Introducing Pocket Football

Football or soccer? Whatever you call it, it's easily the single most popular sport in the world. There are an estimated 3.5 billion soccer fans worldwide,making soccer number one in the sports pecking order, followed by sports like cricket, tennis, and hockey (see for example this list). With the FIFA World Cup currently in progress, certainly soccer is getting a lot of screen time right now, and you can be sure that a lot of fans are enjoying their daily fix of international soccer on TV or online, with the best players and teams in the world competing for one of soccer's biggest prizes.

Given the immense popularity of this sport, it should come as no surprise that many designers have tried to help this sport make the transition to a table-top game. The BGG family for soccer games lists 20 pages of entries, representing a rather extensive collection of games. Of these, only three are ranked high enough to make the BGG Top 1000, namely Subbuteo, StreetSoccer, and The World Cup Game, with Subbuteo occupying the highest spot on the list with a ranking of #763. Well outside the Top 1000 are other soccer games like WeyKick, Soccer Tactics World, and Champions 2020. I've previously reviewed Soccer Tactics World [link], so it won't be a secret that I enjoy soccer as a sport, and I also enjoy soccer games.

It is into this popular and competitive niche that Hamish Sterling from PocketSports has optimistically ventured with his relatively new game, Pocket Football, first published in 2013. This is a dice game that is the fourth in the PocketSports series of dice games, and builds on the success of his first title, Pocket Cricket. It uses a somewhat similar game system to his Aussie Rules Football entry in the series, Pocket Footy. With numerous dice soccer games already on the market, including games like Die Bar-Bolz-Bande: Das Würfelspiel, and older titles like Soccer Dice (by Dice & Games Ltd) and Soccer Dice (by Sports-Link Ltd), there's no doubt that this niche is somewhat crowded already.

So how does Pocket Football hold up? As it turns out, I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the high degree of luck inherent in the game, and I think this is the kind of game that soccer fans looking for a very light and casual game can have fun with. Like the other titles from PocketSports, strategy doesn't rule the day, but these games are more about recreating something of the flavour and feel of the sports that inspired them, so if it's theme that you're looking for, you'll certainly find it with the help of these dice. So let's show you what you get, tell you how it works, and what I think.



COMPONENTS

Storage bag

The game comes in a small cloth drawstring dice bag made of red material. It fits easily in the palm of your hand, to ensure that the game is portable.



The logos of the PocketSports series have recently undergone some revision. The packaging of all the games in the series has now acquired a uniform style, to reflect the brand. As a result, the graphic design of Pocket Football ensures that it fits neatly alongside its siblings. To OCD types, this will come as a boon or a bane, because it gives the games a collectible feel, and if you enjoy one you may find yourself wanting to get them all!



Component list

What you get inside is very simple:
● eight custom dice
● instructions



Field Position Dice

Four dice are used to represent players in four areas on the soccer pitch, and you roll these to find out where the ball goes next from each position:
Red = Defense (D): Pass D, Pass M, Chip pass W, Long pass F, Ball lost T, Skills
Yellow = Midfield (M): Back pass D, Flick W, Thru ball F, Long range S, FOUL!, Skills
Orange = Wing (W): Back pass D, Pass M, Pass F, Cross H, FOUL!, Skills
Green = Forward (F): Pass M, Shot on Goal S, Corner Kick, FOUL!, Offside T, Tackled T



The letters D/M/F/W represent the four main areas in the game (Defense/Midfield/Forward/Wing) to which the ball goes next, while S represents Shooting, H represents Highlights, and T represents a Turnover.

Other Dice

Four other dice are used to determine the outcome of things like shots on goal, set pieces, highlights, or referee decisions
Blue = Shooting (S): Rebound S, GOAL!, Corner kick, Over the bar T, Wide T, Saved T
Pink = Free kicks/Corner kicks (FK): Pass M, Pass W, Far post H, Near post H, Centre box H, Bad pass T
Black = Highlights (H): Volley S, Header on Goal S, Bicycle kick S, PENALTY! S, Offside! T, Tackle T
White = Referee (Foul): Play on, Trip FK, Yellow card FK, Dive T, Handball T, Elbow T



Instructions

A double-sided sheet of instructions is provided:



GAME-PLAY

Objective

A game of Pocket Football consists of two five minute halves, or as agreed otherwise by the players. Just like in soccer, the winner is the player who scores the most goals, and you can have a penalty shootout if scores are tied at the end of full time if you wish. The basic idea of game-play is that players will roll dice to move the ball to different positions on the soccer pitch, trying to get into a position where they can roll the shooting die, which gives them the possibility of scoring a goal. The diagram below will give you an idea of which positions the different dice represent. Rolling a particular die will effectively tell you which die to roll next, and in this way the game creates the feeling of the ball moving around the field, and eventually into the net to score a goal.



