Monday, 7 November 2011

Review: Blood Bowl Team Manager

It comes in a very compact box

Blood Bowl Team Manager: The Card Game is the first card game in a box that I've actually brought. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I don't tend to like the blind buys that most card games foist upon gamers, I'm looking right at you Magic the Gathering. The constant searching for the special cards, and the wasted booster packs as well, it's just not this particular gamers cup of tea. Which, I admit, is a terrible shame because it's actually quite a good little game, in fact I know many card games are the same, great games, but still the cynical and shitty sales ploy of blind buys sticks in my throat a little too readily for me to ever be that sort of card gamer. So Fantasy Flight Games 'Living Card Games' actually appealed to me quite strongly, and got me looking at card games again, as there are no blind buys and you know what you're getting when you buy the packs. However, to be clear, Blood Bowl Team Manager isn't one of those 'Living Card Games', it's just a standalone card game, that again requires no collecting of booster packs to find the Morg 'n' Thorg foil card!

Box contents, it's not a huge amount, but it's enough
Product Description

It's a card game in a box, which is a sort of a variation on a theme for this here blog. Right, the game has a plethora of different card types, over 220 cards in total split between team player cards, star player cards event cards upgrade cards etc. For those who like to know these things, the cards use Fantasy Flights protection sleeves 4 and 2. The rulebook is clear and concise and retains much of the humour evident in other iterations of Blood Bowl released by Games Workshop. The game isn't hard to learn, and to be brutally honest you'll be away and playing the game in no time at all. There are your usual tokens and counters, that all come attached to the usual card sheets, as well as two green block dice. There are also 4 score board fan score tracker thingies to assemble, and they can be assembled wrong so take your time and make sure you do it right because I very nearly got one wrong being in a rush. So that's fun!!!

Gameplay 7.5 out of 10, if you're sitting on the fence or...
Depending on viewpoint it could be 6 out of 10 or 9 out of 10

Oh boy, this has been a very, very hard game for me to review. My number one maxim in all of the game reviews I have done has been 'is it a a fun game, did I enjoy it?' So is Blood Bowl Team Manager a fun game? Well I've enjoyed it, but I'd have to put a Caveat onto that statement and say this isn't a tactical card game where you decide who the winners and losers are by skill. Now for some people that will be an incredibly bad thing, and for others it'll be secondary to the fun they'll have while playing the game with their friends. The game is won by the player who amasses the most fans throughout the game, this being scored on those nifty looking score boards I mentioned earlier. But here's the thing, the game is highly random, and while in some cases randomness can be irritating as hell (Dreadfleet), if it's done right with a splash of humour it can be funny and entertaining (Munchkin).

So where do I sit on the whole debate? Well the first game I played left me scratching my head wandering how the hell I was meant to effect the situations I often found myself in. The game mechanics are clear and simple to understand and I don't think they raise any 'what the hell happens now' moments. We've all grasped them pretty darn quickly and understood the tactics at play. The first thing that I noticed that might cause those after a more 'strategic experience' to grit their teeth, is the way the rounds and 'initiative' play out. Obviously somebody has to go first, second, third and last. This isn't a static arrangement and alternates each round, so that the first player changes. Nothing wrong there really and it does allow everyone to have a fair crack at things. But, this is coupled with the random draw of 'events', and I've found this can be a right pain to the balance. Plus as there are 5 rounds, some players will have an advantage of going first and last more than others.

You see going first allows you to pick the game you want to contest, and sometimes this can be a huge advantage because there is a standout match you'd be dumb not to go for, simply because of the fans and star players on offer. Yet at other times it's meaningless because you've drawn so many games that are similar in what they offer the players, either they're all crap or all really good, so what's the point? This actually leads to a really interesting situation in most rounds, whereby the player who gets to go last actually has a bit of an advantage, insofar as being able to effect the outcome of games and win them when no one else can do a damn thing to stop you. Often this going last swung things to that player quite sharply, it certainly did in the round I went last in my first game. It allowed me to easily win two of the three events pulled and the special event for that round, it did make me wander though whether it had been down to the awesome tactical abilities I clearly posses, or the fact early on I had the better star players, and well, I was going last.

