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Subject: Shedding Some Light on a "Mysterious" Game rss

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Timothy Sullivan
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Back in the 1980s, I had a group of friends who were very much into indie music. A couple of times a year, they’d hear about a new un-signed band. In the days before the Internet, this usually sent them off on a quest to locate cassette recordings of the band’s music. My friends would spend hours discussing how great the band’s “buzz” was. The problem was that actually listening to the band required long-distance phone calls to friends of friends, two-hour road trips to college towns and late-night CIA-style meet-ups where tapes could be swapped. When the music turned out to be good, the effort always seemed worth it; but we were often left wondering why, with so many potential customers looking for their music, it was so much effort to actually get your hands on it.

Which brings me to Classic Soccer by Time Travel Games: The “buzz” surrounding this game is great. Numerous people rate it as their favorite table-top soccer game, but you’d swear that the designer, Anthony Apostolico, was trying to keep his game a secret. There’s no web page for the game. There’s not even a devoted forum anywhere. If you want to learn about the game, you’ll need to either email him (at jakemotta@aol.com) or hang out at the soccer simulation forum at Delphi (at http://forums.delphiforums.com/soccersims/start). This is a shame, because it really is an excellent game. Hopefully this review will shed a little light on the game, and help readers decide if it’s the soccer game for them.

What you get:
True to its indie nature, the game consists of about 100 sheets of paper that arrive in a large mailing envelope. The rulebook is about 30 pages, divided into a basic, advanced and even more advanced section along with a number of pages of clarifications. There are about 20 pages of charts and tables that handle everything from shots to yellow cards. There are about 16 pages of the X-Charts (which outline the rare plays), a one-page sheet that represents the pitch and a one-page sheet for each of the teams that you choose to order when you purchase the game. You’ll need to supply two d10s and a d6. The rulebook and X-Charts are extremely plain, but easy to read. The charts and tables are more attractive. The team sheets are very nice – typically shaded with the team’s colors with a representation of the team’s jersey. Nothing in the components will get you excited, but they don’t hamper game play in any way.

The Teams:
Anthony includes a few great teams from the past with your order, and numerous leagues, clubs and international tournament teams are available for purchase. (In most cases, you have the option of paying less for a PDF version.) In addition to some background information, the sheet typically lists 15-18 players for each team. Players are rated for keep and passing ability, as well as defense, work-rate, free kicks, shooting, scoring and injuries. Each team has an overall Power Rating as well as separate defensive ratings for each zone on the pitch (as described below).

The Basic Run of Play:
In the basic and advanced version of the game, the pitch is divided into 14 zones – 7 on each team’s half of the field, indicated by P for inside the box, followed by Zones 1 through 6. At any point in time, players will know the location of the ball and the player with possession. For example, if replaying the US vs. Ghana game from the 2010 World Cup, Michael Bradley might possess the ball in Ghana’s Zone-6, just across midfield.

At this point, the US manager has four options – keep (where Bradley attempts to move forward one zone, while keeping the ball), aggressive keep (where Bradley tries to break through multiple zones while keeping the ball), short pass (where Bradley tries to pass the ball forward one zone) or a long pass (where Bradley tries to pass the ball forward multiple zones). After selecting an option, the US manager rolls the two d10s in order to form a number 1-100, consults Bradley’s appropriate rating(s), Ghana’s defensive rating(s) and determines the outcome.

Let’s suppose that the US manager decides Bradley should try a normal keep. A 1-10 on the die will result in a foul by Ghana. Bradley’s keep rating is an 88 and Ghana’s defense for Zone 5 (the zone Bradley is trying to move into) is a -2. Thus on an 11-86, Bradley will successfully move into Ghana’s Zone 5; on an 87-100, he will lose possession.

