One of the surprise hits to come out of Gen Con 2011 was the card game Blood Bowl: Team Manager. I never had a chance to play Blood Bowl back in the day, but was always drawn to the concept. I’m a huge NFL fan (Go Bears!), so the thought of combining football with fantasy monsters is immediately appealing. In Blood Bowl: Team Manager you aren’t controlling your team in a game of football, you are actually managing your team throughout the Blood Bowl season. Is running a team of orcs or dwarves as much fun as playing the teams on the field? Read on to find out!
Blood Bowl: Team Manager is a card drafting and area control game for 2-4 players that plays in about 75 minutes. Blood Bowl: Team Manager plays best with any number of players.
Note: To help avoid confusion, for the rest of this review, any mention of the word ‘players’ will refer to a football player card in the game, while any mention of the word ‘manager’ will refer to someone actually playing Blood Bowl: Team Manager.
In Blood Bowl: Team Manager you are trying to score the most fans throughout the football season. During the game, managers will be committing football players to match ups to try and score the payout awarded to the winner. These payouts come in the form of star players added to their team, staff, and team upgrades that give players special abilities to use and more fans (victory points). The game is played over five rounds, after which, the player with the most fans is the winner.
As with any game published by Fantasy Flight Games, the components in Blood Bowl: Team Manager are all top notch. There are a six different types of cards that come with the game: Highlight Cards, Tournament Cards, Team Cards, Star Players, Team Upgrades, and Staff Upgrades. The Team Cards and Star Players are all football players that managers will use and recruit during the game. Each manager starts with their base team and will recruit Star Players during the course of the game. The artwork on the cards is fantastic and features thematic drawings of fantasy races playing football. What’s not to love? The cards are also well laid out and some even contain entertaining quotes. The Staff Upgrades and Team Upgrades are the smaller sized cards that Fantasy Flight is known for. These provide unique powers an abilities for you to use during the matches and scoring incentives.
In addition to the various cards, the game comes with a number of cardboard tokens and a set of scoring dials for each manager to keep track of their fans. For anyone that has played a game published by Fantasy Flight, there should be no surprises here. Everything is high quality and functions really well.
How to Play:
The first thing managers must do is choose their team. Each are somewhat different in their play style, but not so different as for any one team to feel unbalanced. For example, the Humans are average all around, the elves are quick and the Chaos team is really good at cheating.
Each game round is divided into three phases:
1. Maintenance Phase
2. Matchup Phase
3. Scoreboard Phase
Maintenance Phase: This phase is about as exciting as it sounds. Cards refresh, players draw a new hand of six cards, and deal out the tournament card and highlights match ups.
Matchup Phase: This is where the meat of the game happens. Each manager (in clockwise manner from the current start manager), plays a player from their hand onto either the tournament card or one of the highlights cards. Each player card is a number that denotes its star power (strength). So if your orc has 3 star power on its card, he will contribute 3 total strength towards winning his matchup. If your opponent plays a 4 star power player on the other side of the matchup, he would be beating you 4-3 at the match. On subsequent turns, you can commit more players to the matchup to try and beat your opponent.
In addition to star power, most player cards have one or more special abilities:
Tackling: Players may try and tackle an opponent’s player currently committed to their matchup. Tackling is accomplished by rolling a one or two dice and applying one of three results: Tackle, Miss, Tackle-Self. If they succeed in tackling their opponent, the tackled player is turned 90 degrees and now has a new, lower star power and loses any special abilities it possessed.
Sprinting: Managers draw a card from their deck and then discard one. This is an easy way to help cycle cards from your deck to your hand to try and get better ones.
Passing: There is a ball token that starts at midfield and is worth 2 star power to the player that possesses it. Any player with the passing icon moves the ball onto his card if it’s at midfield. If the ball is currently possessed by an opposing player, than it’s moved back to mid-field.
Cheating: Take a cheating token and put it on your player card without looking at it. At the end of the matchup, it will either be worth a few star power points, a fan, or your player might get caught by the refs and ejected.
Once all managers have played their six cards, then it’s time to score the matchups. Each manager totals their star power at each matchup where they have committed at least one player and the manager with the most star power gets the center payout. This is usually in the form of fans (VPs), star players, team upgrades, or staff upgrades. All are useful in their own right depending on your strategy.
