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Nigel Collier
United Kingdom
Hull
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Production values - excellent and ingenious, 9.5/10
To be honest, when I first was researching which football game to buy, this looked too sort of 'cottage industry' or 'spare room operation' and I initially bought Strat-O-Matic football, being a long time fan of their baseball game. I was disappointed however by Strat's mechanics and so I plumped for SSF after reading around the BGG website, choosing it over games like 4th Street, Inside Blitz, APBA and Pizza Box. I was expecting charts photocopied and cut out with scissors etc. but I have to say the level of production quality of SSF is better than all other sports sims I've played. However it's the ingenuity of design of the game pieces which impressed me the most; it comes sort of semi-assembled with:

* The game box flat packed, but opening out to form a sturdy and attractive A4 sized container for all team sheets and the Play Book. The design of the team sheets is nice - rather than having individual cards for some of the more high profile position players, SSF has a single A5 sheet divided into positions, with a list of players at each position listed along with their stats. Not only is this much more manageable than shuffling multiple cards, it gives a pleasing visual cue seeing the cards placed facing each other just like a real scrimmageline
* Stickers provided for the sides of the box for you to apply
* a ring-bound a5 Play Book of rules and charts
* Colour-coded side page markers and stickers to facilitate fast lookup of rule sections (and instructions of how and where to apply these)
* A very small footprint - the deskspace needed is minimal, as is the setup, especially if you use a spreadsheet for keeping record of the play-by-play and to keep a tally of time and which player is reaching his limit of carries/receptions etc. It's really just the Play Book and the two team cards.

It really is a very neat and efficient way of packaging and shipping the game and, once assembled, it provides a very clear and user-friendly set of rules. If I had to pick a fault I would say that the football field gameboard is relatively weak in design but that is being very picky and I assume many people actually have a spreadsheet for managing downs, yardage and timekeeping etc. Overall the practicality and attention to detail of the game's production is outstanding.

Rules - elegant and clear, 10/10
I said above that this game is 'just' a bunch of charts. I was being a little facetious of course because, though SSF is essentially football reduced to a number of inter-relating charts, the production of those charts from bare stats -- and the devising of rules to use those charts to capture the absolute essence of the sport -- relies on the skill, vision, dedication, passion and sheer hard work of the designer, Keith Avalone. Firstly, the rules of the game are extremely clearly written and appear at the back of the Play Book. Again this is attention to detail...most similar games put the rules at the start of the book since, logically, learning the rules comes first. However, if the rules are simple and intuitive (as they are in SSF) and the game design is such that most rules are self explanatory and derived from the charts as and when you need them (again, as they are in SSF) then once you've played a game or two you won't be needing to refer to the rules again...so it makes absolute sense to put them in the appendices. Attention to detail. So, before I actually rolled a dice in anger, I would rate the rules as 10/10.

My only initial concern was the apparent simplicity of the individual player stats: all but the Quarterbacks are summarized by some fairly basic, if not simplistic numbers. One of the joys of a good sports sim is capturing an individual player's skills and abilities so that you really get a feel for how he would perform in a game. How could an individual player's abilities be captured faithfully by just a couple of simple ratings? In Strat-O-Matic and APBA each player has his own personal card with an impressively detailed looking individual chart full of numbers. Well, when I'd played the game a few times it became clear just what genius has gone into the design of SSF and how you can get the feel for an individual player's relative skills from just such an apparently simple bunch of figures. Read on...

Gameplay, 9.5/10
Before writing any more of the review I wanted to really play SSF a good deal, ideally a full season. For it to be a success I'd be looking for how it scored in several key areas:

1. Does the game produce realistic scores, stats and results?
2. Does the game capture the essence of the sport and replicate it faithfully, offering similar events, play, decisions and consequences? Can it teach you about the real sport?
3. Does the game reward experience and thereby encourage improvement? Can you 'get better' at it, or is it largely luck?
4. Does the game play smoothly, with the mechanics not getting in the way but rather 'disappearing' behind the action they produce?
5. Is the game FUN (making me want to play again) and does it have DEPTH (keeping me wanting to play long term)?

