It’s a bit odd to refer to Blood Bowl 2020, as the rules only came out at the end of November and so I won’t even get to play a match in the 2020 version until some way into 2021, but that’s the name (or Blood Bowl Second Season, if you want to take Games Workshop’s word for it, but that’s even stranger given it’s the sixth or seventh edition now…
Anyway, I’m going to make some predictions about how Nurgle will play, vs the current edition. Nurgle has been one of the teams that I really gelled with in the last year or so; I’ve played 58 games with my Invertebrutes, and lost only 31 of them, so that was pretty good compared to other teams I’ve played.
Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. Nurgle’s main one is making other teams play badly; they’re so disgusting that they put off opposing teams from throwing or catching the ball, and they are so foul that it’s often hard for the opposition to hit them. Finally, they come with tentacles, which in the Blood Bowl world mean something that stops your opponent moving to do things. If you play them well, then you should be frustrating the other coach at every turn.
They’re a Chaos team, which means they get access to mutations. In the 2016 rules, at high TV (Team Value, which measures how developed the team has become) then they get razor sharp claws for tearing through armour and the ability to foul the opposition to death. But unlike a pure Chaos team, which could field 16 stone cold killers, a Nurgle team has some clearly defined positional players, and also a lot of chaff.
I’ll talk about those positions first, and then how I think I’ll be building my new team, the Bogenhafen Laundrymen (nicknamed “the Bog Washers”, naturally, because everyone loves a terrible pun) differently in the new rules. And then maybe in six months time I’ll come back and see where I got things wrong.
Bloaters are monstrous, slow moving lumps of diseased flesh, giving off a horrible stench. Disturbing Presence means any player within 3 squares of a Bloater gets a penalty to catch or throw the ball, and Foul Appearance means you have a 1/6 chance of a player refusing to hit a Bloater when blocking them, wasting their move. They can regenerate from injuries, and they’re well armoured so it’s hard to kill them, but although they start stronger than the average human, they lack skills, so early on they fail a lot of attacks and can fall over and hurt themselves. They’re also very clumsy, so they’re rubbish at picking up or throwing the ball.
There’s no reason not to take the maximum 4 Bloaters on a team. They are the lynchpin of your defensive and offensive line. While you can build them to injure other players (Claw and Mighty Blow) it’s probably better to have most of them designed defensively. The combination of high strength and Foul Appearance means if you get them in contact with the opposition, you can gum them up and stop them from getting away.
Then again, it’s nice to be able to hit people. Usually I’ve built my Bloaters with: Block, then Mighty Blow, then a mixture of Guard, Stand Firm, Tackle and Claw. Guard is good for making the team even stronger; Stand Firm adds to the opponent’s frustration when he can’t push Bloaters away, and Tackle and Claw are good for when you need to hit agile or armoured players respectively.
These are not players with a lot of flair. They stink, they upset the people around them, and they slowly trudge across the pitch.
Pestigors are the flair players of the team. 50% faster than Bloaters, lacking Foul Appearance and Disturbing Presence, but able to pick the ball up. Classically, you can’t afford four to begin with but you maximise them as soon as possible; two get built as killers, with Claw/Mighty Blow/Tackle and two as ball handlers. Skills like Extra Arms and Big Hand on the ball handlers mean you can pick up a ball on a 2+, regardless of whether it’s raining, other players are trying to distract you, or anything else, and Two Heads makes the players capable of dodging like an elf.
You can have as many of these as you like, and you get them for free whenever you kill an opposing player. Maybe you don’t want any more than you have to, because they’re a bit crap to begin with. They’re fragile, but not as slow as Bloaters, and cheap, so you use them for things like kicking the ball at the start of a drive, fouling people and getting in the way. They’re as agile as a pestigor, so you can use them to retrieve the ball just as well. (Well, they used to be as agile as pestigors; in the new rules, they’re substantially worse.)
Beast of Nurgle
A lot of teams get a Big Guy, and each one has its own flaws. The Beast is a big slug with huge tentacles (because tentacles are cool) that happens to be quite stupid, so you need to keep a player next to him to shepherd him around the pitch. The combination of tentacles and foul appearance mean he’s good just to get in the way; players who get close to him get bogged down and can’t get out, and then the rest of the team moves forward to control the pitch. He’s pretty expensive, and vulnerable to getting hit, as he doesn’t have very good defensive or offensive skills, if Foul Appearance fails. But he’s also strong.
Changes in 2020
The prices of positionals changes, but not significantly; Bloaters are a tiny bit more expensive, pestigors got a bit cheaper. Tentacles aren’t quite as good as they used to be for holding the opposition tight, but are still quite good. What I think makes a bigger difference is how the team can develop.
Players get better by earning, and then spending, Star Player Points (SPP). The main ways to get these are:
- scoring touchdowns (3 points)
- injuring an opponent (2 points)
- passing the ball or intercepting a pass (1 point)
- getting a random Most Valuable Player award (once per match)
Clumsy types like Bloaters won’t be passing the ball, and probably won’t be able to pick it up to carry it to score a touchdown, so they’re limited to hitting people and MVP awards. The first is unreliable; a starting Bloater will need to knock down a human lineman (the default average player) 21.6 times to get a casualty, and because Bloaters start without Block, they only have a 5/9 chance of success on any one block (assuming here success is they knock the other guy down and don’t fall over themselves in the process). You need 6 SPP to be able to pick Block as your first skill (it costs 3 to choose a random skill, but Bloaters are expensive enough that you don’t want to risk getting something you don’t want first).