Using the field position dice

Despite the large number of different dice, the game is actually quite easy to play. The easiest way to set up the game is to arrange the four main player dice as if they were on a field of play (i.e. Defense, Midfield, Forward and Wing). The starting player kicks off by rolling the yellow Midfield die (M), and the outcome will tell you what to do. If it's a pass to the orange Wing die (W), you roll that die next; if it's a pass to the green Forward die (F), or the red Defense die (D), you roll that die, etc. In this way you'll effectively move the ball around different parts of the field, as determined by the dice.



Whenever a T is rolled, a Turnover happens, and the other player immediately gets possession at that location on the field, e.g. if you lose the ball when your Forward (F) had possession, then he continues playing by taking possession with his Defense (D).

Using the special dice

Shooting: The blue die (S) is rolled whenever another die gives you a result of S for Shoot. This gives you a one in six chance of scoring, although with a Penalty you also may nominate one of the other die results to count as a goal on that shot only, giving you a one in three chance of scoring with a penalty.

Referee: The white die serves as the referee, and is rolled whenever another die gives you a result of FOUL. This can lead to a loss of possession via a turnover (T), or you might even be awarded a Free Kick (FK). If a player gets two Yellow Cards in this manner during a match, he can no longer use Skills points for the rest of that game, as we'll explain later.

Highlights: The black die (H) is rolled whenever another die gives you a result of H for Highlights, which only happens as a result of a Free Kick or Corner Kick. This simulates a shot being crossed into the box, and usually leads either to a loss of possession, or a special scoring attempt via a volley, bicycle kick, or header, all of which are resolved in the usual way with the green Shooting die (S).

Free Kick/Corner Kick: The pink die (FK) is rolled whenever another die instructs you to take a free kick (e.g. via the referee) or corner kick. It typically results in a pass or a highlights shot.



Using skill points

Some dice will result in "Skills", which represents your players increasing in confidence and thus improving their ability. The player with the ball can accumulate these as long as he is in possession, and can use each one once only to re-roll a die result he doesn't want. Alternatively, you can use three skills points earned to nominate a second die result as a goal when rolling the blue die for a scoring chance, to increase the chance of a goal from one in six to one in three. You lose all skill points acquired whenever there is a change in possession.



Sample play

In practice, here's how a series of plays might work: Your Midfield starts with the ball, and passes back to your Defense. The attack begins to build as he sends a Chip pass to the Wing. Your Wing senses a chance, so he sends a long cross into the box, and the crowd is on its feet as we have a Highlights roll! One of your forwards puts in an amazing effort to get a Header on Goal, so you roll the Shot die, but it's just Over the bar! What a great opportunity this was!

Your opponent's Defense now takes the ball, and sends a long pass to his Forward. But there it's immediately fiercely Tackled by your watchful defender, so we have a turnover, and you quickly have gained possession again!

Your Defense passes it safely to your Midfield, and from there we see a thrilling Long range Shot on goal, and after rolling the Shot die it wins a Corner kick! The pressure is really on as the Corner kick comes in, and it's going to the Far post ... that means we have another Highlight play, and we see a spectacular Bicycle kick. This kick is an accurate shot that beats the keeper, and this time it's a GOAL!

1-0 is the score, and we're off to an early lead!



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

It's a true brother of Pocket Cricket. To my surprise, my impressions of Pocket Football proved to be somewhat similar to my thoughts about Pocket Cricket. I was quite favourably impressed by Pocket Cricket, despite its simplicity and high degree of luck, and to be honest I wasn't expecting Pocket Football to live up to its older sibling. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the soccer game was just as much fun, due to its effectiveness as a mini-simulation of yet another sport that I enjoy. In fact, I think the soccer game might even be better than its older cricketing brother!


