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How do the Monarchs get to their games?

This season the London Monarchs blew it, there’s no getting around the fact. We all have our theories why – what plays should have been called, when it was wise to chance a sneak on fourth down, when they should have replaced Gelbaugh the quarterback, and so on. Now if you (or, indeed, I) had been in charge… etc etc.

Well, now’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Not with the real Monarchs, of course, but with Composer Software’s American Football Coach. Author Haydn Potter’s idea is to bring some realism and authenticity to the marketplace – this isn’t so much a rival to the graphical gymnastics and animated hands-on action of John Madden Football as a complement to it.

The teams pitching gridiron battle here are from the NFL, and calibrated to reflect genuine strengths and weaknesses. EA didn’t have the license to use actual teams so they didn’t. American Football Coach does, and it’s my guess that small-time Composer Software just figure on getting away with it. Good luck to them, though it has to be said they haven’t made the most of their gamble.

Even though the real names have been kept to protect the authenticity, the depth to which each character has been evaluated and tailored is limited to a mark out of ten, and then it’s only the principle players who get an individual evaluation. Madden offered more.

The point here is, how can a coaching sim claim to offer greater team accuracy if the building blocks on which its calculations are based (namely an inadequate player rating system) are so limited?

American Football Coach doesn’t even make up for this lack of sophistication in the repertoire of plays open to the budding Larry Kennan. With only a handful of passing plays (based on short, medium or long target objectives), a few fairly inventive but randomly-guided running plays and a basic defensive play book, you’re inevitably led to the conclusion that the only thing with great depth to be found here is the hole into which standards seem to have been dropped.

So how does the game actually play? Well, at the start you choose which team you’re going to coach and which to play against, in either a playoff or league game. It’s then straight into first down and you chose your play.

It’s ‘I dunno, that sounds quite fun’ time now, as you hazard a whild guess on which one to attempt – the only hard facts you have to go on are the player stats (marks out of ten remember – you get more detailed appraisals for nature table submissions at primary school) which give you an idea of which receiver is likely to catch the ball and which running back is the quickest. Apart from that, you’re on your own. (Of course, some plays work better than others. But by the time you’ve worked out which, the players involved are so knackered out so you can’t use them any more. Brill-a-roony).

The graphical sequence illustrating the ensuing fiasco is pathetic too. It’s impossible to work out what the hell the ball is doing (it appears that the quarterbacks have mastered 360 banana shots to perfection – I think) and with no control over the action, it’s very difficult to work out why a play has succeeded or failed.

If John Madden hadn’t backed up its excellent graphics and playability with some raw game logic, then American Football Coach may have at least identified a gap in the market for a dedicated American football coaching sim.

The problem for this game is that Madden did have the trousers to go with the mouth, and American Football Coach couldn’t come up with the necessary pantaloons even if Madden had failed. And, taking that feeble trouser/leg metaphor at its natural conclusion, all it remains for me to say is that this is a pile of old cobblers.