Update: Due to a legal dispute, this game is no longer called Battle of the Bands and is now called Band Manager: Backstage Clash.
Original Article: I used to be in a band, in fact during my formative years I've been in a number of bands and all but one of them were pretty rubbish. I may be a competent bass player but Wherewithal did a lot better once I left. So when I talk about Band Manager: Backstage Clash, a new card game that's on Kickstarter now, I feel like I've been there. I've had the chops, I've practised till my ears ring, I’ve spent too much money on a new guitar and I’ve stared out over an audience of bored looking punters.
Battle of the Bands relives the dream of every musician. You'll start small, with only your passion to fuel you and you'll buy equipment, practise your riffs and blend styles to go on tour and gain an army of loyal fans.
The first thing that grabs your attention about Battle of the Bands is the board, because it isn't a board it's a T-shirt in regulation band-tee black. For a more authentic rock band experience you could wear the T-shirt when going for a run and spill some beer on it, just to give it that genuine 'ageing rocker leaving the mosh pit' odour.
On the board are four levels representing the size of gig and five columns that represent the things you will need for every concert; hype, chops, riffs and gear, and for larger gigs you will also need fans, because no-one is going to let you play Wembley if you haven't got enough fans to fill it.
Gameplay is very simple, so simple in fact even a drummer could understand the rules. The aim of the game is to collect 27 fans but sadly winning the game doesn't reward you with a group of enthusiastic groupies, although you run the risk of a few bearded roadies.
Each turn you can either practise, collecting career cards, or go on tour. In order to go on tour you will need to fill the slots with the right cards starting from the bottom and working up. You'll need to fill each row in order to satisfy that level of gig and even though passion will help, acting as a wild card, to get to the big gigs you’re going to have to invite other bands to come on tour with you.
The rewards from going on tour, either more career cards or fans, depend on which cards you place in each slot. Higher valued cards will gain you greater rewards, and as the gig gets larger the rewards shift from career cards to fans.
When taking other players on tour you have to agree on where you place your cards, and then you will have to agree on which cards you will keep. Each player involved in the tour is allowed to earmark one card, and one card only, to come back into their hand. Every other card on the board gets discarded and so going on tour, especially larger tours can be costly in resources.
This stage, the encouraging other players to come on tour and the selecting of which card you will keep, is Battle of the Bands. You have to be careful about who to invite, and even more careful about agreeing which of your cards you will play and which card you will grab back into your hand. Often the negotiations will be based around a single card, especially those with higher values.
These higher value cards are my main criticism of Battle of the Bands, the level 4 Hype card being the biggest offender. Owning this card makes you incredibly powerful, basically allowing you to call the shots at each gig you attend. If there are plenty of other high valued cards in play and they are reasonably spread among the players it wasn't an issue, but a single player with one high valued card game them a distinct advantage.
There’s no denying that Battle of the Bands is a light game, you can be as nasty or as nice to each other while negotiating a gig, but there’s nothing inherently nasty or complicated with the game; practise to collect career cards, go on tour, gain fans. It does mean that Battle of the Bands isn’t particularly deep, the depth and strategy comes solely from negotiating your gigs but at the same time it’s a relatively quick game, taking less than an hour to play.
There’s something inherently silly about Battle of the Bands. You play cards based on their value, rather than the logical combination, so it can result in some odd musical styles. You may end up headlining a Goth band with a saxophone soloist, who has got where they are due to their mid-life crisis and a shopping trolley, all beautifully illustrated in colourful pixel art. As the value of the cards gets better the gig’s become more coherent, as if your band is conforming to what beings punters to the gigs, or possibly you are just selling out.
I must admit that when I heard about Band Manager: Backstage Clash I was hoping for a band management games, something akin to Rockstar Ate My Hamster for the older readers amongst you. What I got was a light but fun negotiation game. The rules may be simpler than a The Pixies’ bass line but that just makes it even more accessible.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.