Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gridiron is, in my experience thus far, the best American-Football themed manager game on the net; albeit in a market without many American-Football manager games. Unfortunately, the game is developed by Europeans, and thus it is missing many of the familiarities that would allow it to become truly huge in the U.S., which has the potential to be its biggest audience.

What We Like About This Game- The first thing I like about this game is the match-tactics. They are simple enough that even those who are not football coaches can still figure them out, yet are detailed enough to allow managers some freedom in tailoring their tactics.

The forums on Grid-Iron are pretty active, and there are certainly some entertaining characters in the bunch. There's even a guy that interviews active managers and does a weekly "coaches corner".

We also like that friendlies actually matter. In many games, they are just places to "experiment" and thus people ignore them. In Grid-Iron, managers receive ticket revenue, and players gain chemistry and experience from them. Also, many managers set up informal Friendly Cups, that give some added advantage. Because the game is young, often, teams in lower divisions are just as good as those in higher divisions, so these friendly cups are a good way to see how you stack up.

The ability to choose a sponsor allows you to tailor your sponsorship needs towards your team. If you think you're going to win a lot, you can pick a sponsor that has a lower base payout but higher victory incentives. If you don't expect to win a lot, you can pick a sponsor with a higher base payout.

We also like the "positional ratings" feature. This allows you to see how much experience your player has at each specific position. This rating is a huge factor in determining how well your player will play. In so many manager games, players are given a position at "birth" and, regardless of the skill set, their performance will suffer at other positions. The positional rating is more true to real life. A great passer is a great passer, and if you give him enough time at quarterback, and he has great accuracy, footwork, and vision, he should develop into a great quarterback. This is the principle that Grid-Iron goes off of.

Along the same lines, the training system is much more realistic than many other games. In real life, a player can develop their skills in practice, regardless of whether they play, but without game-experience those skills will not result in higher performance. In the same way, in GI, players can develop passing, catching, running, speed, strength, vision, agility, etc. in practice, but will still get creamed if they don't play games to develop team chemistry, experience, and positional experience that comes from games.

What We Don't Like- One thing that I don't like about this game is how long the season takes. There is only 1 league game per week, so with a double round-robin system, that means it takes roughly 20 weeks to get through a season, which is an eternity in manager games. The developers claim that based on the way the game was made, it's impossible to add more games per week, but every other manager game seems to have accomplished it, so...

Also, the developers refuse to do a "bot flush". Many manager games have a problem of managers trying the game for a few days, and not coming back, which results in their team going bot. Most games have a system for rooting out these teams, and it usually has something to do with promoting teams from lower divisions (even if they didn't otherwise earn promotion) because playing games against the computer is boring. As a result, even the top few divisions still have as much as 6 out of 10 teams as bots. In the 4th division, there are still many leagues with only 1 or 2 active managers.

When you combine these 2 ideas together, it can make for a dull season. If there are only 2 human managers in your league, it can be 8 weeks in between playing meaningful games. Snooooozze.

I'd also like to see a playoff system to determine a league champion. I think that this playoff system would play much better to an American football audience, since it is what they are more used to seeing, and would help the game grow significantly in the Western Hemisphere.

Problems related to the newness of the game, rather than poor quality- These are issues that are going to be worked out in the next season or 2, but are something that all games face when they are young. If you can get past these problems, in a few seasons you can be one of the "good old boys" who "remembers GridIron when," which is always a fun position to be in.

1. The transfer market is not very active. This has to do partially with the developers still working out the kinks in the economic system. Either way, players can train up fairly quickly, so you can easily develop a great team only pulling from your youth system.

2. There are still some key parts of football that have not been adapted into the Game Engine yet, most notably penalties and passing to running backs. Hopefully, the powers that be are working on a way to put these into the game.

Other Things to Know About this Game- 3 teams are relegated to the lower division in each league, and 1 team promotes. This means that out of each 10-team league, there are 4 new teams each season.

The Verdict- So far, the best American Football game we know of. If the developers keep working to improve the game, it could become one of the best manager games on the net, period.

Tips for Newbies- As was mentioned above, players' ideal position can chance, and their preferred position doesn't necessarily have anything to do with their current skill set, so the first thing you should do is analyze your team and develop a lineup based on skill instead of favorite position. Use this guide to help determine which skills are most important for each player.

