Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ok, ok...Just A LITTLE Blood Bowl

I spent way too much time the other day brainstorming ideas for making Blood Bowl more like an actual football game. I found that it's easiest to approach it like a war-game (and, of course, there are quite a few superficial similarities between war and football), writing up a particular turn order for each "snap" of the ball...something like:

- Determine results of line play
- Determine execution of route running
- Execute play (resolve run or pass) with (defensive) response

You can create "yards per play" and "time off the clock" based on the results of the dice rolls, and it can be quite streamlined/quick.

The problem, unfortunately, is the amount of time it would take to run a game. NFL teams run roughly 60-70 plays ("snaps") during the average game, so you're talking about resolving close to 150 turns of play. Compare that to Blood Bowl's standard turn count of 32 (eight turns per team per half)...some of which get lost because of illegal procedure penalties, and you're looking at spending a LOT more time at the table. Even if you're not resolving individual blockers actions (in streamlining line play, I found Chainmail melee resolution a good base on which to build).

Maybe compress the time (five minute quarters) like the Madden video game? I haven't played Madden in years (not since Michael Vick was on the cover), but I seem to recall you could play games a lot quicker than a full game and still get a comparable score and stat-line. Which is, of course, what I'd be shooting for (being a big ol' football fan). If the average clock run-off per play was 30 seconds, you could finish the game in 40 turns or less (remember there's clock run-off on kicks, too). And that ain't much more than BB.

Well, like I said, I already spent too much time on this the other day. But still, it's worth looking at for other reasons...mainly ones relating to game design.

For example, Blood Bowl boils down the characteristics of a player into a four stat profile (at least, starting with 3rd edition...previously they had six). These are:

Movement (MV)
Agility (AG)
Strength (ST)
Armor...or maybe it's Armor Value (AV)

The baseline average for a human player is 6-3-3-8. For BB, this is just fine and dandy: it uses a D6 system based on "normal humans" with other species' capabilities determined by their relative comparisons to normal humans.

For example, with regard to agility (catching, throwing, dodging tackles), a "3" indicates an ability to succeed 50% of the time (a D6 roll of 4-6). This is modified by comparable difficulty of the action (catching an accurate pass gives a +1 to the receiver's die roll, as does dodging to an open field space). Agility scores above 3 grant a +1 bonus to success (per excess point) while scores below 3 give the same penalty. While elves are spry (AG 4), large monsters are clumsy (AG 2), and zombies and mummies are abysmal (AG 1)...the latter can only succeed at an "average" skill check on a D6 roll of 6 (don't throw the ball to the zombie, dude).

On the other hand, the strength score is a bit more granular in scale and a bit more wishy-washy in application. ST for players range from 2 (hobbit) up 7 (treant), but is only used in comparison to opponent when blocking to give them a greater or lower number of dice to roll. The blocking dice are unique to the BB game giving results of:

  1. Blocker falls
  2. Defender pushed back
  3. Defender pushed back
  4. Both blocker and defender fall (unless one has the block skill)
  5. Defender falls (unless he has the dodge skill)
  6. Defender falls

Which in practice looks like the average human falling down one-third of the time when attempting to block another human. Little guys (like goblins and hobbits) can't usually get the "block" skill, and so have around a 55% chance of falling down when throwing a block at a human...or a black ork (which is, like, a really big ork). The penalty for falling down when throwing a block (in addition to risking injury) is that your turn ends...making the actual procedure in which you resolve blocks an important part of your turn, tactically speaking (resolve your stronger blockers first, so as to increase the likelihood of extending your turn).

However, as with turn-based initiative combat, this fails to accurately model real life. People don't wait around to see what their buddy is doing before taking action...they just go man. It seems to me that the 2nd edition of BB allowed all players to take an action before moving to the other team's turn, which is slightly better (I prefer simultaneous action myself), but led to loooong protected games (there was no time limit, either!) due to the need to resolve every action individually as opposed to resolving action as a unit.

[yes, comparing BB with actual football is an apples-to-oranges thang (BB is more like two warbands taking the field and attempting to move a ball while subduing/killing the opponent)...but as I said, I'd prefer the game more closely model the sport]

And in football, when looking at the "production" of the line play, you look at the unit as a whole. Did the D-line get adequate "push?" Was the opponent "breaking through to the second level" of play? How was the O-line in "pass protection" compared to "run blocking?" Often an offensive line is only as productive as its weakest link(s)...if the defensive end is going around the right tackle and sacking the QB every snap, it doesn't matter whether or not you've got All Pros stacking the rest of the line.

Anyway...besides the actual system in Blood Bowl, the stat line is pretty weaksauce for actual football. Have you ever seen an "average sized" human playing as a lineman? Maybe in PeeWee football where all the kids look like bobble-heads, but certainly not at the high school-college-pro level. A better strength model might be:

1 - sickly human
2 - human average
3 - athletic human (average player or warrior)
4 - really big human (average lineman)
5 - really strong, big human (exceptional lineman)

Then start building the other team players relative to that. An athletic goblin player would be a 2, while an athletic hobbit would only rank a 1 (a normal, sedentary hobbit might be a 0 on this scale). Depending on your perception of orks, they'd probably be one scale up from humans...and I'd probably limit elves and dwarves to a maximum of 4, even though the scale/average would otherwise be the same (they lack the diversity of humans with regard to size and strength).

