Review: Blood Bowl Team Manager

I know, I know. It's a wargaming blog but this is vaguely on-topic. Indeed, it's something of a public service announcement in these times of fiscal responsibility. I bought Space Hulk for the grand sum of eighty quid a few years back. I've played it about five times. Blood Bowl Team Manager cost me thirty three quid a month ago and I've played it about twenty times.

The Mechanics
The goal of the game is not to be the most successful manager but the most popular. Good managers can get fired, managers who are adored by the fans do not. You secure your popularity by taking your starting team of half-wits and never-do-wells through a season and boosting their fan factor to new heights.

Each week, the players compete in a series of highlights from various matches and cups. The winner takes the lion's share of the payout on offer but all participants gain something from every match, which ensures that no team stagnates. The rewards on offer include star players, team upgrades, staff upgrades and that all-important fan factor.
The Teams
The box comes with six distinct teams and the internal balance has been solid thus far. The Wood Elves have a strong passing game coupled with off-field effects to negate the impact of enemy tacklers. The Dwarves have a resilient style, players tend to fight on even when downed and their additional abilities reflect their stubborn resistance with effects which activate when hit. The Humans are the all-rounders, which could have be a weakness but allows access to a wide variety of skills. They excel in recruitment and sponsorship deals.

The Chaos have a direct cheating game style, coupled with additional "cheating" abilities from the dug-out. The Skaven share some similarity with the Chaos in making heavy use of cheating but also have a strong passing game. Their off-field abilities allow them to switch players around and benefit from defeats. The Orcs are brutal, violent and occasionally foul their way to victory. Their off-field abilities attempt to leverage their violent acts directly into fan factor. Now these descriptions are merely a basic introduction and I would warn that the teams are not as one-dimensional as is suggested here.

The Tactics
In theory, a successful game is built on careful team development and on-pitch success. But this is Blood Bowl so there are multiple paths to success. The Star Players can be used to bolster your team and change its style. Or they can be used, LA Galaxy style, as big names to drum up supporters. Staff Upgrades can be used to strengthen your squad by granting access to new skills, win matches through direct intervention (hello, Mr. Wizard) or simply increase fan factor quietly. Staff Upgrades are also central to off-pitch bids for fan factor and victory but also required to grant your team the full range of skills. Team Updates generally enhance your specific team's playstyle by providing race-specific upgrades which tie into their abilities in some way.

No single strategy can be decided upon before the game begins, the successful coach must see how his season unfolds and choose a strategy based on his initial results. Once chosen, he must work to disguise his plans to prevent other players from countering him. This is difficult as the compulsory public display of cards will generally begin to reveal his intentions.

"That was fun. Another game?"
Replayability. I'm not convinced this is a word. But if it was, it would certainly apply here. I have never played a boardgame so often and with such a variety of opponents. The play time is quick, roughly one and a half hours, including set-up. The four player maximum makes full games easy to organise and the teaching time is incredibly quick. We have found that simply playing through the first turn gives all players the required knowledge. My copy now lives in my car so I always have it to hand whenever nerds should gather. So take that as a glowing recommendation.

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