TABLE GAME REVIEW: Blood Bowl Team Manager – The Card Game

Blood Bowl Team ManagerThis week on GS Table Games, Cy Dethan and Nic Wilkinson are ready for all out war – ok, we mean all out Blood Bowl as they try their hand at the spinoff from the original game in Blood Bowl Team Manager.

Blood Bowl, Games Workshop’s fantasy-themed sports parody, has been a feature of our gaming life for decades. We own every single edition and expansion, from the primitive original box set to the flawed-but-playable PC adaptation. Cy adamantly insists that it’s the single product of genuine, lasting value ever produced by GW – because shut up, that’s why.

 

 

 

The stadium is packed with thousands of screaming fans, gathered from across the world and eager to see the bone-crushing action of today’s game. As the players take the field, a surge of excitement rushes from the bleachers; both teams boast impressive rosters full of players hand-picked for their unique skills. Some offer speed, others size. Some will mercilessly injure their opponents, while others deviously cheat to score touchdowns.

Blood Bowl Team Manager, from Fantasy Flight Games, represents the first attempt to do something revolutionary with the format of the game, taking a much broader, top-down view of the fantasy sport and somehow turning it into something faster, leaner and more open in scope. Dispensing with over-priced miniatures and twenty-seven-year-old rule sets, BBTM takes the form of a card and dice game for two to four players, each shepherding a team of traditional Warhammer World psychopaths through a series of tournaments toward the fabled Blood Bowl championship.

 

Blood Bowl Team Manager

 

Primary gameplay involves the allocation of team member cards to specific match “highlights,” representing key moments in a given match, in an attempt to collect the appropriate payouts from each matchup or tournament. These payouts include increasing your team’s fan base, drafting new players or purchasing various types of upgrades. At the end of the game, once the winner of the climactic tournament is determined, the player with the greatest number of fans is the winner. It’s all pretty simple in practice, and the strategic card play system is satisfyingly meaty.

As always seems to be the case, FFG has done an excellent job with the game components. The card art is perfectly suited to both the practical needs and theme of the game, and the supplied tokens are more than rugged enough to cope with the kind of abuse they’ll inevitably suffer in the hands of an average Blood Bowl coach.

 

Blood Bowl Team Manager

 

Familiarity with the core concepts of Blood Bowl is not required to play BBTM (although it’s probably assumed), and the flavour text written into the cards and rulebook does a good job of setting the tone. With two players, gameplay is smooth, fast and fun. Scaling up to four leads to a longer game with more rounds of play, but retains the basic structure and doesn’t clutter it up too much. Basically, it’s a fun little game with a lot going for it.

Here comes the “however” section…

Players of any edition of Blood Bowl have learned this, but it may still take newcomers by surprise. Blood Bowl Team Manager is extremely random for a modern card game. With the exception of drafting a few new players in-game, there’s no deck building component to play, and dice are used whenever a team member attempts to tackle an opponent or to activate certain special abilities. Many team members are required to take one or more randomised Cheating Tokens every time they are allocated to a matchup, the value of which will alter their effectiveness in that confrontation or (distressingly often) result in them being sent off altogether. There’s no way to control the odds of this happening, and players will frequently find themselves being crippled for a round after carefully constructing an otherwise bulletproof play. While this aspect of BBTM is far from overwhelming in real terms, the level of randomness is high for a strategy-based card game. If that upsets you, move along swiftly.

 

Blood Bowl Team Manager

 

The rulebook, unfortunately, represents a back slide toward the old days of FFG’s output. It’s not as bad as first-edition Descent or Arkham Horror, where they pretty much just loaded the system into a giant Rules Cannon and blatted it randomly onto the page, but in comparison to games like X-Wing and Android: Netrunner, it’s disorganised and clumsy. Terminology is used loosely (and occasionally never even explained) and the underlying structure of the system is sometimes opaque.

As an example, certain types of Star Player can be “drafted” into your team, replacing one of your existing cards instead of simply adding to the stack as a normal Star Player would be. The benefits of opting to do this, while eventually becoming clear in-game, are not spelled out up-front and might be counter-intuitive to new players. In one case, a pretty major rebalancing exercise – involving the actual removal of key components from the main game and the creation of a whole new play variant to slot them back in – was passed off as a simple “errata” in the official FAQ document. That’s the level of opacity we’re talking about here: “Sorry, guys. We didn’t test these cards at all and it turns out they break something fundamental in the game, but we’re not going to explain how or why so you needn’t bother your pretty little heads over it.”

Most FFG games (in fact, most games in general) take some measure of flack for balance issues, but BBTM seems to be reasonably well gauged across all the team types. There isn’t really any optimal team build – and even if there were it’d be hard to manufacture in play due to the random selection of new team members and upgrades. In the final analysis, you’re basically trying to wrestle a wilful, half-wild game in your direction, rather than plotting and executing some perfect, crystalline master plan. It’s chaotic and rewarding, but not one for control freaks or Bond villains.

 

Blood Bowl Team ManagerBlood Bowl Team Manager

 

The thing is, nothing in the (admittedly extensive) “however” section above can counterbalance the fact that BBTM is just plain fun to play. It can be frustrating to get a randomly selected player sent off from your randomly selected team because of a randomly selected compulsory Cheating Token, but the navigation of chaotic systems has always been what Blood Bowl’s about. Besides, it’ll all be over in half an hour and you can play again – which you’ll almost certainly want to do.

 

Rating: All of which is a long, twisted way of saying, “BOOM – 3.5 out of 5!”
Reviewers: Cy Dethan and Nic Wilkinson

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