Strength 4 blocking Strength 3.
This new way of counting strength would be factored with a new method of determining where both sides compare die rolls. If I throw a block, there can only be three results: nothing happens (the other guy's too big/strong/skilled), I push him (the objective of blocking), or I "pancake/de-cleat" the guy (he ends up on his back).

Could a sickly human (or hobbit) push an NFL lineman? No. Could an average human? Probably not. How about an athletic human? Maybe...especially if he was quicker and executed good technique. Skill and quickness...also "athleticism" are more important factors than strength. At least, they are once strength has set the bar of "what is possible."

[and tackling a ballcarrier is a very different thing from blocking, just by the way]

Movement Value makes sense in the Blood Bowl game because you're using a board that's divided into squares, but on a real field all but the slowest players can run the length of the field in a few seconds. Quickness is the key...explosiveness ("sudden acceleration") off the line of scrimmage, agility to make directional changes, reaction time (coupled with intelligence to "read" the play)...these are the things that will determine whether or not a guy goes for a big gain in yardage or is stopped short by a defender. Yes, yes, Percy Harvin (and a few others) have the "breakaway speed" to outrun everyone on the field (because it only does take a matter of seconds to run its length), but the number of individuals with that talent is so small as to better make it a skill (like "speedster") than a stat.

Likewise, Armor Value is a convenient saving throw for determining whether a character's injured or not, but it's not a great model for football...even fantasy football with ogres and trolls and whatnot. On the battlefield, armor is used to stop weapons from killing its wearers...but weapons aren't being used on the Blood Bowl pitch. On the football field, armor is worn to minimize trauma that occurs from high impact (with other players and with the field, in general). Injury occurs from things against which armor isn't a factor: pulls and strains and sprains and dislocations and twists and torque that break bones. Yes, concussions and broken ribs occur (things the helmet and kevlar padding are supposed to prevent), but the things that really keep you out for weeks (like a pulled hamstring or groin muscle) can't be prevented by the armor you wear. Durability is the real "stat" that will determine whether you stay on the field, or are hauled off on a stretcher. Some guys (like Brett Favre) can play through the pain for years without missing a game, and some guys never make it through practice.

Anyhoo...boy, I went from talking a "little" Blood Bowl to spending waaaay too much time on this stream of consciousness post. Sorry about that. However, as I just completed a new, kick-ass magic system for the most recent fantasy heartbreaker (last night...was up till after 2am), I feel like I'm entitled to at least a little breathing space. And reflecting on BB is always a ton o fun.

Later, folks.


  1. Ah, but in Blood Bowl play is continuous, like Rugby Union. That's why I like the fact that the turn ends on an error - it models (in an abstract fashion) the ability of one team to pounce on the errors of the other. While the board game might be resolved in turns, the play it models is continuous, with 'resets' only on a score or at halftime. So, actually, there are far fewer breaks in play. Couple those aerobic demands with BB being set in world that probably doesn't have great sports science (but admittedly, better sports magic), we might expect the human player physiques to be more like pre-professionalism RU - 80-odd kg backs and 90-100 kg forwards, with only rare players being exceptionally big.

    1. @ Andy:

      Oh, I agree with all your points. Even the stat line for Griff Oberwald from 2nd ed. BB showed him to be under 200# and only a skosh over 6' athletic, normal human rather than the incredible freakazoids that are suiting up in the NFL these days.

      I guess the thing is...well, even if we're talking a "medieval-esque" setting, I'd think that after decades of play (just referring to the "fluff" of the game) even if the sports science wasn't great, they'd still be drafting/training guys better than your average peasant or knave. They'd still be selecting certain types for certain roles...putting the "beef" up front, for example.

      Part of it may be that something got lost in the translation (an American sport interpreted by a British design company). When I hear the word "lineman" I think of a very large individual, for example. But the treatment of the "lineman" in Blood Bowl is more like, um, "a guy off the line," i.e. a normal everyday Joe, as opposed to someone whose purpose is to be a moving wall. In 2nd edition, they had human "blockers" (in addition to "line men") who were the equivalent of the beefy, NFL lineman, but they got rid of those in 3rd & later editions. And the ability to DEVELOP a beefy guy using the current rules is very tough...although that doesn't really matter because (as you stated) the game more resembles rugby football than American football, and so the need for "beef" has been cut-down dramatically.

      And my complaint, as usual, is that I wish the game more resembled the American sport. Goes with the fluff about Nuffle and all that jazz.
      : )

  2. "an American sport interpreted by a British design company"

    While I am a quite a bit younger than Jervis Johnson, I do remember the 1980s 'American Football' craze in the UK, which ended with us getting the London Monarchs well after the buzz had died down.

    Every kid had NFL pajamas - mine were Miami Dolphins, my brother's were 49ers - and posters of Joe Montana, Dan Marino, or 'the Fridge'. I think people in the UK loved the celebrity, glamour, and 'sports entertainment' razzmatazz of the NFL. All the teams had cool names, logos, etc. British football teams had badges and names that had largely remained unchanged since they were actual football 'clubs' - the end of the 19th century. And remember, after 1985, English football teams were banned from European football so the domestic sporting scene was lacking that kind of excitement. Then our football teams got admitted back into European competitions, we got the Premier League, and the all consuming Champions League came along.

    In short, I think a lot of UK 'fans' of the NFL enjoyed the ephemera without really understanding the content. And it wouldn't surprise me if BB was shaped by this.