It's portable. I love the packaging of the games in the PocketSports series, and Pocket Football is no exception. The small bag looks attractive, and is easy to carry around in your pocket, so you could even take it to an actual sports game or to a restaurant, and whip it out for a quick game with friends in a social setting. The size of the game makes it clear that the game doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is: a simple and fun dice game.

It's very luck based. It's important to bring Pocket Football to the table with the right expectations, and part of that includes an awareness that this isn't a game that's going to ask you to make many choices. In fact, the only real decision you'll be making in the game is when to use your skills points to re-roll dice (or to increase your chances of scoring when shooting). Aside from that, the entire outcome is determined by your dice-rolling. Does that matter? Not really, because this game's real redemptive quality is the way in which it creates a soccer feel. The designer Hamish Sterling would be the first to agree that there isn't much strategy involved. Just like Pocket Cricket was designed to be a very light, luck based dice rolling cricket sim, so Pocket Football is a light dice game, and in his words, "for fans of the sport to simulate a quick match with friends, at the pub, during breaks, on the road...anywhere. With only dice as the components, games are compact and portable, easy to play. The gameplay creates good commentary (as you've noted) by the players and it really is fun."

It creates a soccer feel. Usually a high degree of luck is a deal-breaker for me, but with these sports games I don't feel that way. Like most sports themed games, a huge part of the appeal lies in the tension of the action of the sport itself. Most purchasers of games like this are going to be soccer fans, and so for people who play Pocket Football the most important thing this game needs to do is satisfy their love for the sport, and tap into that. Pocket Football brings enough of the action of soccer onto the table for that to happen. You can't but help being drawn into the narrative of what's happening, even though you don't have too much control over the outcome. The theme is enhanced if you add some colour commentary to the plays that are happening, and in a certain way the game becomes a sandbox for us to add our own players, story, and narrative, one which mirrors enough of the ebb and flow of the real game to keep us interested and entertained.

It reflects soccer's positional flow. One of the things I liked best about this game is how there are four main dice which reflect different field positions (defence, midfield, forward, wing), and much of the game-play involves the ball being passed from one to the other. As such, despite the minimal components, the game does a terrific job of capturing the heart of soccer: moving the ball between players around the field. The action of the game really does feel like the ball being passed around, with the occasional heightened chance of a scoring chance, or highlights play. Recreating some of this positional flow that is critical to soccer is quite an accomplishment, given that the game only consists of 8 dice!

It's fun. I recently played a number of sports dice games in the Sport Teasers series (e.g. Baseball, Football, Soccer, Basketball, Tennis, Bowling), and the key element that made some of those games work for me and not others wasn't whether or not they were luck-based, but whether they recreated the feel of the sport. Yes, you are just rolling dice and you're more of a spectator than a participant; but it's fun because you're doing soccer, and the ebb and flow of the sport itself is what keeps you entertained! There's especially moments of tension and excitement when you're rolling the shooting die, or when a shot causes a rebound and another chance. The high luck factor would normally mean that a game like this wouldn't stand the test of time in my family, but surprisingly it hasn't prevented me and my children from really enjoying Pocket Football and having a lot of fun with it.

It's quick. Games can last as long as you want them too - if you play the recommended five minutes a half, then a whole game is done and dusted in just 10 minutes flat. When you have possession, you're usually frantically rolling the dice as quickly as you can, hoping you'll get a scoring chance, so this helps keep the pace of the game very speedy and thrilling. For the fun you get in the short time-frame it takes to play, it means that Pocket Football doesn't overstay its welcome, and the short length feels right given the light-weight nature of the game.

It's cheap. This series of pocket sports dice games are available directly from the publisher for around US$15 including worldwide shipping, which in my estimation is good value. At a higher price point, one would certainly feel that you'd want more from what you get, but at a low cost, you will feel you're getting enough fun to make it worthwhile.

