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Designer Diary: Eleven

Thomas Jansen
Netherlands
Doetinchem
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Board Game: Eleven: Football Manager Board Game
Hi! My name is Thomas Jansen, designer of Eleven. Together with Ignacy Trzewiczek and his development team at Portal Games, we have worked on Eleven for a very long time. We hope you will enjoy it as much as we did designing it.

How It All Started

Back in 2016, I decided to design a football manager board game. I was on a holiday. I sat down at the table with this empty paper in front of me and started writing and drawing my first ideas.

The most important thing was the theme. It had to be a real experience, with lots of events and decision-making to give the player the feeling of being a real club manager. I had enjoyed so many football manager games on my PC. If you ever played one, you know how addictive it can be. I used to play for hours and hours until 3 o'clock in the morning. I remember calling the police one night after observing a burglary attempt at my neighbors — not good, although my chosen club went for promotion that night. Life's full of ups and downs.

I wanted the player of my game to have that same feeling. After many months of development and playtests, Club Stories was born. Only two hundred copies were made for my Elven Ear Games. Players were very positive about the game, and soon there weren't any copies. I still receive emails from people asking me whether I have a copy left.

I went to the Dutch convention Spellenspektakel to demo Club Stories. Kurt van Hoeyveld (a.k.a., The Vitrivian Gamer) was demoing for Portal Games. He liked Club Stories very much and promised to deliver a copy to Ignacy Trewiczek, owner of Portal Games.

I knew Ignacy is a football fan. He once did a YouTube video about football games he enjoyed. After a while, I received a short message from him: "I really enjoy your game. I want to publish it worldwide."

Development

That’s how it all started. I went to SPIEL where I met the guys from Portal Games. I ate a lot of their Polish cookies and went back home to start a new phase for Club Stories.

Club Stories is a solo game, and we had to change it into a 1-4 player game. A lot had to be done. Ignacy, his development team, and I went to work.

We never met in real life during the process of development. We live ten hours apart. We did many video calls; sent thousands of emails, WhatsApp messages, gameplay videos, etc. Some of the changes we introduced, I will discuss below.

First the name changed: Club Stories became Eleven.

Club Stories has a press-your-luck dice system. This system works very well in a solo game as it's very thematic and adds to your story, your adventure. Of course, you won't succeed at getting Messi to your club every time you try.

But we soon found out this system isn't perfect when playing multiplayer competitively. It can be quite frustrating when you don't succeed at an important action and your opponent does just because of the result of a die roll.

This is why Ignacy introduced a big change.

Club Stories has four tracks. The budget track produces cash, while the other tracks (fitness, morale, fans) don't. Instead, they are used during certain tests: low fitness means an increased chance of injuries, low morale will cause suspensions, etc.

Ignacy kept the idea of the cash-producing budget track. He introduced the same system to the other tracks. Now, every track produces its own resources, which you can pay to do certain actions. You need fitness tokens to activate your players, fans to fill up the stands, operations (previously morale) to give you additional actions.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

This approach reduces the important dice-rolling moments to a minimum. You still roll dice at the board meeting and match consequences, but you are allowed to re-roll as many times you want if you have enough fan resources to do it.

But still, sometimes...you are just unlucky. It happens. A suspension, a two-week-long injury. That's football.

Another thing that changed was the match system. PC football manager players know this is only a small part of a good manager game, but we put in so many hours to get it right.

I will start by telling you the history of the match system.

When I designed Club Stories, I wanted to make a football manager game, inspired by the great manager games on the PC. I did not want to make a football game. Don't get me wrong; I was a huge fan of the Fifa series. I even managed to become a national top 50 player on the PC about ten years ago, but I wanted this board game to be about running a football club.

That doesn't mean matches aren't important, but I had to find a quick system for the match-resolution part that didn't take too much time and was interesting enough, so I came up with a system that worked well. There are three zones on the pitch: forward, midfield, and defense. There is room for four players in each row. You can place player cards there, or use the strength 1 player already there. You select your players by putting cubes on them. You must give a player one out of two possible tasks: try to score (ball) or press (shield). You assign these tasks simply by placing the player card onto a ball or shield space. The forward section has 3 balls and 1 shield to choose from, the midfield has 2 balls versus 2 shields, and defense has 3 shields and 1 ball. Each zone is compared to the opposite zone of your opponent. For example, your defense zone is compared to the forward zone. Your players who try to score (ball) are compared to the players who are pressing (shield), etc. You choose which players meet. The scoring attempt of a player is successful if his strength is higher than the pressing player. For full details, check out a Club Stories playthrough on YouTube.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

Club Stories was successful and also the match system was liked by the players. It fits the type of game Club Stories is.

