Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blood Bowl: Assist Mechanics

Cyanide very recently added a new feature to their Blood Bowl client: the ability to watch games live. Most of the games in our little league are played by people chatting on Sceadeau's Vent server and I've tried to watch all of the games each week while listening in to the games. And cheering for debilitating injuries! One of the things I like to do is try to figure out how I'd play a given position before people start moving. Then I can see what they actually do and try to compare the differences. This gives me a way to learn good moves, and a way to find potential weaknesses to exploit.

Last night I watched a game where one of the players didn't really understand some of the game mechanics. I would predict some moves and then he'd go off in a completely different direction. Sometimes he'd make moves that actively hurt his position. Sometimes he made anti-two die blocks when he could have set up differently for a one-die block. (Or just not attacked at all.) He dodged into multiple tackle zones without regard for the odds. I tried to figure out if there was a strategic reason for doing so, and couldn't. But the conversation on Vent eventually lead me to figure out what was going on...

You see, the client does a _terrible_ job of explaining why things are happening. For example, the log says every dodge an elf tries to make is (3+) regardless of where you're dodging. Then later on in the line (if you don't roll a 1 or a 6) it will list the modifiers to the roll. +1 for making a dodge, -2 for dodging into 2 tackles zones. The end result is you actually need a 4 to make that dodge, and a 2 to make a dodge into the open field. But both dodges say (3+) at the start of the line! I find it a little confusing to read and I've played ~20 games on the board and ~100 on the computer!

I can remember a couple months ago teaching Robb and Snuggles to play over Skype and running into similar issues. The computer handles everything for you and isn't super clear for what the odds actually are a lot of the time. It's hard to make optimal probabilistic decisions when you don't understand the implications of your choices! Especially when you've got a timer on your turn so you can't even stop to parse it out manually from first principles. Learning on a board with infinite time and someone willing to let you take things back when you realize the implications of what you've done is pretty useful, I think. I find explaining some concepts over voice chat and without the ability to move things around to make examples hard, I can't imagine how hard it is to actually understand the explanations.

The biggest issue is how to work out the number of dice thrown in a block. I don't think I did a terribly good job explaining it to either Robb or Snuggles and knew I shouldn't even try last night during a league match. But I think the job absolutely needs to be done because it's something every single new player I've listened to playing games online has had issues with. I'm not sure this is the best format either, but I feel like at least I can make a lot of example pictures!

The first thing to know is that you're comparing the strength of the attacker with the strength of the defender. If you have even strength you roll 1 die and get that result. If you have more strength you roll 2 dice and pick which one to use. If you have more than double the enemy's strength you roll 3 dice and pick which one to use. If you have less strength you roll 2 dice and your opponent chooses which one to use. If you have less than half the enemy's strength you roll 3 dice and your opponent chooses which one to use. The strength of the two characters involved in the hitting matter. No one else's strength matters.

Next, while your teammates strength numbers don't matter they can help you out. Assume for now that the defender has no one else anywhere nearby. How can the attacker's teammates help? Well, any of your teammates who are directly adjacent (in one of the 8 squares, including diagonals) to the defender give you +1 strength for this block. In the example image below, the A is the attacker, the D is the defender, and the lightly coloured green squares are places the attacker's teammates could stand in order to grant +1 strength to A. Note that some of these squares are not adjacent to A himself. These teammates need to be adjacent to D, not to A, even though they're giving A the +1 strength.

The same is true the other way around. Assume the attacker has no teammates nearby. How can the defender's teammates help? Any of the defender's teammates who are directly adjacent to the attacker get to add +1 to the defender's strength. Again, note that these squares don't have to be adjacent to the defender. They have to be adjacent to the attacker, even though they're giving the defender the +1 strength. It's a little counter-intuitive, but one way to think about it is that even though you're giving your friend +1 strength you're not actually helping him. You're hurting the opponent. You're not giving your friend a boost, you're swinging at the enemy and helping to open up a window for your friend.

In both of the above examples there was only one team around to help out. In actuality both teams get to have people helping out, and it can get complicated. In particular, you can remove an assisting player's +1 by adding another player adjacent to the assisting player. For example, let's pretend the defender has a teammate in the square indicated by the little d. The attacking team can negate that +1 by occupying any of the light blue squares in the following picture. Again, note that even though the block is taking place between A and D we can influence the block by sticking someone a fair distance away from the fight. By occupying the far right square we negate the +1 assist from d.

