Blood Bowl – Tournament Report: The Waterbowl Weekender

The Waterbowl Weekender is one of the UK’s biggest annual Blood Bowl Tournaments, consistently seeing well over 100 attendees, and returned this year for its 19th(!) outing.  I had a great time when I attended for the first time in 2022, and was very excited to be heading back up to Element Games in (rainy) Stockport again this year.

Rules Pack and Team Selection

Skill pack options for Waterbowl

Waterbowl has had a fairly consistent rules pack over the years, tending to be at the more conservative end of the spectrum, with few skills and no tiers, while also offering a couple of oddball options like stat increases.  This years’ pack had a bigger variation in that Star Players were allowed.  Any team could take one star, while Stunty teams were allowed up to two; but the Games Workshop Mega Star list was banned.  All teams had 1.15m Gold to build their rosters.

Lately I’ve been picking my rosters less on competitive terms and more to try and play teams I have never played before.  With a few Stunty teams on my hobby mat this looked like a good opportunity to give one a spin.  I settled on Halflings, as I had in mind a couple of strong stars that dodged the Mega Star ban.  The first was The Mighty Zug.  A great value pseudo-Big Guy, Zug gives the flings some more damage power, and with slightly more mobility than a tree.  The second was Karla Von Kill, another cheap piece with huge upside, a ST4 Blodger who would be my primary ball carrier.

Backing these two up would be my final inducement, the Halfling Master Chef.  This is a killer versus Re-roll hungry teams like Vampires, and helps to shore up my own Reroll-lean roster.  My skill choices leant into the fouling game and my one-turn-score potential, with two Sneaky Gits, A Sure Feet Catcher, and a +MA Catcher.  Finally I took a Block Tree and a Grab tree.  The latter is great for positioning opponents for fouls, and also for keeping opponents close if it Takes Root.


The Field

The Waterbowl field

Ultimately 115 coaches made the event, including a good few of the country’s elite coaches, and several members of the recently announced Team England Eurobowl and Europen squads, who will be heading to Athens later this year.  We also had a huge number of elite visitors from Europe and beyond, including big names from both the Tournament and online scene like Jokaero, Siggi, and Candlejack.

In terms of team breakdown the most popular were Underworld (14), Amazons (13), Shambling Undead (10), Lizardmen (9), and Skaven (8), all some way ahead of the rest.  I was told by the organisers that approximately 80% of coaches had brought a Star.   In summary, it was an extremely strong competitive environment both in team selection and quality of coaches.

Game 1

The tournament gets underway!

My first game was against a name I had seen many times across the tourney circuit but never played; Eldritchfox.  He had brought Vampires accompanied by Ivan “The Animal” Deathshroud.  I was excited to be playing against a team I love thematically and mechanically, but knew he had many ways to disrupt my plays and best players.  Sadly one of my best methods of disrupting his, the Chef, failed to steal any Re-rolls on the first drive.

I received the ball, picked up with Karla, and tried unsuccessfully to get the pain train rolling.  What I had not counted on was an absolutely spectacular counter-punch, but sadly that was what I got, as my Block Tree was hypno’ed, blocked down, and then fouled into the casualty box on turn 2.  The very next turn, Ivan found a Blitz on Zug and used his special ability to break armour, KO’ing him.

As my drive disintegrated and Oli swarmed my cage, I spotted a chance to break away with my MA6 Catcher.  With deceptive speed he hurtled toward the endzone, but could not get quite far enough away; the Vamps were able to take him down, stun him, and the ball scattered into the endzone next to a Thrall.  I still had a chance with Karla, who dodged out, blitzed the Thrall away, and just needed a 3+ pickup for the score; agonisingly she failed, scattering the ball up the pitch.  For her sins, she was surfed into a KO next turn, and the Vamps were able to pick up the ball and score to close out the half.

Karla did not return for the second half, and it was mostly a procession for the Vamps, who were quickly able to get into a stalling position and chose perfectly reasonably to take the easy 2-0 win.  Not a great start, with me losing two key pieces by T3 and not at all playing the game I was planning.  But Oli was a lovely opponent and I was happy with how I played, if not the dice.

Game 2

My second game was against Mr Waterbowl himself, Alex Wormall, aka Leipziger, who has run the tourney for its entire storied history.  He was in the rare position of being able to play some games himself this year, but despite the fact he is a lovely man I was not looking forward to playing his team, which was Deathroller Dwarves.  All that Tackle had me worried, but the game did not have any of the early carnage of the previous game.  Nevertheless, Alex’s Deathroller proved to be an effective tool to create space for the advance of his drive, and he managed a fairly comfortable score on T8.  My Throw Team-Mate score attempt ended with a wildly inaccurate backwards lob, and with the Deathroller then thankfully sent-off, things were all to play for in the second half.

