Downloaded the demo PDF from last year and read the rules. Looks like it could be entertaining and fun, but I'm not sure that there's much in the way of decision-making in the game, beyond line selection and line changes. Am I missing something?
Hi Robin, that's an excellent question. I've played Face-Off hundreds of times, so perhaps I can shed some light on your inquiry.
Yes, there is some decision-making involved and it really begins before the game even starts. Constructing your lines is vital, and my strategy depends whether I'm at home or on the road (home team puts down their lines after the visitors). It's like constructing a deck in Magic or other CCG - little things can make a big difference.
Since individual players are rated in so many skills - face off, defense, rebound clearing, goalie screening, shadowing, intimidation, forechecking, etc., - all of these things should be considered when putting your lines together.
For example, if I have a Shadow rated player (-2 to opponent's shot numbers), I will try to match him up against the other team's sniper when 5-on-5.
Or when possible, I like to construct a strong forechecking line to take advantage of turnovers by my opponent's defensemen.
Do you sacrifice defense and put a forward on the point when on the powerplay, especially if your opponent has a good short-handed scorer out there?
If you have an energy line (intimidators), do you try to match them against and opponent's top line to draw them into penalties, or do you put an intimidator on a scoring line to help protect two other stars in case any rough stuff occurs?
If you have some excellent Pass rated players, do you put them together on the same line or spread them out amongst your other scorers?
Do you use your best face-off man while on the powerplay, when killing a penalty to try and win the draws, or after an opponent ices the puck (+2 to your shot numbers for the initial face-off in their defensive zone).
Then when penalties (or injuries) occur during the game and you bench shortens, you'll need to manage your remaining players to the best of your ability.
No doubt, once the game begins there is a ton of die-rolling. The battle of wits during the game usually produces some memorable moments (which depend on luck to a large degree, true) that can change the outcome of the game. Just one example, my top two defensive lines were fatigued and so I had my third (weak) D-pairing on the ice late in the game. My opponent put three forecheckers and a screener out there, and they controlled the entire shift, finally putting one in the back of my net for a game-winning goal when I couldn't clear a rebound out of my zone. I got outcoached, and he deserved the win.
The game is easily played solitaire as a statistical based simulation, with you simply making the best decisions for both teams.
Overall, the game is remarkably engaging and very true to the sport; it's a fantastic experience, the best I've seen. The bigger a fan of hockey that you are, the more that you will enjoy this game.
Hope that helps...