It's interesting to note that with the recent flood of soccer games, there haven't really been that managerial games. Tony Dillon wears an anorak and sits in a dugout, but he doesn't like to talk about it.
F ootbal, football, football. That's all I've heard for the last couple of months, what with the world cup and all. However, this was one game that I had waited a long time to see and I wasn't disappointed. Club Football – The Manager is a league soccer management game where you, as always, have to take a fourth division team, train them up, improve them beyond recognition and hopefully find your way to the top of the three as quickly as possible. But there is one big difference: you are playing this game purely on your own benefit as a manager, and not for any one team. The idea is to leap from contract to contract, taking huge pay increases and gaining all the recognition you can from both the Football Association and the fans themselves. But before any of that can happen, you have to start with the basics.
FREE BUS PASS
You begin the game at age 35, with a set retirement age of 65, giving you thirty years to make the most of yourself. You are offered a small number of contracts, and from here have to choose the team that are going to send you on your way to stardom. None of the teams are particularly good, although you might find one or two decent players in there, and of course you don't have all the money in the world to spend on brand new star strikers, so you really are up against it.
Most management games have the same options, so there's no surprises here. You can buy and sell players, improve the grounds, train up people, hire and fire scouts and coaches, play friendlies and cup matches and all the other things a manager does. The other area that this game differs from the rest though is in its use of tactics and the strong use of characters within the game.
Let's look at tactics first. Before each match you have to decide on your squad and the way they are going to play within the match. Squad selection is fairly standard, each player is called up on screen with all their statistics (i.e. passing, shooting skills etc.). If you like the look of them, you drop them into place. Then you are shown a diagram of the pitch with your players in place showing their 'footprint' – the area of the pitch they operate in. By clicking on the player's icons, you can move them around the pitch and create your own formations, and by moving the boundaries of their footprint, you can tell them where to move around. You need to be careful when setting the range, however, as giving them too large an area will wear them out, whereas giving them areas which are too small will leave huge holes in your defence.
LOOK AND LEARN
Another side of the game that has been very well though out indeed is the interaction between players and other members of the team. Take the coaches for example. When signing up a coach, you are shown the statistics that give you his range of talents – whether his specialty lies in stamina or shooting, that sort of thing. What it doesn't tell you is how good he is at teaching that information, or how effective he will be in training, in much the same way as you have to way of telling how intelligent your players are, or if they will soak up any of the information. The only way you can tell whether a player is really talented is by watching his performance over a series of games as he builds up his character. With this system, designer Keith Wadhams has managed to create 'intelligent' players – the people whose physical statistics might not be all that great, but who are sponges for information, and can therefore play their abilities far better than someone who might be a fantastic striker, but only shoots when they are in the penalty area.
There's a fair bit in Club Football that's been seen before, but then that's a common problem with soccer management games. However, there are enough new ideas to make it seem fresh and interesting, and the detailed tactics system get you a lot more involved in the match side of the game than most games, and that has to be the biggest selling point of them all. Club Football took over a year to design, and it really shows.
CU Amiga, September 1994, p.79