Make sure to claim your sponsorship money every week! It's in the economy section.

Read the FAQ. It's very informative, and is surprisingly detailed in the formulas used for attendance, training, etc.

Remember that when you develop a certain set of the stands (there are 4 sets), that set becomes unusable until the construction is finished! Therefore, make sure that you have a long term plan in place for stand development, and try to make large improvements in one fell swoop, rather than a lot of small builds. Executive and VIP are the best bang for your buck, but there are many fans who won't pay for these seats, so don't forget to build regular stands too.

Away teams earn income in Friendlies too, so try and schedules away matches against opponents with large stadiums.

Develop well-rounded players. The majority of a player's salary is based upon his highest skill, so to keep your salaries down, try and build your players well-rounded. In other words, don't train your QB's Passing to 18, but leave his footwork at 2.

Strength and Speed usually begin higher than other skills. As a rule of thumb, I multiply them by .7 to make them comparable to other skills.

Read the forums. A lot of users have come up with some very important information based on their experience, especially with regard to which skills are important for which positions.

Talent is very important, and basically determines the player's potential. Teamwork is also important, and determines how fast they gain training. See FAQ for more details.

Players are injured in TRAINING, rather than in GAMES, and training happens shortly before game time, so make sure you check in on Friday to update your lineup. If you have an "invalid lineup" (aka you have a player starting who then gets injured), the computer automatically sets up your lineup, and it usually does a cruddy job.

Friday, December 11, 2009 is an online soccer manager game. There are a few things I like about this one, but there’s way more things that I don’t like.

What We Like About This Game- Well, there are a few things we like about this one. Our favorite part is the frequency of games. There can be as many as 4, 5, or even 6 games in a week (depending on what competitions you're in), so that regardless of your attention span (or lack there of) there's always lineups to be adjusted or training to be updated. Also, training is updated daily, so you don't die with anticipation of a once-a-week bump. Also, income and expenses are done on a game-by-game or day-by-day basis, rather than week-by-week. This system means there's more to do on a daily basis.

The training system is much less stressful than others you'll see. Players have to get game time in order to get full training, but unlike other games, it's not on a weekly system (see above). This means that if you have 3 important games in a row, you're not forced to play your 16-year-old backup goalie in order to make sure that he gets training.

I'm a big fan of the contract system (for both players and coaches) and the extensiveness of the coaching staff. It's nice to be able to have a different person to handle your in-match coaching, training, rehab, and scouting, and be able to run contracts on them. Even better, you get to negotiate contracts with your players, so you have to look more long-term in your decisions, and there's big financial penalties for simply cutting a player.

A nice little feature that I like is the "To Do List". It's a neatly organized list of stuff you need to do (set match tactics, review a contract, etc.) so that you don't forget something important.

Now, the Bad News- We have a long list of grievances about this game. We'll start with more clerical issues, then move on to our problems with the actual game. First of all, the game guide is TERRIBLE, and gives you hardly any information to help you be good at the game. I haven't had much luck getting a ton of help in the forums either, so even after having played this game for about a year, there's still a lot that I don't understand, especially about the tactics (more on that in a bit).

Also, the navigation is not very easy. A lot of the time, I still have trouble finding certain things I need to get to, because the way the game is laid out is not intuitive. To really improve game popularity, they're going to need to have a major game redesign.

The site is unusable for large parts of the day, and there is no match viewer. The site goes down to run a daily update in the morning, and then again in the evening for about an hour and a half to run the matches. This is the only manager game I've seen that hasn't developed a way to run the matches and updates without shutting the site down. Also, the lack of a play-by-play match viewer takes some of the excitement out of big games.

The tactics for the game are VERY complicated, and again, thanks to no help from the game engine, it's very difficult to figure out how you should set each of the 10 or 15 different match variables. And there's so many different skills that the players have, it's hard to figure out which things will help which match tactics, and which players should go in which positions etc. As if that wasn't confusing enough, there's a whole slew of different positions that can be a player's FP. There's probably 8 or 9 different types of midfielders, 4 different forwards, etc. And maybe the different positions are familiar to soccer nuts, but to those of us who are casual fans (or not at all), it's a lot of unnecessary jargon.

