Armchair sports fans or strategy freaks. Call them what you will. One of the most prosperous products a mail order company could ever produce is a sports strategy game. Most of the majors have kept out of this genre (only Addictive Games continue), but what they’re missing is one of the most dedicated and loyal computer gaming groups in the UK. Some of us dream of managing our own favourite soccer, American football or cricket team and with the aid of your Spectrum it’s possible for your dreams to come true — well, almost. Ace sportsman and all round sports fan PHIL KING takes a look at the top sports strategy games around at the moment...
On The Bench is a text-only soccer management game featuring four divisions and is very up-to-date — even the newly-introduced promotion playoffs are featured. The player can choose to manage any one of 22 teams, though he always starts in the depths of Division 4. The game can be customised to your own requirements with a useful option allowing you to change the names of the players as well as teams.
Players in the same division may be bought directly at a price set by the selling team — they may also be sold to raise extra cash. The team is initially given an overdraft limit of £250000. If this is exceeded, the bank will automatically sell off some of the team’s players.
Before each match, training may be given to strengthen any part of the team, or the whole lot if it needs it. The players are selected for the match along with one substitute. During the match, a clock counts the minutes played. A screen display gives a current match rundown of players, scorers and anyone that’s been booked or sent off.
After the match, the results of the team’s division are shown. They appear very slowly, followed by an even longer wait for the new league positions.
The program suffers from slowness and a general lack of control over the team’s performance. Due to little involvement there is a clear lack of atmosphere. Only two pounds, though.
Producer: E & J
If you think one day cricket is boring (which I don’t!) then you’d better avoid Test Master, again from E & J. The game is very similar to Cricket Master but is a simulation of a complete five day test match. The game is just like going to see every day of a test match — inevitably tedium soon sets in.
Most options are identical to those in Cricket Master. An extra feature allows you to declare your score if you’re winning and running short of time. There is also a light meter; if the light gets too dim, the batting side can choose to stop play till it improves.
There are six and a half computer hours of playing time per day and this is reduced after each over, depending on how fast the bowler is. The game takes absolutely ages to play and, like the real thing, is a lot less exciting than one day cricket.
Producer: Addictive Games
Only last issue (79%) CRASH looked at Kevin Toms’s sequel to the all-conquering Football Manager. Football Manager 2’s extra features include the exact positioning of players on the field and the option to make substitutions at half-time.
The graphical portrayal of the match is a great improvement over the original, which was slow and unrealistic.
Players may be bought and sold on the transfer market where bids are made. The finance screen shows the gate receipts, wages bill and overheads. In addition to the championship and FA Cup, the team also gets to play in the League Cup.
Although there aren’t that many more options, the general quality of programming and presentation is much better than the original’s. The game really holds your interest and is definitely the best of the sports strategy genre.
Producer: E & J
Other soccer management games are based on the English League and the FA Cup, but European Champions involves 32 national teams trying to win the European Championship — yes, England could finally do it!
Before you can take part in the Championship Finals, your team must qualify by winning its group of four teams. As in real life friendlies can be played to build up a team’s fitness and morale.
Each of the 22 squad players has three attributes: tackling ability, skill rating and goal scoring potential.
In addition to your chosen 11, five additional substitutes must be selected. This allows for the extra strategy of making tactical substitutions.
Your team can play a short passing, neutral or long ball game, and decide to be defensive, average or attacking. Both these options alter the strategy of the match.
The graphical display of the match is extremely simple (only the ball is shown) and time consuming, but at least you can see how the team (or the ball) is doing. This feature, along with the potential for substitution strategy, makes European Champions far more exciting than many other results-only games.
Producer: E & J
If cricket fans are feeling left out of this footballing strategy extravaganza, then think again because E & J haven’t forgotten you. Cricket Master simulates limited overs (definable from 40 to 60) one day international cricket.
The team of openers, stroke players, fast bowlers, spin bowlers etc, must be picked from 16 players, ratable from one to three.
Once the team is selected, the match can begin. When his team is fielding, the bowler can alter his own bowling line and move the field into positions of his liking. Bowling and fielding is automatic and the minimalist graphics show the fielders and a rough guide of where the ball travels. Underneath the graphic display, text messages flash up describing how the ball was hit, how many runs were scored plus other useful facts.
The batting side can choose how aggressively the batsmen play. And for added realism, on the fifth and sixth balls of an over, the player can choose to run a single to keep the best batsman facing the bowler for the next over.
As with managing a real cricket team there is little else to do, especially during play itself. This tends to be a problem with cricket simulations in general. The various strategic options are an improvement on most games of this type, but the lack of a two player mode is disappointing. However, cricket fans will probably like it as there are very few cricket strategies to choose from.
Of course every football fan knows, ‘the double’ is when a club wins both the FA Cup and the League Championship in the same season. Scanitron have tried to create the year long battle against all odds, in their game of the same name. The game includes many menus which allow the player to manage all the aspects of any of 66 football teams.
One thousand players are on show, with a small amount available for transfer after the eighth week of the season. Notification of forthcoming transfers is given two weeks in advance, allowing the manager to send a scout to watch an interesting player. The scout (a very likable and useful chap) reports on that player’s performance and estimates his value, allowing you to make a sensible bid when he comes up for sale.
The way transfers are handled is one of the strengths of The Double — allowing you to build a team excelling in all departments. The program uses real players’ names; I was amused to see Ian Rush valued at only half a million pounds! Every week a very slow pseudo teleprinter scratches out ALL the league results, and can become VERY irritating.
Sadly, there’s no graphical display of the match. Being able to see how your players are getting on really stirs inner feelings (no matter how naff the graphics may be!). The Double contains many interesting features not used in other football strategy games, and also presents a reasonable challenge. It’s not a bad game, but there’s much room for improvement.
Producer: Addictive Games
Of all the sports to be imported into the UK over the past ten years, American football has been the most successful. Addictive’s Headcoach puts you on the sideline of England’s second most popular American sport (after basketball).
As the head coach of an up-and-coming team, you must try and build up a group of muscular meanies tough enough to win their division, get through to the playoffs and, hopefully, make it to the final objective: the Superbowl.
The player can choose to manage any of 24 NFL teams (what happened to the other four?). Teams consist of three squads: offensive, defensive and a special team for kicking. After looking at the players on sale, it’s time to select the team for the match (pretty unrealistic, as normally all the players are on hand).
On the field, the player can choose between three offensive and defensive plays, and a field goal attempt (no punt option). This is where Headcoach really fails, as the real sport involves dozens of various recognised plays, as well as scope for specially designed moves.
The team in possession is allowed two downs (or plays) in which to make ten yards (there are four downs in the real sport). This supposedly speeds up the game, but inevitably it leads to a very restrictive and (usually) low-scoring game.
Overall, Headcoach is a very inaccurate simulation. Even hardened fans of the sport (like myself) would be better off leaving it alone. Headcoach has a large following already, but with such a lack of realism it is very hard to see how anyone could gain the real pleasure and thrill of American football from playing it.