Monday, 11 January 2016

Into the dark

The cave had been ill lit, but like a cathedral, it had opened up into a vast space. The walls had been carefully cut; no natural formation was this. The party had passed abandoned mining tools and equipment on their way through. Guttering torches had been left haphazardly around the walls, casting sporadic light and threatening shadows. In one corner, a hulking Dragonborn and a tiny Gnome parlayed with a group of Kobolds. With their attention elsewhere, the remainder of the party skulked through the shadows, amongst the eggs. There, an Elf maid giggled as she stamped her way through the hatchery. Fingon and a feline Shifter named Tor crouched at the top of a small rise, watching the cave's residents warily. 

"The little lizards have yet to attack. We need to be ready to make our escape."

The shifter hissed an agreement. "Yooou are right. There are a lot of those thingsss."

Why did I ever agree to this? This cave is awful. Is that roof stable? Gods! I wonder if these eggs are valuable? Is the roof getting lower? I need to be out in the sunshine. Damned Paladins. Damned war. Gods, but I am damned. I should be in a tavern somewhere. Eldra. She understood me. Our son. He must be walking now. Yes! I'll go back and it will be better. I can return with tales of the world, and she'll welcome me back with open arms. She'll - wait! Where did they go? Shit and ashes. Where did they go? Right. We need to make a break for it, now. Maybe grab an egg? Yes. Grab an egg and go. Back to the sunlight. Now

As he pocketed an iridescent egg, Fingon spoke in Sindarin to the Elf, "Thea, they have gone and so too must we. Alone, even I can not guarantee your safety. We must leave." Turning to Tor, the bard was interrupted by a commotion at the other end of the cavern before he could speak. The Dragonborn had re-emerged. 

Raising his arms, he shouted in a harsh language of grinding syllables, before shouting a second time in Common, "Unclean! You have not kept this place sacred. Kill the intruders!"

As one, the tribe turned to look in the direction of Fingon and his little group, who scattered. In the commotion, he collided with Tor, who fell from the outcrop, at the mercy of the onrushing Kobolds. Coming to his full height, Fingon brandished his rapier, and leapt to his defence.

Got to get out. Damned Dragon. Got to escape. Damned shifter, out of the way. Gods, one is coming at me. What do I do, what do I do? Oh, Gods, I cut Tor. Shit and ashes, back, back. He can deal with it. Get out. Get out. Why did I come here?

In seconds, the horde of Kobolds was reduced by half. Spattered with blood, the Shifter let out a feline growl and fell upon the Kobold newest to him in a welter of fur and claws. Lightning began to spark as Thea's spells hit out at the tiny creatures. At the other end of the cavern, the Dragonborn sprung his trap, breathing fire at the backs of the surprised Kobolds. A battle cry came from the Gnome as he charged. 

Untouched by the maelstrom, Fingon stood rapier in hand, ready to strike. "Arise, my friends and fight." His voice, calm and commanding, cut clearly through the sudden chaos that had erupted. "They can not stand if we are together." As he spoke, An enemy charge at him from the pack and his voice grew louder, replete with the threat of sudden violence. "You can not win!" 

With that, he strode forward and the Kobold cowered before him. Overcome, the creature turned to flee, and in its haste, caught the Gnome's axe on its backswing. 

They're still everywhere. Can't escape. Damned Dragon, leading us into this mess. I said he was an idiot; they should have listened to me. Where is he? Mighty Paladin, should be shielding us. Is he dead? Tiamat! I think he is. Should I check? Didn't he have a lot of money? I should check. They can handle the fight

The melee was deadly. The Gnome's axe whirled a deathly circle wider than he was tall as he span from fight to fight. The Kobolds hissed and spat as they stabbed and died. Tor, his claws now dripping with the essence of half a dozen monstrous foes, fought on against a slowly dwindling press of foes. Through it all, moved Fingon. Moving swiftly, the bard put all thoughts of defence from his mind as he raced to the side of his fallen comrade. After unsuccessfully searching the Dragonborn's pack for supplies, he tore strips from his scarlet cloak to bind his friend's wounds. About them, the sounds of battle died as the last Kobold fell. 

They had won victory. 

