The SUBBUTEO technical page
It's all nice and cool to know how to flick and shoot but it does not do you any good if you have zero strategy. Not talking about Napoleonic strategy here but just the basics to get the job done and not look like a total fool. Mind you I am still a beginner but I am learning from the masters of the game.
This is what you really have to focus on when you are beginning to avoid getting creamed on a regular basis. You need to start with a good formation. You are not gonna be using the famed 4-4-2 here but rather a good conservative 7-3-0 (or something like that).
|This is the classic 7-3-0 formation. The 3 midfielders are the primary blockers. The 2 wingers are the secondary blockers. The middle line should not be moved unless it is necessary (trust your instincts).|
You should block preferably with your 3 midfielders. It is often a good idea to reposition your midfielders after losing possession but you do not have to. If you are the dare-devil kind, you could just apply a pressing up high and try to block your opponent right away (in the hope of regaining possession quickly). Some say the better defense is the attack, it's probably true when you have gained a certain level of experience. For a beginner, it is best to let the attacker play and use your blocking flicks for repositioning. Once you are happy with your positioning, you can be more agressive and block more aggressively. When repositioning your players toward the back, it is often easier to just flick them toward the back line but on the side without being afraid of hitting the fence, this way, the likelihood of hitting another player is slim and you eliminate the possibility of a "back" call and the player will end up somewhere where he can be useful (that is somewhere near the back line even if out the playing field). Another advantage of having a player leaving the playing surface and hitting the fence is that the play is supposed to be paused (after ball has stopped moving) to allow for the repositioning of the player on the playing surface, meaning, you can use it to break down a fast attack (don't abuse this tactic though because it's kinda weak).
According to the FISTF rules, the flick to block should be made AFTER the attacker's player hits the ball. This is important to remember since if the attacker misses the ball and you launch a block too early, you will miss your turn. You are not supposed to touch a moving ball when doing the block but a moving ball touching a player you just flicked for blocking purposes is a good way to defend against the long ball (assuming the player has stopped moving when the ball comes its way), so keep that in mind. Blocking somewhere in the path of a moving ball can be a good thing!
Very often, you will find yourself being attacked on the sides. That's quite natural because with the 7-3-0 formation, there are gaps on the 2 sides but no gap (yet) in the middle. Obviously, you will have to use the winger in addition to the midfielders for blocking duty. A skilled attacking player will try to draw your defenders away from their positions and create gaps in your defense, so be focused and keep that middle backline intact. Obviously, if the attack has a possible clear path to goal that can be obstructed only by moving a middle defender, then you better do it, but just make sure you reposition your players at some point.
When you block, there is always the question of which player to use assuming you have a choice. You really do not want to move a player that is already marking a dangerously positioned player since that would really defeat the purpose. It also depends on how easy the flick is gonna be for you. So please remember that the player to use for blocking is not necessarily the one closest to the ball. You have to think a little bit ahead. Note that this train of thought also applies to picking a player when taking a flick-in or a free kick (you need to take a couple of seconds to pick the best guy for the job, for instance, a guy that is already well marked by the opposition or that is offside). Key to blocking is accuracy but it takes a while to get it right. It is a good idea to practice square and back flicking (from left or right) when standing behind your own goal. Some people even practice flicking with their left hand (assuming they are right-handed) to better block from the left (but then you have to be able to quickly switch hands on the goal-keeper's rod).