It needs a rules polish. Just as with Pocket Cricket, one criticism that I do have of the game is in the rules department. Fortunately they're not very complicated, but the rules aren't set-out in the most logical manner. For example, the rules explain how you're to roll different dice corresponding to different positions, but it's only on the second page that you find a graphic explaining what the different dice are. It would have been far better to begin the rules by first explaining what the eight dice in the game are. Even worse, there are even a few instances of very obvious and embarrassing spelling mistakes (scroing", excitment", "nomiated side"). With a published game one would expect that a higher level of attentive care would go into ensuring that this is done right. It all comes across as a somewhat amateurish and unpolished effort, which is a pity because the game deserves better. Fortunately none of this hampers the game too much, because once you get over the initial hurdle, it's easy enough to learn and play, and the gameplay is sufficiently rewarding to make it more than worthwhile.

It's geared to soccer fans. A game of this sort is primarily going to appeal to fans of the sport. You don't have to enjoy soccer to play this game, but then again you're probably not the target audience for the game either. Pocket Football is designed to recreate the feel and flow of an actual game of soccer, so if the real deal doesn't interest you in the slightest, then this game isn't likely to captivate you either. On the other hand, if you love soccer, then this game captures enough of the drama, atmosphere, and excitement of the actual sport, so you'll likely to appreciate what these dice bring to the table.



How does it compare with other soccer games?

There's a huge number of other soccer games on the market - you only need to head to this geeklist, which currently has over 400 entries. There are dexterity games, strategy games, card games, and dice games. So where does Pocket Football fit in?

Other soccer games

Some of the more popular soccer titles are dexterity games, like the finger-flicking Subbuteo and the foosball inspired WeyKick. These will always be popular, since they recreate some of the physical aspect of the game, such as a moving ball that has to be manipulated by tactile skill.

Others titles lean more towards the side of game, and require players to make decisions that affect the game-play. If you're looking for a soccer game that is more game driven, where you do need to make tactical and strategic choices, you should consider the very popular StreetSoccer, or its younger and bigger brother, Champions 2020. Soccer Tactics World fills a similar niche. Games like this require players to use luck in combination with decision making in order to win. I've not played The World Cup Game or its offshoot The World Cup Card Game 2010, but these also seem to be decent soccer games that require good decision making, by using cards and relying on good hand management, and they even enable players to complete an entire tournament.

Some soccer games lean more towards the side of simulation, and are driven by statistics, cards, or dice. It is in this latter category that Pocket Football belongs. In comparison to the titles already mentioned above, Pocket Football is definitely one of lighter games of this genre, in that it tries to create a soccer-like experience, within the context of a very luck-driven game that comes close to being a simple simulation of the sport. As such it sets out to be quick and easy, and while it relies more on luck than skill, it successfully focuses on generating a strong theme to make the game fun.



Soccer Dice

Several soccer dice games do already exist, and as far as I can tell, Pocket Football has been somewhat inspired by Soccer Dice, a dice game published in England by Dice & Games Limited. It's part of their Sports Dice series, which includes golf, tennis, soccer, cricket, and snooker. Their cricket game (and its predecessor Owzat) was one of the inspirations behind Pocket Cricket, the sister game of Pocket Football, and it seems reasonable to conclude that similar influence was behind Pocket Football, especially given the similar mechanics. While Pocket Footy (another game in the PocketSports series) precedes Pocket Football and uses a similar game system to simulate Australian Rules Football, it appears that Soccer Dice is really where this system originates.

Soccer Dice comes with five coloured dice, and these also represent positions on the field. Play begins at the red die, and the die results instruct you to pass to another die, slowly progressing to the green shooting die at the front. Unlike Pocket Football, however, Soccer Dice is entirely luck driven. In that sense I appreciate the options for re-rolling that the "Skills" give you with Hamish Sterling's newer game, even though this only adds a small element of decision making. Furthermore, Soccer Dice only has five dice, whereas the eight dice in Pocket Football enable you to simulate a much wider range of play options and thematic flavour in the field.



Pocket Football

Ultimately the main reason Pocket Football improves on Soccer Dice is because it adds more story to the game. With eight different dice, each with a unique range of results to reflect many different parts of the soccer experience, it is inevitable that this gives game-play more narrative. This enables Pocket Football to bring more elements of the soccer theme to the table when playing (e.g. the free/corner kick die, highlights die, and referee die), and soccer fans will only appreciate the added flavour and potential to see things like headers and bicycle kicks, a cross into the box, penalties, set pieces, and even yellow cards and diving calls. Even though your choices are still fairly minimal, not only does Pocket Football give you some decisions to make, more importantly it adds extra colour to the commentary of what is happening, giving the game some welcome flavour and theme.

