We've lost track of the number of board games that have attempted to recreate in tabletop form the thrills and spills of what has come to be known as 'the beautiful game'. Games like Football Fortunes have focused on team management but there have been games too that have attempted to recreate the tactical aspects of the sport, of which Counter Attack (Webstar) is arguably the best; tho' of course there's still the figure-flicking classic Subbuteo (Hasbro), which originated in the 1940s in Tunbridge Wells, not much more than a pitch length away from Board's Eye View HQ :-)
Soccer Duel follows then in a noble tradition. Title notwithstanding, however, it's a stretch to classify it as a soccer game. The soccer theme for this game is so thin that it barely qualifies as a veneer. You aren't building, managing or fielding soccer teams. What you are actually doing is laying tiles that show one or two quarters of different colour balls with the aim of creating matching groups of four tiles that make up complete balls. Each of these counts as a 'goal' and the winner when the tiles run out is the player who has 'scored the most goals' (ie: has the most balls completed in their tableau).
The domino-like tiles are similar to those in Throw Octopus!, which was also designed by Brian Rauch and published by FireStorm Labs, but Soccer Duel isn't just a reskin of that game minus the soft toy. Whereas in Throw Octopus! players are taking turns to build onto a shared tableau, in Soccer Duel there are no turns and players are each focused on their own individual tableaus. What gives this essentially abstract tile-laying game a shot of adrenaline is the fact that it's played in real time. It's a speed game: if I draw and lay my tiles twice as fast as you then I'll have twice as many tiles in my tableau... Players maintain an open hand of five tiles and if you hit a point where you have no legal placement (you can't see a way for any of the tiles in your hand to fit onto your tableau), you can discard a tile to draw another. Tiles discarded in this way are passed to your opponent when the game ends, giving them an extra chance to complete any incomplete balls to add to their 'goal' tally. The rules describe this as 'overtime', tho' it's more akin to what most soccer fans would refer to as 'injury time'.
There's a very notional nod to soccer in the inclusion among the tiles of yellow and red cards. In soccer, these are issued when a player commits a serious foul. For a 'yellow card' offence, the referee takes down the player's name and if they repeat the offence and get a second yellow card, they are sent off. For a 'red card' offence, it's an instant sending off. In Soccer Duel, the yellow and red tiles incur a time-out penalty: draw a yellow card and you have to pause your play for 15 seconds; draw a red card and you must stop for 30 seconds. This works well in game-play terms, tho' thematically such 'time outs' would maybe be a better fit with an ice hockey themed game.
You can have a lot of fun with Soccer Duel. Because it's a real-time race as well as a pattern recognition game, it's exciting and - as you might expect - it plays quickly. Just don't expect to open up the box and find a soccer-themed game.
Soccer Duel is due to come to Kickstarter on 30 August. We'll add a link at kick off so you can check out the campaign.
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