I saved them. After their bumbling in the dark, I saved them, lead them to victory. I carry with me the evidence of my achievement and will win renown. That Marshall will bow before me in thanks and I shall be given my due. Perhaps the day was not quite enough for an epic, but perchance an aside? I shall need to consider the metre, of course, but it does have promise. 

By the light of moon stood he,
Rapier 'gainst the darkness.
Humbled by blade's edge,
Fleeing foes did die. 

Die? Stumble! Fall? Maybe try the Iambic instead; the details matter not. I won the victory

Heading south, the five companions rode their three horses, dragging a prisoner them. At the front walked a white mare. With the Elvish maiden riding pillion, Fingon T'Lor sat easily on the saddle. With the reins held loosely in one hand, the Half-Elf bard smiled as he breathed the clean mountain air, under the clear sky. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Welcome to Northshire

What have I done to deserve this? This place is a hovel. I wouldn't let pigs in here, and I'm stuck here with this pack of mewling humanity. There isn't even any beer. Respect for religion? They should respect me. Given my standing, I should have been put up in their finest rooms, with some of that monastery wine. Maybe I should leave. Yes. I could leave and go back to the Capital. They understood me there. They understood the importance of culture. 

The door to the monastery opened and a giant, bearded man entered. Towering over those near him, his steps echoed in the hall, his heavy plate tolling with every stride. Marshall Douglas, Protector of Northshire, set to his task. These refugees were stuck here and he would make them useful. Some would be sent to the farms, others would be conscripted. Some might be given the jobs for which he didn't have time. 

Scanning the room, the abhumans stood out. There, a Gnome. There, a filthy Shifter. There, a Dragon. Here, an Elven woman with a young man in attendance. The Marshall shook his head at him. A foppish, fey, appearance, he was dressed in finery more suited to court than to a camp for the dispossessed. As Douglas neared, he court a snippet of a song sung to the accompaniment of a lute. Melora, but he he hated the lute. 

Addressing the pair, the Marshall demanded their worth, "The gates are closed and the people in the vale are under my care. We shall remain here until it is safe outside, and I shall put every one of you to use." Eyeing the dandy, he continued, "tell me your strengths so that they might be used for the good of the people."

In answer, the man stopped playing and set down his instrument. Drawing himself to his full height, he set his shoulders squarely, which just happened to make his cloak fall just so. Raising one hand, he proclaimed, "I am Fingon T'Lor, son of a wandering wraith and a noble woman. I am known throughout the Southshire." As if to punctuate his announcement, a dove flew from his hand. 

The Marshall shook his head. "You, Elf. You look to be of the Woodland Realm. Good with beasts?" She nodded. "To the stables. As for you," here he paused, disdain on his face. "I have a special task for you."

The stables? That will not happen. I do not work with beasts; I am an artist. He must realise my position. 

"Good Sir, you misunderstand me." A dagger replaced the dove. "Do not mistake me. I have served by your King. I know these lands and your Kingdom. I have survived Orcs and worse. I have carried items of import through danger and lived to tell the tale. I shall be happy to assist you however you should wish. 

Hah. Let him swallow that bitter pill. Think better of me now, do you? 

The Knight's expression changed slowly to a grin, but a keen observer would not have seen it as a friendly one. "Excellent, my young friend. I have need of someone with your skills; I didn't want to worry everyone, but we have some trouble in the north. An infestation of sorts. I need someone to find the source of the rumours and deal with the cause. Report back. Are you willing?"

What? Is place was supposed to be safe! What use is the King's guard anyway? I'm not going out there to face an 'infestation'! Of what? Rats? Locusts? Orcs? That's not my job; doesn't he get that I'm an artist? I am not going out in the cold, or the wet. I am certainly not going to fight anyone or anything. Doesn't he know how hard it is to get blood out of silk? I am not leaving this monastery!

"I am you servant, sir."

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Game Four

I just finished my fourth game with Undead, and it doesn't really bear dissection. Normally, I would have a think back to my coaching, but this game was so ruled by Nuffle, that it seems almost pointless.

So, I though Khemri would be an interesting match up. One of the few teams that can out strength Undead, they offered a very different challenge to my Elven opponents of late. My mistake in the first half was to set up the mummies on the line. At least I think that was my error.

