Dorking out with the Dark Elves

The new Blood Bowl computer game by Cyanide has given many of us fanatical fans of the game a chance to sandbox with teams we either don’t have miniatures for or wouldn’t normally play.  However, with the arrival of the free patch to the game a few weeks ago, I can eschew all the other teams that I pretend to love and get right down to playing my all-time favorite, the ‘coaches’ team’ as my brother calls them: the insidious Dark Elves.

In reviewing the team in the computer game, I give the developers at Cyanide immediate points on the score board for absolutely NAILING the aesthetic.  Having started back in high school with First Edition Blood Bowl, the crunchy, spiky look of the original illustrations and models by Aly Morrison have stuck with me as the essence of how Blood Bowl teams should look.  While I thoroughly enjoy many of Gary Morley‘s sculpts for third edition (in contrast to 2nd editions more ‘sports-like’ armor), I think a few of his lineman models were phoned in, and this is especially true with the Dark Elves (circa 1994 mind you).

While I’ve played the Dark Elves in many leagues and tournaments, I hadn’t played them with the new Living Rule Book 5.0 set up, and had a bit of a shock as all I remembered was that the number of blitzers increased from two to four.  The major change in the roster is that the throwers have now been replaced by a runner (with a skill that I have never selected for a player in my entire career as a Blood Bowl coach: Dump Off) and the team has a new position: the Assassin with Stab (a new skill) and Shadowing. Unlike many teams, the Dark Elves have no ‘big guy’ to hold the line or push all the smaller players around, yet they are one of the best running teams in the game. How? Agility. Agility increases the Dark Elves mobility on the pitch by a vast amount and while you can pass the ball with them, it’s often short passes or even side/back passes, the real gains are made running through and sometimes over your opponents. That said, you are never going to out-casualty a bruiser team but that’s not what wins games: putting it over the line does and Dark Elves are excel in this region of play.

I’m going to try to shy away from telling you how to play the Dark Elves but I want to review each of the positions and how they synergize with each other.  Inevitably you’re going to see my slant as how I like to play, and that’s always up for discussion, or if needed, a quick game to show my superiority.

Lineman: Dark Elf lineman (and their cousin lineman for the Hight Elves) are the best lineman in the game, hands down.  They have average speed, average armor, average strength and an awesome 4 agility.  You could have a team of only Lineman and still win matches.  What really puts these guys into the win column is the combination of 4 agility, access to Agility skills (i.e. Dodge) and 8 armor.  They are one of only two teams that have lineman with 8 armor and 4 agility consistently across the team.  As much as your opponent will expect to beat up your elves, the 8 armor assures that you will rarely be taken off the pitch without some mighty blow action and as they progress, the Dark Elf Lineman have access to the ideal two-skill mix in the game: Block and Dodge.   Even without the Dodge skill your Dark Elf Linemen are able to dodge away on a whim to get into position for a 2-dice block somewhere else.  The best skills to get as they progress with normal rolls: Block, Dodge, Tackle, Frenzy, Dauntless.  On Doubles get: Guard.  Once you get 3-4 of these naughties with Block and Dodge, your opponents will be sweating it.  Do NOT bother with Dirty Player–it’s been nerfed so bad and these guys are so valuable: it’s a waste of a skill slot.

Runner: I’m still not sure what to think about the runner as he’s just not fast at all, living up to his name not in the least.  He can hold on to the ball with sure hands, but the replacement of Dump Off instead of Pass is quite confusing to me.  Dump off as a 3 agility player is a crap skill; most of the time the ball will simply land right near the opponent’s players in a scrum and you’ll wish you had just let it scatter normally.  With 4 Agility, Dumping off the ball has a much higher percentage of success, but I have really rarely seen this skill work well.   Also, you really don’t have that many issues picking up the ball to justify a slot for a player with Sure Hands; a Blitzer is quite a spot better starting with block to hang onto the ball. Runners are the only players that have access to the Passing skill set however, so if you are going to run a throwing game, you’ve got to pick up at least one (eventually). The best skills with normal rolls? Block, Pass, Nerves of Steel, Side Step.  Doubles: (let’s face it, he’ll be in a scrum or on the line like everyone else) Guard.

Blitzer: Here you have your storehouse of amazing potential for popping out the ball on defense and scoring on offense– and you can get FOUR of these naughty boys.  The 4 agility means they can get in places to lay a block that most other players can only dream of, and while their movement is nothing to masticate over, they’re fast enough.  That said, get Dodge first, then Tackle is a must as well as Strip Ball.  They cannot get strength skills like most other Blitzers, so on doubles, look at the strength skill tree for either Guard or Mighty Blow.   A Blitzer’s essential duty is to run through, over or around the opponents line, sack the ball carrier, pick up the ball and either pass back to a pocket or run it in for a touchdown.  Leap, while still dangerous with 4 agility, is awesome to get as a 3rd or 4th skill.  With four of these guys available, you can tailor two as defensive ends (tackle as second skill) and two as scoring machines (dodge as second skill).

