A Gravedigger’s Handbook, #6: Scoring
by Alex Botts ·
This articles series is meant to provide tips and tricks for intermediate Guild Ball Morticians players who have a grasp on the basics of their faction but want to take their play to a higher level.
Scoring is a vital part of playing Guild Ball to win. Some teams are geared towards winning almost entirely through scoring, but even teams that are focused on take-outs should always be looking for scoring opportunities that present themselves during a game. I think the strongest way to play even a Butchers team is with a clear interest in 4 take-outs / 1 goal victory, or even a 2/2 victory. The extra influence, resource efficiency, and huge score swing that scoring brings makes it definitely the more desirable way to score VPs., If it weren’t for the unreliability of a shot on goal, constantly going for the ball would be a no-brainer for every team.
So where do Morticians end up, scoring-wise? It’s common knowledge that Morticians are a “mixed” scoring team, meaning their compositions tend to naturally push them towards a 4/1 or 2/2 victory condition. Some characteristics of the Dustmen make scoring a naturally attractive option, but there are also some parts of our team that make scoring more risky for us than for other teams, and being cognizant of these risks is necessary to scoring efficiently and safely. This article intends to outline the Mortician’s relationship to scoring, and then to give you some tips and tricks to up your scoring game!
Why We Score, Why We Can, and Why It’s Tough
Scoring is Good
The Morticians have a suite of tools that make scoring a very attractive option. One of the best traits of our guild is our ability to control the layout of the pitch, forcing our opponents into tight, restricted spots while we reposition to deny movement and attack. This plays nicely against a common problem for slower, lower-defense teams when they try to score: overextension. Where a scoring Brewer might immediately get deleted by the opposition, a scoring Mortician (or the honorary Mortician, Mist) is fairly likely to survive or escape retaliation, and even have a chance to get back into cover or behind one of our tanks and set up to score again. I’ve found that, against slower teams, Morticians easily push the action onto the opponent’s side of the field, pressuring a goal and keeping strikers safe.
Another reason we like goal scoring is the natural cadence of our take-out game. Morticians can brawl with the best of them, but we tend to take longer to take-out a single player than some of the other guilds, often spreading out damage to multiple targets at once and slow-rolling them out of the game. We also need to choose targets more carefully than, say, Butchers, since three of our heaviest hitters, Obulus, Scalpel, and Rage, all rely on multiple, smaller-damage attacks to deal damage, which is a strategy more susceptible to both Tough Hide and Counterattacks than single, huge damage bursts. What both of these traits mean is that, for Morticians, the take-outs tend to come in bursts: first we move the game around to make weak targets more vulnerable, then we take multiple people out at once, then we reposition and realign the board to take out those same targets again as they stream back onto the pitch. Though we’re consistently outputting damage, our take-outs have lulls between them. A scoring threat makes those lulls dangerous for the opposition, since not only does the opponent have to allocate resources to block a goal or take revenge on a striker (therefore not spending them on healing, defending against attack, or repositioning safely), but it also allows us to “burst” victory points onto the field. It doesn’t matter if the opponent would use returning players to take back the game if you just went from 4 VPs to 12 VPs in 4 activations, or 6 VPs to 12 in 1 activation!
Scoring is Easy
Mist is one of the best strikers in the game. Obulus has one of the longest (but also most expensive) threat ranges in the game. Scalpel can reposition multiple enemies in an activation, sometimes dramatically, and is extremely fast herself. Bonesaw moves the ball around with incredible efficiency. Silence’s playstyle keeps him in the center, babysitting the ball. All of these things make Morticians a strong and unpredictable scoring team. We tend to come in from unexpected angles, screw up the enemy’s defenses, and toss in a goal. Then we get the hell out of there.
In particular, our ability to reposition the enemy team is unique among the guilds, and should never be underestimated. Math that would initially not favor us is suddenly changed if we can move the enemy goalkeeper more than 4″ away from their goal, or circumvent a crowding-out penalty, or overcome a movement debuff. We also, of course, have Puppet Master with Obulus, meaning we can get the ball when it might otherwise appear safely out of our reach (though I think you’ll find that as your opponents become more wary of our tricks, they will stop ever leaving the ball snapped to one of their players while Obulus is within 16″ of them). Finally, one of our biggest scoring strengths is that we don’t need to score, and we certainly don’t need to score right now. If the enemy “kills” the ball, that is drops it in the middle of nowhere, you’ll just shrug, come up with a plan for grabbing it next turn, and ram Ghast down somebody’s throat.