You may think we could keep chaining in this way, but thankfully no. There is no way to position even more guys to reinstate d's assist. Once a is added to the position there's nothing d can do. (Well, unless d has guard; a skill you can learn which changes the rules.) He's useless for the block between A and D. But if we stick a little a off to the right how can either team now influence the fight?

The attacker could get a +1 assist by placing a character at any of the spaces marked with a 1 or a 2. The defender could get a +1 assist by placing a character at any of the spaces marked with a 2 or a 3. Note that the defender can't usefully place a character on a space marked with a 1 because those spaces aren't adjacent to A. Note that the attacker can't usefully place a character on a space marked with a 3 because those spaces are adjacent to d. Even if the attacker put characters into both spaces marked with a 3 it wouldn't matter. d negates assists from every adjacent square regardless of how many are occupied.

I think this is a place many people get confused, so it's important to think about. At the very start of the fight it seemed like each extra guy we piled into the fight was worth +1 as long as he was in a good spot. d was worth +1 when it was just D, A, and d. Then when we added in a he was essentially also worth +1 because he removed the +1 from d. (3v3 isn't quite the same as 4v4 because of how much further the 4v4 is from getting into a 3 die block situation but most of the time it's the same thing.) But adding more and more people into the pile doesn't help. You don't get to add +1 for everyone you bring close to the fight. You only get +1s from particularly well placed guys. Take the example below, where I've put all 11 of the A team into the fight and only given the D team 4 guys total. And yet, in the A on D block, D gets +1 and A gets nothing at all!

I often see newer players move extra guys into a fight without real regard for what those guys might accomplish. In the example above all 10 of the little as are completely useless. Below is the same board situation with all of the as taken off. They're free to do something else in some other part of the board and we have the exact same situation in the A on D block.

Note that I've shaded some of the squares light green. These are the spaces where a little a could stand in order to impact the fight. Standing in any of those spots will remove the +1 from the d in the corner. But only the first one in will matter! Every extra a committed to this block is completely irrelevant. But often people will throw extra guys in because they're standing around and it feels like they should be able to help. But they can't! D is in a decent defensive position here. There is no way for A to get any +1s in any way by adding more guys to the fight. If D happens to be carrying the ball then it could be a good play to negate the corner d's +1 and make an even strength block between A and D. Otherwise A might be better off not taking an action this turn. Maybe he should dodge away. Maybe he should actually get some help on the little d in the corner and block him instead!

It's very important to remember that in Blood Bowl you only get to make one blitz each turn but can make any number of blocks between adjacent guys. This means the person who initiates contact by moving extra guys into contact tends to be at a disadvantage. They don't get to make the blocks from that contact; the other player does! Therefore you need to consider if the benefit from making contact justifies the potential downside of getting hit first.

Here are the things I think you should be thinking about when considering if you should be bringing more units into a fight:
  • Can I give +1 to the impending block by standing adjacent to the defender AND not standing beside anyone else on the enemy team?
  • Can I remove a +1 from an enemy teammate by standing adjacent to him regardless of who else I'd be standing beside?
  • Do I need to make this block at all? Sometimes just leaving guys standing around or occupying space is fine.
  • Is making this block worth positioning myself beside the enemy teammate to remove that +1? He might hit you back on his turn! (Note: this is sometimes a plus. If you have high armour or good defensive skills it can be worth getting your opponent to throw more dice. Or maybe you'll tie him up and prevent him from moving freely!)
  • Are there players around with high base strength? In the examples above if A was a treeman with 6 strength it doesn't matter that d is giving out a +1. 6 is still bigger than 3+1!
  • Are there players on either team with guard? Guard is particularly good because it lets the same unit provide a +1 on a block while potentially removing +1s from the other team. It can be difficult to find any good blocks against a team with a lot of guard.
  • Who gets the advantage next turn if you engage a bunch of guys into a big brawl? 

Now, I'm no expert at the game by any stretch. I can't answer a lot of the finer questions with regards to who gains an advantage or not. My current team has everyone with block, high armour, and 7 guys with guard so generally I just try to engage all my guys every turn and hope for the best! 

I hope this was relatively clear. If anyone has any questions please ask and I'll try to help if I can!

No comments: