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 Passing Game, par Ikoma

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MessageSujet: Passing Game, par Ikoma   Ven 7 Aoû 2015 - 10:08

So you want to play the passing game in Blood Bowl? First piece of advice - don't. It's a general rule in Blood Bowl that the team that rolls the fewest dice wins. Passing requires three rolls at a bare minimum - the Pick Up, the Pass and the Catch. Everyone has to make the Pick Up to score. Lots of teams use the Hand Off to increase the distance they cover in one turn. But the passing game requires all three. Do all you want to minimize those risks, but you are still taking risks you don't have to. The bigger problem with the passing game is it violates the rule to take safer actions first and risker actions later. The pass action is riskier than the catch action. Why? First off, failure at the catch stage means you have already moved the ball down field. Second, there are more potential failure spots on the pass. You could be intercepted, you could fumble AND you could be inaccurate.

If passing is that risky, why do it? The best answer is because you are having fun. But there are also some strategic reasons to do it. The biggest reason is it acts as a speed multiplier. The fastest players in the game can move - at most - 13 squares. That's a lot. But even a MV 6 team can easily beat that with three different moves - separated by a pass and a hand off. Even a single pass can easily let two slower players exceed that. Why do you need to move more than 13 squares when the pitch is only 26 squares long? Simple. It's also 15 squares wide. Passing gives you the ability to go around defenses instead of through them. Which brings us to the next discussion, which teams are good at passing.

TEAMS

Since passing multiplies the effect of speed, faster teams are going to get more out of it than slower teams. Since a successful passing game requires two EXTRA agility rolls, high agility teams are better at it than low agility teams. Finally, having players with easy access to Passing Skills is almost a necessity to having an effective passing game.

Best Teams: High Elf, Pro Elf, Skaven, Wood Elf -- What do these four teams have in common? Speed, AG 4 (on at least some of the players), easy access to Passing and Agility skills and rookies with the Pass Skill (Catch & other helpful skills as well). The quartet of features certify a team ready made to thrive at the passing game.

Good Teams: Dark Elf, Underworld -- Dark Elves could have been one of the best teams, if they had rookies with any passing or catching skills. [Dump Off isn't enough.] Underworld lack Gutter Runners who are the spectacular receivers of the Skaven team but they make up for it with easier Mutation Skill access. These two teams take a little more work but can easily be turned into passing teams.

Average Teams: Amazon, Human, Norse, Orc, Khorne -- These teams have access to Passing and Agility Skills. But those players are all AG 3. And not speedy. [Humans may have MV 8 catchers, but they are STR 2 without the AG boost to compensate.] These teams certainly can succeed at the passing game, but it's gonna be riskier.

Bad Teams: Lizardman, Necromantic, Vampire -- No easy access to Passing Skills? It's gonna be hard. Sure, you can build a passing team IF you roll some lucky doubles or some stat boosts. While Vampires have AG 4, those players have better things to do. The Lizards have it bad because Stunty makes for poor passers.

Awful Teams: Chaos, Chaos Dwarf, Dwarf, Goblin, Halfling, Khemri, Nurgle, Ogre, Undead -- Ugh... no Agility Skills for Chaos, Chaos Dwarf, Dwarf, Khemri, or Nurgle? No Passing Skills for Chaos, Chaos Dwarf, Goblin, Halfling, Nurgle, or Undead? Stunty Goblins & Halflings? Few (if any) AG 3 players? Yeah... these teams are gonna struggle to develop a passing game (not counting the Throw Team Mate game which is it's own thing) even with a few doubles and/or stat boosts.

Now we'll talk about the three steps in a passing attack in increasing order of importance: Pick Up, Catch, & Throw.

PICK UP

I'm not going to talk too much about this part of the passing game. Mostly because picking up the ball is important to EVERY team. I will say it is a balancing act. Spend too many skills getting good at picking up the ball and you aren't getting super good at throwing or catching the ball. That's not a problem for all players. The Human, Khemri, Orc, Skaven, & Underworld Throwers all have Sure Hands as rookies - which is great! Many dedicated throwers use a skill slot to add this since it can spare a valuable team RRs for other riskier steps in the process. Another option is to create a player dedicated to picking the ball up and then handing it off to the throwers. This path is particularly useful if your specific passing game is going to be built about a group of combined passer/catchers. That's a tricky route since NO team has more than two players with easy access to passing skills but it can be done. Teams with mutation access can build a Sure Hands/Big Hand player who can scoop the ball out TZs easier and hand it to the thrower.