You should try to block the player that is playing the ball assuming he can still play the next flick (always count the opponent's flicks). This means skillfully flick the defender right between the player and the ball preferably towards the player. You can either block towards the player you have targeted (marking) or towards the ball itself. It is better to block toward the player rather than the ball because the block does not have to be as accurate and it is a much more effective block. This can sometimes be difficult especially if the player and the ball are close to each other. In this case, it is a good idea to block the ball instead of the player, in other words, you flick the player right in front of the ball (as opposed to between player and ball). You however do not want to do that once the ball is in the shooting zone because a player in front of the ball is useless against chipped shots and pretty much guarantees a corner kick for the opposition (if the goal is not scored). Then again, it can be better than nothing since a blocked shot (defending player stands right behind the ball) will usually come in slow, meaning it can be easy to deflect with a seeping motion as the ball rolls in. Another option is to flick a defending figure right where the attacking player is supposed to put his finger to flick the attacking figure (this may not always be possible since your opponent may keep his finger behind the player he wants to shoot with). If the player flicking the ball has flicked for the 3rd time or if he cannot be blocked (because he's too close to the ball), you should try to mark the player that is likely to be next. Always count the opposition flicks because there is nothing worse than blocking a player that's out of flicks. Well really, that's pretty much all there is to it. Remember that when defending it is a good idea to grab your keeper with your left hand (if you're righty) when things heat up.
Remember that in defense you have to be focused because against good players, you don't have much time to think and act. Skilled players can get to your shooting zone in a hurry with a couple of players on the wing and not too many flicks. You have got to see the moves coming. That and proper blocking is what takes time to master.
This section has been added to address what can be done to counter a fast-moving attacking style. More and more players use a fast attacking style to score goals. Can't really blame them because it is very effective. When a player attacks real fast (the ball barely stops), it is quite difficult to put the block between the player to be flicked and the ball. As long as the ball is still out of your own shooting zone, it is preferrable (in my opinion) to block the ball. Why? Because it will slow down the attacker. Now, as soon as the ball is shootable, it is pretty much useless to block the ball so you better focus on goal-keeping. I don't recommend this but it is sometimes necessary to use shrewdness and provoke a foul to stop the play (and get a defensive flick with the freekick to come).
Blocking the ball is a great way to slow down the game but it loses its effectiveness if the attacker has several open players to play the ball. So, it is a good idea to concentrate on marking dangerous players early in the attack (assuming you can figure out where the attack is going to develop). Marking a player means placing the block very close and hopefully on the side of the attack to come. Then, you can concentrate on blocking the ball and slowing down the game.
This added paragraph comes from a discussion with Cheadle_Athletic (thank you). It is reproduced almost as is. If you do come up against someone who plays at a faster pace than you're used to, you do have several options and several points should be remembered:
To attack well, you have to flick well. In other words, you need to be able to:
|To increase the chances of making contact with minimal ball roll, flick with the intention of hitting (softly) its side (it's called "cutting" the ball)! If you overshoot a tad, nothing real bad is going to happen. This is very forgiving until you master the art of kissing the ball.|
Once you have mastered these flicking techniques, you need to master some special scoring moves. I don't know all the moves but I am pretty sure they all involve a moving ball. The basic idea is to kick the ball and then kick it again (by the same player or another player) before it stops. If the ball enters the shooting zone, you can shoot to score. The biggest advantage is that your opponent will have a hard time blocking you properly. It is an excellent technique for scoring goals especially when it is a two player combo. With two players and the goal in sight, as an added bonus, the player that passes the ball will never be called for offside (passive offside).
|This is the killer move. Hitting a moving ball, 2 player style. It takes some skill for the passer to hit the ball with the right amount of force and for the shooter to time its run.|
Obviously, you also need to know how to shoot. Most rely on the chipping ability of the base to score. That makes sense since if you can chip past the goalkeeper, you most likely will score no matter what. Chipping is no problem when you are right behind the ball. Most bases will chip the ball in that position. Things get more difficult when you are further away from the ball (say more than an inch) and you are using high-rise bases. Depending on the base you are using, chipping away from the ball is either not so easy (you will need a minimum of practice to see what works best) or impossible (for the old style bases like the LWs). If you use pro bases (which are low-rise) and you are away from the ball, you usually need to position your flicking finger a little bit away from the base before starting the "wind-up" (try it, you'll see what I mean). If chipping is out of the question, all you can rely on is ball placement to have a chance of scoring. You should be well aware of this when you are defending and handling your keeper because what happens when you are shooting applies to your opponent as well when he/she is shooting and you're goal-keeping (adapt your goalkeeping to the chipping capabilities of your opponent).
