Serendipity. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. That's what I've got this month. Like finding out that I've got more money in the bank than I thought by pressing the wrong button on the cash dispensing machine. And then discovering a record I've been unable to find for ages filed in the wrong rack in the record shop while I was looking for something completely different.
And like being the only person in the office when Audiogenic phoned up and started talking about their new footy manny sim and therefore being the one they sent it to and the one who got to review it, it's been a good month.
So why am I so pleased with Super League Manager? After all, on the face of it SLM is a very ordinary looking footy manny game. I mean for goodness' sake, there's a desk from where all the decisions are made which has every bog standard option going. See for yourself in the big box. But what makes SLM so splendid are two great features that you'll find in very few other footy manny games.
SLM is set in an imaginary world. You start life managing Folkford United, a team struggling so desperately in division four of the Audiogenic Super League that they would have been relegated into the Coldwell Freezers League at the end of last season had it not been for the bankruptcy of Polkrington Stanley. You're a player yourself, and a good one too - at least you were until a cruel injury cut short your career and forced you into management. You've been hired by straight-talking and tight-fisted chairman Les "You can call me Les" Wilkinson to restore the club's good fortune.
What this means is that there are no Ryan Gigges, or Andy Coles or anybody even remotely familiar playing in any of the 32 teams that comprise the four divisions of the Audiogenic Super League. Now, while this seems a bit daunting at first and requires more effort from you when playing the game to try to find out who your players are and what they're good at, let alone the hundreds of others, it is much more rewarding in the long run. You're ot burdened by preconceptions and, providing you've got a healthy imagination, you'll get a lot more out of the game because of it.
The other startingly good feature is that there are minimal player statistics. Football is not an exact science where each player can be broken down into a reliable set of numbers describing their skill, strength, leadership and aggression and, unlike every other footy manny game, SLM makes no attempt to do this.
You are given indicators as to what your players are like and you must use your judgement to decide how much weight you give to them. The first and initially most impressive indicator is how much a player's worth. This gives you a good starting point for gauging their skill. Then before each match, when you're picking the teams, your trainer rates each players fitness, enthusiasm and performance as one of three things: declining, static or improving; although this may have as much to do with the training regime you're using as anything else (see below). And after each game every player is given a mark out of 10 by a sports journalist from The Gazette, giving you a clear indication of how well they're playing.
This imprecision is again hard to get used to initially - you just don't know who to pick. But as time goes by and you start to get to know your players it becomes apparent who's happy playing in what position, which players are right for you and which ones just don't fit in to your style of playing.
No Ryan Giggses
The key to success in SLM is training. You have to choose the right routines for the right players. Every Monday morning you have to choose from a range of options the extra training that each player will do that week. The actual process of selecting the training can sometimes be a bit tedious, especially on the CD32 version where you have to waggle your joypad all over the place, but the rewards to be gained are immense. If you're getting things disastrously wrong your trainer and the chairman will let you know, and as soon as you start to get things right the results will speak for themselves.
So you've picked your team and they've spent a week training hard and it's finally match day. What happens next? Well, in common with most footy manny sims the actual match day is a bit dull. Pictures of cheering fans when you score a goal, teleprinters tapping Sout the results - you know the kind of stuff. But, BUT SLM has something else as well.
Every week there's a 'match of the day' ('Week', surely. - Ed) which you can choose to watch. Every five or so games you're one of the teams features and you're given the opportunity to play the game yourself. Whether you watch or play, you're using the game engine from Wembley International Soccer which scored a very respectable 85%, when Conniving Scopts Blackleg McGill reviewed it in AP39.
So in some respects you're getting two games here for the price of one. Unfortunately this is the one area in which this otherwise excellent game has a small problem. There's no option to practice the actual playing side of the game, and as a game that you control only comes up every couple of hours of playing, there's not much chance that you will get to be much good at it. Not unless you've got a copy of Wembley International Soccer already, that is.
It's still a welcome addition, though, particularly if viewed as the slightly superfluous icing to an already fruity cake.
Soccer League Manager is fantastic fun. Playing this you'll enter into a little fantasy world of your own and only be dragged out by the cruel necessities of the physical body. Buy it and enjoy.