There's not a great transfer market in this game. There's typically no more than 20ish players on the transfer list at any time, and odds are none of them are the type you're looking for.

In this game, there's no "national team" system, and there are leagues with sub-divisions, but the leagues don't have any correlation to a particular nation. Furthermore, there can be teams in the 7th division that are just as good, or better, than the 2nd division, and players can enter at any level of the system, so you can get stuck in a bottom division even with a good team.

The finances in the game are VERY difficult to manage. In the lower divisions, it's very difficult to field a competitive team with much more than the bare minimum # of players and not be hugely in debt. This really handicaps you as far as being able to make player moves, expand your stadium, etc. And the players can get fatigued very easily, so having a small roster really makes the game tough. In other words, there's not much interaction within a game-wide marketplace beyond just adjusting your lineup and tactics.

Other Things to Know About This Game- Three teams promote from every division, and 3 relegate. Unlike most other manager games, the leagues have a 1:1 ratio. In other words, there's 1 top division, 1 second division, 1 third division, etc.

The Verdict- Definitely not my favorite. There are a lot of other soccer management games on the web, so I would go with one of them.

Hints For Getting Started- Most of your new players, as a result of the financial issues mentioned above, will come from your youth system, so don't ignore it. Also, the first contract out of your youth academy will be WAY cheaper than any other contract, so try and lock the player in for as long as possible.

Hire a good staff. This goes along with the previous hint. Since most of your players will come from your internal system, it's important to have good coaches to raise their skills. Also, in lieu of being able to actually make heads or tails of the match system, make sure you have a good assistant manager, as he will be able to make many of the decisions for you.

Monday, December 7, 2009


So, I've decided to start with my personally favorite manager game: BuzzerBeater.

This one is a basketball game, and is one of the first manager games I started playing. Now in its 10th season, the game recently underwent a major overhaul in both it's makeup as well as it's Game Engine.

(The "Game Engine" is, in simple terms, the program that these Manager Games use to play out the games. They basically work on a series of formulas that determines the winner of a game, and then, in most cases, spits out a play-by-play account of what happened.)

What We Like About This Game- The biggest thing we like about this game is that it's very easy to pick up and begin to play (and begin to play well), but is not so simple as to get boring. That makes it a great Manager Game to get yourself "onto-the-scene" so to speak.

Another thing that had me hooked is the playoff system at the end of the season. In most of these manager games, championships are based only upon regular season record, as is more common in European sports leagues. BuzzerBeater, however, has an 8 team playoff (in a 16 team league), where the winner gets promoted. They also have a relegation series. The bottom team in each "conference" from each league gets demoted, but for the other 2 demotions, there is a 3-game playoff, and the loser moves down.

What I like about BuzzerBeater National Team system is that it is very accessible, even if you're not a super-expert on the game. There are lots of ways to get involved: either by coaching, scouting, offering tactical suggestions, training players, or just talking about it. Unlike some of the other manager games, people will consider your opinions, even if you are not a part of the "inner circle". It is also very possible to train one of your players to be on the national team. In some games, the National Team players are all concentrated on a few teams in the highest 2 divisions. In BuzzerBeater, you can find National Team players as low as the 4th and 5th divisions.

I also like the training system. You play 3 games a week, and your goal is to get 48 minutes for a player to train. This system is not unique, but BB does a good job of listing out how many minutes your players have at each position, to make the training minutes easy to track.

What We Don't Like- Recently, the transfer market has become inflated, meaning that buying even an average player takes more than a full-season's worth of income. The Developers claim to be trying to manage this by allowing some players from abandoned teams to hit the transfer market, but as of this posting, it has not yet corrected itself.

Also, I have a little beef with the 1-team promotion from each league. These manager games are usually set up in a pyramid system- For example, in BB, there is 1 Top division in each country, 4 second divisions, 16 third divisions, 64 fourth divisions, etc. In many of the games, the top 2 or 3 teams can promote to the next division. In BB, it is limited to the top 1. The reason we dislike this is that it becomes very discouraging for managers if, even though you have a very good team, you happen to get stuck in a league with a few other VERY good teams, you can get stuck in the same division for a long time. This happens, and then you get a bunch of bot teams.