1. Does the game produce realistic scores, stats and results?
This is the easiest thing to replicate because it's basically reverse engineering the stats from the real game (and American sports provide a veritable plethora of those) and turning them into tables of results split into appropriate diceroll chances. When you then roll the dice and lookup the results you're just basically unpacking those stats.

2. Does the game capture the essence of the sport and offer similar events, play, decisions and consequences?
What is by no means so easy however is to get the stats right for the right reasons. At the end of a game the numbers may look authentic, but the 'narrative' of how you arrived a those numbers has to hang together - and for fans of the real game it will be very obvious indeed if the gameplay which generated the stats did not make sense. Having now played a full regular season and playoffs I can tell you that the 'narrative' of the gameplay is simply extraordinary. I mentioned above that I was initially concerned that apparently simplistic player numbers could produce a real flavour and representation of an individual. Well, there are a number of very clever situational modifications to the dicerolls and advanced optional abilities which massively alter the depth of individuality of the players, have real material outcomes and tactical implications and do not slow down the gameplay by a millisecond.

The game's designer, Keith, says that he's designed SSF to be like watching a game, with all results rendered on the charts in short sentences of pithy commentary which bring the game to life vividly in the mind's eye. There is no graphics card more powerful than your mind's eye and SSF facilitates a realistic playing in one's head of the game which is powerful and memorable. So, some of this 'depth' and authenticity of the game is certainly produced by the mind's eye - by you making of the numbers what you want to - but that again is the real sign of a fantastic game; it is alchemy to produce something so involving out of a few numbers. For example, I didn't so much mind losing to New Orleans because it was impressive and a pleasure 'watching' Brees go about his work, and there was a genuine frisson of anticipation when Eli took to the field after missing a few games from injury.


3. Does the game reward experience and thereby encourage improvement? Can you 'get better' at it, or is it largely luck?
This, in my opinion, is the weakest area of the game relatively speaking, from my limited experience of playing one season solitaire. Ideally, if a game has a genuine element of skill rather than just being a mechanism for reproducing stats then you should be able to 'get better' at it and an experienced player, with the same amount of luck as a novice, should usually win...and for the same reasons a real team would (not because he is more au fait with the anomalies or idiosyncrasies of the game system). Largely I found that the game plays itself tactically with you merely picking from a shortlist of Offensive and Defensive plays and designating a runner/receiver and then sitting back to enjoy spectating. You don't get to pick any formations or specify routes and don't get to identify and take advantage of mismatches. However, I would offer a couple of important qualifications: firstly I was playing solo but if you're playing head-to-head and only have your own team to concentrate on then there definitely is greater scope to pick individual lineups for the various plays; secondly, there is always a balance to be struck between authenticity/detail and playability - the two are usually mutually exclusive and a good game will look for the sweetspot between the two. SSF is in the sweetest spot of any game I've played and trying to make the game even deeper and more complex with more micro-management would make it less playable..because it IS hugely playable as point 4 will explain...


4. Does the game play smoothly, with the mechanics not getting in the way but rather 'disappearing' behind the action they produce?

I think I've already pretty much covered this in my points above. The answer is YES. The main mechanics of choosing a play on offense and then rolling for the defensive play, then looking up the corresponding combination table (e.g. 'OUTSIDE run PLAY AGAINST A blitz DEFENSE) is simple and before you've finished your first game turning quickly to the corresponding page in the Play Book will have become second nature (helped by those colour-coded page tabs). The rules, which I admired for their simplicity and clarity before I started playing, shine when actually used. The clever tables and the excellent design of the Play Book steer the gameplay clearly and are very slick to use which results in a flowing game which never once stutters or loses its pace or excitement. Full marks.


