Blood Bowl, yet another edition.

The end page of ZOCo is fast becoming a fantasy corner as it is handy to fill up with comments on games that may not be of interest to all readers. I recently had a chance to play the latest GW version of Blood Bowl (face to face even) although my forte is the now defunct 2nd edition. To clarify, 1st edition is in the bookcase box with cardboard stand-up pieces. 2nd edition is in a big GW box with plastic pieces plus the amazing "Astrogranite" playing pitch (really its polystyrene). The above is out of print having been replaced by another GW big box at the healthy price of £30. The contents are different but not necessarily better. The original plastics were amongst GW's 1st and certainly not their best, the new figures are different for each player type, Blitzer (attacker), Catcher, Thrower, Blocker (2nd quality Blitzer) and Linesman (everyone else). On the down side the Astrogranite pitch has been replaced by a cardboard job which is a little larger but because the movement squares are also bigger the playing area is only slightly increased. There is also a reduction in colour in the new book and a lot of the silly facts have gone (these were arguably the best bits).

The major difference in play is the very clever turnaround rule. Previously Blood Bowl used player turns much as any other game. Now the kicking side sets up followed by the receiver and then the kicker places the ball anywhere in his opponent's half. The kicking player may then activate each of his pieces (once only) in any order, 1 piece only may move and block (attack). Other pieces may block but not move, there is no limitation to picking up the ball and throwing or even catching it. It is possible to pick up the ball, throw it, have another player catch and have that player move on (impossible in the 2nd edition). The cunning catch is that any action that fails a die roll will force the player to end his turn "turnaround". Players are only re-set at half time or after a goal so both teams reasonably shuffle around the ball. Just about everything requires a die roll except moving when there are no opposing players nearby. Naturally this causes players to make the least risky actions 1st. Both players have a limited number of re-roll options (3 per half for Orks, 4 for Humans), a die can only be re-rolled once for each action, otherwise the number of turnarounds defines how long the game will be, 12 in each half.

In 2nd edition Blood Bowl teams played to a set number of goals or to a time limit. Current games are fixed to about 40 minutes by the turnaround rules and a maximum 4 minute turn (with bad dice they can be a lot less). The new system makes it hard to beat a player by grinding him down, basically putting his players in the injury box faster than reserves can be brought on. Teams have been reduced from 16 to 12, (11 on the pitch in both versions) but serious injuries are down so the extra reserves are not need. GW are sticking to their concept of dice for every occasion, attacks are by blocking dice, the picture tells the result but you still have to look it up in a table. Stronger players are allowed to roll more than 1 dice and pick the best, so a stronger defender will pick the worst roll, a strong attacker the best. In practice D6s are still used for tackling and throwing the ball so the special dice are a bit of a bind, they do not replace tables but add to them. General play is the same in both versions, it is easy to forget about the ball but the object is to score touchdowns. Orks and Humans are now different, they used to have exactly the same skills. Orks are slow (moving 5 or 6) but strong, skills are not their strong point, my superskilled thrower had problems picking up the ball. Humans are fast (7 or 8 squares) and good at dodging past opponents. There are no longer tackles as such but any player leaving a square adjacent to a opponent (the tackle zone) must make a dodge roll or be tackled. Orks do not dodge well, failed dodges mean turnaround which keeps up the non-phasing player's interest in the game.

Epic (Games Workshop)

First a history lesson, Epic is the current name for GW's 6mm Sci-Fi games. Currently there are 2 boxed sets, Space Marine and Titan Legions, boxes of expansions for the major races and umpteen figures. No longer available but on my games shelf are the original Adeptus Titanicus which started the system, Space Marine (I), a similar box to the current edition but with different rules and Codex Titanicus, a further set of rules and expansions for the original systems which have now been superseded. A 3rd edition has come out since I wrote this. I played a game and was slaughtered. It is very simple and very hard to get the head around.

Although figures and markers from all the boxes can be used together the official rules are now in Titan Legions but those in Space Marine are very similar, to use many of the special figure packs the relevant expansion box will have to be bought. All this can make Epic very expensive but still less so than Squad Leader and to those with wills of iron it is possible to survive on just the Space Marine box. The similar system of Battletech with books, expansions and rules changes is no more expensive. All of these Sci-Fi games can be expanded with modern figures and toys. Irregular do a cheap range of 1/300th Sci-Fi, because of the size of GW models the 1/200th ranges can a better source of cheaper tanks.

Epic is modern gaming without the need to research modern weapons or to suffer the techno-bore who will explain why your tanks cannot do what you want them to do. We have tanks (of varying sizes, up to skyscraper) and infantry with or without heavy weapons. Airpower is rather poorly represented by skimmer vehicles who can float over terrain and make pop up attacks just like helicopters. There are a limited number of true high flying vehicles if you go out and buy them (they don't come in either of the boxed sets). Being Sci-Fi there are also seriously large walking robots and various odd troop types with special effects.

