Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Original Content London. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, though I do like the art in its current state and have been told it might be tweaked but not super overhauled. That said, please note that final artwork and rules may change, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Note: This game’s name has been changed to Band Manager: Backstage Clash. That said, …everything I have and have taken pictures of uses the old stuff, so just kind of work with me, here. Sorry!
More previews! I’m actually starting to do a fair number of these, and they’re pretty fun, but I also feel like we’re kind of in the thick of Kickstarter season. This game, Battle of the Bands (not to be confused with the others) puts players straight into the music scene as an up-and-coming musician trying to make it big. Unfortunately, other than your passion, you don’t really have much, yet. Will you be able to practice enough to become the greatest musician ever just on your own? Or will you be able to rely on others to propel you to greatness?
So the first thing you’re going to notice is that there’s no game board, because it’s a t-shirt:
That’s kind of awesome (and is a question I got asked at least 5+ times when I last played — everyone playing or walking by would pause and ask, “is the game board a t-shirt?”, so, to get this out of the way, yes it is). Lay it down flat so that the board side is face-up, rather than the name of the game.
Next you’ll have three different types of cards — Career, Passion, and Fan cards:
Split those up into three separate decks, shuffle each, and deal each player 2 Passion Cards. Set the leftover Passion Cards back in the box; you won’t be using them. Now, each player should also select a badge:
That will essentially be your player token. Once you’re ready, your play area should look like this:
Gameplay is actually pretty straightforward. On your turn you can do one of two things:
Stay Home and Practice
Not much to say about this — you draw one card from the Career deck and your turn ends. No need to discard any cards or anything; that’s it.
Go on Tour
This one is a bit more exciting. If you choose this option, you become a tour manager and try to take your show on the road! As you can see on the game board, there are four levels to a tour, and the board is split into three zones — Fans (upper-left corner), Career (bottom-right corner), and Null (rightmost column). These determine your rewards for a successful tour.
But how do you go on tour?
Well, each card you get from the Career deck has a suit:
and a value:
In general, there are 15 0-value cards, 8 1-value cards, 4 2-value cards, 2 3-value cards, and exactly 1 4-value card of each suit. Why does that matter? Because in order to go on tour, you must play a card of each suit to fill out levels of the game board. This means if you want to do a Level 1 Tour, you’ll need one Hype card, one Chops, one Riffs, and one Gear. Note that if you want to play a Level 2 Tour, you have to play two Hype, two Chops, two Riffs, two Gear, and one Fan card. You have to complete every level below and including the level tour you want to go on.
If you play all those to the board, your tour is successful. You cannot complete a Tour with empty spots on the board at that tour’s level, and, with the exception of Passion cards, you must play the correct suits to their respective spots on the board.
If your tour is successful, you look at the cards values and where they are on the board:
- Cards pay out X cards of section of the board they’re sitting on (one of Fans / Career / Nothing), where X is their value.
- This means that 0-value cards pay out nothing,
- 1-value cards give you one card,
- 2-value cards give you two cards,
- and so on.
- The Fans column of the game board (required for Levels 2-4 Tours) never pays out anything.
- When you receive fans (you have cards played in the upper-left half of the game board), you draw cards from the Fan deck. They have a slightly different distribution than the Career deck:
- 21 1-Fan cards
- 18 2-Fan cards
- 15 3-Fan cards
- 6 4-Fan cards
If you don’t quite have enough cards to go on a tour, you can substitute in a Passion card for any type of card except for Fans, which are required for Levels 2-4 Tours. Incidentally, fans are also worth endgame points — the first player to 27 fans instantly wins. So, you gotta spend money to make money, as is true with many things. Once you’ve taken your spoils, discard all cards played to the board, and remove played Passion cards from the game. You never get those back. You also, as Tour Manager, must adhere to a hand limit of 7 cards:
- You can discard Career cards from your hand to the discard pile.
- You can also play Fan cards face-up in front of you. They still count for endgame points, but cannot be played on Tour.
Seems straightforward, right? Well, as you’re probably thinking, you might not ever get enough cards on your own to go on a Level 4 Tour. This is where the game becomes really interesting — when you’re trying to assemble the band to go on tour, you can bring other players with you. These players can then negotiate to play cards certain places to help make the tour better, and you share the spoils. There are a few more changes, so let’s walk through them.
If more than one player is going on tour:
- Once the tour is finalized, you should come up with a name for the band. It makes the game more fun.
- Players negotiate for placing cards in certain spots on the board. You might, for instance, ask a player to play their highest “Chops” card so that you can get more Career / Fan cards, or ask the player currently with the most Fan cards to place the Fan cards so that you can complete the Level 2 Tour.
- Remember badges? You can now play them on top of a card on the board. This is important. For two reasons, actually, which is why you negotiate your badge placement:
- You get the card that your badge is on back after the tour. This doesn’t even have to be a card that you played, so you might want to see if you can keep a really good card from the board, if other players will let you.
- The column that you place your badge in determines your order in taking rewards from the tour. For this reason, you can only have one badge per column. So if you want a Hype card and another player does, too, you’re going to have to talk it out. You cannot place a badge on a Fan card or a Passion card, so you’ll always just lose those.
