Monday, August 11, 2008

Playing Blood Bowl on an Empty Stomach

Everyone who’s ever coached a Vampire team can tell you that no other team will force you to think outside the Box in the same way. Even the Halflings for all the suckiness at least have a straightforward strategy of running the ball without getting clobbered. I’m writing this to lend a little help to fellow creatures of the night, and mainly because I don’t see anyone else giving any advice for Vampires. What the Hell, better me than no one, right?

I’ve played Vampires and Lizardmen, so I guess you could say I’m a little unconventional. I’ve had one successful vampire team, and one team that were all but forced into retirement. What happened was a matter of poor choice on the starting lineup. See if you can figure out which team succeeded and which one failed:

Lineup A:
3 Vampires $330,000
9 Thralls 360,000
4 Re-rolls 280,000
3 Fan-Factor 30,000

Lineup B:
3 Vampires $330,000
10 Thralls 400,000
3 Re-Rolls 210,000
6 Fan-Factor 60,000

Even Non-vampire coaches know that Vampires need re-rolls just to be functional before they even consider trying to win. The key to making a successful vampire team is to maximize your re-rolls early, and then treat them like the precious commodities they are. Don’t go for it unless you have to. Just imaging how you would think if you were immortal; put most of your focus on the long term growth of your team. Use thralls whenever possible to pick up the ball. If a vampire is well positioned, leave him where he is!

I play in a small league with 4 friends, and while lineup A led the league in scoring, lineup B was traded in for Lizardmen after half the team acquired niggling injuries, with at least one thrall being maimed a game. Alas, on the final game with lineup B while I waited for Lizardmen to arrive in the mail, a vampire rolled the mighty 12 on his advancement to get Strength 5. Murphey’s Law is a bitch! In the near future I plan to use yet another lineup:

2 Vampires $220,000
9 Thralls 360,000
5 Re-rolls 350,000
7 Fan-Factor 70,000

Remember, the more re-rolls you can get while they’re cheap, they better your team will be in the long run.

These guys truly are players to fear because they are the only player that can hit hard, and carry the ball with ease. They’re like elven Linemen on steroids. That said, while they’re very good of giving hits, they’re not very good at taking hits. AV 8 isn’t bad, but with only a handful on the field in the early stages, you can count on your vampires being hit over and over again. These guys have one major job in my opinion: GET TOUCHDOWNS! If you’re serious about winning games, don’t let your vampires get into a fist fight with Black Orcs and Chaos Warriors. Yes, you got equal strength, but worse AV. You would be much better off dodging away on a 2+. Vampires don’t belong on the LOS, they should be on the wings, weaving through with Agility 4, and smacking the thrower with Strength 4 to show why the Vampires are worth their high price. The vampire team has the unique ability to send powerful hitters deep into enemy territory, and that’s where they do the most damage. Trust me; played correctly, the vampires have a very strong defense. Your opponent will realize that it’s almost impossible to stop a vampire from reaching the ball carrier.

Thralls are fragile. Even against goblins, they tend to take a pretty hard pounding. Try to protect your thralls as much as possible because smart coaches will K’O as many thralls as possible because they know the vampires will fall that much quicker without a nearby food supply. Remember most castle sieges were one by starving out the defenders. Overall, you would probably be ill-advised to get too attached to these walking hospital bills.

On the other hand, these guys are the unsung heroes of your team. They do all the work while the vampires get all the attention! The main incentive for protecting these guys is money. You need to save up for the 6 vampires you one day hope to have, and you’ll never get there if you’re always replacing the thrall that died last week. Any game that your thralls can walk away from should be considered a win. Your opponent will also consider that a loss because they didn’t get as many SPP as they assumed they would.

Skill Development

Choosing skills for your team is all about minimizing the re-rolls you use, so you can save them for Bloodlust rolls. This goal will inform the choices you make for Thralls, but especially for vampires.

Thralls are fairly straightforward. They won’t live long enough to gain more than a few skills. They are the work horse of the team, and should take skills that suit that roll. The first couple should take block, so you don’t have to rely on vampires for hitting. Next you need Sure Hands because the last thing you want to do is burn a re-roll early in the first half. Kick, Dirty Player, Dauntless, and Pass Block are all skills fit for a cheap thrall. Any doubles should always be spent on dodge. A thrall with dodge has a very good chance of making it to old age, and anything you can do to drop re-rolls will help your team immensely. Taking Leadership is one option, but you’re really just giving that thrall a death sentence. Your opponents know all too well how much you need your re-rolls. Taking dodge will cost less money in the long run.

Likewise, if you get a stat increase and need to choose between more movement and more armor. Take the armor. It will cost less money in the long run. Do you see the pattern? You main priority with thralls is keeping them alive, and this task will require ALL of your cunning.