They were out muscled from the off, and I'm pretty sure that they would have done better a bit off the line, hiding behind the sacrifical Zombies. As it was, they got beaten to a pulp and I had a small heart attack.

I was very pleased that my Mummy, Elsbet, survived. THat would have caused a bit of a problem.

In the first half, I also think I pushed too hard for the ball. I should have taken my time, separated the Tomb Guardians, but i split my team to hit the rear of the cage. He simply punched through and took advantage of the paper thin Ghoul armour.

In the second, I had an almost unreal wave of luck as I broke armour repeatedly and then scored a blitz with two turns to go. I couldn't quite score, but that was due to some great coaching by my opponent. He asked me to surf his Throw-Ra with the ball, knowing that the ball would end up thrown in, far away from the end zone. It was a risky play, but cunning.

So, my main lesson from this is that I will need to learn some different set ups. Unlike my Wood Elves, which have a couple of set ups that work for every occasion, the Undead need to have quite a few formations.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Game Three

So, I just finished the third game on my Undead journey against a very sweary Spaniard. In fairness to him, I did catch some luck, but I think the game was actually very balanced. Although I was playing against Amazons, there were no injuries all game and, until the final turn, we were pretty well balanced in knock outs. 

It began with a blitz, which saw a ghoul catching the ball. He was blitzed, but a mummy caught the scatter. After some silly shenanigans, the ghouls ran off with it and scored. Those guys really are essential; their speed and dodge skill really brings them to the party and gives you a freedom other teams lack. Mainly, they let you get out of trouble when things are going wrong, which I love. 

So, lesson one was that I need to practice my grind. With my Orcs, I think I got pretty good at it, but they have spoiled me. With all that high strength and armour, it's so easy to go up in numbers and control the blocking game. I, finding this a lot harder with Undead. The mummies and wights are great, but the ghouls and zombies keep leaving the pitch. I think I need to work on patience and a good grind. 

On the other hand, I think I managed the team well. With twelve players and four ghouls, I didn't go overboard. Instead I only took three at a time (until the final drive). This meant that I always had a spare, and some extra zombies that I was happy to sacrifice to Nuffle (also Muffle, but that's another story). Three ghouls is enough mobility to be going on with, and the spare was great. This game was so much easier when I started to take a couple of KOs as I had spares. 

Ok, so back to the game. I scored in about turn four, and he scored back in the last turn of the half. I got a little unlucky, as he had hugged the side lines. I'm not sure I did a lot wrong here on defence, as I surfed his ball carrier off a chain push. Unfortunately, my positioning was off, as I didn't have anyone covering the throw in, which was very Amazon favourable. He had an easy two dice block and pick up to score. 

Receiving in the second half, I scored in about five turns, but not through choice. Once again, I failed on my grind and e cage was too open; I had to make go for its on no rerolls to score. This was a bit tight. 

On defence, my opponent chose to go for a classic two turner (even though he had four turns to play with). I also used an illegal substitution to bring on my twelfth player, with he thought unfair. I, on the other hand, liked it. Using a bit of luck, and capitalising on failed pass, I was able to run the ball to safety. 

The team continued its silly skill ups, for a total of 6+4 on a mummy, 3+3 on a ghoul and 6+5 on a ghoul. I took guard, guard and +AG. 

This is my goal for next game: a long grind. This is my biggest weakness; I feel confident in defence, but weak in attack. 

I also want to try a different set up to the standard ziggurat. Depending on what I face, this might happen too. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Seeking Undeath

So, I've decided that I want to improve my Blood Bowl and this means practice. Seeing as I haven't got a local league, that only leaves online play. Now, I'm not going anywhere near Cyanide any time soon and as I have a newly repaired netbook, it was off to Fumbbl.

However, as any coach will say, it's not enough to play games. You need to train. SO, I'm going to use this blog as a space for reflection. I want to pick out what is going right and what is going wrong with my games, with the hope to improve.

I'm painting a new Undead team (pictures will arrive, at some point), and so I thought I would start with them. I give you the Drakenwald Dirge. They're a standard build with three re-rolls, two mummies, two wights, 3 ghouls and a horde of zombies. OK, a small horde.