One other important thing to note is the Pick Up does NOT have to happen in the same turn as the other two. You can pick up the ball and wait until the time is ripe to make the pass. Remember this. If you have to use a RR to make the pick up, see if you can get the thrower somewhere safe so that when you go to make the throw, you have another RR to increase the odds of its success.

CATCH

Successfully making the catch is the cherry on top of a completed pass. It might seem like the afterthought to the pass. For a lot of teams, it is. Most Blood Bowl teams, when forced to pass, just mutter a prayer to Nuffle & roll the dice. But a team dedicated to playing the passing game is going to do everything they can to shift the odds in their favor.

We'll talk a lot more about specific skills later on, but for now I'll note there are not many skills that help w/ catching. Two of them are hard (or impossible) for most receivers to get (Nerves of Steel & Extra Arms). Diving Catch only comes into play in the particular situation where the pass is inaccurate but still next to the receiver - hard to plan for & honestly probably of more use defensively (don't worry, we will talk interceptions!) That leaves Catch as THE skill for receivers. Which is great! First off, SO many rookies have this skill [Amazon, High Elf, Human, Pro Elf, and Wood Elf] that you don't have to wait to start tossing the cow hide around (not a euphemism for Minotaurs). Second, this means any passing team worth their stripes can have multiple receivers not only on the field but down field. Since it only takes one skill to become a decent catcher, it can be helpful to turn a lineman or two into secondary receivers - particularly elf lineman who can take Catch on a normal skill & have AG 4. Catch is also useful for making Hand-Offs, so it can be worthwhile just to help move the ball even further. In this case, it is probably a later skill since Line-elfs or Blitzers have other jobs to do. Some teams don't have blanket Agility access so it's not a requirement.

The best way to get a receiver free is to have lots to choose from. A single receiver can be bottled up & knocked down. Even two receivers can easily be contained. Three or four receivers cannot ALL get the same attention. The passing game opperates on a fundamentally different set of player positioning than the running game. When running the ball, teams lock the ball carrier away to the best of their ability, often in the cage. But three or four recievers all standing close to each other is exactly the wrong approach for passing. Two receivers standing with just one square between them can be marked by a single defender. They can be boxed in. Remember, the big advantage of the passing game is movement. Two catchers - one in each wing - are going to split the defenders forces. Three catchers, spread evenly across the pitch are going to do an even better job. When you go to get one of your recievers free, YOU know where you are going. Your team can focus their attack on a smaller number of defenders where you have the best shot of getting the reciever free. Other receivers can often (with high enough AG and the right skills) dodge free of their defenders in order to free up a reciever with a chance to score.

There is a time for bunching players up for the reception and that is right before the pass is ACTUALLY made. Obviously, some of this is the focus you are putting on freeing up the reciever. An additional benefit is a prevent defense in the event of either an innacurate pass or a bumbled catch. If you have several players (hopefully a few have Catch, see two paragraphs earlier), you increase your odds of either ending up with the ball OR having TZs on the ball in the event the ball ends up on the pitch. Even if you successfully make the catch, this loose cage forming near the intended receiver can also provide a defense in the event you choose not to score immediately after you make the catch, i.e. you intended to stall or you had to use a RR to complete the pass and want to wait until next turn to try for the end zone. But do not bunch up until right before the pass is going to be made.

The final critical question involved on the catching end of the pass - do you move before -or- after catch? The obvious advantage to moving after the catch is that the passing range is almost certainly shorter. BUT receivers are often able to both shake of defenders (by getting out of TZs) AND get to a place where the thrower can minimize (or eliminate) the risk of an interception. There is one potential downside to moving before the pass if you are aiming to score and that is you risk leaving a catcher sitting in the endzone for an easy surf next turn if anything goes wrong with the pass... at any point. As a result, I typically prefer to move after the catch and might even try to make the catch in a TZ rather than dodge free ahead of time and risk standing vulnerable in the end zone.

