Initial stats and skill set
These guys are easy to overlook in the first instance for the more expensive/juicier/more bizarre elements of the Dark Elf team. Don’t. They’re one of your fastest players, and although they only come with the ‘standard’ strength and agility, with light armour, that statline is still extremely good for a player who shouldn’t be on your Line of Scrimmage.
Another reason you may overlook their presence initially is the ‘unusual’ skill they begin with. Dump-Off is not a skill you see making its presence felt much in many developed teams. Personally I find this quite strange, even though I’ve been guilty of it myself. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to pass the ball when your opponent throws a block at your ball carrier??? After all, they can only blitz once and therefore so long as you make sure you have a player nearby to make the pass to who isn’t marked then you have a really good chance of having your ball carrier still with the ball and on their feet at the start of your turn.
Defensively this player is fairly limited, they have no blocking skills, nor do they have the safety net of good armour to protect them when they do get hit. However, they do have two big advantages in a defensive situation, and that’s good agility and the Dump-Off skill.
By way of explanation, if you are facing a caging team, your most crucial advantage is the ability to stall a cage as long as possible. You really need to limit how far that cage can move each turn and that means you will need to be able to dodge away from tackle zones. AG4 players really don’t worry about making that roll, and so you can happily limit a cage to 1 square of movement per turn just by dodging away and recycling your defensive screen. Whilst runners aren’t the ideal player to have lining up against that cage due to their lower armour, they still perform well.
The second defensive advantage is their ball carrying skill. If the ball does come free in your half, the runner is the perfect player to retrieve it – Dump-Off is an asset on both offense and defence, as it really keeps the ball away from your opponent. They also have access to the superb Hail Mary Pass, which is the most frustrating of skills for those teams with limited mobility, as they will often have spent many turns slogging the ball into your half only to watch it spill free and your Runner hurl it up to the other end.
Offensively this player is really suited to carrying the ball through a screen into your opponent’s half ready to either burst free and score or pass it to another player who could do with the star player points.
He’s one of the fastest players on your team (though you’re not short on MA7 players) and his lack of overtly aggressive skills (such as those exhibited by the Blitzer and Witch Elf) mean that they aren’t suited to being the ‘killer’ type of player favoured by many teams. Their greatest asset in terms of offensive abilities however is without doubt the access they have to the passing skillset. For an agility team, the Dark Elves aren’t suited to passing the ball initially, and so their offense can be limited to running plays with only short passes or hand-offs to move the ball around. The Runner is therefore a crucial ingredient in a less predictable Dark Elf offense, and skills such as Nerves of Steel and, Pass, Accurate and Leader can make a huge difference in keeping your opponent guessing.
To me, the classic Runner development path is the ball handler. I’d personally look to develop two along very similar lines allowing you to use them in tandem to really frustrate your opponent. After that, I’d look to have a support player who involves themselves in defence more, let’s call them the sweeper. You could certainly develop the runner into a classic style receiver, but I think doing that actually detracts from their particular assets – nonetheless I’ll describe that path as well.
1. Nerves of Steel – absolutely essential, once you have two of these, you can move them around together with the ball and never worry about tackle zones making those Dump-Off passes more difficult.
2. Sure Hands – crucial. This guy is usually going to be running with the ball not throwing it, so take sure hands to make sure no-one steals it off you!
3. Side Step – not the most obvious of skills perhaps, but if you can manoeuvre your ball handler into a position where they have support then it’s definitely worth taking.
4. Dodge – possibly not essential due to the innate agility of Elves, but never a bad option.
5. Pass – Once you’ve got Nerves of Steel, Pass should ensure you almost never ditch the ball when you do have to throw it.
6. Sure Feet – MA7 is nice, a reliable way of getting to MA9 is better.
Double – Juggernaut, Stand Firm or Thick Skull, but to be honest I probably wouldn’t use a double on these guys.
1. Nerves of Steel – not actually a sweeper skill, but it’s the first skill I would ever give to a Runner
2. Sure Hands – this is more of a sweeper skill for this player, as retrieval of the ball is an important part of their role, and it’s eminently possible that there may be tackle zones on that square.
3. Accurate – you do not want the ball in your half and therefore I’d be sorely tempted (depending on the opponent of course) to get rid to you furthest advanced player as soon as you can.
4. Pass – similar to the above, this just improves your reliability at clearing your lines.
5. Hail Mary Pass – you don’t see it much, but how many times have you just wanted to get rid and your best placed receiver is just that bit too far away?
6. Safe Throw – gives you a more than decent chance to stop interceptions.
Double – Strong Arm – again it improves your chances of passing well.
1. Catch – a reroll for AG4? Yes please!
2. Dodge – you may very well find a traditional receiver is marked up at the start of your turn, and despite your high agility, re-rolls are never a bad idea!
3. Block – best skill around for keeping receivers on their feet.
4. Diving catch – combines pretty nicely actually with desperate passes, meaning you can attempt the improbable with a higher likelihood of success.
5. Sprint – if there’s one thing that receivers want in spades it’s pace (just ask anyone who’s faced Gutter Runners).
6. Sure Feet – have you ever failed a Go For It only to fall down into the end zone? I have, and it’s not fun. Sure Feet!
Double – probably Thick Skull actually. I pondered Stand Firm but decided you might as well save yourself some TV and choose Side Step if you want that capability.
Personally I think the Runners are the stars of the Dark Elf team, and they’re certainly the players who best typify the reason why they’re considered to be a defensive team. They’re a great spoiler type of player who can be designed to be really frustrating to play against. I’ve avoided using Block in most of my development paths for them, though I’d never criticise anyone for choosing that skill early (nor dodge for that matter). This is because I think their spoiler tendencies don’t actually require them to be on their feet, and sometimes having block will dissuade your opponent from hitting them, instead focussing on just clogging up the pitch around them. By not taking block, you encourage the hit and therefore the chance to use the Dump-Off skill to mess with their minds (which, let’s face it, is why you like playing Dark Elves).
I’d always look to have two Runners in my team, operating in concert with each other to constantly shift the point of attack against my opponent and pounce if they make any mistakes when I’m defending.