Thoughts On The NAF

It is an interesting time for the NAF (if you are not familiar with the organisation check out thenaf.net/). After many years sailing the smoothest of seas, Games Workshop’s revival of Blood Bowl has raised the odd squall.

To provide some background, I was one of those volunteers within the NAF for many years as National Tournament Coordinator for the United Kingdom. I was also the main organiser of the NAF Championships, the largest non-team Blood Bowl event in the world. So my words come from a deep love and hopefully knowledge of the NAF. I’m going to speak mainly of face to face tournaments as this was how the NAF began and still forms a large part of its mandate, if nothing else through historical precedent.

There has been some recent debate around the NAF, not just in terms of specific decision making but even the larger question of what the NAF is or should be. To me the organisation has two main aims. Firstly, to be a central hub for Blood Bowl coaches around the world to organise and find each other. Not a governing body or making any attempt to rival to GW in terms of authority. Secondly, I’ve always perhaps romantically thought of the NAF as a Blood Bowl union. A single body that can communicate effectively with GW and speak for the community when we know how reluctant they can be to heed individuals.

This blog is about the first of these aims, and in my view it is vital for the NAF to be as safe and uncontroversial as possible. I’d even go as far to as to say boring! In trying to be all things to all men and women, the only sensible path seems to find the most vanilla position available. Every controversial decision you make splits the community into camps, some in favour some against. The more decisions, the more division. Blandness is deeply useful for a global organisation, it allows the NAF to appeal to and be relevant in the most places. We are now in a world where a coach from the US does occasionally pop into a local Welsh event, and the NAF wouldn’t be doing its job if that coach found his experience abroad unrecognisable from what he might find at home.

It may sound blindingly obvious, the most important thing for a healthy Blood Bowl scene is being able to find people to play with / against. The NAF should exist to facilitate this, to be a central hub where anyone who has an interest in Blood Bowl can check in when they want to find a game or event. To this end the NAF should not seem controversial or elitist or divisive or competitive. We know from experience that people have a natural suspicion of any kind of top-down regulation on their casual hobbying. The NAF is much better suited to be a beacon than an executive.

One of the most important challenges the NAF faces is getting new people to visit their first tournament. It is probably hard for some of us to remember what it was like to make that first leap. What are these people going to be like? How weird or competitive will they be? We have all heard horror stories from our friends, you know how they go: “They first guy I saw was dressed as Halfling, the next had terrible BO but luckily my first opponent was [insert nice guy] otherwise I would have written off the whole endeavour”. Think how many people didn’t have the luck of meeting a fun first opponent and were lost to us forever. If the NAF brand is to mean anything it should be that the tournaments it approves are both welcoming and consistent. First timers already think we are a bunch of squealing weirdos. It won’t help If they turn up and have to play Space Goblin Toad Riders.

The NAF has been fine at this in the past, although it wasn’t the hardest task in the world when GW abandoned the game for many years and the rules were static. However the NAF has recently been less good at defending the status quo it should be attempting to maintain. Human nature means people will always want to innovate and push boundaries, and the NAF should be willing to say no if they think a particular tournament has tipped too far into wackiness. If you never say no to anything then your yes holds no value. When I was NAF staff I spent hours behind the scenes trying to diplomatically walk TOs back from the edge of full crazy. But I had to do this because I knew the NAF would never say no. It was mediate or capitulate.

I have deliberately kept this all a bit vague rather than give my thoughts on specifics matters concerning the community. I wanted to set out my basic thoughts on the NAF rather than just focus on a single case. If you have any thoughts or questions please feel free to hit me up on Twitter, I blog infrequently so may miss a comment posted here.

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Blood Bowl World Cup (Nov 6-8) Lucca – Round One Preview

Next week’s World Cup in Lucca, Italy promises to be an incredible event. 912 coaches will gather to celebrate our wonderful hobby and fight for the title of World Champions. I thought someone should do a preview of some of the big games we’ll see in Round One. My name is Joemanji, and I was fortunate enough to be part of ‘Team Waterbowl’, the winners of the last World Cup in Amsterdam. Here goes!

Firstly in the team stakes, the biggest clash looks to be Italy’s ‘Masters of Tilea’ versus France’s Turone Bashlords. Both these teams are genuine contenders to win the World Championship, and in such a large field neither will be happy to have to face off in the first round!

The ‘Masters of Tilea’ are packed full of experience, and could quite easily have been called ‘Team Italy’. Their members hold an astonishing 29 Eurobowl caps between them, and include NAF President Beppe and Italian patriarch Farina, both former Italian captains. Spartako is the number two ranked played in the world with his Wood Elves and Kaltenland won the individual prize at the 2011 World Cup with an 8/1/0 record.

Facing them will be the ‘Turone Bashlords’, an up-and-coming force of (relative to Blood Bowl) young coaches led by the wise old stager KaduC. Boasting plenty of internationals of their own is an impressive feat given the fierce competition for places on the French Eurobowl team. This is sure to be a titanic clash!