Other Game Notes- This game has a draft system, where once a season you get a couple of new, young players added to your team. Most of the manager games have a "youth academy" where you scout out players, who at first train under a youth coach, and then can be promoted to your senior team (again, harkening back to the European system).

Player Salaries are often used as a way of rating players' abilities, but beware: salaries are only updated once a season, so especially young players can be way better than their salaries indicate. DMI as a rating of a player's quality is not very useful, as game shape is strongly reflected in DMI.

Players are not penalized for playing out of their position, and the positions are more of guidance to where that player's skill set best positions them. Many, if not most, managers tend to ignore position when making their lineups. Also, height has no bearing on how a player will perform in a given position. A 7'4 player with a guards skill set will perform as well as a guard as a 6'3 player would. The height, however, does affect training. A taller player will train post skills (rebounding, shot blocking, inside defense, and inside shot) faster than a short player will, and vice-versa.

The Verdict-This is our favorite manager game that we've found so far and is a great place for anyone to start manager games.

Hints for Getting Started- Hire a good coach, sell off your best players that you start with, and invest in a lot of 18 year old players. It's much easier to train your own players than to try and buy players who are already good.

Train all guards or all post players, and then when the trainees get to be around 22 or 23, when training drastically slows down, sell them off and buy good Centers and Power Forwards with the money. Of course, you can't just ignore your inside players until then, so make sure you buy at least capable inside players (with no regard to age) to tide you over until your trained players are good enough to be sold.

Under the new game engine, the prevailing theory is that, if you don't have an ideal small forward, play a perimeter player there instead of an interior player.

Don't ignore game shape! Many managers (including myself) ignore game shape when they start playing, and get creamed because of it. Try to keep your players between 55-70 minutes per week to maintain good game shape, because without it, your team will be terrible.

In the training system, you can choose to train 1 position, 2 positions, 3 positions, or the whole team, depending on what skill you're working on. The fewer positions you train, the better your training your players will get. We've found the most success with, at the beginning of your tenure, training 2 positions, and 5 players a week. When your team matures, you can begin experimenting with training fewer/more positions. Remember, you need 48 minutes per week in the trained positions for a player to get full training.

Make sure you schedule a scrimmage every week! This is a great opportunity to get more players above the 48 minute plateau and make your team better. Schedule your scrimmages early on so you're not scrambling at the last minute.

Read the Game Manual page about tactics. This will be very helpful to you in understanding how to set your tactics for the games.

Use your enthusiasm wisely. If you think you're going to win for sure, use "Take it Easy". Don't use "Crunch Time" unless you are in a must-win game, because it will cost you for several games in the future.

Good luck, and be sure to post a comment if you have any questions or need any help!

What is this blog about?

This blog is going to be reviews and personal opinions of online Sports Manager games. These things are a lot of fun, and are HUGE in Europe, but are becoming much more popular stateside. It's basically like playing Dynasty mode on Madden, only you don't actually play the games, and all of the other teams are managed by other players. You can sign and draft youth players, put players on Transfer, juggle lineups and game tactics, Strive to get your best player on his nation's national team, train up your young'ins, expand your arena, and most importantly, lead your team to championships.

Most of them are set up similar to the European soccer system. Each nation is divided into divisions, and you promote to the next division by winning championships (or sometimes placing 2nd or 3rd). Also, there are not really trades. Most player movement is done through a "transfer market" where you can sell your players and buy other peoples'.

You typically play 2 or 3 games per week on a set weekly schedule. Many have "nation wide" type tournaments, where all of the teams are thrown into a big single-elimination bracket, and they play until there is a national champion. Imagine if all of the USBL, ABA, NBA, NBDL, NCAA, and High School teams were to play in one big tournament. There are also national league teams, which are managed by a separate manager, much like you would see with a Olympic team or other National team where players are called up. Luckily, in these manager games, playing on a National Team won't keep players from playing on their own team.

If you are a sports nut, you will love these games. They are like Fantasy games on Steroids. Let me know what your favorite manager game is, and we'll check it out! I'm currently playing about 15 or 20 of these, so it might take me a while to get through them all, but I'll do it!

From time to time, we'll also check out other types of online gaming, but our main focus will be on these manager games.O