Ballin’ is Hard
We’re good at scoring, but we’re bad with the ball. That might be a bit counterintuitive, but I think it’s the best description of the Mortician’s ball game I can come up with. We have kicking stars in Mist, Bonesaw, and Scalpel, but the rest of our team suffers from pretty mediocre kick stats, and we have no native 4-dice kicks anywhere in faction or Union. Even our one chance for 4 dice pre-Bonus Time is in Silence, one of our least mobile players, who also has to be near the bird. To illustrate this dichotomy, consider a common situation: A Morticians team receives the ball, and gets a nice line-up where Mist is going to be at the end of the passing chain, dodge forward into cover, and pop in a turn-1 goal. Easy money, except for when Obulus fumbles the ball passing to Rage, Dirge has to go collect it and drop it next to somebody, then Ghast trips over himself trying to get out of the dogpile the Morticians team has turned into, 0.5 inches outside of deployment. Not a good look.
Another issue we have is what I call “slingshot goals.” Morticians have no goalkeeper, and other than parking a mascot in front of the goal we don’t really have anyone that wants to hang far enough back to block shots. Also, without the ball, our bruisers are fairly slow, and can get outpaced or outmaneuvered by most strikers with easy dodges–Flint, Mist, Friday, Brisket, and of course Shark are good examples of people we might have trouble keeping in check once they grab the ball. A slingshot goal is when, an activation or two after one team scores, the other team scores with trivial effort. This often happens because of the free ball reposition that is the goal kick, and the likelihood that there’s at least 1 unengaged character on the enemy team. Morticians push fast and hard, and I think we’re at our strongest when we’re overwhelming the other side of the pitch, but that also means our side is fairly empty. We often don’t have to work as hard to find an avenue to the enemy goal, but that also means we don’t defend our goal as well as most teams. A trade of goals is only good if you’re already in the lead, and sometimes even then you don’t want to let your opponent approach the 12-VP mark, even if it means keeping yourself lower for longer.
Tips and Tricks
With all this in mind, here are some ideas for scoring safely, reliably, and without fear of retaliation.
- Bonus Time, every time. Seriously! With no good access to a natural 4-die pool for a kick, Mist, Bonesaw, Scalpel, and especially Obulus should always be Bonus Timing their shots. Goals are a good way to generate VPs, but they are expensive, and a missed goal might not only lose you the potential points, but also put the ball in an unrecoverable location. You need these things to land, so don’t gamble if you can help it at all.
- Go slow, and eliminate as many penalties as possible. As with above, our naturally-low dice pools compared to even the Butchers(!) mean we need everything set up nicely. You have either Puppet Master or Voodoo Strings + Scalpel’s playbook, use them to get that goalkeeper out of the way. Mist especially should always be able to find a clean shot if he can be given the ball. I’d rather wait an extra activation to get an extra die than take a 1- or 2-dice shot.
- Control their strikers before you take a shot. Slingshot goals are a serious problem. Knockdown, engage, Heavy Burden, whatever you have needs to go on Flint or Angel or whoever before you take a shot. This also makes it harder for the enemy to recover the ball from a bad scatter on the goal kick, which might mean you can scoop up the ball again.
- Use the ball as much as you can. The repositioning power of the ball can help you win fights, change the arrangement of the board, and save players from certain death. Your mileage with this tip will vary heavily with team composition, as a Morticians lineup can have serious kicking issues. But if you have Bonesaw or Graves on the pitch, or Silence in a good spot, passing the ball around is a huge boon and shouldn’t be wasted.
- Don’t worry about snapping/unsnapping to get the ball to your striker. This doesn’t generate momentum, but it is free, and way, way,
- way more reliable than having Ghast, Fangtooth, Dirge, or even Obulus pass it around. You have plenty of ways to generate a couple momentum for a shot + BT, and while this is not as useful for positioning in a fight, most of the time a Morticians team will be so far afield that your striker won’t need the 4″ dodge after the first or second turn to score. Dirge is particularly useful for this, since with the 1″ snap/unsnap range, even a jogging Dirge can start with the ball and put it in Mist’s hands from 11.1″ away.
