Having taken a break from Blood Bowl and exploring the diverse and constantly evolving board game market I came back to Blood Bowl with fresh eyes. Board games have been gaining popularity in a big way, especially over the last 10 years and game design has changed to refine and address a lot of rules that either bog games down or make things less fun (think player elimination for one example).
There have been a lot of complaints about certain aspects of Blood Bowl over the years and whilst some have been addressed, others are still prevalent. BB2016 only made a couple of very minor tweaks to the final Living Rule Book. If the leaked second season rules are anything to go by, there are some bigger changes in the new edition but I don’t think they’ve really addressed the bigger complaints in a meaningful way.
The Aim of BB54
Blood Bowl has, like many board games, been getting more popular, the release of the 2016 edition aided this but just left the game rules mostly untouched. Perhaps the biggest single complaint I tend to see across the community, is that of stalling. The leaked rules have a very tiny section aimed at stalling players but I can’t envision it having any actual impact on the way a lot of games go. Another long standing complaint is about the lack of passing. The leaked rules show perhaps the biggest forthcoming change, which I guess is a bid to address this. Again though, I don’t think the amount of passing will really differ in any large degree. The changes may mean that more teams take Throwers when they ignored them before. The second season rules have left the root causes for stalling and lack of passing untouched.
When I was younger I would just respond to stalling complaints that if you learn how to play against it then you can limit it (though it’s nearly impossible to entirely counter it if the other team gets early injuries on your team). Coming back to the game I still see stalling as a hotly contested issue, it’s clearly impacting on the enjoyment of some players and can drive others away from the game entirely. So whilst the refrain of “play better” isn’t exactly false, wouldn’t the game and community be better if everyone was enjoying it and we didn’t turn away players that may otherwise stick around?
Having given the stalling and passing issues a lot of thought, the two are somewhat related and I feel both could be attributed back to the Blood Bowl turn structure that was introduced with 3rd edition in 1993. I believe this was introduced to put a time limit on games, as with second edition games would last until one team scored x number of touchdowns. Again I want to point out about the evolution of modern board game rules and highlight that the current Blood Bowl turn structure has been around for 27 years. I was a very active participant during the Living Rule Book era of Blood Bowl and whilst a lot of improvements were added, I don’t recall the turn structure ever really being put under the microscope.
If the turn structure has never been thought of as a problem before, why am I now pointing it out as being a problem? If it’s not broken why fix it? To highlight why I’ve come to the conclusion that it could be improved (I understand that for a lot of coaches they still won’t see it as a problem and they are perfectly fine with stalling, I was the same and can still enjoy the game that way, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon) I should explain what it is about the current turn structure that is problematic.
With a half of a game being constructed up of eight turns for each player and then just ending regardless, the coach that receives the kick off gets to generally dictate the flow of the game if they can avoid turning the ball over. The longer they take to score a touchdown the less turns the opposing coach gets. The less turns you have to score in, the harder it is to do. So on that basis alone the current turn structure encourages you to stall out as long as possible to deny the opposing team turns to score back on you. Some may say that is just good clock management and I agree with them! It’s the game that is encouraging you to do that and for a lot of coaches this can affect their enjoyment of the game. It can be particularly jarring for someone who is new to the game, or comes from a non stalling league into the tournament scene.
There are other reasons why you would want to stall. For example if you got an early advantage in terms of player numbers, if you scored as early as possible you give the other team a chance to get some more players back on the pitch. So again the game encourages you to take your time to score. This is even more pronounced if you were the kicking team and managed to get the ball and the numbers advantage. You score on the last turn and then there is only one chance to get players back on the pitch as it avoids the frequent 1 dead turn at the end of a half.
This also goes hand in hand with the lack of passing. Why don’t teams pass? Quite frankly it’s far too risky for most teams to do so. Even the teams that are good at it, it’s much safer to just do a hand off. The other part of it is that if you are taking as many turns as possible to score, why would you bother passing it to move the ball up the pitch even quicker? Interceptions whilst a fun aspect to the game are devastating if you want to win. Thankfully the leaked rules have made intercepting harder to do which I think is a plus. Generally though passing is both too risky and also unnecessary if you’ve got eight turns in which to score.