The general strategy when attacking is to go through the wings or to try to draw the middle line out of position by hovering around the middle. You will see that most players go through the wings because it is just easier and they are quite inviting. As an attacker, you should try to mix it up and keep the defender guessing what you are gonna do next. You have to be patient. It does not hurt to do some square or back passing like in real soccer. If you don't know where to start when attacking, just carry the ball forward with 2 or 3 (3 is better than 2 since it will give you more options when you get close to the opponent's shooting line) players (without disrupting your back line) by performing short forward flicks, if possible toward one wing. It is not a good idea to go forward with a single player and rely on a long flick from the back to keep possession. Obviously, you'll have to perform more flicks this way (and allow more blocking flicks) but it will be easier on you because short-range flicks are relatively easy to accomplish.
Attacking through the middle of the back line is a little bit tricky because you need to flick the ball in between two players at one point or another. In most cases, the space between two defending figures on the back line is tight so it's kinda difficult to go that way especially if the center of the back line has not been moved. One thing you can do is to push a backline player by hitting the ball way on its side (so that it won't move much) in the direction of the targeted defending player (you have to be pretty close to the ball to attempt this though). You don't have to push the defending player much, in fact, just having your player in front of the defending player is usually all it takes to open up a possible hole. By having your own player in the back line acting as a pivot, it is much easier to flick through the holes. This tactical tidbit was brought to my attention by Mike Ewer, the founding father of the Michigan Subbuteo Club. It is actually used quite often by the top players (the european ones in particular) but it can be a little bit annoying if used too often.
When you attack in close quarters, do not wait for the defending player to make his block flick if it seems the block might get in the way of your attacking player (meaning the attacking player might bump into the blocking defending figure). No need to be nice here! If the blocker and the attacker collide before the attacker hits the ball, it's always gonna be called as a "back" (actually the attacking figurine can stay where it was hit, so even better). What I am trying to say is: do not stop to watch the opponent make a blocking flick because you have the feeling his/her player might end up in the path of your own player. That is not your problem! In fact, you should really hurry up flicking your player (assuming you know exactly what to do). Playing fast in attack is probably the best way to destabilize a defense so, if you have the skills to do it, take advantage of it!
After playing for a while, you will soon realize that all subbuteo situations can be worked on as if they were set pieces. Not just talking about corner flicks, flick-ins or free-kicks, but also "dynamic" set pieces that show up during open play, for example, attack with 2 players down the wing, attack with 2 players through the middle, attack with one player through a long ball, etc. Now, if you practice those set pieces on your own, imagine the damage it can do especially if you can do them super-fast. Some may say that practicing too much the set pieces can detract from the game since it may become boring.
When you are a beginner and you play against a seasoned player, attacking is quite frustrating because getting into shooting territory is difficult and scoring is even harder. So, at the beginning, you will have a hard time scoring goals, but the more you play the easier it gets.
Gregg Deinhart was kind enough to explain to me the fine art of goal keeping in a quickly made MSWORD document. Instead of paraphrasing what he is saying, I prefer to share his teaching as is, uncut and uncensored. Well, to be honest, laziness on my part had something to do with it too. He told me he wrote this in 15 mns and that the graphics were a tad crude but they look fine to me.
Download Gregg Deinhart goal-keeping guide right here! In this document, Gregg is telling me that a "laying down" goal-keeping posture is not a good idea even if the shot comes from dead center (don't necessarily agree with that but whatever). He then proceeds on showing how to best guard against a shot coming from the side. Gregg Deinhart who plays for the Washington Tuesday Subbuteo League is one of the best players in the US. He told me that he is working on a book that will explain the finest points of competitive Subbuteo playing. So stay tuned!