ManagerBall Board Game Preview
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
There are very few sports games out there. Let me re-phrase that. There are very few good sports games out there. Out of the thousands of games listed on BGG, over 5,000 are sports based. But a lot of those are racing games or in truth, terrible.
When a new one comes long, I am often highly skeptical of it. I am unsure why. Surely a good one has to come around soon? But I often pass on playing them due to the many poor experiences I have had in the past.
Recently, I saw a demo of ManagerBall at UKGE and was very impressed. There was something a little more thought out with this game than some others that made me think this could be one of the few good sports games.
Having now run through many ‘seasons’ with this game, I can safely say that it is fun. There are some issues with it that I would like to see tweaked. But overall, this was a fun experience. It felt unique, and I had fun playing. Let’s see how it plays.
On the surface, the game is loosely based on a Top Trumps mechanic, but there is a lot more going on. Players will select a team from six pre-set groups of cards. The only really difference is the name of the players and their kit colour. All the teams are evenly balanced. You will then place your selected starting 11 face-down on your player mat leaving you with three substitutes. Each player has a group of ratings like Top Trumps. Speed, Aggression, Technique etc. You can alternate your formation to some degree, but largely this part feels a little prescribed, and each team starts largely the same.
Each player will then be able to “sign” a Superstar player. There is a deck of cards you can draw from, full of players with higher stats and jazzy kits! This one player can be instantly added into your starting 11, and could be a Goalkeeper, Defender, Midfielder, or Attacker. This is where some minor asymmetry kicks in.
Using the IOS enabled app, one person will then need to enter in the team names and colours for each person playing. It works from two up but is a lot more fun with at least four players controlling one team each.
The app will generate a fixture list for you and tell you which two players are up first. You will see all the fixtures, so you can have two games running at once if you have at least four players. But in a three-player league, one person will be watching at all times. Games are quick and fun to watch though, so this is not a fault.
Games consist of players choosing a card to flip. They must start with Attackers first when attacking, and Defenders first when defending. Midfielders work for either discipline when you have exhausted the usual suspects.
The home team starts with possession and will pick one of their Attackers first. They will flip the card and pick one of the statistics from their chosen card and read out loud which one they are going for, and their players appropriate score. If they have a higher number than their opponent, they can then have a shot on goal. So far, so Top Trumps.
Strikers will have two shots (two die rolls). Midfielders just the one. Defenders also only one, but with a negative two attributed to their dice roll. Shooting consists of throwing the 26 sided die into the provided stadium shaped dice tray (which is awesome). Roll a one and you will score an own goal, roll a 20 and you will somehow manage to score twice as well as getting your hands on the goal of the season trophy. If you roll higher than the defending goalkeepers stats. You will score. If you roll less than half their stats, the goalkeeper will catch the shot and possession is overturned. Anything in between means the attacking player will pick a new player and start the process again.
The dice also has multiple ‘refs whistle’ icons on a number of the sides that will elicit a card draw from the appropriate deck. These cards could see your players being sent off, injured, or a penalty, free kick or corner being awarded. It can also prompt the end of the game which can be frustrating if this happens early in a game. Fantastic if you are currently leading! Otherwise, the match is finished when both players have used each of their ten outfield players once.
And this is the entire football part of the game. You will be doing this over and over, game after game. But crucially, wining games is only part of the actual game experience. Sure, winning games helps. Winning games will get you points in the game. ManagerBall points. But it is not the entire objective. You are playing more as Chairman and Manager of this team, not just the manager. Your overall objective is about your club’s sustainability financially as well as success on the field.
You will start the game with a cool £25m in the bank. Sounds a lot. But after each game you need to pay your players wages. If you win the match, this is manageable. You will get a £5m win bonus, £1m for TV rights and potentially a bit more from other sponsors or ad-hoc rewards.
However, if you lose, and perhaps get fined for your poor conduct in the post-match TV interview, your funds will quickly become depleted and over time you can fall into administration. This is all managed by cards that are drawn by both managers after each game. The variety of rewards and punishments from these cards is high and a lot of fun. The risk of leaving yourself exposed financially is real. We can't all be like City!
Other than paying your players wages, the main way you will spend your money is in the transfer market. At the end of each season, when each team has played each other team twice, all players will enter a transfer window. This a chance for players to sell unwanted players to other teams or the bank, buy new Superstar players, and can also be a time when you are forced to sell one of your better players. Cards drawn earlier in the game could force a sale of one of your preferred starting players in the next transfer window. You will always be fairly rewarded for these forced sales, but of course, you would prefer to sell your weaker players, not your better ones. But this football. Players have feelings and sometimes want to go, no matter what the club did for them. Looking at you Jack.
Each player can take part in up to two transfers, crucial if you need some funds, or want to improve your starting 11. The off-season break will also see players being rewarded financially for their finishing position in the league based on the results on the pitch. As well as one person winning significant prize money if they currently hold the goal of the season trophy. Awarded to anyone who last rolled a 20 when attempting a shot.
Depending on your player count and available time, you can play multiple seasons or just one. That’s entirely up to you. But at the end of each season, the app will ask you to enter your current financial situation, rewarding each player with more ManagerBall points, based on their current fiscal position relatively speaking to the other players. A league table will then be created based on the Manager points you got from your league position and financial situation.
More than just a game.
This game is far more than just a sports simulation, or the simple Top Trump mechanic of comparing stats of one card to another. That is a core part of the game, and if that doesn’t sound fun, then the rest may not make up for it. But if you do feel you would enjoy that kind of quick card play, the rest of the mechanisms will certainly draw you into this game.
I enjoy the balancing act between trying to upgrade your players and win games, all whilst trying to stay afloat financially. The first few games I played I ran into administration very quickly due to poor play and one rule mistake! Not being able to pay you player wages after games forces you to sell player for half their face value to the bank until you can pay their wages. This quickly results in you not being able to fill a full team, and ends your chances of winning the game very quickly.
I later found a more conservative way to manage my finances, which while at first, was frustrating, ultimately ended up with a more satisfying experience. The best way I can explain this, is by saying this is more of a simulation than an arcade game. Putting it into old-school 90s video game terms. This game asks you to think seriously about the decisions you are making rather than just letting you do whatever without any consequences. This isn’t a quick fantasy football game where you can sign all the best players, play seven strikers and just have some care-free fun. You need to think more seriously about what you can afford and what is realistic. Harry Redknapp would hate it.
This is resource management more than a pure sports game. I really enjoyed this part of it. Playing multiple seasons help cement this aspect for me. Slow growth with one or two player improvements per season is sustainable and ultimately satisfying when you see your teams progress over four or five seasons, and of course, the fact that you haven’t gone bankrupt yet! You don’t need to make all those changes in one season, and it is strange how you become attached to some of your players. You won’t want to sell them all!
ManagerBall will come to Kickstarter later this year or early next. I will put a link here when it does. But go check out the pre-link page here.