Finally, at best a Bloater will get 16 blocks per game. So since he needs 64.8 successful blocks, and gets 8.9 of those per game, it’s going to take more than 7 games for him to be minimally viable. And you’ve got four of them to skill up!
Still, the MVP awards can help. The problem is, in the 2016 rules you picked three players and then rolled a D3 to see which one got 5 SPP. Now, MVPs are awarded randomly across all the players, and they’re only 4 SPP. So whereas if you just concentrated on skilling up Bloaters in the past, you could guarantee after 5 matches that at least one Bloater would have Block, it’s now much harder to do that. Instead, useless, fragile Rotters might steal the MVP by accident.
The good news is that Rotters aren’t as fragile as they used to be, but they’re still not good players to hog the SPP. That leads me to my first conclusion:
A successful Nurgle team has to minimise Rotters
Before, you could have 6 or 7 rotters and thus an almost inexhaustible supply of chaff to put on the line of scrimmage, foul, or just get in the way. When they broke, you sacked them and made more. You don’t want some lame, seriously concussed players getting the MVP award by accident, and so the best way to do that is to have as few as possible. I’m not sure if that means 3 rotters or 4. Oh, and whereas in the past a Rotter arrived free after every game you killed somebody, now you have to pay for them after the match. Which minimises the appeal of an army of rot.
Beasts of Nurgle are hard to skill up
If it was bad for Bloaters, it’s even worse for the poor Beast. He’ll forget what he’s doing 1/6th of the time, so it’s a bad idea for him to block people, more so than the Bloaters. If you did, then as he’ll get 7.4 successful blocks per match, he’ll take 8.6 games to get a skill, and you probably want him to get Block, which means twice as long. If a season is 15 games and the Beast is going to want to retire at the end, he might never get to be useful.
(Now, you could keep him around for a couple of seasons, so he skills up in the first and then becomes effective later on, but that’s 15 games of him being fairly bloated and rubbish. My instinct is to leave him out of the starting roster, at least until other players can support him better.)
Killers ain’t what they used to be
Typical Nurgle and Chaos killers took Claw and Mighty Blow, because the combination was good for taking down high armour players. That effectiveness has been reduced substantially in 2020. Tackle and Mighty Blow is still going to be important (Tackle improves your ability to knock players down, and Mighty Blow only works if you can successfully knock players down). So my feeling is that a couple of players with Block and Tackle, and then Mighty Blow if we can get it, may be all that’s desirable.
Now, we could skill up the Bloaters to kill people, but that will take ages (as shown above) and the poor guys are too slow to catch most of their prey. Better to make them a bit less vulnerable (by getting Block) and then have them get in the way while the Pestigors run the show.
Ball handling duties
In the 2016 rules, you might also randomly get a stat increase – most usefully agility, or strength, or speed. In 2020 these aren’t so random – you can buy them if you have enough SPP, but you can’t be sure if you’ll get speed or agility or strength. That makes them more accessible, but as it takes longer to acquire SPP, it’s harder again. Traditionally, you’d just keep skilling up pestigors and the first one that was more agile or faster than the rest would become your de facto ball handler. Now, I think it’s a matter of getting a first mutation (Extra Arms) so one of them can catch and pick up the ball more effectively, and then concentrating on making that player better and better.
Extra Arms might not be the right way to go, though. Having that means you can catch and pick up the ball on a 2+. If you took Sure Hands first instead, you’ll be better at picking up the ball (2 chances to roll a 3+ means it’s a 8/9 chance of success, vs 5/6) so perhaps the ball carrier route is Sure Hands – Extra Arms – Big Hand – Two Heads. Then you can do hijinks like running up and taking the ball out from under another player’s feet, on a 35/36 (pick up) and 5/6 (dodge out) – succeeding 81% of the time. (Unskilled, that’s more like a 33% chance, before you start using rerolls to get more reliable.)
That’s different to the 2016 rules, and may be a good shake up. Rather than having 2 ball handlers and 2 killers, you have a ball handler, a killer, and two average guys. Then the wall of death that was the Bloaters becomes less reliable, but since everyone else will be lacking the full armoury of skills to injure your bloaters, maybe that’s ok.
Conclusions (or assumptions)
It will take a Nurgle team around two seasons of 15 games each to reach peak performance (Bloaters that can hit and expect not to fall over, Pestigors that can manage the ball). During the first 15 games, a Beast of Nurgle is a liability to ignore, and until you have lots of skilled players, you want as few Rotters as possible. (That actually means you don’t want to kill many opposing players early in your career, as that will generate more Rotters, who might steal the SPP you want to give to the Bloaters and Pestigors – a marked change from the 2016 rules, where the new Rotters only arrived after the MVP had been handed out.) Finally, we’ll probably have one ball handler, lacking in any stats like speed or agility, and one killer Pestigor, with two others just grubbing around and hoping they might look good at some point. But it was never meant to be glamourous, right?
So for the new Laundrymen, they won’t be as scary as my current smash-anything-that-moves Invertebrutes. I hope that makes them more fun to play against, and therefore increase the number of games I can play (although maybe those games are harder, and less fun, for me.)