PASS

Now it's time to talk about the meat of the passing game... the pass itself. There are a lot of considerations that make figuring out the best possible pass action a little tricky to figure out. You need to think about these things ahead of time, KNOW your Thrower's base odds, and know the modifiers in order to quickly work out how to make the Throw as low risk as possible. Note: you can never make a pass risk free. If that bothers you, remember my first piece of advice and don't. Passing skills are going to be refered to frequently in this conversation. You can go to the next section to get a detailed look at each passing and catching related skill for extra details on each. Much like Catch, Pass is THE passing skill and should be the first skill taken (if it isn't already there: Amazon, High Elf, Human, Khemri, Norse, Orc, Pro Elf, Skaven, Wood Elf) for any dedicated passer. All future discussions are going to assume the thrower has pass. Also, unless noted, all future discussions are going to assume you have a team RR available to help out. If you are completely out of RRs (or have already used a RR this turn), GET MORE CONSERVATIVE. Now is not the time to spray the ball around unless you have no other choices.

The single biggest impact on how risky a pass will be (besides the players AG - which you don't have much control over) is the range ruler. An AG 4 player making a Quick pass only needs a 2+. With the pass skill, that succeeds 97% of the time. The gold standard of passing. But that same player needs a 5+ to throw the bomb, which has a 56% success rate. Not a risk I want to take a lot. So throw shorter passes... except it's not always that easy if you don't have the RR to assist with the GFIs (or Dodges) to get to shorter range. That AG 4 thrower throws a Short pass on a 3+ (89%). Making a GFI to get to Quick range requires a 2+ and then the 2+ pass (81%). You are better off making the longer pass. But an AG 3 thrower making a Bomb needs a 6+ (31%). Make a 2+ GFI to get the Long pass range 5+ and the odds of success improve (46%) even WITHOUT the team RR. Higher AG (or skills that add to the pass roll) make you thrower good enough that you don't need to risk the GFIs. Lower AG throwers (and those without passing skills) require shorter ranges to improve the odds.

One big advantage the pass has over the catch is you typically have more control over where the pass is made from. So you can avoid TZs. And you should - under most conditions. It's not worth it to enter a TZ to get into a shorter pass range since the modifiers offset each other. So what conditions might encourage your Thrower to step into a TZ before making the pass? Interceptions. IF you cannot completely negate the chance of an interception (by finding a passing lane that has NO opponents in it), you can make it harder for them. This isn't possible for AG 3 (or lower) players since they only succeed on a 6+ and there is nothing you can do to make that any harder for them. But if an AG 4 player has a shot at an interception, they will succed on a 5+. Using your Thrower to put a TZ on them makes it a 6+ - cutting their odds in HALF! Obviously, only do this if it will not hurt your passing odds; i.e. moving up will get you into a shorter range OR you have enough pass skills to offset the negative passing modifier at that range. For example, an AG 4 Thrower with Accurate and Strong Arm can throw a short pass on a 2+ in OR out of a single TZ.

This discussion directly leads us to the single biggest risk (even if it is not the most likely) in the passing game - the interception. Failure at any other point of the passing game typically puts the ball on the pitch. Which isn't good but it isn't as horrible as putting the ball IN the hands of the other team! It ends your turn immediately and is a complete tragedy. Avoid it at almost all costs. I wouldn't turn a quick pass into a long bomb to avoid the possibility of the interception. But I would certainly accept an extra range penalty to avoid it. If you cannot avoid the chance, try to select which players on the opposing team gets a try. You would rather have an AG 3 linerat (6+) try to make the interception or have an AG 4 Gutter Runner with Very Long Legs (4+) try? You would rather have a player in two TZs try to make the interception instead of a player in the open (even if they have the same chance to make the catch). In this case, you are playing potential defense ahead of time.

Another way to play defense ahead of time is to protect the pocket. Figure out where you intend to throw the ball from and then set up a loose cage around that spot. Obviously, don't take too many risks to do this (you'll be taking enough risks on the pass and catch) but you should hedge your bet. In the event the pass is fumbled, you should still have multiple TZs on it, keeping alive hope for a successfull pass next turn. Obviouslly, all advance defense is irrelevant if this is a last turn attempt.

Speaking of last turns, it isn't wise to wait until that last turn to make the pass - unless you are camping on a lead and don't NEED that score. Otherwise, you are much better off moving the ball down field and scoring immediately or trying to stall near the endzone. The other thing to keep in mind regarding last turns is to use the passing game to farm easy SPPs. Your thrower should skill up quickly in the beginning. Even at 1 SPP for each successful pass, you'll level up in two or three games even without the MVP. The second skill is not hard to get either. But later, it gets harder for your thrower to skill up. Your dedicated thrower isn't going to rack up many casualties (if any at all), they are not going to get many TDs (they are on the wrong side of the pitch), and they aren't going to get many interceptions. So take advantage of the free SPP. Even if you don't have a shot at scoring, make sure you make that easy pass/catch. Some people will tell you to do this during the match but that's just uneccesary. You'll get passes in the normal progress of the game. But it's worth the risk on the last turn (since your opponent cannot capitalize on your failure) before the end of the half or game.

