So on to what is one of the highlights of the European calendar: Lutecebowl in France. The event is one of the few that rivals the Eurobowl or World Cup for size, spectacle, organisation and quality of opposition. It is a team event with groups of five coaches, and this year due to some train strikes in France was down to a mere 158 coaches. At 180 coaches last year’s Lutece was the largest Blood Bowl tournament in the entire world. Bigger than the NAF Championship, bigger than Dungeonbowl, bigger than the Eurobowl + EurOpen event combined. Yet barring the two English teams and the odd straggler I might have missed, the participants were all French. All this and it would be my 100th NAF tournament too!
The event is held in a converted barn near Brèches in proper rural France, and can only be reached by road trip. One does not simply take public transport to Lutece. Faust originally wanted a ticket to Lutece before Lucifer bartered him down, in which context the eleven hours of travel with five of us squeezed into Geggster’s Audi of power seems quite reasonable.
The beauty of Lutece is in the details. There are an army of refs and organisers, all offering specific skills in service of the tournament. From the team logo cards hanging at the end of each table, to the free gifts and merchandise emblazoned with the Lutece logo. From the stunning banners hanging boldly from the rafters to the food that is as tasty as it is limitless. A professional audio-visual technician provides the big screen. The tournament even has its own currency, and no transaction at the (cheap and well-stocked) bar can be completed without your Lutece doubloons. When I first took over running the NAF Championship the Lutecebowl was my touchstone, my aspiration. But this is a league fifty-strong coming together to throw a Blood Bowl party: most everything you see has been made not bought, and are beyond my own heathen hands’ ability to emulate. I’m happy that we have gone in another direction with the NAFC in finding a corporate venue and running as professional an event as we can. But there is something about an event the size of Lutece being run with such a personal touch that makes it very special indeed.
As for the Blood Bowl itself, I was delighted to again captain ‘All The President’s Men’: Dave (Lycos), Paul (Geggster), Phil (Purplegoo) and Jim (Jimjimany); and this time as defending champions. The Lutece gimmick is a compulsory Inducement as part of your TV115 roster, and with this being our third year we had settled on some rosters that worked and discarded others. The ever-present Diving Tackle Deathroller Dwarfs were this time coached by Lycos, whilst I gave myself Roxanna & friends (Amazons). Paul and Jim took standard Dark and Wood Elves with a special play card respectively, and Phil again rolled out Undead accompanied by Setekh.
As we were all part of the team that won the last Eurobowl, you might think we would be confident of our chances, especially as the French had split their Eurobowl coaches among several teams. But the depth of strong coaches in France is remarkable, and I’m not sure any of us have played a bad coach in our combined 75 games. More than that though, most opponents are genuinely good: the French must have 30-40 that would push for a spot in the English Eurobowl squad (we only had 18 applications for this year’s team). This time I played three (past or current) Eurobowl coaches, the runner-up from this year’s NAFC and another coach still ranked over 200 with the race he was using. This is exactly the sort of challenge I look for in an event, and the proper competitive Blood Bowl on offer at Lutece is a huge attraction.
I don’t want to go into huge detail about who blocked whom, who rolled snake eyes and who was robbed. But in brief: my first game was against Bloody (Renaud), a Norse coach who used the race for France at the Danish Eurobowl in 2012. He was part of the ‘No Reroll Association’, and so I was facing a fully tooled up Norse team augmented by Wilhelm Chaney. The game was a Guard arms race: Renaud had 3, but I started with 4 and gained another through the bonus skill package for the round. Another great touch at Lutece are the bonus skills. Each round the team captain is given five skills to allocate among his coaches. For example, in the first round the theme was Strength, and so I had to distribute Grab, Guard, Mighty Blow, Piling On and Stand Firm. Skills can only go on an otherwise unskilled non-Star player. So anyway, my 5 to 3 Guard advantage immediately became 5 v 2 when Throw A Rock KO’d a Norse Berserker. I managed to remove the other Guarders with surgical precision, and by half time my advantage was 5-0 (and 1-0 in touchdowns). Many more Norse died, and the final score ended 3-0 to me. A very lucky game for me, particularly as Bloody was clearly a good coach. The team won 4/1/0, so a very good start for All The President’s Men.
