Blood Bowl is a classic and beloved miniatures game, where the fantasy races of the Warhammer universe meet on the pitch to play some ball. And murder each other. In fact, mostly murder each other and maybe play a little ball on the side.
Oh, and strive as hard as they can to make their respective players cry as the dice destroy their hopes, dreams, faces, and spinal columns.
While I am not intimately familiar with the miniatures game, I have played a decent amount of the PC equivalent, which is a pretty fair match rules and gameplaywise. Also, it has allowed me to spare my opponents my miserable painting skills.
Anyhow, Blood Bowl: Team Manager The Card Game is a spin-off card game that puts the players in the seat of a (you’ll never guess) team manager. Your job is to make the decisions that will attract the most fans so you can get named Spike! magazine’s manager of the year. As a card game, it definitely presents quite a different experience, but is it truly game worthy of bearing the Blood Bowl title?
Let’s take a look!
Team Manager is a fairly simple and straightforward game.
Players choose one of 6 teams (Human, Dwarf, Wood Elf, Skaven, Orc, and Chaos) to manage.
The game is divided into five rounds (or weeks). At the start of the week, a number of Highlights are laid out, as well as a Spike Magazine card, which either has an immediate effect or provides an additional “Highlight” in the form of a tournament.
Each round, the managers will, in turn, assign one of their players to one side of a Highlight, resolving that player’s skills in the order they are presented on the card. These skills are Cheating (place a facedown cheating token on the player, which could do anything from increasing that player’s Star Power to getting them ejected from the matchup), Passing (move the ball, worth 2 Star Power if you control it, one step closer to your side), Sprinting (Draw a card, then discard a card), Tackling (attempt to tackle an opposing player, which will reduce their Star Power or remove them from the Highlight, using the tackle die). With the exception of the Cheating skill, all skills are optional. In addition, individual players may have additional unique abilities.
This will continue until every manager has played out their hand or passed. Once that happens, each manager counts up their players’ Star Power and compare it to the combined Star Power of the players on the other side of the match-up. Whoever wins will, in addition to the reward on their side of the Highlight, receive the reward in the middle of the Highlight. The loser only gets the reward on their side.
Tournaments are resolved similarly, but are not limited to two teams.
Rewards include generic Staff Upgrades (which provide a variety of bonuses to your team), Team Upgrades (similar to Staff Upgrades, but unique to each team), Star Players (big name or freebooter players that are added to your deck), and, of course, fans!
This will continue until the end of the 5th week, after which total fans are compared and the manager of the year is declared!
I have a serious soft spot for Team Manager and I feel the game does a pretty amazing job of capturing the feel of real Blood Bowl. Setting aside the artwork and the flavor text, which are fantastic, the game, at a gut level, just generates a lot of the same feelings that Blood Bowl does: the wonderful feeling of watching your best laid plans explode thanks to uncooperative tackle dice, or the sigh of relief as that final cheat token on your opponent’s board gets his Ogre ejected from the game.
Every team, generally, feels and plays fairly distinctively. Dwarves are tough as nails, Orcs are nasty blighters, Elves are quick and cunning, Humans are well-rounded, Chaos is nasty, and Skaven are filthy gits.
Despite only being listed for 4 players, the game is actually pretty modular. My playgroup has regularly played with 5-6 players instead of 4 with minimal alterations needed (game length and making plans for what happens if a pile is depleted). This does increase the game’s length, but is very helpful for larger playgroups.
Team Manger, for better or worse, is a fairly luck driven game. Your hand each round is random, the rewards you get are random, your tackle dice are random, your cheat tokens are random… there is a lot of random in the game. You can make fairly educated guesses about what is likely to happen on any given play, but there are a lot of times where you are just going to go into a week with a terrible hand, the tackle dice are going to hate, or your opponent is going to nail 6 cheats successfully and your 1 will get you ejected.
There are some pretty basic strategies that are no brainers which can lead to play feeling a little flow-charty at times. Start with your weakest players to claim Highlights and save your passes for the last play to control the ball. There isn’t a lot of room for effective variation there.
All told, this game is pretty “beer and pretzel” style-gaming. There is legit strategy to be had and someone who is good at the game will likely stomp someone who is bad, but there is going to be a lot of cursing luck and fairly mechanical interactions throughout.
Pre-FAQ/Errata, there were some seriously out of whack cards in the game. Several Staff Upgrade cards were incredibly, ridiculously game changing for whoever got them (allowing for, if luck was on a manager’s side, incredibly brutal fan swings at end game). While the FAQ has basically made using them optional, I think this is a pretty half-hearted fix and significantly reduces the value of Staff Upgrades. The correct fix is probably to lock the max fans these cards can generate.
Dwarves had a similar problem, with one of their Team Upgrades being completely useless pre-errata. Thankfully this has been fixed.
It can feel very difficult, if not impossible, to catch-up if you fall behind early. I know this is somewhat ironic considering I was just bitching about Staff Upgrades that could allow ridiculous fan swings, but you can get pretty brutally buried after a bad starting week. Everyone else will have various upgrades and Star Players (many of which are quite powerful), and, if you end up with a hand full of Linemen, you are going to have trouble getting anything back that week, ten the next week will be even harder, then… etc.
Team Manager, for a somewhat light game, is surprisingly long, especially if you try to play above 4 (which, in the game’s defense, is not supported by the rules).
In case you haven’t noticed me mention it yet? Blood Bowl has a lot of randomness.
My Final Verdict
I think Blood Bowl: Team Manager is fun. Not quite as fun as real Blood Bowl and definitely not my favorite game, but it is fun. It is a light enough game for when I don’t feel like thinking hard, but it has enough strategy that it never becomes “Random Shit Happens.”
If you hate games that involve dice/luck/random chance, stay far away from Team Manager. Don’t even be in the same room as it. You will not like it. Luck permeates every inch of this game.
If you don’t mind a fair amount of randomness? Give it a shot. The game is relatively cheap and, well. Fun. Not “outplayed my opponent at Dominant Species” fun, but “Oh man, this is hilarious, pass me the chips!” fun.