So that's where Eleven took off. Ignacy and his team quickly came up with the jersey tokens. You can flip the tokens to change the tasks of the players. You are also able to put more players in a section. I used nine sections, instead of three, for faster resolving. It also gave more options for the flanks. How cool would it be to have these jersey tokens on your pitch and be able to move them wherever you want like a real manager right before this match on his whiteboard? We also wanted to make it harder for a defender to score a goal, and we had some other ideas.

These new ideas made it so much cooler. Instead of just going for the fixed Club Stories system that already worked well, we started a much more open and free idea that gave many options and choices for the players — but because of this freedom, the chance of the system being "hacked", i.e., finding a way to always win, increases as well.

We had so many cool ideas, and we also got a lot of suggestions from you guys, but every single good idea needed to be tested thoroughly. We didn't want it to be hacked! We had several playtesters (usually Munchkin players, according to Ignacy) who broke a new idea. They let their teams play in systems that football fans like us never thought of. Remember, we could have had a system ready before the Gamefound page went live, but we didn't want to. We just wanted the perfect system, the perfect experience.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

There was no goalkeeper in Club Stories, but right after the start of the Eleven campaign, a lot of people were asking for one. Some were referring to the name of the game. How could we have only ten players on the pitch and call the game Eleven?! Can't argue with that, of course.

So we've added goalkeepers. Keepers can make saves. The better they are, the more and better attempts they can stop. They may even grow into the coolest players on the pitch, in my opinion. Thanks to your requests.

The match system was the hardest part to develop. It took a lot of time, but we wanted to do it well. If we made a PC football manager, we could have released the game and sent you loads of patches afterward that fixed problems, but we are making a board game. And besides that, we just want to bring you a very, very great football manager experience.

For a more detailed explanation, check the manual here on BGG.

Eleven is more than a dry football manager. It's an experience. After a game of Eleven, you will be able to tell the story of your season as if it happened for real, so let’s give you an overview of a week (round) at the club.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

What's Eleven about?

Eleven is a competitive strategy game for 1 to 4 players set in the world of football. In the solo mode, you play against different scenarios.

Your task is to manage and grow your own football club over the course of a season and outperform other teams. It's always good to end up higher in the league than your opponents, but don't forget there is more to it. Don't forget you are not playing Fifa 23. You're a manager; there are different strategies to become the best one, so don't be surprised when your friends' club ends up in mid-table and wins the game, while you took the title.

When you've set up your first game of Eleven, it feels a bit like your first day as a manager at the club, so let me give you a tour:

From gallery of ThomasJansen

Every player has three boards in front of them that represent the stadium, the boardroom, and the pitch.

Stadium

This is where the magic happens. What a view, right? Here's where you put your fans. If you have enough of them, you may sell out the stadium. You can use sponsor cards to fill up the ad boards for extra income, or make them become your kit sponsor. There's also room to expand the stadium. If you think your club is way too big for your stadium, why don't you expand it with a couple of stands? More fans will bring you more money each round, or build new training grounds for better performance and team fitness. Just a couple of examples.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

Boardroom

Welcome to the boardroom. See those empty chairs? There is room for three directors. They will make important decisions for your club. Yes, they do, not you — although there are ways to influence them. Below it are four tracks where you track your popularity, operations, fitness, and finances.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

Pitch Board

Let's go outside. Mmm, rain. On the pitch board, you create your line-up with the jersey tokens. Move them across the board until you are satisfied. I can tell you, you will feel like a real coach when moving these pieces.

There is also room for the current opponent card. You are working at a professional club. Scouts provide you with information about the upcoming opponent. Based on this, you can select tactics and choose a line-up. On this board, you also find the match score and the match consequences table, which you use after a match. It's basically used to see how the players got through the match. Injuries may happen, stats may change.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

Transfer Area

In the middle of the table is the transfer area, available to all players. Here you can hire staff, buy players, contract new sponsors, and learn new tactics.

League Table

On a smaller board you keep track of the league table. There are eight AI clubs in the game. You play against them, but they play their own matches, too. Some are top clubs, some average, and some are fighting against relegation. Don't be fooled as they have several ways to play and may choose a different line-up next time you play against them.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

In a four-player game there are no fewer than 13 boards on the table!

Every round is called a week. From Monday to Thursday, events may happen and actions can be taken. On the weekends a match is played.