Using those reasons as a basis I thought about what can be done to address them. The most obvious conclusion I came too was that if you give both teams x turns to score then you remove the single biggest reason to bother stalling with in the first place. Job done, problem solved right?
The Anti Stalling Rules Problem
I just wanted to quickly address any anti stalling rules that punish a team for not scoring when they can. This is just terrible game design. If the game rules are set up to encourage you to stall then you shouldn’t be punished for doing so. The rules that encourage that play style should be addressed and you shouldn’t then just create extra rules to punish players for playing.
BB54 – Potential Issues
How Many Turns Do Different Teams Need To Score
If you give both teams x turns, then it opens up a lot more questions. The first one is how many turns should each team have? This is a potential can of worms. The fast agile teams can score in two turns (especially when developed) somewhat reliably, though most teams will really struggle against even a basic defence. Three turns opens up more options and four turns gives you a safety net. The issue is with the slower and less agile teams.
The most problematic from this perspective would be both Dwarves and Khemri / Tomb Kings. I’ve not played a great deal of either team though five turns seems doable (I’d like to hear input, especially from Khemri coaches). There’s no reason that if this turns out to be a problem for those teams that their rosters couldn’t be tweaked to give them a bit more speed.
Along with stalling, games vs Dwarfs are often complained about, typically due to them being boring (I don’t personally agree with this, they stall just like nearly every other teams does). If you force them to also have to develop the team to defend instead of just playing to eat up the clock then the boring dwarf complaints may go away, or at least find something else to complain about!
The Real Life Game Time Problem
Making this change would go from 2×8 turn halves for each team, which would be 32 turns, or 16 turns in a half. If we give both coaches a five turn drive each and do this once in each half, we’ve now gone up to 20 turns a half or 40 for an entire game. This makes an already fairly long board game take even longer. Not a problem for a lot of people, but in a tournament setting some games already get called for time. If you give more time per games then that may result in getting less games on the schedule, if anything I’d rather speed games up and fit an extra game in. It’s fun meeting new coaches across the board, or extending decades old rivalries even further against old foes.
My next thought was that why do both coaches need the same number of turns in a drive / half / quarter / period? It’s this set up that produces that single dead turn where you have to go through the whole procedure of rolling for knock outs, settings up both teams, doing the kick off and then getting 3 or four hits on the opponent team before doing it all again. These turns are pretty much pointless and a waste of time other than maybe gaining SPP in a progression format. There is also the possibility of going for a one turn touchdown in this dead turn. For most teams this means setting up and getting a lot of chain pushes, passing the ball forward, doing some dodges and go for its, all typically having used all their rerolls up already. This can turn the dead turn into a longer turn, that for most attempts ends up being a waste of time. If you feel it would be a shame to eliminate this possibility then don’t worry you can just try it on the first turn of your drive instead and as a bonus the other team won’t likely be set up to try and stop it!
Getting rid of that dead turn has a couple of advantages. First it stops wasting that time of dead game play. It will remove turns from the overall length of the game, or bring it back to a similar number we already have. It might also encourage more passing. What if on the last turn of your drive you need to commit to doing a risky passing play to score and the other coach doesn’t get a turn after yours? You can go all in on the pass and not have to look to mark their players for a potential turnover return score the other way. It also opens up an easier pass attempt that gives an interception possibility, rather than doing more rolls and a harder pass to avoid that interception attempt. If you do get intercepted, then the opposing coach is still happy to get the interception and you’re not double doomed by them going the other way and scoring. It’s not just passing that becomes less of a risk on this last turn, but even a single player making a break for it on their own doesn’t need to worry so much about falling over and coughing up the ball. This final turn could be taken quicker as you don’t have to mark opponents or move your own players in position to protect against the ball coming loose in your last minute dash to score.
