Some sportsgames have small followings who are so loyal and enthusiastic that they can keep a game going even in the face of an impenetrable- seeming market. This is the case with Face-Off, a hockey boardgame that has been published by various people since the late '70s. You've probably never heard of it. Its players are devoted, with active leagues on two continents.
Now a computer version of Face-Off is out It's a perfect port of the boardgame, and even plays like the boardgame. It will literally roll the dice, check the player card, and announce the result of the play. You can actually see it work. It takes a bit of adjustment if you're used to seeing verbal play-by-play accounts.
The game comes with the 27 NHL teams from the last season rated. Of course, they teams come with code names rather than their actual nicknames. You can change them back almost immediately, but before you do it can get confusing. One I has two-thirds of the way through the first period, and being outshot 20-1, before I realized I was coaching the Ottawa Senators!
Like many sportsgames, Face-Off is modular. Different programs do different things. The name changing trick is done in the league module. There is a module for manually entering stats, and one for importing stats from other computer game users.
What there isn't a module for is creating new players. The player ratings are taken straight off the boardgame cards, so only carded players can be used.
Coaching is Face-Off's greatest strength. There are four offensive and three defensive lines to set before the game, as well as special teams. During the game, these lines will frequently be disrupted. A player assigned to one line often becomes unavailable for a particular change, and must be replaced by someone else who can play that position -- or at least a position roughly similar. Keeping a fresh, effective team on the ice is a major challenge. The better you know your players, the more luck you'll have with the juggling act. If you don't know your team that well (such as my experience coaching Ottawa), you can ask the computer to substitute players. Sometimes players switch on-the-fly all by themselves!
In addition to these player moves, the coach can choose offensive and defensive styles. basic defense, intimidation, forechecking and clearing are all rather for the player cards. If it's a hockey skill, it's in here.
The report at the end of the game does much more than give the score. The teams are compared in many elements that are hard to quantify in other hockey games. These include faceoff's won, time of possession, quality scoring chances, and so on. This information is very valuable to a league coach, who can adjust his strategy and personnel to get better results. If you're not winning, these might help you figure out why.
Since it is a complete port of the boardgame, coaches who are already in active Face-Off leagues can use it to play their games without sacrificing compatibility. (I've had the experience of trying to do a league that used two different games, one board and one computer, and it was an absolute nightmare.) The game comes with a list of active leagues that might need more coaches, including contact addresses. There are also instructions and forms for reporting the performances of you local NHL team; these are used to help design the next season's card set. Maybe someday I'll find a basketball game with that level of fan involvement.
An interesting note about leagues; not only can stats from away games be imported, but each game produces a complete play-by-play file which can be exchanged with your opponent. Thus you can watch your road games. Like the other PBPs, it mainly lists die rolls and card results. It's still interesting and useful, and can be read or printed from any word processor.
The documentation isn't pretty, but it is clear and covers a lot of ground. Some features, such as import/export and manual entry of game stats, require a lot of explanation. They get it.
If you don't mind watching die rolls and card readings rather than color
commentary, then I highly recommend Face-Off to serious hockey fans. Dice rolls
and color commentary are two different options the user can choose.
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