In Blood Bowl a stout defence is probably the hardest aspect of the game to master, as there are many ways to create scoring positions, while defensive play generally requires consistent thought and positioning and even one mistake may be enough to allow your opponent to score.
When talking about tactics in Blood Bowl we often divide teams up into four categories: Bashers, Agility, Hybrids, and Stunties. Each of these categories tend to have fairly consistent qualities that determine the approach to how they should play the game to succeed. For Bashers, we generally find slower teams with higher strength, armour and blocking ability, but with less effective ball handling skills and lower movement and mobility; and for agility teams the opposite is generally true. Hybrids can generally play either style depending on their opponent, while with Stunties anything goes! As with any broad category there are many nuances and variations within those groups, but for players looking to start out and understand the solid basics of play for their team, this approach works well.
In this article we are going to look at the fundamentals of offensive play for the two most prolific and polarised types: Agility and Bash teams.
For agile teams, defense in Blood Bowl consists of two main tactics:
- Keeping your opponent at arms’ length as much as possible
- Threatening to steal the ball and score yourself if they fail
The former is normally achieved by dodging your players away and creating screens to thwart your opponent’s advance while preventing them from basing and damaging your players.
In the example below the Wood Elves have set up a column defence of two-deep screens across the width of the pitch and no players are based. It will be extremely difficult for the amazons to make any progress.
The latter is achieved by keeping players close to the ball, keeping someone within scoring range, and trying to disrupt your opponent’s ability to create cages and screens of their own. It is arguably this potent ability to turn defense into counter-attack that is one of the greatest weapons in the arsenal of agility teams.
Kick off setups and early-drive play
There are two main approaches to kick-off setups for agility teams:
- Set up to minimise your opponent’s ability to damage you
- Set up to create aggressive defensive options for yourself
In the example below the Elves have set up in a strong defensive formation to mitigate the damage the Chaos can do on their first turn. Note how all of the Elven positional players are protected in the back line.
Agility teams often have powerful options to aggressively position and harass opponents in the early turns as they try and secure the ball or create a cage. If you are able to create a defensive screen between the ball and the main body of your opponent’s team you can quickly create an extreme headache for your opponent and a possible scoring opportunity for yourself.
In the example below the High Elves have created a thin screen between the Necromantic front and rear lines. The Necros will have to make some key blocks and position carefully if they want to establish a cage and make the ball safe.
The danger of the above approach is that you may overreach. Also you may have to expose valuable players to blocks or fouls. As an agility coach you have to make many judgement calls about when the right time is to make an aggressive play in the hope that it may lead to a breakthrough.
Asymmetric setups are another way to cause headaches for opponents. When an agility team sets up asymmetrically it forces an opponent to concentrate power in areas where it may not want to. It also creates the kind of opportunities we described earlier versus slower teams who are vulnerable to having their players separated or being unable to counter aggressive defensive play.
In the example below the Elven Union have set up asymmetrically, forcing the Necromantic team to spread their team across the width of the field and potentially allowing them to exploit the low movement of the Zombies and Flesh Golems if the chance arises.
As the name suggests, our path to victory with these types of teams is to out-block and out-damage our opponent, and win either by creating a numbers advantage that allows us to control the pitch, or simply creating a wall that our opponent cannot penetrate and prevent them scoring.
To that end, bashing teams often seek to base opponents as often as possible, either forcing them to roll dice to dodge away each turn or giving them difficult or risky blocks and slowing their advance while they do it. It is very important to stress that this approach cannot be performed mindlessly. Even the agility teams in Blood Bowl can create 2d blocks on many bashers quite easily, and giving away free blocks to your opponent is not a sustainable tactic, regardless of how high your AV is. Also, as we tend to be less agile, we must be careful not to become trapped in base to base contact ourselves while our opponents move the ball round us.
So how do we leverage our strength and toughness?
If we drastically outstrength or out-Guard our opponent, we can confidently mark up their standing players and challenge them to block or dodge away from us.
In the example below the Lizards are happy to base up the much weaker Amazons and force them to roll lots of dice if they want to progress their offense.
If they have good blockers of their own, we instead focus on blocking players away, following up downed players to prevent them making useful actions on their turn, and leaving standing players unmarked so that they can not block us back on their turn.
In the example below the Dwarves have tried to base up the Chaos defence in the middle of the field and make a break at the top. The Chaos defence responds to counter the break and leave only one dwarf in base contact, limiting the ability of the Dwarves to apply further pressure.
Where our opponent has higher movement and agility, we must be careful not to over-reach or push too aggressively and allow them open field to run into. Agility teams will often hope to draw bashers in and hope they overcommit. Keep the whole width of the field covered and ideally at least one player back to prevent any easy break out play.
When our opponent is strong, ensure our defensive walls consist of multiple players so that it takes more than one blitz or knockdown to create a space for them to move their cages into. The centre of the field is likely to be where the battle is won or lost in this matchup so ensure your strength is concentrated there, where it can be applied to any threat.
Basher setups often look very similar to that of agility teams, with the following emphasis:
Versus agility teams, you will typically set up to cover the width of the field and prevent your opponent easy access to the flanks.
Versus bashy teams, you will typically set up set up to ensure you protect your key players from damage
A major difference for bashers is that with typically lower movement values, it can be easy to become overstretched and unable to react to your opponents moves. Ensure your setup does not limit your ability to react
The above approaches for both bashers and agility teams may well need to be managed depending on the game state. If you are 2-0 down at half time, a cautious defence is no longer an option. Similarly, very often bashers will not try to prevent an agility team score but will instead pressure and encourage an early score to give themselves the rest of the half to reply and cause damage. Always consider the game state and your opponent’s plan when you consider your strategy.