by Dave Farquhar
Footmania is a football management game from the French company Ludodelire, who are already establishing an impressive track record. So good in fact, one wonders when they will come a cropper. Footmania is for three to four players, and likely to cost around £35. This review can give only a first impression of the game, having only played once so far. However, I enjoyed it enough to want to spread the word.
I must apologise in advance for any confusion which may arise during this review from the use of the word 'player'. Sometimes it refers to the person playing the game, at others it relates to a footballer. Unfortunately I am unable to think of another word to use, and must rely on the ability of the average Sumo reader to be able to understand me (expect an Editor's comment here). [MS: I understand perfectly.]
Footmania has some similarities with Slapshot, the Avalon Hill ice-hockey game. Both involve building teams, and then comparing point values in relatively simple 'matches'. Both include trading and injuries, with phases flipping between playing matches, and rebuilding. However there is more depth to Footmania, and players have much greater control, though it remains very much a game rather than an attempt at simulation.
The game comes in the usual Ludodelire long rectangular box, the contents of which include a playing board, two sets of footballer cards, play money and decks of European teams, chance and 'plus' cards. The board portrays a track around which the players' pieces move, surrounding a 'pitch' on which the teams are displayed during matches. Quality is, as we have come to expect from Ludodelire, superb.
Play of the game breaks down into two main phases. The first involves moving around the board, by means of a die roll, attempting to build a team. The second consists primarily of playing matches against the other players' teams. European games may also occur during this latter phase. Each opponent's team is played twice during the season, with two points being gained for a win, and one for a draw. The player ending with the most points is the winner.
The players begin the game with money, but no footballers. The player whose turn it is rolls a die, and moves his marker in any desired direction. The instructions on the destination square are then followed. The intention of the player at this point is generally to do one of four things: buy a player, gain income, take a chance card or take a plus card. Gaining income may arise either as a straight 'receive x' or by attracting a sponsor. Chance cards are to an optimist 50% good, to a pessimist 50% bad. Plus cards are held for tactical play during matches in the second phase.
When a player is given the opportunity of purchasing a footballer, the top card is taken from the appropriate pile. Player cards come in two types and in two separate stacks; French players and foreign internationals. The back of the card indicates only the price payable to the bank for the footballer, whereas the front shows the quality, star rating (if any), position and base auction price. The cards are stored face down, so all players are therefore aware only of the purchase price, and whether or not he's French. The prospective purchaser looks at the front of the card and decides whether to buy. This decision is based on the value of the player to the team, but the effect of allowing him to pass to an opponent should also be considered which brings us to team assessment.
The value of a team is calculated by adding the points value of the players, indicated if French by their strip colour, plus additional star values (also on the card). Extra points are also gained by accumulating successful European experience. Footballer cards normally specify one number, designating the position in which he plays. However, some may play in more than one position, such as a midfield maestro, while others are utility players able to play anywhere. These are obviously highly valued.
If a player decides to keep the footballer on offer, he pays the money, and puts the player into his squad. If he turns down the opportunity the card goes up for auction amongst his opponents. Since the starting auction price is considerably cheaper than that quoted on the reverse of the card, the successful bidder may end up getting the footballer on the cheap.
Once the first full team has been announced, that player scores a bonus and the player markers complete a single circuit of the board, at the end of which the second stage is triggered: we now get to play some matches. In a three player game one match is played at this point. In the four player game two matches are played, with all teams participating. Another circuit is then undertaken, followed by more matches. During the circuits, the main opportunities are to further strengthen the squads, and play matches in Europe. If a marker lands on a 'European' square, the top team from the European deck is revealed. This shows the identity and points value of the opponent, and a number of pennants. If the player can field a team, the total value of which exceeds the points displayed on the card, he gains the pennants. Once five have been accumulated they may be cashed in for an additional team point, representing experience of a sort.
