crazy and make with the CAS, he was probably going to struggle to generate many blocks with a single Guarder. When everything goes according to the plan, there are few real decisions to make, so little to say. Darkdan was a gent, and likely did not enjoy the Saurus wall he was presented with. Lizards are a super strong roster when nothing goes wrong, and this game was a fine illustration of that.
Darkdan probably had the nicest minis I played against all weekend, he’d really gone to town. Being a terrible blogger, I forgot to take a photo, but maybe he’ll find this and furnish us with a lovely shot..?
Game 5 – Mawph’s Skaven, 1-0 win.
Annoyingly, I’ve misplaced my photo of Mawph. I typed ‘beautiful bearded man’ into Google, and this is what it came up with, which is not a terrible likeness. Did you Know? The Sizzler has had many names. Sizzling_Gromril, the Chicken Tikka Sizzler, Androo, Obergruppenführer Disco and Tits Mcgee are but five of his aliases. Rumour has it that each persona has it’s own EU Passport, which is going to look like overkill after Brexit. Which means Brexit
Playing Mawph every year (it seems we meet every year, at least) is most pleasurable. He’s a lovely bloke, a good player and he keeps a great beard. This year, John was sporting Skaven with a Block RO and GR, a Guard SV, a Leader, a Wrestle Gutter and a Kick Lino.
I won the toss and elected to kick (notice a pattern?!). The plan was pretty straight forward: wall off on half way and use my strength to overpower the Rats. It was important not to let Gutters seep into my half around the Saurus, and I’d try to threaten any would-be receiving Gutters with Skinks. Generally, turn the screw as time elapsed and get a shot at the ball. While all of that was underway, chipping away and ensuring I wasn’t driving against a full eleven would be handy.
The plan went pretty well. I got a fair few 3D shots at Gutters and some at the Leader Thrower. As John’s players dwindled, he retreated into his own half out of range of the Break Tackle Saurus. Eventually, come turn 5 or 6, he knew he had to go forwards and he tried to make a cage on the sideline with the Blodge Gutter jammed right against the side. I was going to get a chance at the ball anyway, but when a snake robbed the ball carrying Gutter of some help, the ball went straight into the crowd on halfway. 12 squares towards my endzone later and a score against the head was looking unlikely. Although I recovered, the process sapped a re-roll, and then the Skink failed a GFI to get into range. I would have to settle for 0-0 at half time.
The second half was a procession. With a Get the Ref bribe, I spent the whole half attempting to chin Rats and ensure the OTS attempt would be difficult. With Gutters Block and Wrestle gone, even the 6+ cage dodge for -2D wasn’t much of an option for poor Mawph. When I scored in T16, 4 Rats remained. 4 more came back after strong KO rolls, but the OTS failed anyway. Operation smear rats across the board was a success.
I was happy with how I’d approached this game and happier still that rolls went my way. I’ve no idea what we’ll bring with us next year, but I’m already excited about Phil v John 2019!
The big boy tables featured classic English big hitters Pipey (above, right), Stick (left) and Podfrey. Weirdly, they were joined by a Khorne exponent, the rather heroic Doug Lowe. Any of these fab four could have won the event going into game 6, but Pipey was victorious with a rather avant-garde Undead roster featuring a single Wight! I’m sure he’ll point out his genius later. Good team + good coach = good result, but it would be interesting to run the tournament another 50 times with this roster and then 50 times with a more traditional one and see where he ended up on average. Anyway, back on table 8 or so…
Game 6 – Cunning’s Bretonnians, 2-1 win.
Cunning by name, cunning by nature..? Did you know: There are only 6 known Sizzler facts in the world. Whilst this fact about those six facts technically counts as a seventh fact, no known Blood Bowl nerds are fact pedants. So I won’t be pulled up for this pseudo-fact fact. Fact
And so to my final game, and a first TT meeting with Bretonnians. I had been really worried about this eventually happening; I had pictured playing Human minis and forever forgetting what the actual players they represent did. Moreover, Brets seem to be pulling up trees so far in tournament play; are they going to be a really tough draw? Armed with a roster printout (a first for me), I set about studying the opposition. Cunning had 3 Dodge Blitzer guys, a Leader one and two Guard Wrestle things. And some Fend AV7, 2 RRs and a bench.
I kicked off having lost the toss, hoping that regardless of stat lines and skills, defending would not be too far removed from usual. Fortuitously, Cunning’s minis were very clearly different to the standard Humans you see, so I was clear in my head that this was a different fixture. Dauntless on the Blitzers really helped as Cunning whacked Saurus about the place (a traditional issue for Humans in this match-up, being out-strengthed), and pinning Fend to Saurus was useful for keeping me at arms length. Even so, I set about walling off half way and eventually forming an ‘L’ shape to pen Cunning into half a pitch. Eventually, I got a couple of players up (Fend that!), and all Cunning had left was a heroic 4+, 3+ dodge through my line to leave the ball carrier alone and exposed in my half. When I used up a RR on the first block of my next turn and then only got pushes on the Leader Blitzer (who was ball carrying after an earlier muffed pickup), Cunning had a shot at a rather unlikely TD. With no re-rolls, through went a Dodge Blitzer, 1 dice Dauntless away went the marking Saurus, 3+ dodge, touchdown in T6. Ouchie.
While I was feeling pretty hard done to, I perhaps need not have. The following 10 turns were a bit of a dream, as I scored in two and then ambled to an eight turn TD as Bretonnians flew off the pitch in droves. Cunning’s huge chunk of fortune was repaid in kind multiple times over as my armour / injury dice went hotter than the surface of the sun, and my first meeting with the new team ended in a positive 2-1. I’m not much of a fan of the Bret roster really; I’m not sure it adds too much and I suspect that it might be quite frustrating to play against when it rolls well, but it’s here to stay and I’ll get used to it!
Final reckoning – 4/1/1 / 6th.
4/1/1 looks better than it feels, in this case. If I had finished day one 3/0/0 or 2/1/0 and was right up there in the mixer, then 4/1/1 would have been a fine result. It’s a bit different after submarining from a 0/1/1 start. With many CAS taken across the weekend (plus KOs, etc.) I’m not sure that I fulfilled my goal and got over my Lizard problem. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m too standoffish with them. Perhaps if I just went aggressive early, I could decide more games before the 10s come along, rather than simply being in a good position and then losing when stuff dies? Don’t know. I’ve put the mini case right in the back of my garage for now, they’ll stay there for a good while. I certainly have a little bit of a love / hate thing going on, there.
The Waterbowl is a masterpiece. Alex / Leipziger runs a tight, well-advertised ship, and even though Stockport is more expensive to get to than most European countries from where I live, you’d have to pin me down to stop me returning next year. There is something special about northern English Blood Bowl; the atmosphere is all about playing hard in every sense.
Next month, I’m at two tournaments. I’ll blog at whichever produces the most interesting Blood Bowl. Dungeonbowl or Boudica, one of those! Always remember, have a Sizzling Christmas.
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