My second opponent was Miyata, who was using Lizardmen with Hemlock. A Blodging, Side-Stepping, Jump-Uping Stabber with Stunty dodging was absolutely not something my AV7 Amazons (and particularly Roxanna) wanted to see. This guy is a serious headache, and I spent many turns just trying to work out where on the pitch I was safe from him! Thankfully after some heart in mouth moments, Roxanna executed Hemlock midway through the first half. I scored in 8 but was only able to manage a 1-1 draw, thankfully as part of another team victory.
Next up on the Saturday was Darktroll (Nicolas), a famous international coach and previous Eurobowl individual MVP who has played 19 Eurobowl games without losing! He was using the exact same team as Miyata: Lizardmen with Hemlock. Uh-oh. But thankfully Roxanna vs Hemlock round two went a similar way to round one, with the Skink killing himself trying to get to Roxanna. Final result was another 1-1 draw, with our team winning again.
The pace at Lutece is leisurely at best, and we played on until well past 8pm. After a nice evening with a beer or several, we settled down to watch the World Cup game between England and Italy on the big screen. Top marks again to the Lutece crew for this, as it was clearly no easy feat arranging the projector and signal in the depths of the countryside. Thoroughly appreciate by all the English though despite the result, and great to have the French cheer our boys on (for not being Italian).
On the Sunday morning, I found myself with a case of deja vu: for the third game in a row I would be facing Lizardmen and Hemlock! This guy just did not know when to quit! This time my opponent was Bouzzy (Clément), the losing finalist at this year’s NAF Championships. Hemlock was a little more tenacious this time, although Roxanna managed to KO him twice he kept coming back for more and was a constant nuisance. Luckily for me he (and Clément) also failed a number of vital dice rolls and I managed to win this one 2-0, alongside another team victory.
Another marvellous feature of Lutce is the scoring system, which rewards the overall team result over individual coach wins. In my opinion (and that of my teammates) this is by far the best way to score team events, as scraping a round win 1/4/0 (as we did last year) is rewarded almost as much as a 5/0/0. As we’d won our first four rounds, All The Predsident’s Men knew we only needed a round draw to win the tournament. This turned out to be extremely valuable, as the round did indeed end in a draw (2-1-2) with Paul and myself winning, Jim drawing and Phil and David losing. This doesn’t really tell half of the story, as every game seemed to swing massively late in the day, and we really had no clue what round result we would see until the final whistle blew on the games. Fantastic round of Blood Bowl, and luckily it went our way. My opponent was Justicium (Jerome) who was using the Undead he will be representing France with at the upcoming Belgian Eurobowl. A tough game against a fine opponent, but luckily for me I had a turn of several good stuns and Jerome was forced to score a turn early on his drive for 1-1, leaving me a two turn score attempt. With Roxanna (AG5, Leap, Dodge) this was a simple task if I could get her the ball and, despite a deep kick, everything went my way and I finished a 2-1 winner.
This all meant that for the second year running All The President’s Men had won Lutecebowl, possibly the most difficult team tournament around. I mean no disservice to the Eurobowl and World Cup when I say that the average standard of coaching I have experienced at Lutece is as high if not higher than those events. At only 5 rounds you’d have to lend strong weight to the World Cup’s case. But the mass of great French coaches means that, in our experience, even a Swiss miracle leaves you with very few hiding places. We are still sporting bruises from our 0/2/3 round against the Noobz in 2012: as comprehensive a defeat as I have ever experienced in team Blood Bowl. The French seem to welcome the usurpers pilfering their title, and it made a pleasant change to be cheered to the rafters as the winners were announced.
Sunday evening saw a very long game of Agricola as a collective adrenaline crash hit the group, but the generosity and hospitality of all the hosts continued into the night and on to the next morning. There really is no more welcoming an event than Lutecebowl, and I urge anyone who can make their way down to rural France to do so!