- Spoils are divided in badge order, one card at a time. You’ll start with the Tour Manager, who always takes the first card once, and then by column, starting with Hype (so the ordering will be Hype->Chops->Riffs->Gear->Fans->Hype->etc.).
- Only the Tour Manager has a hand limit enforced after the tour. Other players on the Tour can keep all the cards they gained. That’s usually pretty good for you.
- At any point and for any reason, the Tour Manager can kick another player off the tour, or any player can leave the tour. Don’t want to agree with someone’s demands? Kick ’em off. Don’t like what you’re being asked to play? Leave. It’s a free business.
Play continues until one player has reached 27 fans, in which case that player immediately wins. There should never be a tie, for this reason, since players can never simultaneously draw.
Player Count Differences
Haven’t really noticed that many, other than having more players will, on average, make the game take a bit longer (and force slightly larger tours, in terms of player count, on average, since there are more players who have turns between your turns). At three players you may find that you’re often just partnering with whichever player has (in your opinion) the fewest fans to try and avoid helping the current leader, whereas at four or five players you may just end up going on a massive tour with everyone to move the game along a bit. You’d also be able to kickstart a successful tour earlier since there are more Passion cards in the game.
- Generally, try to have decent Hype cards. If you need to end the game quickly, you can always try to go on tour on your turn and play a good enough Hype card to get a Level 1 Tour going and get enough fans to win.
- Try to make sure you save 4-value cards, whenever possible. They are extremely valuable, especially on higher-level tours, so try not to play them unless you can use them to negotiate for great rewards (especially if you’ve got 4 Hype). If you do play them, try to put your badge on them so you can get them back.
- Especially on larger tours, try to avoid being Tour Manager if you can. Sure, you get first pick, but that pesky hand limit can either kill your Career cards or force you to actually expose your score to everyone else, which might get you blacklisted from future tours. That said:
- Keep an eye on players that are never Tour Manager. They’re probably saving up cards so that they can go on one massive game-ending solo tour or hiding a lot of Fan cards. Either get the other players to refuse to help them or make them be Tour Manager so you can force them to potentially show you how many points they have. Generally, I’d recommend the former, since it keeps them out of scoring altogether.
- Don’t be afraid to use Passion cards. Especially given how many 0-value Career cards there are, you might need to use Passion cards early to get started. Or you’ll draw a bunch of 0’s. Either way.
- As you might imagine, try not to let people know how many Fans you have. People don’t really want to go on tour with you if there’s a chance you might win. You might also want to offer to spend fan cards to do higher-level tours so that people will go wtih you.
- Play nice. Remember, you’re generally in it for the long game, so you don’t want to alienate all the other players and get left out of all future tours. That said, if you’re about to win, feel free to renege on agreements and just play totally for the win. Live the dream.
- I find that solo tours make the most sense very early and very late. Early, you want to cycle cards so you can get more Career cards and build up for better tours. Mid-game, you’ll be splitting tours with other players to try and collectively earn Fan cards / better Career cards. Late-game, yeah, nobody’s going to trust anyone enough to go on tour with them, so solo tours are going to be how you push for the win.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Super thematic. The board’s a t-shirt, basically the king of concert merchandise. I love it. They also note in the rulebook that it makes cards easier to pick up, and they’re totally right. It’s a great idea; I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more. It does make it slightly more difficult to slide cards off all at once, but who cares.
- Great art. I’m actually a huge fan of pixel art, and the work done here is pretty impressive. It’s also bright and colorful, exactly like you’d imagine it should be.
- Fun gameplay. It reminds me a bit of Between Two Cities with some of Catan‘s trading mechanisms, but in a way where this kind of negotiation makes sense (unlike, say, Above and Below, where I think it never makes sense to trade or negotiate).
- Also, cool gameplay mechanic. The sort-of-collective-negotiation mechanic is pretty interesting, and it seems like a great game to play if you’re just sitting around having a few drinks with friends.
- Ever-so-slightly luck-based. I think a fair amount of your success in this game is based off of your negotiation skills, yes, but it can also come down to what cards you draw, which can frustrate some players. See Cons for more of my thoughts on that, specifically around the cards.
- Game can take a fair bit of time, and I think that’s exacerbated by the number of 0-value Career cards. There are just a lot, so your expected value on a draw is pretty low. This sometimes means that you can’t do much on your turn, which makes the game feel long. This also leads to:
- It’s also frustrating that there are so many 0’s, at times. I have seen players get kind-of behind the 8-ball and unable to get out because they use all their best cards on a solo tour, only to draw mostly 0-value cards (meaning they won’t be able to get anything too useful for those in the future). I’d love to see a bit better luck mitigation, like either giving players a reward if they get only 0’s or letting players stack 0-value cards to increase their value or something. It’s not the biggest deal, but it can be frustrating to some players.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, it’s a fun game! I really like the negotiation mechanic (as I’ve mentioned), and I think that generally I’d enjoy playing it and occasionally suggest it, especially as the night winds down, since it’s mostly social. I like that aspect of it, and I could see it being a solid game for just shooting the breeze with a few friends. Plus, I like the art and music a lot, so it’s all-around kind of a cool game to me. I do think it’s a tiny-bit luck-dependent (just given how many 0-value cards there are), but, that’s also rock-and-roll. If you’re trying to find a fun game with a cool theme, I’d recommend giving Battle of the Bands a look; I’ve enjoyed it!