Without the roller, the Dwarves were a lot less equipped to handle my pitch control, and the second half was a relatively event-free drive in which I was able to seal the majority of Alex’s team off and push for the corner.  He recovered enough to get a base on Karla before my turn 8, but I had enough bodies to let Zug clear it with a 3D blitz leaving Karla to stroll and see the match end 1-1.  This was a pretty simple game of two halves, without any big removals on either side.  I was pretty happy in what felt like a tough matchup on paper, and Alex was lovely to chat to.

Game 3

The Halflings defend their flank

Game three saw my first game against a Star-less roster, versus NorthernKnight’s Necromantic Horror.  Knight had joined the Waterbowl league recently, having played less BB in recent years, but was a veteran of the game who had played in many previous Waterbowls.  The Necro had all their best positionals, including Block and Mighty Blow Wolves, and double Guard Wraiths, which I knew had potential to be hugely problematic.

I won the toss, and with Pouring Rain weather, elected to kick to my opponent hoping that the rain would cause him some problems.  Sadly one of his Ghouls scooped the ball up without issue, and with my Trees proving to be a major problem for him in the centre, his drive started to head toward my right flank.  I was able to close off the sideline and get the Trees and Zug to seal off middle, and NK suddenly found himself with not much pitch and a bit of trouble.  Ultimately, he was forced to try to dodge through my lines with a Ghoul but didn’t make it.  The ball scattered near my endzone, and Karla made the 4+ pickup in the rain.  I was able to hunker down and see out the half while doing a little damage too.

In the second half my dice got really hot and I started to remove his players.  The trees completely shut down his Golems while the rest of my team bashed and fouled when they could.  Ultimately it was something of a procession that delivered Karla to the endzone and I was relieved to find a stress-free first win of the tournament to close out the day.

While I was 1-1-1, the table at end of day 3 was topped by nine players on three wins apiece, with Kuei-Jin’s Amazons leading a pack of four Underworld teams.

Game 4

Facing down Purplegoo’s Zons

I was very happy to be playing the previous Waterbowl champ (and excellent human being) Purplegoo in round 4, who was slumming it in the mid tables with his Amazons (and Dribl and Drull) after a tough day 1.  He was not at all happy to be playing me as he knew what kind of game was coming his way.  And so it turned out, with me finding the hottest dice of the tourney so far and doing damage early and often throughout.  A Guard Blocker and Dribl both numbered among those who hit the cas box in the first half.  Despite that, Goo showed his quality on his first-half drive by picking his way through the carnage and being able to stall for the last couple of turns of the half before scoring the opener.  My TTM attempt failed, and the second half started with the flings a player or two up.

The second half consisted mainly of my Hafling bunker grinding down the field while the Amazons attempted to base it and delay it.  Unfortunately for Phil the damage continued, some of it self-inflicted as Zon dodging powers were sorely lacking.  But despite everything seemingly blowing my way, I did not push quite as hard as I should, and ended up only getting within range of the endzone with a Karla breakaway on T7.  Goo made a final heroic effort to deny me and managed to base her with two Zons and the remaining Star Drull.  Karla tried to blitz herself free but ended up nastily based and needing a 4+ 3+ for the score.  It was not to be, and we finished 0-1.  I could have no complaints, with some huge casualties going my way earlier, and knew I had made a mistake on my Turn 6 by not getting in scoring range for T7 to give myself more options.  

Game 5

Oh dear.

Sinking down the table, we found our first stunty matchup in game 5 versus CJBlackburn and his Ogres.  Chris was an experienced stunty player, and had brought a piece which was to prove a nightmare for me throughout, in the form of a Tackle Ogre.  He was also a man of great taste as he had Karla’s twin sister on his team.

I received the opening kick-off and maddeningly immediately made a big mistake by leaving Zug a little exposed after a Blitz.  Too late I realised he could be hit (and gang-fouled) but the latter was not even needed, as an Ogre blitz broke Zug’s armour and KO’ed him T1.  My drive quickly became a struggle and though the trees actually did a great job controlling the line, the Ogres started to chip Haflings off the field.  Around halfway through the drive I realised I would need to fall back on Plan B and try the TTM.  Karla handed off to a Catcher and…they dropped it.  CJ tried to surround the ball but was not able to pickup.  I managed to clear an Ogre away, pickup in a Gnoblar tackle zone, hand off to the catcher again, and this time somehow everything came off perfectly and he sailed over the Ogre lines and in for the opener.  