Between equally matched players and people who aren't completely inept, the going last thing does swing things, and in my opinion the player going last on the final round when the Blood Bowl is pulled has a fantastic chance of winning the game because of the number of fans up for grabs. Is the going last 'bias' or the Blood Bowl enough on there own to win the game though? Nope not at all. It wouldn't be Blood Bowl now would it without Star Players to throw onto the pitch? There are two decks of these players, one for the good guys (Old World Association) and the other for the bad guys (Chaos Wastes Confederation). You draw these players by winning or participating in events that give you them. They are drawn at random. In the one game I had a situation where I got to draw 3 Star Players and pick 1. I had a choice of 2 Freebooter Linemen and a Freebooter Thrower, not a great choice. Then the next round the same thing happened and I ended up with Jordel Fresh Breeze, Griff Oberwald and Thornmane... why couldn't just one of them crop up earlier? Bugger. Yet when pulling a solitary star player I've ended up with the Mighty Zug once and Morg 'n' Thorg another time, go figure. It does equal things out, but via some random draws. Only you will know yourself whether that will annoy you or not.

There are 6 teams in total in the game, three in each Federation, OWA (good guys) and the CWC (bad guys). In the Old World Alliance you have the Humans, Wood Elves and Dwarfs. Meanwhile in the Chaos Wastes Confederation you get the Chaos Warriors, Orcs and Skaven. These teams aren't just window dressing though, they do play quite differently. The Humans for example are your bog standard all rounder team, meanwhile your Skaven are sneaky ball thieves who like nothing more than committing fouls. This does mean though that there are some bad match ups, and teams that actually become less useful as the game goes on. Wood Elves for example early on seem really good, as they have abilities that allow you to cycle through your deck and change out weak players in your hand for good players in your deck. However, as your squad develops and you amass more Star Players this ability rapidly becomes a total waste of time and means ironically in some respects your team gets weaker the more the game goes on relative to the other teams, as all their skills are still useful, while the Wood Elves skills become redundant.

There are other things that seem totally out of the players control too, like the coaching cards and the way the foul tokens work. In fact the odds are stacked in the favour of players with the foul skill that the outcome will be pretty darn positive, scoring you extra points to win the games at the last, or bump your fan counter score. Obviously that seems fair to me, as a players skill shouldn't really be a massive disadvantage. However, it does swing things too sharply sometimes. But if you end up with 3 teams full of players who foul, somebody is getting sent off not question about it and that too seems randomly unfair. Hell, you're even supposed to draw which team you play as randomly. Now the last game I played that had this much random in it was Dreadfleet, a game, which I rightly panned, not just for the random elements but also the length of time the game takes to play and just how little joy it brought to the table. So what do I think of Blood Bowl Team Manager?

Firstly it doesn't take 4 long, painful hours to play, and a group of 4 people who know what they're doing will fly through a game in under an hour. The random elements are actually good fun and at a number of times situations have made me laugh my head off. It certainly retains the spirit of Blood Bowl the board game, no question about it. Played with a group of Blood Bowl fans you'll have a great time and it'll entertain up to 4 players for at least an hour, and setting the game up again afterwards isn't a hassle at all, and running through 2 to 3 games doesn't get boring either. There are tactical choices in the game, and you do have a degree of control over how and when you use your players, but it's not chess, it's Blood Bowl Team Manager and if you want to be entertained and have fun with your mates, and you don't care about who wins and who picks up the wooden spoon it could be the game for you, hence the 9 out of 10. If however you're not a Blood Bowl fan and you like to take things more seriously then 6 out of 10 is the score you should take heed of. As for me? I'm pitching somewhere in the middle and giving it a 7.5 out of 10 for gameplay, as I'm sitting on the fence!

Top hint: play 6 rounds for 2 and 3 player games and 8 rounds for 4 player games. This ensures that every player has an equal amount of 'first' and 'last' goes in the rounds and means that any bias towards either is more likely to be mitigated. It does mean though that the games will take a little bit longer and a 4 player game could take a significantly longer amount of time. However, given how short the games are, I'm not too sure it's an an issue, and I'd suggest giving the extra rounds a go and see what you think.

Detail 8 out of 10

The cards and the tokens are all the original Blood Bowl symbols, and although I think much of the artwork is new on the player cards it still retains that comic vibe that Blood Bowl fans are so fond of. The wording on the cards themselves evoke the spirit of Blood Bowl in all its pompous, over the top, insane glory. I make no bones about it, I'm a Blood Bowl fan. A big Blood Bowl fan and I really enjoyed some of the nostalgia this game brought to the table, and it feels like a game that had a lot of care and attention lavished on it by a fan of the original games. And isn't that the only detail that matters to us Blood Bowl fans? Nope? Well as always the detailing and artwork on the cards themselves is all tip top stuff from Fantasy Flight and why wouldn't it be? It normally is.