Witch Elf: As tempting as these ladies are to have on your team, they cannot go it alone and need to be fostered and protected during their early, pre-Block career.  The only way to do this is, again, start with all lineman and a blitzer, build up your team and then add in the extra positions once your other players are toughened up.  That said, the Witch Elves are crucial to the later league/season success of the Dark Elves.  You will be praying to Nuffle at each skill roll for a +1Ag or +1 St as it will blast your naughty lady into the top of the scoring roster for your league.  Without stat upgrades they are still fast, dodgy and if you can get them Block and Dauntless, gift their opponent’s players with a trip off the pitch to see the fans more often than not.  Best normal roll skill progression: Block, Dauntless or Catch, Leap.  On doubles– get Juggernaut.  They are not blitzers, so keep them as far away from the opponent’s line as possible and have them run in for a Blitz only outside a big scrum. They are also not catchers, and you don’t need a lot of catch skills with their four agility. What’s more, as filthy as they are, I can’t stop staring at their sweet cans.

Assassin: The Assassin goes against one of my rules for playing a non-crunchy team (which the dark elves certainly are) and that’s to never ever rely on getting the opposition off the pitch.  That’s stuff the dwarves and Chaos teams do– not the elves.  The Assassin appears to be the Dark Elves answer to the ‘Big Guys’ on other teams, which, by the looks of the other big guys, puts him in the ‘maybe if I had a ton of gold lying around I’d get one of them.’  While shadowing is nice, I would love to see the Assassin get tackle and diving tackle– making him a dodging player’s nightmare, but leaving him a stomped corpse against any hardcore rushing teams.  Again, I would say that the Assassin is absolutely extraneous, and if you have one and have a roster of 16 players, he’ll rarely see his feet on the pitch.  I’m going to start a team with two of them as an experiment however, just to make sure (Note: it didn’t go well).

This is your future if Nuffle is with you.

If you are a new coach you may want to run the humans or orcs for awhile to get the hang of it. As noted above, the Dark Elves are IMO the coaches team, they have some glaring weaknesses (they are expensive) and they don’t have a very clear path to victory (i.e.: they aren’t tough, they aren’t fast and they aren’t the best passing team) but are not wussy elves that you will be worried about flying off the pitch with every armor roll.

Elemental War of Suckage: Was it Scrumfail?

I’m a huge advocate of scrum and agile project management, but there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there that really don’t know jack shit about Scrum and have had a 2 day training but no real project experience, know less about Agile theory as a basis of why Scrum is what it is and can’t even spout the Agile Manifesto on command (sorry you HAVE to be able to do this if you think you know agile software development) and a lot of companies that try to dip their toes into it and get burned because they do not by any definition understand the fundamentals.   That said, a lot of game companies are moving to the scrum model, some Blizzard folks were at my training in March with Mike Cohn, and I can only assume Torchlight was managed via some form of scrum (I’d be very curious to confirm this if anyone knows).  So game companies have had success with the methods.

With the disasterous failure of the initial release of Elemental War of Magic basically tanking the game for now and the future (who will care about this in 18-24 months when it’s fixed?), I want to know if it was a game company trying to do Scrum for the first time, assuming that the rapid development and approval cycle would lead to a good game?  It’s tough to tell, but with the constant releases of screens and gameplay to the public early on, I’m betting this was a factor.  It’s not THE factor though: granted you had the owner of the company working as a developer, designer and product owner for the game per his admittance (honesty is nice to see in the industry), and that would taint any type of project method, whether waterfail or scrum.  Who on his team would tell him–” boy boss, this game sucks bad and is fundamentally not fun and lame and you tried to copy a game design from 1994 that sucked in the first place?” Only someone who is quitting that moment.  What’s more, because the team may have been doing scrum, team member happiness can be at it’s maximum possible during the development process– adding to the “this game will be great” pollyannishism because team members know what they need to do, what the goals are and have a massive level of autonomy to get their shit done (this makes good developers happy and the bad quit and go somewhere where they can be mediocre together with others via the Waterfail method).  We’ll have to keep watching to see if any clues drop as to their development methods.  Oh and see Keneda’s review here.

The Birthday Imperium!

As we age and degrade due to O3 toxicity, birthdays become less about seemingly random fornication and crop sickness and wrestling and more about exceedingly nerdy pursuits.    Mine for this year is a 6+ hour long game of Twilight Imperium + Expansion hosted by a buddy.  I’ve railed on this game’s 3rd edition for years now because the basic set with the basic set of rules is basically a broken game that has little to do with the movement of your pieces on the map board, and other than the pieces, is altogether worse than 2nd edition.  However, with the expansion, Fantasy Flight has purportedly fixed the terrible issues and I’m using my birthday gaming day to test out once and for all whether it’s a keeper.

That said, I’m completely willing to keep games that are played once every year or two– some are MONSTERS and really only need to be pulled out that often to deserve a place on the shelf.  I obviously would never part with my copy of Republic of Rome, though I’ve only gotten 2 plays with my set.  With the base set of TI3, my local play group essentially asked for it never to be pulled out again after a couple plays and that means it gets shot up to ebay. We’ll see if it’s worth it with the expansion this weekend.  Expect an AAR!

No new splats in anathema–yet!

I looked into the release notes from Anathema and there are no new splat books supported, but bug fixes and updates to the existing splats (Solar, Dragon Blooded).  This is a start, again, and still one I’m excited about as a GM.  Frankly, I’d love to see and update with Fair Folk, as I fundamentally do not understand how they interact when in creation– outside creation in the Wyld it’s really easy to understand shaping combat with the graces, but how they get hordes of hobgoblins and behemoths into creation to fuck shit up is really difficult to piece together with the Splat Book.