The game system has become simpler with succeeding editions but is hampered by many units having special powers which require special rules. Armies are organised into units using cards which show how many models are used plus the points to buy and the points lost on reduction to below a stated strength (breaking). This system pushes different nations into typical organisations. The Space Marines (US Marines) have a wide choice, Orks (Rooskies) come in few big units, more troops meaning bigger units rather than more small units. Winning is through points gained for breaking units and holding onto fixed objectives.

Both sides place order counters face down with each unit, one player moves, both sides fire then the other moves and both sides fire again. Order counters are "Charge", double move no fire (essential for going into close combat), "First Fire", no move advantage in fire and "Advance", normal move and fire. Firing is by alternating units, I fire with a unit, then you go, "First Fire" units get to fire before "Advance" units. The size and position of units is important here, having fewer large units Orks will finish firing sooner than Marines but have a restricted range of targets because units have to stick together. Other nations have their own problems, Chaos are pretty neat in hand to hand but short on ranged weapons. The combat mechanisms are a breeze compared to Warhammer or 40K, roll a D6 to hit, the target has to pass a saving throw modified by whatever weapon it was hit by. Generally infantry have no saving throws and do not last long in the open. Close combat is a matter of both sides rolling a D6 and adding a modifier, higher kills with no saves, ganging up adds an extra dice for each additional attacker. Troops on "First Fire" get to shoot at units coming in to assault, hopefully few make it.

The simple system is messed up by many models having special rules some of which can be summarised on a line or so others require reference to the rules or making up a specific card. The sheer number of special rules made it necessary to write out play sheets for just the systems that I have, the GW play sheets lack some information but include all variations for each race making them too large to find the relevant line. Titans just throw the system out of the window, having shields that can stop shots once but are rebuilt each turn and having a variety of weapons each of which has a special effect. Thankfully it is possible to play with no Titans, 1 a side is more than enough.

The whole system grew a lot heavier with the release of Titan Legions which boasted 2 types of Super-Titan which not only require special rules but also a hit card for each model plus a reference card for each model with counters showing weapons and shield status (all of which takes up considerable space besides the gaming table). A brief battle of 2 Ork Super-Titans against 1 Imperial (all you get in the box) resulted in an easy Imperial win, even marching up and standing close to the Imperial the Orks had difficulty in scratching it. On talking to the boys at GW it can be killed, sneaking around the back helps. The ability of the Imperial Super-titan to re-generate at amazing speed means that most of last turn's hits are repaired and its shields back on line before you get a chance to take advantage of any damage. The Ork Super-Titans are not so powerful because it is a common factor in Ork troops that their seemingly powerful weapons do not always work, shields fail and the wrong moment and cannot be repaired. Imperial troops do not suffer from this sort of problem. Before Titan Legions was released Titans could only be bought if a large number of humbler troops were also fielded. The new organisation cards allow Titan only forces to take the field and take it they will. For those who want to win Titan Legions is a must, for players who want a fun game without the head scratching it is likely to stay on the shelf.

If Titans are realistically kept to a minimum the game plays much quicker then your average modern game. Movement speeds can be very fast especially on charge orders, together with the need for troops of a formation to keep within 6cm of each other results in models massed all over the table, which by consequence should be as large as possible to avoid congestion. Most of the fun is the initial mix of troop types and deployment, making the game better the more models are in the box. GW know this which explains why people are willing to pay for expensive metal minatures, some corners can be clipped by customising the initial plastic supply to show a wider variety of vehicles and infantry. Certain heavy weapons will dominate games and require avoiding or taking out pronto. Notably if both sides have a Titan they will try and take each other out with some help from supporting troops. The alternative is the Titan that gets the best field of fire first swathing through hordes of weedy opponents then turning on the unsupported enemy Titan. Titans ought to be realistically opposed by terrain, only buildings are ever supplied in the boxes, trees hills and such will have to be bought. If thought of as aircraft carriers or battlleships (but on land) Titans should be good in flat desertish lands but hopeless in volcanic or soft ground areas. High hills and valleys ought to also mess then up. Typical Epic battles are fought over flat areas except for scattered hills and towns, the deployment of Titans is not linked to the placing or choosing of Terrain. This is sneaky way to get back at Titans but should be used to curb their power.

ults in models massed all over the table, which by consequence should be as large as possible to avoid congestion.


