In my youth I enjoyed playing football (soccer) until injuries forced me to stop but I maintained a love for the game through board games. Unfortunately the ultimate football game that simulates the feel of soccer doesn’t exist. Or maybe didn’t exist until recently, as I was introduced to Counter Attack (Webstar Games) first via Tabletopia and then through the physical board game.
Counter Attack is designed by Colin Webster, with art by Rachel Codd. It was successfully published in 2019 following a Kickstarter campaign. The game is played over a hex-grid football pitch and, as you'd expect, you have 11 footballers a side. You draft your team two at a time from a deck of players and then when you have completed your squad you decide on your formation. Each person receives a random goalkeeper and the match is allocated a random referee whose main attribute is how harsh or lenient he is on fouls.
The footballers each have seven attributes: pace, tackling ability, heading skill, dribbling, high pass skill, resilience and shooting. Pace is your speed in hexes while resilience is your resistance to a foul that might cause an injury, and most of the other attributes are pretty intuitive. The players are all named but with made-up names rather than those from real leagues. Players don’t generally have high attributes in multiple areas but you might have, for example, a footballer who is good at tackling and has good pace but doesn’t know how to shoot. How you place your players on the field generally depends on their attributes. So in my example, you'd most likely position the player in defence or in a defensive midfield position. This gives you lots of flexibility about formations and as you draft your team you are thinking about where each player might play.
The game has a superb movement system. When you have possession of the ball, you can move four players up to their pace ability, then your opponent can move five players and finally the attacker can, from the players who have not yet moved, move two players up to 2 hexes each . A second excellent rule uses a grid to show the eight actions allowed after a previous action. So after a movement action, a further movement action is possible, or a standard pass but not a first-time pass, as well as other options. These possibilities make the game. But of course there’s more...
Passing is a key aspect of football and there are several types of pass. The standard pass moves the ball along the ground up to a certain distance on a measuring stick, but if it goes too near an opponent it might be intercepted. A first-time pass is a short pass and allows some limited player movements after it has been completed. A long pass moves the ball a long way but always at least 5 hexes away from one of your players. A high pass simulates a cross or high ball and is followed by a header, possibly on goal if that’s where the cross reaches.
Checks for tackles, interceptions and high balls are resolved with 6-sided dice (though the game provides 12 sided dice with 1-6 twice, presumably because these look like footballs) plus the relevant skill; so sometimes a player will ride a tackle and sometimes not. Advanced rules introduce deliberate fouls, tackles from behind and other more realistic aspects without causing much downtime. Perhaps the publishers are saving VAR (Video Assistant Referee) for a controversial expansion :-)
The best aspect of the game is that it genuinely feels like a real match. Players move appropriately, tackles happen, passes take place or are intercepted, speedy wingers outpace slower full backs and goals are scored.
All this takes place over 90 real minutes and so you feel the pressure of the time and when you lose possession you know the opponent is about to do something which you fear so you are always engaged in the game and it is exciting. The game does more than enough to allow you to create the story of the match.
Counter Attack may not be the ultimate football simulation but at the moment it’s certainly top of the league!
You can order Counter Attack direct from the publishers by clicking on this link.
(Review by Alan How)