Updated: Sep 19, 2019
When Blood Bowl was announced as a new deck building game, way back in the mists of time, I was excited to play it. Firstly because I love what FFG has done with their Games Workshop licenses in the past, secondly because I have always wanted to play blood bowl but find the game a little stilted for a “sports simulation” and thirdly because it was being designed by Eric Lang and Corey Konieczka, one FFG’s best card game designers teaming up with one of their best board game designers.
However, then BBTM disappeared for a while and when it resurfaced it was no longer a “deck building” game and the original designers were gone, replaced by a then unknown to me Jason Little. I worried that the game would not turn out to be all that I had hoped for… Until I realised that Jay Little was the guy behind the epic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay!!
Anyway, before I start gushing about Jay, let's take a look at the game.
In Blood Bowl Team Manager, you take on the role of a… erm… Team Manager. Your roster is filled with blood thirsty football stars from the sneaky Skaven to the steadfast Dwarves. You will play against up to three other Managers, competing to win highlights and payouts and eventually the Blood Bowl itself. The Team with the most fans at the end of the season is the winner.
So, what’s in the box?
Over 150 Player and Matchup cards
2 Tackle Dice
Over 50 Team and Staff Upgrade cards
Over 50 Customized Tokens
First up, as always, FFG produces a top notch product and this one is a steal at ~£25. Everything is on nice thick cardstock and the art is wonderful. The rulebook is well written and fairly comprehensive. Storage could be better but that is always true with FGG.
This really is a great production with lots of components and lots of choices for players, including six fully playable teams.
To set up the game each player takes one team of twelve cards, their own deck of team upgrade cards and three markers in their colour. Shuffle your deck and draw six cards to form your starting hand.
The game is played over 5 rounds which form a season. Take two of the tournament cards and two random headline cards, shuffle together and then place face down on top of the Blood Bowl Tournament card. This is the Spike Magazine deck.
Now draw highlights equal to the number of players and set them out in a row horizontally. These will form the match ups players can play at this round. Add a ball token to each highlight card. Finally determine the first player and give them the first player marker. You are now ready to begin.
Playing the Game
I’ll give a brief overview of the game but for a full tutorial check out the Fantasy Flight Games site. To start a round turn over the top card of the Spike Magazine Deck. If it is a Headline read out the effect and apply it for the rest of the round. If it is a tournament it acts as an additional highlight with no restriction on the number of players who can play at it.
In turn order each player will play one card from their hand of six to the table. It is not possible to play more than one card in your turn, nor is it possible to play more than six in a given round. A player can play a card at any highlight including a tournament if there is one available. Only two managers can play cards into a regular highlight, each highlight has a payout zone on each side of the card plus a central payout. You will claim the payout on your side of the card regardless of the outcome of the highlight. You can only claim the central payout if you win the highlight.
When a manager commits a player to highlight he chooses which side of the card he wants to play at (determining his guaranteed payout), no other manager may play cards onto that side of the highlight for the rest of the round. The same manager cannot play to both sides of the same highlight, he can however continue to add more cards to his own side to make sure of the win.
Each player has a Star Power and a selection of skills. Cheating is the only mandatory skill, but a player must use his skills in the order they are printed and only when the card is first played.
The four available skills are:
Passing – Move the Ball one position towards the played card
Sprinting – Draw a card from your deck, discard a card from your hand
Tackling – Attempt to down an opposing player to reduce their star power
Cheating – Take a Cheating Token from the pool
After a Manager commits a Player he may take one matchup action. These are given by upgrade cards which are awarded by winning payout slots on Highlights.
Once all six players from each team have been committed reveal all cheating tokens (which will add star power, or fans or cause the player to be ejected). Then it’s time to score each highlight. The two managers at the highlight add up their star power, the player with the most star power claims the central payout and both teams claim their own side’s payout. In the case of a tournament, all the players add up their star power and determine who won, came second and runners up and take their payouts accordingly.
Then the managers discard their cards, draw six new ones, the first player marker passes to the left, new highlights are dealt and a new Spike Magazine Card is turned over and a new round begins. The fifth and final round always ends with the Blood Bowl after which players tally their fans and the one with the most is the winner.
Blood Bowl Team Manager is brilliant in it’s elegance. It starts out so simple and turn by turn it builds, gradually getting more complex.
Each round all you are going to do is play six cards at upto 5 highlights, but the decisions you need to make in order to get the best out of those cards are far deeper than they have any right to be.
There are six playable teams, which all play completely differently. The Skaven and Wood Elves are both fast decks, making a lot of use from the Sprinting action (one of my favourite actions..) The Wood Elves however prefer to pass, where as the Skaven rely on underhanded cheating. The Dwarves rarely sprint but they hit hard. The humans enjoy passing the ball, employing sure handed players who can hold onto it even when tackled. The Chaos players enjoy sticking the boot in, scoring fans for injuring a downed player, while the Orcs are tough as nails and always up for a fight.
Each of the skills is different but each is a perfectly viable option during the game, adding to the depth of the game and order in which you commit your players.
The staff upgrades, team upgrades and star players all add to the flavour of the game, giving fantastic options for players on their turns.
The cheating tokens bring an element of luck and chaos to the game (which I love) when you have a cheating heavy team you never know what the outcome will be, storming success or utter disaster.
There are a few things, maybe, that I like less. For example, unless you have a fast team with lots of sprint icons, you are unlikely to see any of the star players you won in round four on the field in round five, making that particular payout less useful in the last two rounds.
It’s also perfectly possible for the non-sprinting teams to start the fifth round with a weak hand and be entirely unable to do anything about it. This can be a problem because round five has the highest fan payout of the game, The Blood Bowl. However, if you plan well and pick up good upgrades you should be fine.
Finally, I have played the game with two, three and four and I have to say I prefer it with 4. Two players gets a little trickier to set up and play, but also the game is a little more predictable. More players equals more fun with this game.
I love this game, love, love, love it. For me, this is the Blood Bowl experience that I have always wanted but never found. It’s fast, it’s simple , but it has all that history and all that flavour behind it. It’s full of interesting teams and brilliant star players (I love the Death Roller for the dwarves). No two games are alike.
Each round is just six decisions but those decisions are a lot of fun to make. I would recommend BBTM to anyone who enjoys having fun and is not adverse to a little (or a lot) of chaos in their games. If you love the Games Workshop IP or the Blood Bowl games, then you owe it to yourself to check this out.