Vampires are an entirely different matter. Between your apothecary and your regeneration, you can expect your vamps to be around for a long time, and they acquire SPP very quickly. You critical issue is cutting back on the number of re-rolls your vampires suck up. The first strategy is to take the pro skill for all your vampires so they cut down the number of times they waste re-rolls on Bloodlust. I prefer a different tactic however. The dodge skill will ultimately be far more useful for cutting down on re-rolls used. Not to mention your vampire will spend less time on the ground thanks to dodge because he take hits better, and avoid them all together. Dodge will also be much better for getting TD’s and subsequently SPP than Block. Dodge will help you win games, keep your vampires alive, and most importantly save re-rolls. Also, when a vampire is hungry he’ll need to be able to get to a thrall to avoid being sent off. Dodge will allow you to make a quick risk free detour towards your human slaves. All too often, my vampires get hurt failing a dodge roll immediately after failing a Bloodlust roll. Call it the “1 and then 1 again curse.”

Vampires have so many skills to choose from, you’re going to need to specialize your vampires to be able to fully cover them all. You should not try to develop one into your thrower however. A thrall would be far better suited to that safe position. Here are a couple of suggested builds.

Standard Vamp: Dodge, Block, Sure Feet, Sure Hands
This vampire contributes to the team by conserving as many re-rolls as possible. Bloodlust should be the only time he uses a re-roll, and should be the most numerous build on your team.

Blocker Vamp: Guard, Block, Pro, Mighty Blow
This vampire sits on the line of scrimmage and takes on tough guys in the opposing lineup. Someone has to do it, and you should always have a thrall adjacent to this guy so he doesn’t have to run for a meal. I have a very important reason for taking Guard before block. Remember to build up thralls with the Block, and partner them up with the Blocker Vamp. Thralls don’t need to make a bloodlust roll in order to hit the bad guys, so it makes good sense to hit with your thralls first, letting the Blocker Vamp handle whoever’s still standing. Taking Guard on all your vampires is the third and most theoretical plan for cutting down on re-rolls. Aim to have a third of your Vamps on the front line. Even though he’s built for standing still, don’t forget that you can dodge on a 2+ if you need to.

Runner Vamp: Dodge, Sure Feet, Side Step, Sprint
This will be the last build you start working on. This vampire’s sole existence is to lend some fast scoring touchdowns to your team. It’s up to you whether or not to use this build. The biggest road block is that your thralls can’t keep up with a speed demon, and the runner may get sent off if there are no thralls nearby.

In Play

The Line of Scrimmage
As you start to build blocker Vamps, you’ll be able to slow the advance of hard hitting teams. Your vampires should collect skills twice as fast as Chaos warriors and other behemoths. Until then however you should put all your vampires on the LOS, and then dodge away on a 2+ leaving the blockers in the dust. Always avoid a head to head against better armored opponents when you can just sneak away.

Using the Carrot
To advance the ball, have a thrall pick it up, and then hand it off to a vampire. You now have a strength 4 player carrying the ball, and you did it without rolling for bloodlust. Next send a thrall where you want the vampire to move to, and then move the vampire. Even if you roll a 1 for bloodlust, you can save a re-roll by just moving up to your scout, and rewarding him with a bite. No one ever said the life of a thrall was easy! I always paint my thralls to show various neck bites they’ve acquired. Why Mr. Ed Ible has already been bitten 38 times! This tactic is even more useful when you have the dodge skill.

Saving Re-rolls
Regardless of whether you’re receiving or kicking you should always try to play conservatively in the early turns, relying mostly on your thralls to stall for time, and just biting a thrall on bad bloodlust rolls rather than burning re-rolls early in the game. If you’ve played right, you should have 3 Re-rolls remaining for the final 3 turns. Now it’s time to kick your vampires into overdrive. The sooner you can reach the stage where you have one re-roll per turn, the more successful a coach you’ll be. The vampire team can be very powerful once they hit their stride and re-rolls are no longer an issue. Everything can be done by a vamp on a 2+ and they’re hard to take down by anyone other than power teams. The downside is that you can’t really predict what the board will be by this stage, which is why being a vampire coach will require some out of the box thinking. The good news is that vampires are likely to be good at whatever crazy idea you’ve concocted for them.

Closing Thoughts: How Could I improve the vampire team?
If I could say anything to the designers, I would ask for a way for Thralls to become vampires. The whole point of vampires is that they can turn humans into one of them, and the thralls are hoping to get the gift of immortality from their undead masters. There should be some pay off for their effort, no? After all, undead teams get to make zombies, why shouldn’t vampires be able to promote their most promising thralls into their ranks. I would propose that whenever a thrall becomes a casualty as a result of being bitten by a vampire, the coach can have the option of “turning” the thrall at the end of the match for the cost of $70,000. This thrall then has his strength, agility, and armor increase by 1 each, and his model is switched out for one of the appropriate type. The thrall retains all of his current skills and SPP, and gains regeneration, Bloodlust, Hypnotic Gaze. This would give a much needed boost to the vampire team (which they REALLY need), and makes perfect sense with fluff making the coach feel a lot more like a vampire.

Let the tryouts begin!


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