Years ago, gamers who felt left out of the world of sports got to experience them through Blood Bowl, a customizable miniatures game that brought mythical creatures into the a football-type sporting competition. Fantasy Flight Games returns to this world, in a non-customizable card version, with Blood Bowl: Team Manager. This latest version does a fine job simulating a season of teams facing off against each other.

In Blood Bowl: Team Manager, each manager controls a team of players through a series of games, competing to have the most fans at the end of the game. Dwarves and Chaos specialize in tackling, Elves and Skraven are fast ball carriers, and Humans and Orcs are balanced between the two. During the five turns, the players will send their players to compete in match-ups for different rewards.

There are six turns (four for a two-player game). On each turn, a row of cards are revealed: a Spike! Magazine card (a tournament or headline) and a number of highlights (games). Headlines affect gameplay, with effects like drawing more cards, adding cheating tokens, or limiting the number of players at each highlight. Highlights have rewards (on either side) for the competitors, with one main reward for the winner. Only two managers can compete in a highlight, but any number can battle for a tournament. Rewards include fans, team upgrades (helping players in the highlights), staff upgrades (either helping with highlights or giving fans at the end of the game), and star players (much more powerful than the starting lineup). If multiple symbols appear for a win, the playe rdraws that many cards, picks one, and discards the rest. Each player draws six players, assigning them one at a time to highlights and possibly tournaments.

All players have a Star Power (two, actually: one for normal play, one if downed by a tackle) and other skills. The basic skills are used when a character is played, though some are reactional (like Guard, which lets the character take a tackle instead of the target.) Cheating gives a random token that can add to the Star Power, give fans, or get the player ejected. Passing moves the ball (worth two Star Power) from the other team to the midfield, or from midfield to that character. Sprinting lets a player draw a card, add it to his hand of players, then discard one. And it wouldn't be football without tackling! Blood Bowl: Team Manager has special six-sided dice with three tackle symbols, two blank sides, and one fumble. If a tackler attacks an opponent with a lower Star Power, the attacker rolls two dice and decides which result to use. If tackler and oponent have the same Star Power, one die is rolled. If the target has a higher Star Power, both dice are rolled -- but the target decides which die to use! If the tackle succeeds, a standing target is downed: They are tiled sideways, lose their abilities, and their Star Power is almost always lowered. If a downed character is tackled, they are discarded from the match. And if the result is a fumble, the attacker is downed.

After all the players have been assigned, it's time for the Scoreboard Phase. For each highlight and tournament, the sides add up their remaining Star Power. The higher Star Power wins the main payout; if it's a tie, whatever side has the ball wins; and each side collects their payout for participating. The players are then sent to the discard pile, six new players are drawn , new highlights and Spike! Magazine cards are drawn, and it's the next turn.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager is pretty good at simulating the world of football -- albeit a world with orcs, elves, cheating, and violence. Each of the teams have their own strengths and weaknesses, so no one format will dominate every game. There's a lot of luck, whether it's hoping a cheating token will benefit a player instead of booting them from a match, or needing that big tackle to win the round. The artwork is appropriately brutal without getting too bloody, and flavor text from commentators Bob and Jim provides some solid humor to this competition. Choosing which rewards to go for is as important as winning matches; and Team Upgrades have a way of really adding up at the end of a game.

It's a stereotype that gamers at bad at sports -- a stereotype that often has a basis in reality. Blood Bowl: Team Manager won't replace actual exercise, but it is a very fun, pretty strategic battle in a fantasy world of sports.

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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