Back in 1987, there had already been a spate of football management simulation games playable on your home computer. Brian Clough's Football Fortunes stood out in 1987 because it combined the computer soccer management game with a conventional-looking board game. This 'game of two halves' proved a successful combination: it sold close to 200,000 copies! Football Fortunes is an updated reboot of that 1987 game, this time combining a board game with a (free) app. You are using cards to represent your players and you are moving around a board to determine the actions you can take and the events affecting your team but with everything filtered through the app - even the die rolls!
The idea is that you start with a wadge of cash (£200 million) and you use it to buy players to add to your squad and to 'train' your youth players. The player cards may cite soccer star names but it's the star rating on the card that matters, and the minimum you can pay to sign a player is £20 million per star. You start off with only two-star players, so you'll be keen to add three-, four- and five-star signings - if they come up for transfer and if you can afford them... And players are always bidding against each other for signings.
You organise your squad, including your formation (position of players in defence, midfield and attack) and tot up the number of stars in your line up for attack and defence. These are the numbers that the app crunches to report the results of each week's matches between your team, the teams of other players and the teams controlled by the app's AI.
If you're a soccer or fantasy football fan, you'll get a kick out of building your team and seeing how it performs against the others in its league. Be warned tho', football is an art rather than a science. You can find that the app churns out results that can on occasion seem arbitrary. Two teams with exactly the same stats can perform very differently. You'll applaud your managerial skill when your team tops the league but you'll curse Football Fortunes as a game of luck when your surely very well managed team delivers disappointingly poor results. There's no shortage of luck too in the various events that come up as you progress around the board...
The board game element does rather show its age. Having grown up with Snakes & Ladders, Ludo and Monopoly, roll & move was what families in the 1980s expected from a board game. The paper money is reminiscent of the currency in Monopoly (tho' whereas Monopoly involves absurdly small amounts, everything in Football Fortunes is denominated in multiple millions, which some will find annoying). The board itself even has a Monopoly look and feel, with spaces running around the outside and your actions determined by where you land. Several of the squares are the equivalent of Chance or Community Chest, offering a random event that is likely to either give or cost you cash. There are no 'Manager's Luck', 'Selection Problems' or 'Crisis!' cards in the Football Fortunes box, however; you tell the app that that's where you've landed and it tells you the effect! And you need to make sure you always have enough cash to cover your costs because, like Monopoly, you can go bankrupt! You could have a very big bill to pay, for example, when you land on a Wages space...
Our Board's Eye View plays of Football Fortunes used an app running on an iPad, and apps can also be downloaded to run on a PC or Mac. Surprisingly tho' there's still no app to run on a smartphone (you can't run the iPad app on an iPhone). Apparently the smartphone apps are still in the pipeline. Those who backed this game on Kickstarter two years ago received player mats for placing out their team formation but our retail copy didn't come with any mats. It was also disappointing to just have flat cardboard tokens to move around the board. You'll perhaps want to raid your old Subbuteo set and substitute a couple of wobbly-bottomed player minis for the cardboard chits. If cigarette cards were still a thing, we might also be substituting them for the player cards: tho' the cards identify individual players by name the publishers obviously could never afford the royalties that would've been demanded for them to use player images. Aren't there sticker books that we can rummage through to pimp the cards...?
The game comes with the option to play with 1980s footballers based on those in the original Brian Clough's Football Fortunes but the deck has been expanded to include another 80 players from the same era. Our only disappointment here was that we couldn't find a card for the Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, forever lambasted by Brian Clough as 'the clown'.
The reboot of Football Fortunes was obviously a labour of love, and soccer fans and 'anoraks' will really enjoy the tension of the transfer windows and the 'bungs' to avert otherwise fatally expensive Crisis! 'cards'. Remember tho', at the end of the day, it's all about the silverware. What counts in the end isn't your cash in hand or even the star value of your squad - it's the trophies and tournaments your team wins. At least it doesn't come down to penalties!
(Review by Selwyn Ward)