Are you settled? Let's start working then.

Monday

First thing in the morning, you get your resource tokens for the week. You check your four tracks and gain that amount, so if your budget track is at 2, you gain 2 cash. If your morale track is at 4, you gain 4 morale.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

You can spend these tokens in different situations later during the week. For example, use your fan tokens to fill up the stadium, or use your fitness tokens to make players perform special actions on the pitch.

Then, you head off to the board room for a board meeting. A club has three directors, and they all have different opinions. For example, some see the club mainly as a business. Most of all, they want to make money. I won't call out any real clubs here, but you probably know one or two that fit the description. Some directors think the club belongs to the fans; some will do anything to have the best team. Got one in mind? All these different opinions influence the decisions they take, so you should be careful which directors to put on those chairs.

Every player takes a board meeting card that will influence their own club. There always is a dilemma to be discussed with three different possible outcomes, for example, "Shall we raise ticket prices?" You can imagine it brings in money, but won't make you popular with the fans. The board will decide, but you may want to join the discussion and try to influence them.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

From Tuesday to Thursday you may perform actions. You can hire players who range in quality from 1-4, but note some of them have special abilities that are just as powerful as a high-quality player. Besides, players can be trained.

You can contract a sponsor. They will bring you money and raise your stats on the four tracks. You can train tactics to make your team better. You can invest in infrastructure. You can hire staff. They give you many more possible actions. For example, if you have a first coach, you may train your players, which makes them better — at least, in most cases. Or hire a doctor to get rid of injuries. There is so much to do during the week.

From gallery of ThomasJansen

In the meantime, you check your objectives card again. They give you extra victory points. Or go for the perfect achievement for double the points. For example, you may have to win the match against your local rivals because they beat you last season. Can't happen again, of course.

Weekend

You probably are used to a free weekend. Forget about that. As a manager, you are always on. You need to study your opponent. It can be very helpful. Learn their system, discover their qualities and weaknesses.

Then you select your players and choose tactics. All tokens are players with standard quality of 1, but you also have player cards. These represent the token with the same kit number. They often are better or have special abilities. Then the match is resolved. If you have enough fitness resources, you may be able to select enough players and make use of player abilities as well. Don't expect to win your first game as you're just starting your career.

Now let's see what the other players did, not to mention the 8 AI teams. After you adjust the score track, you roll for the match consequences. Injuries may happen, fans may have had enough and leave, team morale may change, etc.

Now you may get some sleep. There is another board meeting tomorrow you may want to attend. Time flies.

Further Development

As soon as the base mechanisms of the game were finished, we continued working on creating content: designing more cards, scenarios, etc. We also focused on the expansions. During this phase, I worked together with game developer Janek Maurycy a lot. He is a very talented designer who brought in many creative ideas.

Board Game: Eleven: Solo Campaign
One of the expansions that changed a lot compared to the original idea that was described on the Gamefound page is the Solo Campaign expansion. I can't wait to hear of your experiences with it.

I always started with a lower league English team while playing on my PC, then tried to work my way up. I also liked to move to another club and continue my adventure there. Buying players, selling players, discovering new talents, expanding the stadium, always, always out of budget after two or three seasons... Season after season went by, starting a new campaign only when the current year got too "science fiction" for me.

But that's exactly what I adored: the campaign. The story of a career you created yourself. It was like a good RPG game. I bet a lot of football manager freaks love games like Skyrim as well. I know I do.

That's why the solo campaigns are perfect to give you the same sensation. The base game already has a great solo mode, but the expansion takes the next step. It has eight scenarios — fourteen if you count the backs as well — that are linked in a unique way to make a great story. You start at a lower league club. After playing a season, you have different options depending on how well you did. You can stay at the club: You flip the scenario card and go for another season. If you did well, other clubs might be interested in you. You may want to continue your career at another club. This system allows you to roam the league pyramid. This can give you a real sandbox feel. You can play the game for many seasons, just like you did on your PC back in the day. Your decisions really matter and have an effect on the next scenario.

Your ultimate goal is to reach the big top league, so get ready to build yourself a great career.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

A special solo deck of 36 cards was created for this expansion. They affect gameplay and your progress in the campaign. There are 14 new cards for the multiplayer mode including new objective, director, and board meeting cards, increasing the overall variability in the base game.

Of course, the solo campaign is not required to play Eleven solo, but it enhances solo gameplay from the base game making it more strategic.

I think you can't get closer to that PC football manager feeling than this. I'm really looking forward to the release of Eleven and hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks!

Thomas Jansen
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