Quality 8 out of 10

Well the cards are all pretty much your standard Fantasy Flight Games cards. Some people tell me they're crap, I've had people email me that they're crap. But honestly comparing the Fantasy Flight cards I have to other manufacturers cards they seem to be pretty darn fine to me. I've thumbed these cards quite a bit and there has been no folding, creases, bending, warping or colour runs. They're, just simply put, a really good bunch of solid quality gaming cards. I think they're more than suitable for their purpose and at the price the game comes in at, they represent great value. The dice are dice, and card components like the scoreboards and tokens are on a good thick quality card stock. I'm not too sure how you would improve on what is in the box, in terms of the quality of components.

Service 9 out of 10

This was ordered from OG Games and came in double quick time all things considered, on day of release via free postage. It was packaged exceedingly well and was packed along with another Fantasy Flight card game that I had brought, the Elder Sign. There was no damage to either game box, and it was a quick delivery and free postage. Could I ask for more? Probably as I'm a demanding sod, and it would be really nice if somebody actually got Scarlett Johansson to deliver some stuff to me in person once in a while, but really OG Games provided a top service to me yet again and that's all anyone can really ask for surely?

Price 9 out of 10

The RRP for this game is £27.99 and for a small boxed card game with over 220 cards, that works out to about 12p a card. Not at all bad and with the rules to play the game, dice and other card components I think it's a damn good way to spend your money, if you're a Blood Bowl fan looking for a bit of light hearted entertainment. However, OG Games sold it me for £25.49, which is a slightly better price, and I think moves the game even further into impulse / compulsory buy territory.

Overall 8 out of 10

I think this game is well worth buying, if you want a fun game to play that's quick and doesn't take itself too seriously. I personally put it in the 'Munchkin bracket' of games. It's silly, and it's meant to be, and if you get that then you'll have a barrel of laughs with it. If however, you like your games to come with a fair degree of control, and a deep level of tactical depth, then realistically you need to go out there and look for another product because this really won't be for you. I for one really enjoy it, and think that for the price it's a great option to have on my gaming shelf. Will it ever turn out to be my 'go to game'? Probably not, but it is different enough from what I do currently own to deserve its place amongst my pantheon of games. If I could change anything about the game at all it would be the way you recruit star players, and the number of turns, to give everyone a fair crack of the whip. But, as it currently stands it's an entertaining way to waste an hour of your life with some friends. Peace out!


  1. So it's Blood Bowl like the board game pretends to be (a time-killing silly game), rather than Blood Bowl the way it actually is (a surprisingly deep and robust tactical/strategic game)?

  2. Yeah pretty much Von. Blood Bowl does have it's tactical depth, and I love it for that. However, it does have this thin vaneer of not being a serious game, and just being for kicks. This is exactly where Blood Bowl Team Manager pitches itself in my mind. It's a fun, diverting game that has the spirit of Blood Bowl running through its veins, if not its essence... if you know what I mean.

  3. Another interesting review, Frontline.

    Since your limited to the cards in the box, do you think this game would get a little boring?
    I mean in the way a game like 'Clue' does, because your limited to the rooms, characters and murder weapons in the box.

    I'm one of those that loathes 'random' in my strategy games...dice are random enough for me.
    FoW has actually been annoying me lately with 'random deployment' for the attackers, and the classic 'roll for reserves' for defenders, in some scenarios.
    Losing games due to these features in nothing short of infuriating, in my opinion.
    "Whoops, rolled a 3 for my *whatever*...I needed a 4 up....I just lost."
    ....yeah, that blows.

  4. Oh- linky for you and 'Shard- re: Infinity and the 'terrain issue' (which I hear issue?):

  5. @SinSynn, normally I'd 100% agree with you, and I don't really want my wargames to be down to pure fluke and randomness. However, I don't mind it as much in other sorts of games. Not every game has to be a serious tactical endeavour for me. I kinda look at it in the same way I look at other forms of entertainment. Not every film can be Citizen Kane every now and them you need a "Jennifers Body", I'm sure you can appreciate that analogy.

    With my board games and card games I don't mind things being a little less serious or just down right fun. I'd say this is pitched at the fun end of the scale, and I'm sure at the end of long day wargaming in my gaming room, my mates sometimes just want to sit down and unwind with something that's just silly fun.

    As to Infinity and scenery. I've said it'll be the games biggest hurdle for most. However, I guess if you look at it another way, it's just another addition to your hobby. Learning to build your own scenery. For instance on the Infinity forums I've seen some peeps do some truly awesome scenery and while at times it can seem daunting, it is inspiring. I left a comment on the blog.

  6. Thanks for the long and detailed review. As a blood bowl fan I will pick it up just for the background and such.