08th Aug2018

‘Band Manager: The Board Game’ Review

by Matthew Smail

bandmanager-box

Band Manager: The Board Game is the result of a successful Kickstarter that was launched by Original Content London a few years ago now. The game is built around the concept of forming a band, assembling successful tours and ultimately on winning a very specific number of fans to symbolise that your band has made it to the rock/pop/alternative pantheon. The game supports between three and five players and is probably better at four or five thanks to the negotiation aspects.

The first thing that most players will notice is that Band Manager is actually played on a T-Shirt, rather than a traditional board. Although it is entirely wearable, it serves no additional purpose aside from enhancing the theme somewhat and creating a conversation point, both of which are fair enough objectives I suppose. Functionally, it effectively displays a grid of different coloured spaces, each of which depicts a different component of the tour that you’ll either individually or collectively assemble.

Aside from the board (which is a T-Shirt, remember) the box also contains a pin badge for each player and a number of patches that represent The Entourage expansion, which I’ll explain later. Aside from that, the game is essentially made up of a huge deck of cards that are split between passion, fan and career cards. Each player is dealt two passion cards at the beginning of the game and the others are removed, whilst fans are reserved separately during game play to be drawn when specified.

Most of Band Manager is built around the deck of career cards (which in my case will include the eighteen NSFW expansion cards) that will be placed to the side of the playing area. Each turn, players may either stay home and practice or go on tour. If a player stays home, all they do is draw a card from the top of the career deck and pass. If they decide to go on tour, however, then the game really begins to get interesting.

Each tour must comprise of a number of different elements known as “Hype, Chops, Riffs and Gear.” As a normal human, it’s hard to remember what each of these actually mean, but in practice the attractive and distinctive pixel art on each card does a reasonable job of representing the features of each, although if you are still in any doubt, you can simply use the very obvious colour coding system. As an example, low level gear might be a plastic kazoo, whilst at the higher end, you’d probably rather take a distinctive, rock guitar.

So why does this all matter and what do I mean by higher level gear? Well, the T-Shirt board has space for up to five sets of cards on each tour, but each set must be complete in order to count. Whilst most players will be able to launch the occasional one or two set tour on their own, it’s much more likely that you’ll need to pool resources by asking other players to go on tour with you. This, in combination with the way in which spoils are dished out after the tour is over means that negotiation is a critical part of Band Manager.

As an example, if you and another player have assembled a three set tour that looks pretty good, except that it is missing the last chops card, then you’re going to ask your other opponents if they want in. One (or all) of them might come to the table with the chops card that you need, but they might also make an unreasonable demand in order to contribute it – for example, they might want to place their pin on one of the more powerful cards, allowing them to reserve it during clean up. The second other player might make a bid for a lesser card, leaving the current tour organiser with a tough choice to make between either of those options, or simply running the tour without the third set of cards. The more players needed to make the tour, the more negotiation will occur.

Once the tour is resolved, the value of the cards will reult in a number of fans and career cards being drawn and handed out, with the cards used to form the tour discarded, except for those which are reserved as a result of the pins that are placed on them. As player hands grow either through practice or as the result of larger, more impressive tours, so too does the ability for all players to participate in the next tour. If one or two players spend their cards on one tour, it’s likely that the remaining players will be better placed to dominate the next one. The game ebbs and flows in a series of temporary alliances, which is actually surprising thematic when you are in the flow of choosing your reggae/ska/pop tour and deciding on suitable instruments.

There’s also a fair bit of light role play in Band Manager, if you really want it to come alive. Take the passion cards, for example, which are all functionally the same, but each one has a different reason for being in a band on it. Play your mid-life crisis passion card for example, as part of a techno outfit that uses children’s toys for instruments and you’ll probably find yourself naturally inclined towards a bit of story telling. Band Manager is certainly enhanced as a result of that inclination, so my recommendation is to run with it if you can – especially as you build tours as a collective and attempt to explain how the very different bands could possibly have come together.

Band Manager is a very enjoyable game, overall, although it is relatively simplistic and therefore I think it is unlikely to be a regular feature on your gaming table following the initial honeymoon period. It’s good as a slightly heavier party game, but it remains quite simple to teach and very easy to play. It’s a good game for anyone looking to add a thematic negotiation game to their collection and if you don’t expect too much from it, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

*** 3/5

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