There may be some downsides to this that I’ve not thought of (shout in the comments) but I can’t see one other than it’s a change from the norm. We are now looking at the receiving team having 5 turns to score and the kicking team 4 turns to stop them, resulting in a 9 turn drive. Do this twice per half and we are up to 18 and 36 for the entire game. Still up on the current 2×8 format but we’ve cut out half the time difference and the final turn can be done more quickly.
What if we can improve on this even more and say that a drive ends as soon as a team scores? Quick and fragile teams can score quickly and take less damage. Teams that are in a position to score after 3 turns don’t have the same incentives to stall any more. It’s only going to be teams with two really slow teams that may take a bit longer. Two quick scoring teams could play four drives in as little as 12 total turns. All three turn scores would be a game of 20 total turns which would be more realistic for most match ups. I’d guess that most games would take less turns than the current 2×8 structure.
The High Scoreline Problem
Another issue that I can hear people crying is that, “Won’t this stop high scoring games?” Possibly yes it would. Limiting teams to two drives each means that we are going to get at most four touchdowns in a game. Resulting possible scorelines are 0-0, 0-1, 1-1, 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 3-0, 3-1 and 4-0. (bold alternate scores for reading clarity) My response to this would be that most games now are probably 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1. Back in April I got former NAF president Mike to grab the scoreline frequency of games in the NAF database and he responded with this info of a total of 259,234 games:
As you can see the most frequent scorelines are 2-1 2-0 and 1-0 with 1-1 not far behind. I’m not surprised to see this as when playing to win the safest and most reliable way to do so is via the stalling filled 2-1 grind strategy. Those four scores account for 74.15% of NAF results. If we take all the 9 possible scorelines from a 54 drive structure then that covers 93.22% of those NAF results from over 17 years of tournament results. Personally I’m happy to take that trade off given the potential benefits.
If you aren’t happy with the trade off then there is a potential rule you could add along the lines of giving teams that score in two turns on both of their receiving drives a bonus 54 drive. They saved 6 of their turns by scoring quickly which covers the real life game time to fit this extra drive in. There are two ways of looking at this, it might benefit the fast agile teams too much, it might encourage slower teams to defend better, or take skills to stop two turn scores against them.
Another option would be for both coaches to agree to shorter length drives before they start. This can open up disagreements though so I’d be careful about this. Perhaps every race can be given a drive length number and for any game the drive length is dictated by the highest number between the two races. It would add extra complexity that I don’t think it really needed but could be a house rule. You could also argue that this rule might encourage more races to develop their players to score quickly.
The Dugout Problem
One thing that you can’t avoid by changing the turn structure is what to do with everyone’s existing dugouts and pitches? There are a lot of dugouts out there which have been designed for eight turn halves. There isn’t an easy fix for this, though you can still use them to count up to five turns instead of eight. If you want to “fix” stalling then I feel this is probably the best way to approach doing so.
Roster changes that affect people’s already built teams causes far more disruption for existing players, whilst not ideal, the dugout situation doesn’t have the same level of upheaval. Some coaches may take up the modelling challenge, for printed pitches perhaps a new printed sticker can be placed over the top. Even doing nothing would mean that existing turn counting layouts are still usable with a 54 drive format.
The Rerolls, Bribes & Secret Weapon Problems
The way teams are currently set up now when it comes to rerolls goes hand in hand with 2×8 turns. I don’t really see this as a huge problem but the team rerolls rules may need tweaking. If you do fix teams to having 2x 54 drives per half then you could leave rerolls much the same. You might get one half that goes much quicker than other, though this can happen already, sure the number of turns are the same but as games go on there tends to be less players on the pitch and turnovers happen more frequently if your team rerolls have been used up.
I like the idea of just giving every team x rerolls per drive. I’d been thinking two was fine but for fast teams that might mean they have one reroll for each turn of their drive. Whilst typing this out I’m thinking one team reroll might be better? I’m really not sure, that might disadvantage teams that have less skills too much? Do you just stick with teams having their rerolls for two BB54 drives?
Also how would this affect team building and reroll values? I feel this leads more to the rules for team creation and development which is an deeper issue for another day. I still thought that rerolls needs a mention in relation to turn structure though.