My pick for individual tie of the round also comes from this fixture, with Spartako’s Wood Elves facing off against Justicium’s Undead. A match that features two of the best coaches around in such a classic racial tie is definitely one for the cameras!

Round one also features a huge clash between two French teams. ‘Socks’2’ were our opponents on table one for round nine of the Amsterdam World Cup. They will be playing ‘Azian’s Champions’, a team featuring most of the winners of the first World Cup in Nottingham 2007, where they were known as ‘Les Azes’. France boasts a depth of quality coaches unrivalled by any other nation, and either of these teams are in with a shout of winning the title. Harti is the main man for Socks, holding two of the world’s top eight rankings with his Chaos Dwarfs and Dark Elves. ‘Azian’s Champions’ can count on the services of Jeff, a coach whose win rate of >71% is frankly miraculous for someone playing in France.

Another great team fixture is France’s ‘Joe le Taxi’ versus Spain’s ‘TBBL’. Both teams include a number of international stars, and ‘Joe le Taxi’ have just won the World Cup Warm Up event on FUMBBL. The pick of the individual ties is probably Geggster vs. Tarra. The Spaniard has played in six Eurobowls and boasts an impressive record with his Undead, whilst Geggster is one of the most experienced coaches of all time with a major and four Eurobowl wins to his name. Another balanced racial match-up promises to make for a fascinating contest.

Continuing with the individual ties, Lycos of the ‘ECBBL Blackshirts’ (England) vs. MrNuffle of ‘Team CBBA’ (Denmark) promises to be one for the fans. Our former President is the man most responsible for there being a NAF able to support an event the size of the Lucca World Cup, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for the hours upon hours he has spent doing NAF work without ever once asking for thanks or acknowledgement. MrNuffle is the National Tournament Coordinator for Denmark, and has done a superb job supporting Blood Bowl in that country. The eight teams Denmark has sent to Lucca is testament to this. Two fine gentlemen, two great characters and Wood Elves versus Humans should be a great match!

Another tie that catches the attention is KFoged against Barney_the_lurker. KFoged is one of Denmark’s finest and a titan of FUMBBL. Barney is a criminally underrated coach from the Waterbowl stable who always raises his game against the top coaches. Every chance of a classic here! Both are playing for part Danish, part English teams to add another little bit of spice to the mix.

Best of luck to everyone taking part.
Joe

The full Round One draw can be seen here : Round 1 draw

Lutecebowl XI – 14th & 15th June 2014, France

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.

En route!

En route!

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.

Team Logos.

Team Logos.

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.

The venue.

The venue.

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.

Beautiful location.

Beautiful location.

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!

Danish Open 2014 – Copenhagen

What is this, actual content? Withhold your shock and confusementations, at least until we can conclude that it qualifies as such.

I was pretty excited earlier this year when I realised that I was soon to hit the 100 NAF tournaments mark, and that events number 99 and 100 would be the back-to-back foreign trips to the Danish Open in Copenhagen and the Lutece team tournament in rural France.

So first to Denmark. I’d been to this event once before in 2012, and have hugely fond memories of it as one of my favourite tournament experiences ever. There is something extra special about the foreign Blood Bowl trip, as all the best parts of any event are pushed to the fore. The best bits in question for me being the time spent away from the pitch enjoying the company of friends. There is a real sense of camaraderie when you travel abroad with a group of guys to play silly nerd games, and some of my strongest friendships in the game were forged in the crucible of spending stupid amounts of money and holiday allowance on Blood Bowl. The first time we visited Copenhagen was particularly special as not only is Copenhagen a beautiful city full of beautiful people, but the weather that weekend was absolutely magnificent. We had a full day on the Friday before the tournament that year to see Copenhagen, and our very own tour guide, the unspeakably generous and welcoming Truls (MissSweden), spent all day showing us the sights.

Our 2014 trip was to be a more surgical affair, flying in on the Friday evening and back again on the Sunday. But regular travelers Paul (Geggster), Phil (Purplegoo) and myself were joined by World Cup winner Alex (Leipziger) and freshly-minted NAF Champ and international dance sensation Andrew (The Sizzler). Truls was again our host, and somehow surpassed his own reputation for hosting skill by cooking pizzas from scratch for eight nerds on the Friday.

The event itself was as well run as before, with Lars (MrNuffle) in charge this time. Lars has the equivalent NAF staff role as myself but for Denmark, and his range of tupperware for storing and organising NAF membership gifts put me to shame. I was too embarrassed even to take a photo, but it was quite the sight to behold. I do not intend to use this blog to list details of all my games and all the dice rolls made, as this soon descends into bleating. I will try to dip into the occasional game where an interesting event occurs, however. But in brief: I chose to use Dark Elves for further practice, as I’d been alloted the race for the upcoming Eurobowl in Belgium. I had five horrible games, only to have all the luck in the final game when I didn’t want it against former Danish Eurobowl captain Thorbjørn (Topper).  The eventual tournament winner was Purplegoo, who faced off with his Eurobowl captaincy counterpart Nicolai (Tripleskull) for the marbles in round 6, emerging victorious with his Humans. Off-board moments of note include The Sizzler adding another notch to the bedpost that is his reputation by going without sleep entirely between the Saturday and Sunday of the tournament.

