Lambourne Games, £12.50.
There has been some discussion in Sumo recently on soccer games and most agree that, given what else is available, Lambourne's Soccer Replay has been the best of a lacklustre bunch. I must admit that I don't actually play it because it offers purely solitaire replay strengths, has little decision making and takes me at least 45 minutes and usually an hour to complete a game. It also seems a little cumbersome in some of its systems, although others such as the defence state work very well. While there has been a steady stream of tempting update teams for the game, what I have really been waiting for is the soccer game in Terry's Sporting Deals series. Hopefully this would offer a quicker, cleaner game with card play at the centre of the action. Oddly, despite having seen a prototype of such a card game last year, Final Score isn't that at all, but is another full blown Lambourne production which Terry seems to believe will succeed Soccer Replay as Lambourne's main soccer game.
By rights, and please bear in mind throughout I am not an expert on the real game, it deserves to have real trouble in achieving that aim. The game is something of an aberration, being a Lambourne game that sets no new standards, is clumsy and, most surprising of all, almost completely lacks atmosphere. I have a number of specific complaints which more than outnumber the only really good point in the game to my mind (the flavoursome commentary) but even that was disliked or considered superfluous by others I've spoken to. The initial play of the game was conducted by three of us sharing the load, but all were quickly disillusioned before half time. I have subsequently played it through solitaire, as it is intended, with a better grip on the rules and mechanisms but sadly have no improvement to report.
Final Score aims to recreate a single game of soccer which can stand alone or be incorporated into a league or cup structure. I reckon with practice a game could be played in 30 minutes or perhaps a bit less (Lambourne quote an optimistic 15-20 minutes), but this is in no way a fastplay system and you are in for a long haul if you play a league, as suggested in the rules booklet. The game is replay based, so you will have few decisions during the match, but that is the nature of the beast and is not grounds for criticism.
For a match, two clubs are chosen, two teams are selected from the squads provided (see below) and the details are laboriously transferred to a match control sheet. This is paperwork that should really have been circumvented. The next problem is that the players chosen have to be shoehorned into fixed, named positions such that the Liverpool team that emerged was quite unrecognisable. Finally, and perhaps the oddest rule, is that each player is rolled for on a form chart to give him a rating between one and six for the entire game. This gives rise to a situation where an otherwise useless player 'in form' might well play a blinder off his six. That player could be Tony Adams and Wright or Hansen may be labouring under a one at the other end. Frankly, I would take even a badly out of form Wright over an on form Adams any day but the whole feel is to devalue the individual player skills also present in the game. Set up, by the way, took us a good ten minutes.
Final Score, in common with Soccer Replay, wisely uses a highlight system that zooms in on just the potentially successful attacks and cuts out the dead time in every soccer game. The game is resolved using a series of match-ups - between players, team ratings or formations which are driven off the fast action cards. The result is determined on a separate matrix that indicates (eventually), through shifts and modifiers, which team has won the ball and if they can make a useful attack from the possession. The 'quality' of the match-up result (60% of the time it is between two players) gives rise to the type of attack. I had real trouble with this as I don't see that a match-up won convincingly is going to make that much difference to how good an attack emerges, but I may be mistaken. Whatever, this pre-action sub system is clumsy, completely lacking in flavour and seems superfluous compared to a simple roll or card flip, but, to my mind, the game gets even more cluttered after that.
In the event of a successful build up, the action shifts to the myriad charts included with the game. There are charts for attacks, shots, headers, lobs and so on, totallin over forty charts that must be arranged on the table and sorted through each time you need one. Random outcomes are read off these charts to 'commentate' on the attack. The procedure involves picking up a seed number from a fast action card, finding and reading the chart, getting another number, moving to another chart and at the end there might be a chance of a goal. Each stage has a commentary but this also means a lot of paper shuffling and hunting, application of modifiers and trying to work out who has the ball (inevitably, positions are used rather than players) to try to inject some feel for what is happening. More on this below. Sadly, all this is not intuitive, let alone atmospheric, and even the use of modifiers doesn't create the feeling of a good striker in the box or a great crosser on the wing. The final straw for me is that some charts feature 'Hard shot into top corner - Goal!' (Check for Goalie) or similar results. We are thus treated to the spectacle of scoring only to find that really it was a save. Anticlimactic is an understatement having gone through that much to get there.
A couple of final gripes. The sixteen teams supplied are, to a man of my age, ludicrous - I think Terry must have a thing about men in calf length shorts. Perhaps I protest too much, but if you can't relate to the teams on the table (there is no pitch), this game format is going to lose an awful lot - replay games for me turn on this player identification. Anyway, there are just two English teams from each of the '70s and '80s and none from the 90's (which mix accordingly lost most of my interest as soon as I opened the packet) and the rest are meant to represent a selection of the best post-war teams.
Our resident football expert, Bruce Wilson, declared the Scots teams on offer to be not exactly hot and even I, a soccer ignoramus, know that the Liverpool team of the late eighties was just a bit useful on occasion. Nevertheless, it failed to make the cut behind the likes of Ipswich '61 (who can forget the likes of Ted Phillips? Me, I wasn't born) and West Brom '53, who came only second in the First Division and had Harry Enfield at centre half. Inspiring? Not very, it must be said, but I can almost excuse this on subjective grounds. But hold on, the big selling point was that Soccer Replay teams could be easily converted into Final Score format. Well, yes, after a fashion, but it is not exactly an intuitive or rapid task so we must wait for the housebound heroes to do it for us or lump it with those included.
Taken in isolation, with no other soccer games available, Final Score would stand up as a halfway decent soccer replay system. But it clearly doesn't stand in isolation (Soccer Replay alone should be a basis for improvement) and I don't think we have ended up with a game that is worth buying. I concede that it works after a fashion, and that there is nothing badly wrong with it, but I expect more from Lambourne and wonder if, in this case, a wider range of playtesters might have been wise to increase the chances of negative comments. As it is, we have a game that Terry was unusually gung ho about, that has left at least half a dozen hardcore Lambourne fans, including me, quite unmoved.
So in summary, Final Score is a major disappointment. It is hard work, lacking in both flow and flavour and adds little to the advancement of soccer game design. Obviously negative comments about a Lambourne production are pretty rare, but this one really has very little going for it and I would suggest saving your cash and waiting until something else comes along. In fact, it almost represents a backward step from Soccer Replay in replacing that game's sound core idea and by using uninspiring cards instead of dice. On balance, I much prefer the pitch layout and systems used in the earlier game. All this comment has a degree of irony given Terry's high opinion of and hopes for the system, but believe me when I say I am surprised as anyone that this could have emerged from the master. Not recommended then and I hope that Terry finishes that other, much more playable, game I saw at Beer & Pretzels '91.
On to the review of Minos or back to the review of Formule De.
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information