5. Is the game FUN (making me want to play again) and does it have DEPTH (keeping me wanting to play long term)?

Dangerously so. This is the most unadulterated, plain FUN I've had playing a boardgame for years. I became instantly hooked with it and it was like reading a page turner that you simply can't put down. I don't want to get too deep and meaningful but, I'm 42, and it was like being a little kid again - you had all the drama, excitement and elation or agony of an NFL season sitting in a little box just waiting for you to open the lid. I got so engrossed and even obsessed that I played probably too much for my own good to the detriment of all the jobs and other responsibilities I should have been getting on with. Once I'd finished the season (lost to Green Bay in the Divisional Playoff but Eli was injured and the Packers were fantastic) I vowed I'd have a while off for my own good...which lasted about 48 hours before the game pulled me back...that innocuous little box with all the potential that it contained. Of course this is the first flush of enthusiasm and novelty of a new boardgame, but I can't see myself getting bored with this in a hurry - there's always last season to improve upon and always the Super Bowl to aim for.


Footnote:
Keith shows his workings! You can purchase (delivery [international in my case] and customer support are second to none by the way) the guide to deriving your own stats and creating your own teams. You can let Keith do this for you of course and buy the team cards in hard copy or PDF but it is unique to offer effectively 'open source' workings of this key mechanic of the game's system. So if you're a stats nut and know you're way around desktop publishing then you can brew up your own team sheets (which is a rewarding feeling). And though the tutorial on how to create your own teams suggests you make yourself familiar with the game mechanics before proceeding by playing a few games, actually there's also an argument for doing it the other way around - I found working through the process of deriving and assigning stats for my own teams taught me a lot about what the numbers in the game represent and how they mapped to real stats, but also showed what a fair and clever system Keith uses and finally you really get to know more about the teams. The process of creating a team stats sheet is long and arduous but the research really does make you familiar with the players at the various positions and their strengths and weaknesses. This makes the game more real when you're playing as there will be teams and positions which are just names on a sheet if you're not very familiar with them already. So, if you're the kind of person who likes poring over stats and spreadsheets (and I would guess a healthy proportion of SSF players will be by the very fact that they like this sort of game) then I highly recommend trying to create at least some of your own teams. But, much as I like my number crunching, doing it for all 32? Wow...I think buying the sheets off Plaay is the preferred option there.

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David Gray
United States
Deerwood
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Spot on. Second Season is the king of tabletop NFL sims.
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Matt Crawford
United States
San Francisco
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Great review! I don't think those are A4 and A5 charts and team sheets, though.

I had a British friend who would declaim the superiority of the A system of paper sizes, with how you can go from one size to the next just by doubling or folding. He was probably right, but we Americans like our systems to be inscrutable and logic-free, dangit!

Anyways...thanks for the detailed and well-thought-out review.
 
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Albert Taylor
United States
Texas
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Great review. Second Season is my favorite solitaire table top football game and I also have found it can be very addicting.
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Blue Tyson
Australia
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Thanks. How long does a solitaire game take you?
 
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Lang Jones
United States
Kew Gardens
New York
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I just purchased this and played my first game yesterday. Its awesome. It is a nice balance of simple and complex, and there are USFL teams available.

I'll be posting a review once I've played a couple of games.
 
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Todd R
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Spot-on review. This is really a gem of a game. Others might want to check out his Stock Car Racing game that he released a few months ago - it's really an unbelievable simulation of the sport, a ton of fun, and I don't even like racing! His History Maker Baseball is due out in May, and looks to be a game changer (pun intended) with such features as personal characteristics, chemistry, and umpires built into the game.
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Nigel Collier
United Kingdom
Hull
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Personally it takes me about 30-40 minutes per quarter. That's using the advanced rule options, using a spreadsheet to record quite a lot of detail about each play, keeping tabs on each player's run/pass limits etc. You could probably play it faster but I suspect you'd be playing a bit mechanically then and missing savouring some of the nice detail. Hope that helps.
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Nigel Collier
United Kingdom
Hull
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You think that's inscrutable - until the early 70s our currency broke down like this: 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shilling in a pound, so a pound was 240p...oh, and a guinea was 252p. You lot were way ahead. But the A system for paper is superior. I'll stop because I'm boring myself now...snore
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