Blood Bowl: Team Manager Review

Blood Bowl Team Manager game in play

One of the games that I drooled over until I convinced my friend to buy it (thanks!) was Blood Bowl: Team Manager.

In Blood Bowl, each player starts with a team representing his race, and attempts to gain the most fans. The season consists of five weeks, and in each week there are a certain number of "highlights" which the players compete over. (Terminology gets confusing here. So, along with the game's instructions, I will call you (the player/reader) "managers", and the cards you play are "players.") Managers (you) take turns placing a single player next to a highlight that is either empty, or where they have already placed a player. When placing a new player, that player may be able to gain the ball, cheat, [attempt to] tackle his opponent [sometimes ending in falling on his face], and sprint. Once all of the managers have placed all of their players, all of the cheat tokens are revealed (which could help players, but could also get them ejected). Now, whoever has the most "star points" at each individual matchup wins the prize - but each manager collects a smaller prize for every matchup where he had players. These prizes can be Star Players, Team Upgrades, Staff Upgrades, or Fans. These upgrades can be used in all of the following weeks of the season (so it is best to get them at the beginning of the game). Play consists of five weeks, and at the end of the game, whoever has the most fans is the winner (just like in real sports - whoever has the most fans is the real winner, because they make tons of money regardless of if their team actually wins any championships).

The first thing that I love about Blood Bowl is the ability to upgrade your team. I'm that guy that loves sports simulation games, but doesn't actually play the actual games in them. I'll buy Madden and play Franchise mode - simulating all of the games, and just enjoying the trading, drafting, etc. that goes into running the team. I loved Football Mogul, and have played similar games for baseball, football, soccer, etc. This is really what appealed to me the most about Blood Bowl. The back of the box made me drool! I'm not a huge fan of improving your team in a deck building fashion, but it doesn't really detract too much from the game for me - especially since your new "Star players" are always placed on top of your deck instead of in your discard pile - it lets you immediately show off your new free agent signing!

The next thing that I like about Blood Bowl is that it scales well between 2-4 players. (Obviously, it does take a lot longer with 4 players than with 2, though.) You use a number of "highlight" cards (the cards you fight over) based on the number of players - 2 player, 2 highlights, and so on. This means that you are normally going to be fighting over 2 highlights (and possibly a tournament) regardless of how many people are playing. With more players, you occasionally have the opportunity to try fighting over a third highlight, but this normally stretches you so thin that you lose all of them. There's also not much sense of "ganging up" on players since each highlight can only have one player on either side.  Overall, it balances player interaction very well, and prevents much of the normal "everyone against the leader" gameplay that is in many other games. 

A third pro that I think is brilliant is a very minute rule in the game. After each person collects all of their booty at the end of each week, they take turns reading their new cards and their abilities to all players. This is really a trivial rule, but it is one that I think more games should implement. It cuts down on most (if not all) of the reaching across the table to grab each other's cards to see what they do. Brilliant! It's amazing how useful such a minor rule can be.

The last couple of pros that I will mention are that I like how the tackling works, and I like the different abilities that players have (and how this gives each race a much different feel). When tackling, you always have the chance of falling down. However, those odds are adjusted based on how big your player is compared to theirs - if yours is bigger, roll two dice and pick your result. If they're the same, roll one die. If yours is smaller, roll two dice and they pick the result (a die has 3 tackles, 2 misses, and 1 fall on your face). With the different factions, each faction seems to be better at different aspects of the game. Skaven are good at Sprinting, Dwarves are good at Guarding, Chaos get fans for injuring players (tackling a downed player - it removes him from the highlight). Plus, they included six races for a four player game. I love it when game companies provide you extra things out of the box to enhance replayability instead of always trying to force you to buy expansions.

Yet, with all that I love about Blood Bowl, there is one main con that I have about the game - it feels much longer than it should. When you read about the game, look at the game, and see the game, it looks like it should be about an hour long game. Unfortunately, it normally takes two hours (or more). There's not a lot of down time, so I'm not saying that the game drags on a long time and feels boring. It simply takes longer than you think it should - and occasionally you will feel that the game is dragging. Of course, the more you play, the faster you will be - since you'll be familiar with all the cards and rules, but it still seems like it should take an hour.

My other con, that I touched on earlier, is that I wish that they hadn't implemented the building of your team with a deck building mechanic. It doesn't really detract a lot from the game, but I think I would have preferred each team having "positions" (like in real sports), and when you get a new Star player, you are replacing the one in that position. This would also mean that getting a Star player isn't always beneficial - if you gain one for a position where you already have a star, then your new player doesn't help.

Overall, I give Blood Bowl: Team Manager an 8.5/10. I enjoy the game, and I am debating whether or not I need to add it to my collection!  It's hard to explain who all would like this game.  So, I guess I'll simply say - if you've been looking at this game and it looks appealing to you, go out of your way if needed to try it.  I think you'll find that it is a very good game, and, though it might not fulfill all of your wildest fantasies, you probably won't be disappointed.

If Blood Bowl: Team Manager sounds interesting, then you might also check out Star Wars Living Card Game, Race for the Galaxy, and Glory to Rome.

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