- Score late. This goes along with the previous point. The later in the turn you score, the less likely a slingshot goal is, and the less likely the opponent has enough activations to safely grab and keep the ball before you get to it. Even if you have the ball in a great spot first or second activation of a turn, an early goal might actually give control of the game to the enemy, so you’d be better off passing it around and scoring late. In a pinch, Puppet Master is great for moving the ball around without using up Mist or Bonesaw’s precious activations till later in the turn.
- After a score, reposition to grab the ball. If the opponent has an open player, or a striker that isn’t engaged, spend the goal momentum to move your scorer closer to that flank, keeping the pressure on and making your opponent think twice about where that goal kick will go. This is easier with Scalpel, whose Second Wind is wonderful after a shot on goal, either from herself or one of the strikers.
- Score to win. If you can hold the ball till you have 8 points, a shot to win is safer than a shot to open the game.
Not everybody plays Morticians as a mixed-VP team, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to go for 5/6 take-outs. But I do think, in the long run, a mixed-threat team is simply more versatile, and much more likely to consistently do well against all types of opponents. The key with Morticians, of course, is to strike decisively and deny retaliation, and overcome our middling stats with clever play.
P.S.: Something I didn’t quite get to in my initial review of Scalpel is what I think of as her “activation pressure.” Tormented Agony puts a lot of pressure on opponents to do their big activations earlier in the turn, before Scalpel can nullify or ruin them by moving influence around to less-important characters. What this means for Scalpel is that enemy threat ranges are extremely important, since there are a lot of times in a game where an important character might be about to do a ton of work, but need to get closer in order to do it, and so wants to activate later to get speed buffs or have the ball passed to them. Tapper is a great example of this: Often times Tapper will want to charge in, put up Commanding Aura, smack people, and set the rest of his team up for the turn. But in order to do that, or at the very least in order to do it to a good target, Tapper may need to close the gap, since his natural threat range is not super high. Tapper will want to wait until somebody passes him a ball, or until Spigot pops his Heroic Play, or until Stave knocks somebody closer to Tapper. But every activation that has to happen before Tapper goes is another chance for Scalpel to run in and move all or some of Tapper’s Influence to somebody else. All of this pressure is of course before we even consider what Silence might be doing to the opponent’s activations! What Scalpel’s activation pressure means is that careful positioning on the Scalpel player’s part puts a lot of the opponent’s best players in a trap that dramatically limits their flexibility and ability to plan.
This idea applies nicely to the topic of scoring, since Scalpel’s pressure is particularly effective against strikers. Strikers tend to need a very specific amount of Influence to go score—1 for the shot, and however many it takes to get just within range of the goal, plus maybe an influence to tackle—and rarely get more than they need. Their Influence use is also generally more binary: either they have enough to score or they don’t and aren’t doing a ton else. This means losing a single Influence can be big. Contrast this to a beater: Gutter with 4 Influence might want to pull somebody in and swing 3 times, but Gutter with 3 Influence can still pull somebody in and swing 2 times. Plus, strikers need Momentum to score, and often rely on other players to generate that Momentum. When Scalpel is within charge or sprint/pull range of a striker, then, she is pressuring that striker to go early, since if she strips the striker’s influence it won’t be able to do its job, but she’s also pressuring other players to activate to generate momentum for the striker, possibly making for inefficient activations early in the turn to assure a scoring threat. Finally, the striker going first, even if it scores, might be a huge opportunity for Scalpel’s team to make a slingshot goal, since a large portion of the Morticians team will not have activated yet. This is something I consider unique about Scalpel: Despite not being or having a goalie, Scalpel makes for a game environment that is scoring-friendly for her team, but pressures the enemy out of scoring safely and efficiently.
Alex Botts is a tabletop gaming enthusiast who mostly plays Guild Ball (Morticians) and Warmachine/Hordes (Protectorate). He likes miniatures, strategy games, and long campaigns on the beach. He's also Head Editor for Chicago Megagames and would love to talk to you about any of the above!
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