Playings, 3, 6 hours

Another fine game dressed up in GW handiwork that is guaranteed to frighten off all "serious" gamers. Gorkamorka is Mad Max with Orks and plays pretty much like the films. GW have brought out two other car games, Battlecars and Dark Future so have some experience in this area, shown by some rather clever ideas in the new incarnation. Gorkamorka is a 40K sub-game like Necromunda, anyone who has played 40K will know most of the rules and if they play Orks will have the right figures as well. Compared to 40K weapon ranges have been pared down and a figure that is wounded goes down rather than losing a wound or dying. The result is that is becomes pretty hard to kill figures, most weapons are best below 6" and 12" or 18" are common maximum ranges. With Orks being able to run 8" the surest way to put a good Ork down is to charge in and hit him with something solid. Gorkamorka is simpler to play than 40K because only 1 race is involved so the range of model statistics is much narrower. There are also fewer special weapons and thankfully no magic rules. There is the unfortunate possibility that these complexities gradually appear as GW dream up new rules for an increasing number of Gorkamorka figures.

This is pretty much as in the Mad Max style films, plenty of running around and shooting but not many real casualties, Orks are hopeless shots as well as hard to stop. Unlike Dark Future there are no roads here, you can drive where you like with plenty of potential for hitting things. Vehicles come as bikes, trucks and tracks, all of which move a base 6" with two 45-degree turns. A vehicle can attempt additional moves during the same phase with a chance of something going really wrong. Bikes get the 1st extra move for free which allows them extra speed, all other extra moves are failed on a 1 then 1,2 and finally 1-3 on a D6. Tracks move up to 5" not 6" on extra moves and are better in rough terrain otherwise they are pretty similar to trucks. Vehicles can ram each other; if the target cannot swerve out of the way there will be heavy damage to both vehicles unless a bike is involved. The bikes are pretty weak in crashes and are best dealt with by smashing into them; they have to be caught 1st. Movement is sequential but if a vehicle is alongside or behind an enemy it can chase and is allowed to move in the oppositionís move. Due to the Orks limited ballistic skills it is pretty hard to hit anything, weapons have a chance of failing when they are used which further limits fire power and convinces me that this is Mad Max. An Ork on a bike could attack another Ork by riding up and firing, running him over or getting off and charging in. The latter option is the most effective but has a good chance of the wrong Ork going down in melee. Odds counters will not get far with this game.

The game box is well heavy and puts the imported games to shame. It took a week to assemble and paint the fort, 4 vehicles and 12 foot Orks, most of which would not fit back in the box when I had finished. The game assumes that gangs are built up paying points for this and that, if you do well there are more points to be had for upgrades. The models provided are more than enough to make 2 starting gangs, 3 could be set up with the bits in the box. The oodles of bits probably put off non-GW gamers, they look rubbish if not painted up. The fort can be assembled for each game but is fiddly and benefits from superglue and a good cardboard base. With all the bits put properly together the game looks the business but with bare plastic looks pretty poor, like lining up Airfix soldiers. If anyone plans to do real Mad Max games most of the components included will be no use, GW will sell the rules but at such an inflated price that you might as well buy the set. The scale matches 40K so is much bigger than the old Dark Future if anyone has plans to pull that out of the attic and play with Gorkamorka.

The gang structure is similar to Necromunda, success brings a stronger gang. Naturally with any sort of league some player is going to get the breaks or have read the rules properly and forge ahead. This gang gets better and better. In the same way other gangs get nowhere and lag further behind. There is a bonus for beating a higher rated gang but this will not be easy. I have seen this with Necromunda, the planned campaign leads to a few players boasting of how good they are and the others dropping out as they have no chance of doing well. The caution here is that campaigns do not play well competitively. They play better with set gangs but players choosing gangs to play from the pool rather than keeping 1 each. I prefer to have a few gangs ready worked out and to bang them down for a scrap without playing for points.

Naturally GW are pushing the expansion potential with extra vehicles, rules in White Dwarf and a supplement on humans and muties. Luckily the vehicles can be cobbled together from kidís toys although I am steadily being drawn into the extra rules and such. Necromunda is being discounted at some independent retailers which suggests that space is being made for Gorkamorka. Certainly this Ork bash looks better, the Necromunda buildings never looked that convincing, good terrain had to be scratchbuilt. There is trend of GW showcasing a small number of games and withdrawing the rest to mail order only, Talisman vanished around the time that Necromunda showed up.

Gorkamorka makes some rules assumptions which are harder to take than others. Orks are not humans so we have to accept that they are hard, bad fighters. The collision rules only consider 2 sizes of vehicles, bikes and others. This is fine with the boxed models as the trucks and tracks are pretty similar in size. Their size is about that of a small Honda van, I have seen scratchbuilt vehicles that are that size of real lorries and you could build 18 wheelers if desired. These would be as smash resistant as the vans. Another problem that may be recalled from physics is that force is not unrelated to acceleration. Acceleration in this game is the number of bursts of speed that the vehicles put on. The rules could be modified to allow a bonus to very large vehicles crashing but with reduced turning potential. If 2 vehicles do crash they will do more damage to each other if 1 more acceleration has taken place. These rules changes can be simply made although the increase in complexity may not prove worthwhile.