SKILLS

Finally, we are going to talk about skills and stat boosts that are directly related to the pass and catch.

Stat Boosts

+1 AG: No single attribute is more important to the passing game than Agility. It helps with the Pick Up, Pass and Catch, not to mention helping with Dodging. The odds of an AG 3 team (w/ Sure Hands, Pass, & Catch) picking the ball up, making and catching a quick pass are 70%. Nice. But an AG 4 team w/ the same skills has a 92% success rate. Throw in longer ranges and it gets worse for the AG 3 team. While there is a sense of diminishing returns since a natural 1 is always a failure (a theoretical AG 5 thrower/catcher pair would also have a 92% success rate - no better than an AG 4 pair), higher AG does let you pass better. An AG 4 pair trying a long bomb pass have a success rate of 53%. But bump that thrower up to AG 5 and the odds become 71%. Since +1 AG rolls are pretty rare (1 out of 18 skill rolls), I would take it every time it comes up on a player you intend to use in your passing game.

+1 MV: The other attribute bonus that helps with the passing game. Extra Movement helps shorten passing ranges, decreases interception opportunities and makes it possible to score from further out. That said, since +1 MV is available on 5/5 as well as 6/4 and 4/6, there are plenty of times where using the doubles is better in the long run for a dedicated passer or catcher than getting the +1 MV. Throwers would almost always prefer Strong Arm. Catchers might prefer Nerves of Steel or Extra Arms (if they can get Mutations). That said, +1 MV is an awesome boost for either the thrower or catcher.

Passing Skills

Pass (Passing): As noted before, this is THE passing skill. If you don't have it, you are not running a passing game. Take it if you wanna join us...

Accurate (Passing): Accurate is probably the next most useful skill to a dedicated thrower. An automatic +1 to all passing rolls is as useful as an AG boost (to passing only). The only other skill taken by probably all dedicated throwers.

Dump-Off (Passing): This skill is a tempting distraction that ultimately is not helpful to the passing game. First off, it requires your ball carrier get hit to use it. A properly executed passing game rarely lets the thrower get hit. Second, you have to use it before you know if the hit will be successful. You might fumble a pass or catch only to find out your thrower didn't go down. Combine that with the fact that a dump-off pass is going to incure at least one -1 penalty for a TZ and maybe two or more from assists. It's possible to build a team based on dump-off but you would want a whole cadre of thrower/catcher hybrids that never gave the enemy a single target. It would be tricky.

Hail Mary Pass (Passing): I know this skill is listed as a passing skill and it's easy to see why. But it has almost no use on a dedicated passing team. Why gaurontee the inaccuracy of your pass? To gain a few squares range? Even a MV 6 thrower should be able to move the ball up to 19 squares based on movement and a long bomb. This is the passing skill that gives the stunties a shot at a long range game. This skill really should be renamed Punt because that's what it is.

Nerves of Steel (Passing): While this is listed as a passing skill, it really gets used as a catching skill much more often. Even then, it's a skill with somewhat limited use. Like Dump-Off it is only useful if you are passing while in contact with players from the other team. Dedicated offensive throwers usually have more control of where they are throwing the ball from than catchers have in where they catch it. That said, a dedicated defensive thrower - i.e. a player designed to get into tight places, recover the ball, and get it out - will find great use in this skill. Additionally, Nerves of Steel can be used to let a thrower put a TZ on a potential interceptor while not suffering the penalties that would come with doing that. But it comes later in a passer's career.

Safe Throw (Passing): Another skill that typically comes later in a passer's career, this skill only works in a limited circumstances. Not only does the opponent have to have the opportunity to make an interception... they have to had *made* it. So why is this skill useful? Remember, passing is all about multiplying speed. Many times, you can really increase the distance you move the ball by taking a pass that offers your opponent a chance at an interception. Or you might be able to reduce the range of the pass by offering your opponent a chance at an interception. While the chances of an interception are typically small (the average AG 3 player needs a 6+), it is the most catastrophic spot for a pass play to fail. Not only is it a turn over, but you handed the ball to your opponent. He needs no pick up roll. He can just start moving the ball the other way. Therefore, reducing the odds of an interception can be worthwhile as it frees you up to try riskier plays. Just be prepared. Safe Throw isn't a lock. An AG 3 thrower only has a 50% chance of negating the interception.