I entered the Black Box yesterday for my first game and found Pro Elves. The first half was a perfect Undead drive. Eight turns, lots of elves off the pitch and a nice tasy score at the end. THat said, my biggest mistake of the game came in about turn seven; I fouled a catcher. Now, the previous turn, I had fouled out a Blitzer, and I got trigger happy and got sent of. This meant that at the start of the second half, it was 10 on 10 (good KO rolls), which really confused me. Apparantly, I don't know how to set up with only 10 players. He drove up the middle and scored quick.

I then fumbled the pick up, and he got a second. I then had only two turns to equalise. Now, I ask you, how do you score from this position, in your last turn, without a re-roll?

You chain push the wight towards the side lines, blitz him free and stand him in the end zone, hoping with all of your little necrotic heart that the ghoul can make the long bomb. Which he did.

So, on to game two (don't worry, there will be reflection, bu the games are linked). I just got this one finished, and it was against another rookie Pro Elf team, and I was down to two ghouls due to injury.

The ultimate lesson? Don't go players down against elves. I played 24 turns over the two games down on players; this is a real challenge for the slow movers. I think I need to realise that my Chicago Black Orcs have the advantage in this department; armour 9 is amazing, and I miss it.

In this game, I won the toss, but didn't do any damage. I then continued to stall beyond the point where it was reasonable, giving him a turnover. Well, I say gave. My ghoul helped, but he timed his attack just right.

Regardless, numbers mattered, and I lost one nil. On the bright side, I think I defended better with only 9 players in this game. Downside, I still lost and need to practice my stalling.

Next game though I have a guarding mummy and four ghouls.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Is the world ending?

So, in case anyone missed it, GW made an announcement. They have committed in the vaguest terms possible, to bringing back the Specialist Games line. It's far too early to speculate on precisely why sis will entail, but I think that the smart money is going to be on one off box sets. But that is not why I write. 

Games Workshop have had mixed success when it comes to Blood Bowl. They created a great game and some wonderful models, before later submitting confused and inadequate rule sets; instead, the current rule pack is based on the work of the community lead rules committee. Over the last few years, they have stopped supporting the game, while newer independent manufactures have come to the fore. Overall, I think that the game has never been stronger. 


Last weekend (and I will complete the write up as soon as I can), I was one of 912 playing coaches in Italy for the Blood Bowl World Cup. That tournament was a perfect example of all that makes our hobby great; the community, the standard of play and painting and the amazing people who run everything. We have a phenomenal international organisation, a superb rankings system and a cohesive rule set that functions excellently. 

What we also have is a captive audience. The vast majority of players have been playing for years; over a decade in many cases. At 29, I am one of the younger players on the scene, and I had a background in GW before I found the NAF. 

We do not advertise the game. Sure, there are a certain number of new players that join through word of mouth but their number is comparatively small. Once, Warhammer players would be lured across by the glossy adverts in White Dwarf (I know that I was). Nowadays, we simply don't have this level of support. Organic growth is all well and good, but once you reach saturation, support is needed to spread your market. 

Now, Cyanide is a good example of what can be achieved with a big budget. They have sold thousands of copies of their new game. For the purists, it isn't great. Rules have been changed and there have been, as always, issues with switching from cardboard to computer. That said, they are getting the numbers. Even better, new coaches are appearing on the forums and on social media. They have no knowledge of miniature game, but they are passionate about the game and are eager to take part. 

Games Workshop, for all of their faults, know how to advertise a product. We all know that they are a merciless, profit driven organisation. This means marketing. This means sales. This means a whole new generation of Blood Bowlers. This means new players and an enhanced subscription to the NAF. Sure, they might not all join up or become regular players; most of them won't. But, every one that does is breathing new life into our hobby. 

So is the world ending? Not yet. But, to hear many people speak, it could. They are concerned about GW's penchant for litigation, their sometimes confused approach to support and strategy and, most importantly, the rules. You can play the game anywhere. You can play the game with any models or against anyone. What you can't do is play the game without a rule set and, at this point, you have to mention the elephant in the room. 

Unless you've been under a rock, you'll have come across Age of Sigmar. It was a great marketing strategy and a great way to alienate your players; GW blew up the Warhammer world, wiped the rules and races and started again from fresh. New models sold, more profit made. Strangely enough, there is a fear that this could happen again, but I have to ask: will this really happen?

