Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Putting the Drama in Soccerama

Soccerama is one of those games that many of us probably played for hours on end in search of the European Cup.  It dates from the late 60s, around the time that Celtic and Manchester United were securing British interest in the competition.  From a game design point of view, there is very little to it with hindsight.  It is a sort of snakes-and-ladders for soccer fans with other elements similar to Monopoly (The Penalty Cards and piles of cash) and Wembley (the is-he-playing-or-not star players worth a goal a game and the match dice).

My original fell apart and had craters in certain squares where my brother and I had smacked the markers down in frustration.  My current copy was a lucky purchase from eBay (there are plenty around) and the previous owner did nothing except ruin the box lid with sellotape.  It has never been played and all anachronistic penalty cards are in pristine condition.

After a couple of years, the makers (ASL) must have been successful in getting endorsement from Alan Ball of the England World Cup winning side.  His face and autograph appears on the box lid and he is quoted as saying it is, “The best game he ever played”.  He must have been easily pleased is all I am saying.  Please would the next person to interview him ask him about it.

How It Works

A time limit should be set at the start (there’s a good place to start arguing).  The players’ teams, represented by a marker but with no other club identity, make progress across the board by winning (move three spaces) and drawing (move one space) matches.  The result of each match is decided by the rolling of two conventional d6 dice, with the addition of one goal for every star player deemed to be playing.  Along the way, players receive gate money,  and other random things happen from time to time at the whim of the penalty cards or by the instructions on the square they land on.  The penalty cards are not all bad, and occasionally those that moved you on two squares or back one could be a brilliant stroke of good fortune, as explained below.

The object of the game is to accumulate points for winning things.  If, say, player A wins the fourth division title, he or she gets a card worth 2 points.  However, if player B subsequently wins the same title, they have to roll dice to see who keeps the card.  This could give odd results where the player promoted last of all actually wins those points as the other players are in higher divisions by then.

Frankly, in the higher divisions and the cup-competition tangents, the game descends into a series of gambles on deliberately trying to draw games so that you end up on the right sequence of squares.  For example, in the first division your first four wins give you £15k (square 3) , £7k (square 6) , £10k (square 9) and a penalty card (square 12).  The fifth win would land you on a “Go Back to 3” square and a potentially infinite loop.  So somewhere, you need to get a draw.  Not too soon though, because square 4 is relegation.  Square 7 forces you to sell a hard-earned star player.

Your problems are not over once you make it safely onto square 10.  Square 13 is a big cash bill for a new training area and square 22 fines you and sends you back to square 9.  Therefore, you need a second drawn game to get you on to the 11-14-17-20 sequence which will get you the runners-up spot and entry into Europe.  (Don’t get me started…)

If you are really lucky you will fluke another draw from either square 17 or 20 and end up with a win from square 21 to get you the coveted Division One title.  Occasionally a Penalty Card could be be helpful.

Winning the FA Cup or the European Cup will need some sort of similar convoluted sequence of wins and draws.  Therefore, the only real element of skill or judgement in the game is in remembering to remove the star players in certain matches.  For two conventional d6 dice, there are 6x6 = 36 possible outcomes when they are rolled.  Six of these (1-1,2-2,3-3,4-4,5-5,6-6) are draws, a one in six probability.  Playing one star player for an extra goal means that the 1-1 score is impossible and the chances of a draw are lessened, and even more so when playing two or three.  That is as geeky as this game gets, other than counting out money.

I have vague recollections of all-dayers with my brother in which neither of us got even near the European Cup.  We would spend the first hour or so getting up to the First Division and then the rest of the day yo-yoing up and down the league ladder in the hope of a drawn game.

Penalty Cards

These even lacked the quaint humour of the Chance and Community Chest in Monopoly.  Here is a sample:
  • Pitch needs returfing, pay £3000
  • Bad run.  Go back two places.
  • Teamwork improves.  Have another throw.

Nostalgia Moments
  • Four divisions
  • No shirts numbered higher than 11
  • Two-up and two-down
  • Alan Ball (later editions only)

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