Final record: 3/2/1.

I cannot recommend the Danish Open enough to those considering a foreign trip (or Danes who have missed out until now). The Danes are to a man friendly, welcoming and generous and there is always great fun to be had on the nights out.

Did You Know…?

“Who are you and why ams you blogging about Blood Bowl?” is a question unlikely to have been asked about the author of an unknown and unpublicised blog. But still, below you will find an attempt to answer this question. Will it be accurate the day after I write it? Was it even true then? Is personality merely a narrative conceit to validate our successes and excuse our failures? None of those answers lie below unfortunately.

I started playing Games Workshop games as a kid, after seeing a copy of White Dwarf at my local newsagent. In hindsight I have always been interested in fantasy and sci-fi stuff, but perhaps this moment was the fork in the road that sent me compliantly down the path to Nerd Town. Perhaps there was a more fundamental moment in my social ruination, or maybe it was fate. Actually it was Transformers comics wasn’t it? Marvel UK rocked. Asides aside: I still remember the physical sense of excitement and wonder as I flicked through pages describing the creatures and worlds of Warhammer. Using bloody numbers!

I was a gamer from the start, and the ordered nature of gaming rules appealed to my nature as much as the flights of imagination, battle reports being a particular favourite. The desire to reduce complex events to an understandable pattern is central to the nerd genome I suppose. I ran my sticky fingers through a few precious issues of White Dwarf, but could not afford to buy one to keep for my very own. But one day when I was ill and missing school my mother took me to the newsagent in my pyjamas and told me I could have any magazine I wanted. The latest issue of White Dwarf was my instant choice, and I was hooked. From then on birthdays and Christmas lists were filled only with GW products, and as this was the period when GW created new ‘specialist games’ on a regular basis, Blood Bowl was added to my Warhammer and 40K collection in 1993.

Living in a small town in backwards Lincolnshire, opponents were always hard to come by and I was limited to the occasional game in Games Workshop stores miles from my house. I was already in love with the game though, and at 16 a gaming club sprung up in not-quite-distant Lincoln and I made the trip down by bus every Thursday evening for two years. Blood Bowl was a huge success, almost rivalling Warhammer and 40K. At this time my involvement with Blood Bowl grew: I commissioned the club league, wrote several articles for the Citadel Journal and eventually Blood Bowl Compendiums and was invited to display at Games Day. I even came up with the Snotling rules we now use as part of the official CRP.

After university I lost interest in the other GW games, but Blood Bowl was the one I kept up with. I loved the strong narrative that the sporting theme creates, and the clean and unambiguous rules make for a much more friendly experience than you get when the tape measures come out. I fed my Blood Bowl habit with online play-by-email leagues whist without tabletop opponents. I played just two tournaments in 2005, but after a 3-year gap caught the NAF bug properly in 2008 and haven’t looked back. I’ve now played nearly 600 NAF-ranked games, met a whole bunch of people from around the world and made some great friends who I see and speak to outside of the game on a regular basis.

I’ve travelled to Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Austria to play Blood Bowl. I am currently the NAF rep for the UK and last year I took over the organisation of The NAF Championship, the UK major that replaced The Blood Bowl. I’ve won the Eurobowl twice with England (in 2010 and 2013). In 2011 I won the Dungeonbowl major individually and the World Cup with Team Waterbowl, and became the #1 NAF ranked coach, a position I held for over two years. I also think I hold the record for most consecutive NAF ranked games undefeated (36). I have a FUMBBL account under the same name that I use sporadically.

I play my league Blood Bowl every week in London’s ECBBL alongside such NAF luminaries as Lycos and Geggster. The league has been going strong for over twenty seasons, and is always welcoming to new coaches of all abilities. We play together every Tuesday in the upstairs of a pub on Great Portland Street, and it makes for a great social occasion. I sometimes pop down for a drink even if I don’t have a game. #bantz

So you can see that Blood Bowl is huge part of my life! I hope that this blog is of interest to coaches both rookie and star player.

Pre-Blog Sequence

Hello and welcome!

My name is Joemanji (or Joe Hainstock to my mother) and this will hopefully be a regular blog about all things Blood Bowl. Or at least the bits I am interested in, as I am much more a gamer than a painter. I have a great admiration for the more artistic sides of the hobby, by my talents lie elsewhere. I hope to fill these pages with a thrilling mix of tactics, opinion and reports of the actual Blood Bowl I involve myself in both online and whilst visiting the frightening dimension known as ‘real life’.