I believe that we have already seen the likely changes to the rule set. As I have perviously said, Games Workshop is a merciless profit driven organisation. Can anyone really see them developing and play testing enormous rules changes? I'm pretty certain that they would prefer to use something that is proven to work and ready to use. 

The newest Cyanide Blood Bowl game has emerged with some distinct differences to the CRP rule set. Some of these changes are down to the difficulty of transitioning a board game to a computer (or lazy programming, depending on your view). Others, though, are actual alterations. Additional armour to some positions, an enhanced cost for others. I know already that these changes are not popular with many within the community, but I have to ask the question: why?

When I go to a tournament, I know at the are a few static builds. Wood Elves should come with a treeman and Undead come with everything. You put Block on a big guy and build up your blodgers. Guard is essential for Dwarves. Worse still, you know that at the top tables, there will always be certain races; if you want to win, you'd better be bringing a Tier 1 team. 

The changes made by Cyanide are not massive, but even big ones would not break the game. Let's say that Human Ogres could start with Block, one of the most powerful skills in the game. They still wouldn't win tournaments; most races are simply better than even this improved Human team. 

Now, if you make a series of small changes to each team, I'm sure that you would see changes. Maybe Humans would become stronger than Orcs; maybe Undead would cease to be so dominant. Regardless, you would see some changes on the tournament scene and maybe, you'd see different players winning to reflect the newer rules. 

Games Workshop have a tried and tested formula; in fact, when you look at it, so does every other company in existence. Every few years, GW bring out new rules and, as a result, keep the attention of their players. Similarly other games, like the WarmaHordes universe from Privateer Press get regular injections of new models and rules. Each addition changes the environment and forces players to learn the game anew, refreshing their enjoyment of the game. Formula 1 changes its rules to keep the races fresh in spite of repeated use of the same tracks; ice hockey has altered its overtime rules repeatedly to build fresh excitement. 

I want to be playing this game in 20 years, but I do not want to be playing the same game. I want it to evolve, to change. Blood Bowl and its community should embrace change, new rules, new races, new players. Without those changes, it will wither. With them, I believe that it can continue to grow strong, so that I can be sat in a room with over 1000 coaches in twenty year's time, enjoying another World Cup. 

Friday, 6 November 2015

2015 NAF World Cup - Day 1

So, four years ago I assiduously updated this place with details of my winnings and losings each night. Last night, whiskey happened, so I'm now playing a little catch up. 

So, after finding the hotel at Lucca (beautiful medieval walled city), we enjoyed some socialising on the Thursday evening, before hitting the tournament. 

The hall was huge. I remember tweeting a picture of a horde of Blood Bowlers outside the venue in Amsterdam. They took up most of the street, and it looked awesome. Now I know I was wrong. The sheer scale of this World Cup is overwhelming. At night, you can not turn a corner without finding Blood Bowlers. During the day, the hall is packed with sellers, cosplayers and gamers (the Cyanide booth was a little quiet though). 

For the first round, Team Chaos had drawn the French team Azes Tech. Now, we were a member down (one could not travel due to an operation), but the Italian ringer Quercio joined the team. For my first game I'd drawn Wood Elves. It was a really cagey start for both of us as I kicked, but four turns in, the Wardancer hit the floor. Permanently. From there, the clock ticked by and I was force to use a major chai push to score. The other KO'd Wardancer was a nice benefit. In the second half, I ground out a second touchdown to win two nil. 

In th cond game,  found ourselves against the Americans. Stars and Spite were headed up by Gaixo, who proved a great opponent. He was using Necromantic and received - to say that it was a massive scrum would be an understatement. 

The two teams beat the hell out of each other and although I turned him over, quad skulls presented me from pushing for the score. They also gifted him with an easy block and recovery, which took me to one nil down. In the second half, I spent four turns trying to push the Flesh Golems, before realising that this was a fruitless exercise. Unfortunately, it was a little late by then and I couldn't make the score; I lost one nil. 

In the third game (last one of the first day) I played Iappo and his Dwarves; I think it says something that my notes on this game read "receive, grind, scrum, break throug centre". This was a true grind fest, in which my orcs found their can openers. I caused four casualties and won two nil. 

And so ended day one. I had two wins and a draw, Team Chaos were 150 out of 152 and one of its members were 912 pit of 912. A good day all around.