For Bribes I like the idea of giving those teams who get cheap bribes a free one per drive. These teams tend to be full of Secret Weapon players. If we’re getting shorter drives where Secret Weapon teams can’t stall a drive out for eight turns any more, then their players aren’t going to get as much game time. I think this helps a little and shouldn’t cause too much of a knock on affect as it’s mostly going to affect Goblins who already are a weaker team.
I may have missed out on some other rules that are limited in how often they can be used. Master Chef, Leader Rerolls, Wizards etc. Master Chef rules would really depend on how team rerolls worked so they are hard to pin down. I’d remove Wizards entirely if I was in charge. Leader rerolls would again need to be worked based on team reroll rules and also if you stick with having 2x 54 drive halves, or if you do variable drives based on quick scores. These are all fringe rules which I felt needed pointing out but don’t really play a big part in the overall idea.
BB54 – Potential Benefits
- Reduces stalling
- Increases overall player enjoyment
- Doesn’t put off new players
- Removes complaints about it
- Both teams have to play offence and defence
- Stops games being 1 team stalling for 15 turns and defending for 1 turn
- Potentially less player attrition
- Reset to 11 players more frequently
- Less lopsided games (games are more fun)
- Low armour teams have a better chance of defending
- Potentially more passing
- Less time to score – have to move the ball quicker
- Lopsided drive turns removes failed return score attempts on the last turn
- Greater scoreline diversity (kind of)
- Teams have to score quicker – may increase turnover scores
- Teams have enough turns to score back
- Greater team development diversity
- Teams have to score quicker – increase in passing / scoring skills (Sure Feet, Catch etc)
- Both teams have to defend – increase in defensive / turnover skills (Diving Tackle, Side Step, Stand Firm)
- Greater play style diversity
- Removes the disadvantage of scoring quickly
- Removes single dead turns
- Winning or losing the opening kick off is less important
- The opening drive is less important to the overall result
- Facing Dwarves will be less dull
I feel that there are a lot of plus points for moving to a structure such as I’ve outlined above. Some will have a greater impact that others. I get that some people won’t like them as will happen with nearly any change to anything. I think it addresses a lot of complaints that often crop up. Stalling, the lack of passing, games all being much the same as even fast agile teams will waste time to give opponents less turns to score.
Less potential attrition should make more games fun for both coaches. I’ve been involved in far too many one sides games where neither coach is having much fun when it’s 11 against 3 or 4 players for the second half (there are times this can be fun but generally that’s not the case). For low armour teams to defend against a bashing team for 8 turns often means taking a lot of hits. It’s currently a better strategy to try and force your opponent to score, take less damage and have enough turns to score back on them, than it is to defend with the aim of preventing the score. I’ve never been a fan of the rules punishing you like this, much like I’m against anti stalling rules. Both are a weakness in the game design that can be improved.
Just like there may be problems I’ve overlooked, there may be other benefits I’ve overlooked as well. If you think of any then let me know!
BB54 – The Results
This is where you, as part of the Blood Bowl community come in. I’d love to hear your feedback and reasons for why you’re thinking what you’re thinking. I’d been even more interested to hear from anyone that tries these rules out! What races did you play, what was the scoreline, thoughts from the coaches afterwards etc? I appreciate that this may be tricky to achieve at the moment, digital formats won’t support this and face to face play is limited due to the worldwide pandemic.
If you’ve got an alternative suggestion then shout that out too. It may be something I’ve already considered, or something I’ve completely overlooked. Discourse along this lines took place a lot during the Living Rule Book era. I’ve no idea if any turn structure changes would end up into a future edition, though I think it’s safe to say that no one foresaw the changes to the passing rules in the upcoming second season release.
The bottom line is that any changes that make the game more fun for more players is something we should strive for. I’d like to think that the basic premise I’ve outlined here would work as a good baseline even if it doesn’t require a few knock on changes like tweaks to the rosters for the slower teams. Anything that’s not clear or opens up follow up questions then please ask!