Let’s suppose that Bradley is successful in moving into Zone 5 and now the US manager decides Bradley should try a long pass. Again, a 1-10 on the die will result in a foul by Ghana. The process for long passes requires slightly more work -- each player has three separate long-pass ratings and these numbers are adjusted based upon Ghana’s defensive ratings two, three and four zones forward. Using these ratings, Bradley would make a successful pass into Ghana’s Zone-2 on an 11-43 and into Ghana’s Zone-3 on a 44-60. If he’s successful, the US manager will roll on a table printed on the US team sheet that will determine which US player takes control of the pass.

Once the ball reaches the opponent’s Zone-4 (or closer), the manager may elect to shoot. The manager rolls on the Shot Chart to determine the outcome, which can potentially be affected by the zone from which the shot is taken, the defending team’s defensive rating in that zone and the shooter’s shot rating. If the shot is on goal, it may then be affected by the shooter’s scoring rating and the goalie’s save rating.

After the first game, play moves fairly quickly and the required calculations become second nature. After a couple of games using the basic rules (which is strongly recommended), you can move to …

The Advanced Run of Play:
The basic version becomes fairly stale after two games – which is just about the time that you’ll be ready to add the advanced rules. Prior to an advanced game, each manager must select a formation. (Seven different formations are possible, such as a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and a 5-4-1.) Managers make the same decisions as in the basic version of the game, but you’ll add the d6 into the mix. If the d6 is a 1-4, you’ll complete the play using the basic game’s process. If the d6 is a 6, you’ll instead refer to a chart reflecting the offense’s formation. The procedure when the d6 is a 5 could be one of three possibilities: you might consult the teams’ Power Ratings (with the superior team likely to take/keep possession), roll on the Work Rate Chart (with the result depending upon one or more players’ defense or work-rate ratings) or you might get the result from the X-Chart (which is often an unusual play).

Naturally, these options add some complexity and time, but after a few games I consistently finished a game in about 100 minutes. For many gamers, this version of the rules will be the sweet spot – enough detail without too much overhead. But for those who feel the need for more detail, there is …

The Even More Advanced Run of Play:
I play all kinds of games, but I mostly think of myself as (1) a sports gamer and (2) a wargamer. So, when a friend asked me to summarize the differences among the soccer games I own, I described this version of Classic Soccer as the Advanced Squad Leader of soccer games. Just as many wargamers can fully enjoy Memoir ’44, while others find it too simple, some soccer gamers will find no need to add this third level of rules, while others will insist. Personally, I usually prefer the additions, as they capture tactical decisions that every team must make in each game. On the other hand, there are nights where the extra detail just isn’t worth the extra brain power that it requires.

The most important addition to this set of rules is that the pitch is now further-divided into the middle and two flanks. For example, Bradley might have the ball in the middle of Ghana’s Zone-6, on the left flank of the zone or on the right flank of the zone. Managers now have the option of attempting to move the ball laterally instead of moving it forward. Just as in actual soccer, pushing forward down the flanks tends to be easier, but, once you get deep into the other team’s half, it requires players capable of whipping dangerous crosses into the box.

The extra rules also add tactical options such as challenges, marking, time-killing and running the offside trap. Again, these require extra decision making and extra dice rolling.

How does it Capture the Flow of a Soccer Game?
The game does an excellent job of recreating the feeling of a game. A team might dominate possession for several minutes, but be unable to unlock the defense in the final third. Quick counters can result in quick goals. The tension is palpable for every direct kick or corner – especially when the player taking the kick is highly rated at that skill. Superior teams and players have superior ratings and will always be dangerous near the other team’s goals. But the charts also do a good job of allowing the unexpected – a few lucky dice rolls and suddenly that center back who scored one goal during the season manages to put his head on the end of a corner and force the goalie to make a saving roll.

