Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Football Chairman (iOS)

Like many of you, I have a long-term affection for the Championship Manager series (now Football Manager), particularly Championship Manager 97/98, which I remember purchasing at Fry's from a bargain bin for the ridiculous price of $9.99.

I then proceeded to play for several hundred hours.

Also, like many of you, I have very little time to game right now. My gaming time is basically in the bathroom or in the car (do not cross the streams). So the iPad is getting quite a bit of use as a gaming device, because I don't have a choice.

Owen Faraday mentioned a game last week called "Football Chairman", and since then, all my gaming time has been spent with this fantastic little throwback. It reminds me very, very much of the Championship Manager series, although at a significantly less complex level.

As an example, in Football Chairman you don't manually search through huge lists of available players. Instead, one player each week (during open transfer periods) is brought to your attention as a possible transfer candidate. So the decision making process is highly streamlined.

In some cases, that could be a negative, but this game is so beautifully and consistently designed that it becomes a positive. Instead of endlessly trying to game the system, I spend my time role-playing instead. I spend more time thinking about each decision because there are fewer to make.

It's hypnotic. It's incredibly compulsive to find out the result of next week's game before stopping, or one more offseason. It's a pleasure to find a game that compels me to keep playing.

Football Chairman also does a remarkable job of conveying the financial realities of a sports team. When I was in the lower divisions, it was relatively simple to manage the club's finances. At the highest level, though, salaries are absolutely enormous, and attendance varies substantially based on a team's place in the league table. Financial success winds up depending heavily on the season-end bonus you get for your final placing in the league.

I understand very well now how a club can go bankrupt.

Managing a small club is like farming: plant a crop, take care of it as it grows, then harvest at the end of the season. Managing a big club is like gambling: push all your chips into the center of the table by buying players you can't reasonably afford, hoping to improve your league standing enough to wind up with a profit.

Graphically, Football Chairman is incredibly clean. Everything is beautifully laid out and very crisp. Controls are where you expect them to be, and everything is easily accessible. It's a clinic in layout and design, and it also just works. I think I've played almost 30 full seasons at this point, and I haven't had one crash or hit a single bug. That's damned impressive.

Also impressive is that this game is free. At the beginning of each season, there's a very low-key message box (stylistically consistent with the rest of the game's communication to you) that says you can get more money for your team.

What it doesn't do, though, is throw prices at you. Instead, it tells you to click on an icon for more information. Unobtrusive and non-invasive.

I wound up buying five million pounds for my team budget, just to be able to give the developers some money for their terrific game, but then I just ignored the infusion. So my real budget was my current money total minus five million, and that's worked out just fine.

 This is, quite possibly, the best sports game I've ever played on a mobile device. And there's an Android version coming fairly soon, apparently, so even if you don't have an iOS device, you'll eventually be able to experience the game.

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