The opponents vary from those which are relatively easy to beat, such as obscure 21 point Belgian teams, valued at one pennant, to virtually unbeatable five pennant teams like Real Madrid or Liverpool. While being a useful way of improving a player's team, it has the disadvantage of giving away information about your strengths and weaknesses. Thus the weakest team capable of beating the opponent is usually presented in order to keep the others guessing. Not too realistic, but an acceptable game approach.
When I heard how the league matches themselves were played I was disappointed, but in fact they are very tense and the system works well. The teams of the two players involved take the field, by being placed face up in their respective areas on the board. A maximum of three foreign footballers may play, and a player unable or unwilling to put out a full team fills the empty positions with apprentices. The values are then calculated, and the totals compared. The higher valued team wins, otherwise the game is drawn. However, the players have two opportunities to modify this result, by play of up to three 'plus' cards, and two substitutes. There are, however, no dice involved. A sample game might play as follows:
Paris St Germain fields a full team valued at 38 points (1 yellow *2 = 2, 7 green *3 = 21, 2 blue [French Internationals] *5 = 10, 1 foreign internationals *5 = 5)
Monaco's players total 41 (1 apprentice *1=1; 2 yellow *2 = 4; 4 green *3 = 12+1 star = 13; 1 blue *5 = 5; 3 foreign *5 = 15+2 stars = 17. In addition the team adds one for European experience.)
Thus were it to remain like this Monaco would win (38-41), however Paris play a plus card, giving three extra stars (41-41). Monaco counter by substituting their apprentice right back with a French International with two extra stars (41-47!), who is immediately sent off!! (41-40). Monaco, enraged play an injury on their opponent's one foreign player, but this is countered by Paris' final card play of a magic sponge. (41-40). Monaco then make a second substitution by replacing their yellow goalkeeper with a blue (41-43), followed by a bonus 3 card for fielding two Dutch Internationals (41-46). Both teams have now played their maximum allowable 'plus' cards, but Paris may still make two substitutions. This they do by replacing the yellow centre half with a green (42-46), and the green centre forward with a Brazilian striker, possessing three additional stars (47-46). Monaco is unable to reply, so Paris wins, and picks up the two points.
I enjoyed this game. In the early stages, although limited by throw of the die, there were constant decisions to be made over whether to strengthen the squad, try to gain more cash, or increase the tactical ability of the team. As the game progressed I began to worry about the composition of my opponents' teams. Was one of them close to having a full squad, while I was still several players short?
The shape of the teams can also vary considerably. I built mine around the early purchase of a star Brazilian centre-forward, who cost me so much that I then had to scratch around to raise money for the rest of the team. My final squad consisted of only thirteen players. Conversely, one opponent had a large squad of average players, boosted by several foreign internationals, while the other was composed primarily of high quality French players.
It was great moment when my hero rose from the bench to come on as a substitute to win my team's first game. However, in my second match I was unable to match the French team for overall quality, and was comfortably beaten. The choice of team to send out is tricky. If all the best players take the field at the beginning of the match, they are under threat of injury, or sending off. I was tempted to hold back my two best players, to await the opponent's play of tactical cards. This can easily backfire though, as the opportunity for personnel change is limited to two substitutions. If a player is injured, and neither of the two held back can play in his position, a lesser player would have to be brought on, leaving one of the stars to sit out the match. Another fun element is that I was never sure who the opposing team had sitting on their bench. This meant that the match result was uncertain until the last card was played.
The mechanics of Footmania were simple. We were initially wary of taking on an unknown, untranslated game, but after the first few minutes it flowed nicely, with few rules queries. The main drawback with the game is its length, probably lasting about four hours on average. This would in particular put off non-football fans. It would be possible to reduce game length by tinkering with the team building rules eg. being dealt a small starting squad.
In conclusion then, this is not everybody's cup of bovril, but for soccer enthusiasts, bearing in mind the dearth of good football management games, I believe this to be well worth a look.
On to the review of Outpost or back to the review of Candidate and Road to the White House.
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