Zug unfortunately remained KO’ed, and all this desperate play had left the Ogres half of the half to respond, and so they did, with a Snotling catching a hand-off in two tackle zones and then wriggling his way through my lines for the equaliser on T8.  None of my KO’s came back so I started the second half with only nine players.  Things quickly became very desperate, with me reduced to using Halfings as missiles to disrupt the Ogre bunker, while the Trees rooted in glorious isolation. Karla was ultimately fouled into the KO box and the Ogres walked in the score on their Turn 8.  My TTM attempt floundered on another failed hand-off catch, and the final score remained 1-2.  Chris was definitely better prepared for and more experienced in this kind of matchup than I was, but I felt a little frustrated both with my own play and some disappointing dice.

Game 6

Zug in his usual position

Games 6 was against another name I had seen many times at tourneys but never met in the flesh, in the shape of Padster, who had brought Undead (with Ivan).  I won the toss and elected to receive, so that I would get the first hits in.  I cleared a zombie from the LOS but nothing else, and in the following turns Padster chipped both my Sneaky Git flings off in quick succession.  He threw a fair number of bodies forward to pressure me, and ultimately I found an opportunity to switch to the right flank and made a break for it, sealing the edge with a tree and Zug.  Paddy recovered as best he could, and ultimately Karla ended up within range of the endzone but based by a Mummy.  Like the absolute champ she is, her special super-Dauntless ability came through on the Blitz, and she 2-diced the mummy down and made a Rush to score.

Unfortunately the second half was a familiar scenario, with the Undead damage quickly piling up and the Trees rooting far beyond the action.  Whilst we did ultimately (and satisfyingly) kill Ivan, we also found ourselves with only two flings left on turn 6.  I realised I needed to conserve resources for a TTM attempt, so the survivors bravely ran away and let Padster walk it in on his T8.  The TTM was a valiant effort in which everything went right until the penultimate hurdle, and we finished with what was a very fair 1-1 draw.  Ivan, and Padster’s Mighty Blow Wight, were a nightmare for my poor Flings, and though I was pretty happy at how my trees kept his Mummies in check, we couldn’t outpace the Undead damage without the bodies and Gits for effective fouling.

The Winners

The Waterbowl Top 10

The overall champion was Hankok, who rose above a sea of Underworld and Amazons to snatch the title with Shambling Undead (and Ivan), posting an unmatched 5W and 1D record.  We’ll be posting an interview with Hankok in the near-future to get his thoughts on the tournament.  Runner-up was Vagabond with Dark Elves.  Stunty Champ was the legendary Volkajo with his Snotlings.

Overall Thoughts

Waterbowl Round 6 in all its glory, pic courtesy of Rob Balmforth.

I finished 1W 2D 3L, which was my second-worst tourney ever, but I was not too unhappy for my first Tier 3 outing over six games.  The tournament meta was so filthy that whilst I had brought a gun of sorts, it was clearly a pea-shooter rather than a six-shooter.  I definitely made a couple of mistakes that let Zug get hit early and was punished harshly each time.  But in general I really enjoyed playing the team and I think the roster would be very strong in any environment where the T1 and 2 teams could not also take stars.  It almost certainly wants at least one more Halfling on board, as I was very often short-handed, but this was an especially brutal meta.  I had a decent range of variance on the Master Chef rolls, but I don’t think Re-rolls were a major issue for the team, because the failure points were often 3+ rolls with inbuilt rerolls (Dodges and Catches) anyway.  It was certainly impactful in limiting opponents.

It’s not possible to talk about this Waterbowl without touching on the Star issue, because it completely changed the character of the event.  I spoke to a great many coaches over the weekend and there was universal agreement that allowing traditional Tier 1 and 2 teams to have stars was not something that anyone wanted.  The incredible strength of the various Underworld Star builds, and Amazons with Dribl and Drull, was self-evident, and showed that the rules pack had caused two of the best teams in the game to pull even further ahead of most of their peers.  I know that Alex has already taken this on board and next year’s Waterbowl will have a different approach.

Overall, Waterbowl is a brilliantly run event at a brilliant venue in a thriving Blood Bowl community, and I would recommend it to anyone.  A huge thanks to Alex and all of the supporting staff on the tourney team and at Element Games who made it so easy and enjoyable; to my opponents, who were universally great people and a pleasure to play; and to everyone else I spoke to and who we shared beers with afterward.  The camaraderie around the tables was brilliant and remains one of the best things about Blood Bowl.

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