Game Buzz – Blood Bowl: Team Manager

So many games, so little time to talk about them all. What shall I write about this time?  Hmm.  How about:

image by BGG user Nors

Blood Bowl: Team Manager is one of the newest Fantasy Flight titles, set in the Warhammer universe.  The original Blood Bowl game, designed by Jervis Johnson, was published by Games Workshop in 1986, and was a kind of a parody of American football using fantasy creatures.  It’s been through several iterations since then, the most popular of which (at least on BGG) is the third edition, published in 1994 with plastic miniatures.  The rules are constantly changing, however, as the so-called “Living Rulebook” is currently in its sixth version.

Team Manager is not Blood Bowl.  It’s a card game from Fantasy Flight (who has the rights to the property), and is more about the process of owning the team and trying to acquire fans than it is about trying to win games.  The game (designed by Jason Little) is for 2-4 players aged 14 and up, and takes 90 minutes to play.  The game takes place over the course of a season, and you’ll be investing in star players, hiring staff, and generally trying to make money.  The history of this game is kind of interesting – when first announced in August 2010, it was planned to be a deck-building game.  However, the original design didn’t work for whatever reason, so they had to start over.  This caused a lot of consternation among the fanboys who felt entitled to an immediate product.  FFG had 300 copies of the final game at GenCon (which apparently sold out VERY quickly), and the game should be hitting shelves soon.

The cards in this game come in two sizes: bridge-sized and tiny.  The 168 bridge-sized cards include 72 starting player cards – there are 6 teams, and each has a different set of 12 starting cards.  There are 25 OWA star player cards and 25 CWC star player cards – the OWA (Old World Alliance) and the CWC (Chaos Wastes Confederation) are the two leagues of the game.  Think AFC/NFC.  There are 32 highlight cards and 14 Spike! Magazine cards.  Spike! Magazine is who will be awarding the Manager of the Year award at the end of the game.  You also get 58 small cards, including 30 team upgrades and 28 staff upgrades.  There are 55 cardboard tokens (3 team tokens/team, 30 cheating tokens, 6 ball tokens, and 1 golden coin marker).  The are two d6 (tackle dice).  You also get four scoreboards, which are dials for tracking your fans.  FFG has really been in love with dials lately.

Layout - image by BGG user corkysru

Each player begins with a randomly chosen team, and gets the corresponding 12 card starter deck and 5 team update cards, as well as a scoreboard and three team tokens.  The star players are divided into leagues and shuffled up.  You’ll also prepare the Spike! Magazine deck by shuffling together two randomly drawn tournament cards and two random Headline cards and placing the Blood Bowl card at the bottom of the deck.  The youngest manager goes first.

The game is played over the course of five rounds.  In each round, there’s a maintenance phase, a matchup phase, and a scoreboard phase.  In the maintenance phase, you are getting ready for the next round.  You’ll refresh any exhausted cards and draw up to six cards in your hand.  All cheating tokens are returned to the pool, turned face down and mixed up.  The first manager will draw the top Spike! card.  Tournament cards are prizes that can be competed for, while headlines will affect the game somehow.  The first manager will also “roll the highlights” by drawing cards from the highlight deck equal to the number of players and placing them face up in a line.  The first one drawn goes next to the highlight deck, and the last one drawn goes next to the Spike! card.  One ball token goes on each highlight card and the tournament card (if drawn).

In the matchup phase, you will compete with other players.  Players will have up to six turns in order during each game round since you have six cards in your hand.  On your turn, you commit a player to a matchup and resolve one matchup action, or you pass.  If you pass, your round is over.  To commit a player, take a card from your hand and place it face up next to one matchup.  Each highlight card has two team zones, one on each side of the card.  Thus, only two managers can play on those matchups since you can’t play in a zone that contains cards from another player.  Tournaments, however, have four team zones, so everyone can play there.  The difference is that highlights have team payouts just for participating – fans, star players, team upgrades, staff upgrades, or a choice between rewards – as well as a prize for winning.  Tournaments are just for the trophy payout.

Some players have immediate abilities when played.  Some have skills that are resolved left to right:

  • Cheating: For each cheating icon, you get a cheat token.  You won’t look at it until the scoreboard phase.  This is the only skill that is mandatory.
  • Passing: Take the ball off of midfield (the matchup card) and place it on your player card.  Or, if it’s on an opposing player, move it to midfield.  Whoever has the ball is the ball carrier, which is important for breaking ties.  You can also use the passing skill to move the ball from one player to another on your team.
  • Sprinting: For each icon, draw the top card of your team deck, then discard one card from your hand.
  • Tackling: For each tackling icon, attempt a tackle against any opposing player on the same matchup.  If your player has higher star power, you roll two tackle dice and choose one to apply.  If star powers are equal, roll one die.  If you have lower star power, you roll two dice and your opponent decides which one gets used.  You could knock your opponent down, injure them if they’re already down (discard it), or have the same thing happen to you.  Downed players have lower star power, and are rotated 90 degrees to show that they are down.

After committing a player, you can resolve one matchup action by following the instructions on the card.  You don’t have to, it is optional.  If you’ve passed (which is different from using the passing skill – perhaps better terminology should have been used), you don’t get to resolve any more matchup actions.

After all players have passed, it’s time for the scoreboard phase.  Resolve matchups in order, beginning with the one closest to the highlight deck.  All assigned cheating tokens are revealed.  Your player could be ejected (leaves the matchup), get away with it and start a fan frenzy (gain fans), or subtly get away with it to gain star power.  You’ll then resolve any scoreboard phase abilities you may have, then determine a winner by total star power (having the ball gives you two star power).  If there’s a tie, the team with the ball wins.  If the ball is at midfield, neither team wins.  In a tournament, if there’s a tie where the ball is at midfield, the first player decides who wins.  You’ll then collect payouts – for highlights, collect the highlight (guaranteed) payout and the main payout for winning.  For tournaments, collect the main payout.  Finally, clear the pitch of players to your discard pile, and discard the highlight card from the game.  After this resolution, you reveal your improvements from the round and pass the first player to the left.

The game ends after the Blood Bowl tournament in the fifth round.  The manager with the most fans wins.  If there’s a tie, the team with the most improvements wins.  If there’s still a tie, the tied managers are suspended under suspicion of foul play, and the remaining manager with the highest fan count wins.  If there’s STILL a tie, the league loses all credibility and no one wins.  And that is one of the greatest end game descriptions EVER.

So, I’ve gotta say, I’m really looking forward to playing this.  It really looks like it takes the Blood Bowl concept and boils it down into a card game that is relatively quick and still offers a lot of fun.  I’ve never played Blood Bowl, but the concept has always intrigued me.  This game looks like it might be something I would enjoy more, primarily because of the theme and the relatively simple game play.  It’s not a deck-builder, but I can definitely see the influence.  It’s interesting that the main goal of the game is not winning games, nor is it acquiring stars, but it’s all about getting fans.  I really want to look at the cards and get a feel for how they work together.  I don’t know if my lack of familiarity with Blood Bowl or the whole Warhammer universe might get in the way of my enjoyment of this game, but it’s definitely one I look forward to trying out.  Thanks for reading!

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