After that, pass the golden coin that denotes the first manager and start a new round. After five rounds of play, the manager with the most victory points is the winner.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting the first time I played Blood Bowl: Team Manager. I love football and I love fantasy, so it was a natural combination for me. I had always wanted to play the originally Blood Bowl,
but since it’s long been out of print, but I’ve never had the chance. For now I’ll have to settle with just running a Blood Bowl team instead of taking part if it. The big question then is managing a team actually any fun?
Short Answer: Hell yeah, it is. I loved Blood Bowl: Team Manager from my first game. Right off the bat, I love that there are six different teams that all play a little differently (and more with the Sudden Death Expansion). I’m a huge fan of games that give players unique teams/people to control. One of my gripes with Infiltration is that your character was thematic only. No unique abilities. Well Blood Bowl: Team Manager takes care of that by giving each faction their own unique feel. Both the team players and the team upgrades are all tailored towards your team’s general play style.
The actual game play of Blood Bowl: Team Manager is easy to learn and surprisingly fun. I hesitate to call this a “deck building” game though. While you will be adding cards to your player deck in the form of star players, it won’t be very many. At most, you will be adding a half a dozen or so cards to your deck during the game. So what kind of game is this then? I’d say it’s more of an area control and hand management game.
You have six cards in your hand each round that you have to spend wisely each turn. Each highlight match can only accommodate two managers while the tournament card can host all four managers in a battle royale. So the first decision is which player to commit, closely followed by where to play him. And that makes for some hard decisions during the game. Then, once you commit a player to the matchup, you have to decide how far you’re willing to go with it. Another manager will be battling you for that center payout and sometimes it’s too hard to let that go. This is especially true if you’ve already committed a few players to that matchup. This will cause some great competition as managers battle for those payouts, sometimes even committing more than they probably should to a matchup.
I think Blood Bowl: Team Manager plays best when players don’t sit and analyze their choices too much. If you have a player prone to Analysis Paralysis, it could drag the early portion of rounds down as there are an abundance of hard choices to make and strategy to work out. But I like Blood Bowl: Team Manager best when it’s played quickly and with little down time. This is a fun game with a bit of a silly theme and quick play can really enhance the enjoyment of the game.
Even with its easy-to-learn rules, Blood Bowl: Team Manager has a surprising amount of depth in its game play. Once you get into the later rounds and managers have a few star players to choose from as well as a few team upgrades, that’s where Blood Bowl: Team Manager really shows its depth. Team and Staff upgrades will give you some once-per-round powers that can greatly increase your options and strategy each round. Your team starts off as a basic collection of scrubs, but by the later rounds can be a powerful juggernaut of star players.
As much as I love Blood Bowl: Team Manager, it’s not without its flaws. One thing about the game that I don’t like is that the end round(s) can sometimes feel hopeless if a manager falls too far behind. Since you know everyone’s fan count, the last round can be a little anticlimactic if a manager has a clear lead. Sometimes a manager knows they just have no possible way to catch up. While it doesn’t happen often, it’s not very fun when it does. Fantasy Flight Games has helped fix that with the Sudden Death expansion, but for owners of only the base game, it’s something to be aware of.
Finally, one thing I really like about Blood Bowl: Team Manager is that it plays really well at any amount of managers. With four managers you have a good amount of competition and get to use the highlights cards, but you are going to have more down time. I think the game is probably slightly better with 3-4 managers, but I do want to point out that it does plays fantastic with only two. The rules are slightly altered when there are only two of you, but they work very well and don’t require and “dummy managers”. I’ve actually played most of my games of Blood Bowl: Team Manager at the two manager count and have no complaints with the game play at that level. If there is usually only two of you at the gaming table, don’t hesitate to give this one a try.
For any fans of football, this game is a must buy. It’s easy to learn, plays quickly, and has a fantastic theme. I like that it’s something different than the standard football games (Pizza Box Football, 1st & Goal) as well. You don’t really even need to be a football fan to enjoy Blood Bowl: Team Manager. The rules of football don’t actually factor into the game that much; it’s really more about strategically building your team and wisely playing your cards during a matchup.
There is much to love with Blood Bowl: Team Manager and it makes for a great game. The rules are also easy enough to understand that even your non-gamer friends should be able to pick this one up without too much difficulty.
If you are a fan of the old Blood Bowl game, then this should definitely be on your radar. But newcomers to the series will enjoy this as well. Pick up your copy today; Blood Bowl: Team Manager was a surprise hit for me that makes its way to my gaming table often.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $25
Final Score: 4 Stars – Combines two things I really love (football and fantasy) with some easy to learn rules and fun game play.
• Some end rounds will be anti-clamatic
• Luck can hurt a well-laid plan sometimes