What we learned from play-testing the original Football Fortunes with proper board game folk!

Play-testing the original Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes at the Board Meeting in Belfast

It’s a fact that most of the people who played the original Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes are not necessarily board game aficionados. This is likely due to a few factors.

Cloughies was a football game and that gave it very broad appeal. It was also a computer game as much as a board game and was sold as a computer game. Luckily here in Belfast we have a few very serious boardgame anoraks who agreed to help us playtest through the original game to see what we could learn for the remake. And learn a lot we did…

It pays to bear in mind that Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes was released 31 years ago and that board games have changed a lot in that time, much like everything else. If you think of the difference between Manic Minor and Grand Theft Auto 5, it’s pretty much that type of quantum leap for board games too with loads of new technology being used as well as some game styles being considered old hat. Very interesting to look at what was an original and innovative game in 1987 through the eyes of modern board game fanatics, one of whom makes board games for a living also.

What we learned…

First up that the original Cloughies could best be termed a game of economics as there was a lot of chance involved in terms of player recruitment, especially in the initial phases of the game. As players start out with a relatively small budget (we started with £500,000 each) this means that it’s difficult to spend heavily on players without building up a war-chest first as there was an awareness of various things that could happen, such as the Crisis square on the board, and the managers were very concerned about falling too far behind. In this way the game rewarded caution, a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ mentality was far more likely to succeed than aggressive recruitment it was felt.

“RULE NUMBER 1 OF GREAT BOARD GAMES? DON’T LET PLAYERS FALL TOO FAR BEHIND TOO FAST, THEY GET BORED AND SWITCH OFF WHICH IMPACTS THE GAME FOR EVERYONE…”

Of course anyone with a familiarity with Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes knows that landing on the the Crisis square is not nearly the worst thing that can happen to you in a game although novices might assume it would be.

The Crisis square in Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes was more of a bad day at the office when compared to other things that could happen!

Famously the worst thing (or at least the thing that fans always mention) is the dreaded ‘Your Two Best Players Die In A Car Crash’ Selection Problem card.

Losing your two best players might well hurt, but it won’t put you right out of the game!

In actuality there’s one Manager’s Luck card that is far worse and of course we got hit with it in the very early stages of the game!

Oooof! That’s more than 50% of the game’s opening budget gone potentially within a few moves!

Following that we landed quickly on the Crisis card further depleting our budget and making it almost impossible for us to sign players as other managers had had as much luck as our misfortune and were cash rich very quickly.

This has led us to two conclusions. Firstly that we need to be mindful of single events that have such a profound effect on a player’s ability to compete and the frequency of these events. Secondly we need to deepen the second dimension to the game to make it a game of decision-making as much as of economics or blind luck!

ANOTHER GOLDEN RULE OF BOARD GAMES IS THAT PLAYERS SHOULD BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE SATISFACTION IN A RELATIVELY SHORT SPACE OF TIME…

We were playing at the Board Meeting, a weekly board gaming meetup in Belfast that is held in a public bar and so our time was more constrained than it would have been had we been playing at home for example. However this was great as it meant we had to play as short a game as possible to give the guys a flavour of the game and to get their feedback.

This was problematic for two reasons. Firstly the setup of managers, team and money distribution and board setup on the classic game takes longer than people would expect today, mostly due to the fact that it’s technically running on a ZX Spectrum (emulated on a Mac in our our case). Secondly the game always has nine teams in the league regardless of how many human players there are. This leads to at least 25 fixtures in a season with home and away fixtures and cup games. In the second season this will be even longer, more than 30 games, with European competition.

We played about half a season before the guys were running out of time to play their other games, and while there were some great moments even in that 45 minutes — hour of playtime, the game could definitely benefit from letting players choose how many teams will be competing. So that’s what we’ll do. In the new game it will be possible to create a mini league, by choosing how many teams will be in the competition with five as a minimum and twenty as a maximum as that’s how many compete in the Premier League.

In short the guys liked the game, with one in particular loving a second run at it having played it as a kid. They talked about some ‘magic moments’ which was great and we discussed at length the design of the new game. Great guys, big thanks from all of us itching to play the remake! Your input has been invaluable.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!

Another issue we’ve encountered from play-testing the original at length is that the game featured a skill level for the computer teams that was chosen at setup from Beginner to Expert.

Experienced Cloughies players will know that around season three of the classic game (for those who have played for about three hours or more!) the computer teams will become almost unbeatable and any reasonable challenge in the game will be lost.

We looked at the code of the original game and the issue is that the difficulty level (ie how good the computer players are) goes up every season. That might be okay except for the fact that the computer manager’s players are effected by this also, as they effectively go up a level with each rise of the difficulty level.

So let’s say in season one a computer player has the following players, an average team with a 28 combined score. This team is playable, and more importantly beatable, and as players progress by adding to their squad they should get better than these teams fairly quickly.

The computer team starts off like the players with 13 in defence and 15 in attack.

All good, until season two of the game where the all of the computer managers players will be boosted by one star rating each when the skill level moves up a notch. Which would lead to 2+5+3+4+4 in defence and 5+2+3+3+3+5 in attack and a 4 and a 2 as utility players in the case of the team above.

This makes a new rating of 18 in defence and 21 in attack but if they play their 4 star utility in midfield that’s a plus 3 up to 24 in attack. In one single move, by beginning a new season, the computer manager has gone up a staggering amount of star ratings.

In season two this is just about playable against the human opponents, but by season three they have no chance.

Our conclusion on this is that we need a completely new way of the computer managers making progress, and it must be constrained in the same way that it is for the players for example by finance. In short the new game will need to have an internal economy so that the computer managers are acting under the same rules as the humans.

Lots of learning, lots to consider and lots more lines of code to be written! Onwards.

As always we’d love your feedback either here or on our Facebook page