Strong Arm (Strength): The only choice on doubles for almost every thrower out there. The only team with a player who gets normal access to passing and strength skill is the Chaos Pact Marauder. It is very important to note that Strong Arm is worse than Accurate since Accurate improves the odds on ALL passes while Strong Arm only improves the odds on everything BUT quick passes. But the fact that all dedicated throwers need doubles to take it means that you take when the opportunity comes up. Strong Arm also dovetails nicely with Accurate. Having both skills gives +2 to most passes and can let an AG4 thrower toss bombs on a 3+ (89%). Even the long range game is pretty safe now!

Catching Skills

Catching skills are an intersting connundrum. There are only two potential modifiers to a catch roll. Was the pass accurate? Then the receiver gets a +1 modifier. Is the reviever in TZs? Then they get negative modifiers. But the thrower has most of the control over those two modifiers. The pass roll determines whether the pass is accurate or not. The thrower determines the target - who is in TZs or not. So it's perfectly possible to have a group of catchers who have NO skills related to passing. Ask an elf or a gutter runner. You can be a perfectly good catcher with nothing more than AG4. That said, skills do make catchers better.

Catch (Agility): As noted before, this is THE catching skill. It is useful not only for catching the passes you are flinging all over the pitch, but for safely taking hand-offs and making interceptions. It really should be the first skill a reviever takes before they consider themselves a part of the passing game.

Nerves of Steel (Passing): This is the skill that allows receivers to compensate for the negative modifiers that acrue from TZs. It's an absolute life saver. But how many TZs you have on your reciever is something you have a degree of control over. It might be easier to just use skills like Dodge or Leap that have additional uses in other situations to get your receiver free *before* the pass is made. But using Nerves of Steel might allow you to make a shorter pass, increasing the odds that the pass is accurate, and then allowing the receiver to get free after the catch is made. Additionally, the receiver might be using their own TZs to reduce the odds of a successful interception. For these reasons, Nerves of Steel might be a good later skill on really dedicated receivers.

Diving Catch (Agility): If a pass is inaccurate, the ball scatters three times. That means there is less than a 5% chance it's gonna scatter back to the intended target. That's bad. There is a 42% chance it will scatter to somewhere in your target's TZs. That's not good. Normally, you'll watch that ball fall to the pitch. But this skill gives you a shot at catching the ball anyway. The odds aren't great. Less than 50% AND you still have to make the catch without the +1 accurate modifier. Of course, it also works to give this player extra chances to catch the other team's passes and catch kick-offs or throw-ins. As a result, this skill can synergize well with other skills that help in those situations: Pass Block or Kick-Off Return. A group of Diving Catchers can form an region where it litterally doesn't matter if the pass is accurate. One of them will get a chance to catch it. Perhaps a batch of Diving Catch/Dump Off ball handlers?

Extra Arms (Mutation): Obviously, not a skill for everyone since most players don't get mutation skills. This is the receiving version of Accurate. A great option for dedicated recievers - if they can take it. It does also have secondary use in pickup up balls which can make it useful for players who want to grab the ball while it's in TZs.

Opposition Skills

We won't spend a lot of time here, but it can be useful to spend a few second talking about skills that interfere with the passing game. Partly so you can deal with them. A partly because some of them might be useful to YOU in interfering with your opponent.

Disturbing Presence (Mutation): This area affect can get annoying, decreasing the odds of a successful pass or catch. But unless multiple fields overlap, it's usually not more than that. It can usually be avoided by picking your path. Obviously, everything you can do to up your odds will still help overcome the presence.

Pass Block (General): This general skill provides extra movement. It's useful for players who want a chance to intercept, put a TZ on the catcher or thrower, or put a disturbing presence on either, or any combination of the three. By itself, it can worsen your odds. In combination with other skills, it can really worsen your odds or increase the odds of the interception.

Very Long Legs (Mutation): Another mutation that interferes with the passing game, this time in a couple of ways. First off, it increases the odds of an interception. Secondly, it prevents Safe Throw from preventing the successful interception. This is a skill to be aware of! Make sure you know if an opponent has it as it WILL affect the flow of the game. The good news is it's not a skill you see a lot. It's a mutation. It helps with interceptions and those are rare. It's rarer still to see a player built to get interceptions. But since VLL improves the odds of a successful Leap, you will occasionally see a player who IS built to do that and they can cause problems.

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