Pocket Football is still no soccer simulation (although it's close), nor is it a dexterity experience, so if you're looking for a cricket game that offers those things, or even tactical or strategic choices, you'll have to look elsewhere. But it does compare favourably with the simpler soccer dice game that inspired it, and improves on it. Given the minimal number of components - eight dice - it does well to evoke as much theme as it does, and you really do have the sense of the ball moving around the field between your players, along with the thrills and spills of a game of soccer.



Recommendation


So is Pocket Football for you? You'll need to be a soccer fan to enjoy a game like this, but if you're in that niche, and are looking for a simple, quick, casual, and largely luck-driven game that recreates some of the feel of a soccer game, then definitely consider picking this up. What you look for in a sim-type game of this sort is that it produces results that are somewhat accurate and true to the actual sport, and we found that to be the case in our games. If you're looking for a soccer game that requires dexterity or deeper decisions, you'll have to look elsewhere. Pocket Football doesn't pretend to be anything other than a light luck-based dice game offering us a taste of soccer in a bag. But that's exactly what it delivers, and so it does a good job of accomplishing exactly what it sets out to do!

Availability: Pocket Football is available for around $12.00 (plus shipping) from the publisher and elsewhere online.

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For my reviews on other dice games in the PocketSports series, see the following:

Pocket Cricket: A fun light dice game for cricket fans
Pocket Football: A fun light dice game for soccer fans
Pocket Basketball: A fun light dice game for basketball fans
Pocket Golf: A fun light dice game for golf fans
Pocket Rugby League: A fun light dice game for rugby fans
Pocket Footy: A fun light dice game for Australian rules football fans

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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Placed an order after seeing this great review and the great price! Fantastic job, Ender.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Order received Ike P

Thanks for your support and thanks to Ender for the review.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Yes I might need a copy of this too.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Great review, Enders. As you know, I had already ordered this game and you masterfully distill the impression I had from researching the game and reading the rules.

Is there any way you could put some positive pictures that don't come from UEFA? CONCACAF and CONMEBOL are playing excellent football this World Cup. In spite of the best club football being played in Europe, South America rivals it at the World Cup level and, as of today, Brasil remains king of it. Just a thought.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
MGS - don't worry!

Soon you'll be able take pictures of yourself playing in your league with Pocket Football

All orders have been sent off today!
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Damn you Ender...Cricket, Football, Soccer and Golf all ordered.

I look forward to playing and reviewing these in the coming months.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Neil Thomson wrote:
Damn you Ender...Cricket, Football, Soccer and Golf all ordered.

I look forward to playing and reviewing these in the coming months.
Hope you enjoy these, Neil, and I look forward to reading your thoughts in due time.

I haven't yet played the rugby or basketball games, but my favourites in the series so far are the soccer and football games, followed closely by the cricket one.

As long as you go in with right expectations, and take them for what they're intended to be - a light, largely luck based, and casual simulation of the sports they represent - you can have a lot of fun with them. My children and I have enjoyed them more than I expected.
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Neil Thomson wrote:
Damn you Ender...Cricket, Football, Soccer and Golf all ordered.

I look forward to playing and reviewing these in the coming months.


Hi Neil - order received and sent off today. I'll send down the bottle opener (order 3 games and it's included)next week as I'm away on holiday at the moment. Luckily I brought a stash of games to post if needed!

I look forward to your play/review after you receive them!
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
Rugby League and Basketball should not be missed - in my opinion, they're the best yet from Pocket Sports! I've posted a review of Rugby League as it's the sport I'm more familiar with of the two, but Basketball has similar game dynamics and is equally worthy of praise for the way it keeps both players constantly involved. Check them both out - at 12 dollars a shout, can you afford not to?
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Re: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun light game of dice soccer - perfect timing for the FIFA World Cup!
I should mention that Esdevium Games now stocks us in the UK should any retailers be looking to buy wholesale
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