So how does it compare with Other Soccer Games?
Personally, I found APBA Soccer to be an overpriced train wreck, and The Beautiful Game was far too generic for my tastes. The three games on my shelf that I’d endorse are Classic Soccer, Net Results Soccer and the relatively new Soccer Blast. (As an aside, all three have outstanding designers who are really nice guys.) So, let me try to summarize my feelings about Classic Soccer in comparison to the other two:

Classic Soccer has the best minute-by-minute narrative. You “watch” the players work the ball up and down the field. Depending on the match, you might feel the tension as a superior team works the ball around the opponent’s half of the field trying to unlock the defense. Or you might see the end-to-end action of two highly-skilled teams. Or you might see a midfield battle where neither team seems capable of maintaining any possession. When I watch a soccer game, I can’t help but “translate” what I’m seeing to Classic Soccer. If this idea of a play-by-play narrative is important to you, Classic Soccer is my recommendation. In addition, the game is the only one that allows serious tactical decision making. Formations, marking, flank play and other considerations of this type are only available in Classic Soccer. Plus, since you can decide which rules to use and ignore the rest, it’s extremely flexible in its level of detail.

So what’s the downside? Remember the Advanced Squad Leader comparison? The game's level of detail requires a really good rulebook. And this game's rulebook is in desperate need of a re-write. The examples are helpful, but the team sheets referred to in the examples aren’t actually included with the game. The section describing lateral ball movement is incomplete, and some of the advanced rules are explained one way, only to be changed a few pages later under “rules adjustments.” Anthony is kind and helpful; he and others who create and play the game are active at the Delphi forum. But answers to questions as fundamental as how to mark off time seem to change from thread to thread. Still, if you want this level of detail and you're willing to ask questions (and sometimes just decide on your own), the game is very rewarding.

If you consider yourself a soccer newbie (in which case you probably aren’t going to miss the lack of rules for flank play or the offside trap) and if you’d prefer to cut out the lulls in play in order to reduce play time by half, I’d urge you to read about Soccer Blast. Because it’s relatively new, there aren’t many teams and seasons available yet. But one interesting unique option for this game is that the designer offers a how-to guide so you can create your own card sets. He also offers three sets of fictional players – more than enough to stock an “alternative universe” league or World Cup.

If you want statistical accuracy and detail that exceeds Classic Soccer with a set of rules that are easier to digest, you should consider Net Results Soccer (which I reviewed a little over a year ago). It has by far the highest level of statistical detail. Players are rated on goals, shots, tackles, interceptions, fouls suffered, fouls committed, yellow cards, red cards and more. For those wanting to do a season replay using actual lineups, it’s also the only game that rates every single player who played even one minute of the season. It lacks Classic Soccer’s play-by-play narrative, but still generates a certain amount of tension, especially towards the end of a close game.

Hopefully this review will take a little of the mystery out of this outstanding game and help you make the best choice for you. In fact, as all three are reasonably priced, it's not crazy to buy all three and give them all a try.

All the best!

Tim
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Richard Diosi
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Nice review.

I like tactical sports games so this sounded like the closest of the bunch you referenced in your review (at least you get to make some decisions during play). Is the game really only available by contacting the designer by e-mail? You are right that is a shame but I may do just that as the only soccer game that I find interesting enough for tactical play at the moment is Soccero (second edition) but that doesn't involve real player stats etc.
 
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Timothy Sullivan
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Glen Carbon
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Yep. In addition to the game, you'll need to tell him what league/year you'd like sheets for. He also has most World Cup years and almost every Champions League year. I bought the 2010 World Cup set when I first bought the game. My recollection is that the game, the team sheets and shipping added up to about $40. He'll give you a total, and you pay with Paypal. I got my stuff about 10 days later.

Take care!

Tim

 
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Richard Diosi
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Your review pushed me to get the 2010 World Cup and the 95/96 Premier Season
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Frank Albidone
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Anthony has re-done the rule book. I must add this game is not for the average soccer fan but for the purist that doesn't mind investing the time to get the most accurate soccer sim on the market.

Anthony and I have combined on numerous projects, and in groups as well. By no means a quick play, but again the cream of the crop for those that prefer accuracy and detail...one review that calls this a "snooze-fest" has not invested the time to enjoy this fantastic project.

Frank Albidone
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IAN FLINT
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What is your opinion of "Potter International Soccer", please?
 
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