The strapline for Battle of the Bands reads as ‘the game is for the bands that haven’t made it (yet)’ – it is perfect, encapsulating the humour and atmosphere of the game, as well as, you know, getting across what the game is about. If that tag line does not do it for you, however, let me also throw some terms at you as well: Battle of the Bands a competitive negotiation game, with drafting, risk management and cooperative set making. This might be a mouthful, but I like all those words.
• Designer: Edward Saperia, Sam Ballard, James Knight
• Publisher: Self-Published
• Number of Players: 3-5
• Playing Time: 45 mins
I usually leave discussing components of the game to the end of the review, but I feel like with this game I need to address the neon elephant in the room: the board for the game is a T-shirt. It is not just ‘we want to be different, here is a gimmick’ T-shirt. I think it is quite clever, actually.
First of all, the obvious: while spillages and food could be the death of board based games, here all beer stains are easily removed in the washing machine. The game cards, of course, are not as safe, but they are standard size and can be protected with sleeves. So in essence, unless you set the whole game on fire, it has a very long longevity and will look good for a relative long time (the t-shirt will probably start to fade after several washes, but the game will still be playable!).
Secondly, it is smart advertising. The T-shirt looks really nice, with a cool not too on the nose board game design, and, if it was my size, I would definitely wear it. Of course, if you are wearing the T-shirt, you can’t play the game… unless you have a very flat stomach and prepared to lie very still for about 40 minutes. I would be very interested to see, when the game comes out, if the developers would offer different t-shirt sizes or additional t-shirts with the game. Also, player tokens are badges and they also look awesome. Battle of the Bands also has a very nice 8 bit unique artwork and there is lots of humour to be devised from card names.
With that out of the way, Battle of the Bands itself is a lot of fun but can be quite brutal as well. In the game, each player starts a band. However, they don’t have much yet in terms of instruments, style or fans, but they have the most important thing: passion. In fact, they have two different passions. Throughout the game players will place cards from their hand onto the grid (on the T-shirt), which will generate in return more cards. There are primarily two card types; career cards and fan cards. Career hands make a stronger deck, allowing you to get an even better return the next round, and you will need 27 fans to win the game.
The T-shirt grid has 4 rows, the more rows are occupied with cards the better pay off is at the end. Also a complete row has to be occupied for the play to be valid. This means that at the start of the game no player will be able to complete a round by themselves, and will have to team up with others in order to progress and get more cards. However, after several rounds players can become picky and select only those whose cards are of a stronger value… or because ‘well, you didn’t choose me last time, so I’m not taking you on tour now’ reasons, which are also valid. It is also important to note that players are allowed to reserve only one card (be it their card or am unclaimed card on the board) with their badge and after the round has been completed the cards without badges get discarded. The position of badges also influences the order in which the players get to pick up the cards that are generated after that round.
Here comes my only gripe with the game. While ‘Passion’ cards are essentially jokers and can be placed in any column on the grid, their value is only one. The positions for the other career cards are fixed: first is always ‘Hype’, then ‘Chops’, then ‘Riffs’ and finally ‘Gear. Players tend to always reserve their own card of the highest value as this makes sense to do so. Which means that a player who got lucky and picked up a high numbered ‘Hype’ card early on in the game, will have a good likelihood of being always picked to go on tour and hence will get an advantage of choosing new cards first or second (in case where the ‘Hype’ player was not the band leader as well, as band leader always picks first). There is a clear advantage in getting the pick of the card pool first – you get the best card out of that round. So grabbing a good ‘Hype’ card becomes an instant advantage, even more so than a ‘Gear’ card of a much higher value.
Of course, this is where the advantage of competitive negotiation comes in. If a player gets ahead of everyone else, through the aforementioned ‘Hype’ luck or otherwise, everyone could just refuse to take them on tour, thus cutting them off from the fans ‘supply’. This, however, is not so easy to spot. The players can hide the number of fan cards in their hand (players only have to discard down to seven cards at the end of their turn). It is also incredibly tempting to have a player with a high numbered card on tour, as this has a greater reward of more cards.
Interestingly enough, this has never been brought up by anyone in my playing group until specifically asked. When I would enquire about their impressions of the game after we played it, the first response was that the game can get really brutal when you are excluded from tours (usually because you are ahead and sometimes just for the laughs). Then, when I specifically ask if they think the parts of the game were unfair, the response usually is: ‘that Hype/Chops card that *insert player name* got, really early on really helped them, didn’t it?’ So while this is definitely not game breaking, it does occasionally feel ‘unfair’.
To make the game ‘fairer’ (but also longer), the higher numbered cards for both fans and career cards, could be shuffled to the bottom of deck, rather just randomly. This would avoid someone getting 4 Chops card right at the beginning of the game and getting too far ahead of everyone else.
Battle of the Bands have not yet announced their Kickstarter date, however I would definitely keep your eyes out for this card game. It is full with silly fun, with awesome artwork and game-play that changes from competitive to cooperative from round to round, and vice versa. The rules are fairly easy to grasp, and I can see this game becoming one of the gateway games for those yet uninitiated into board games.