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Fútbol Strategy: Taking the fan through the design process

Dirk Knemeyer takes us through the process of the design and development of Fútbol Strategy.

  As a hardcore football fan - go Kaiserslautern FC and Hertha BSC! - the lack of a deep and enjoyable tabletop football game to play has long been a frustration.

While I happily played Dungeons & Dragons and the other defining games of my generation the games that most captivated me were the strategic sports game of Strat-O-Matic(R), a small publisher from Glen Head, NY. Their games on the four "major" professional sports in the United States - baseball, football, basketball, hockey - provided a unique experience. While the games, themselves, were fast and fun they were played between hundreds of real players that Strat-O-Matic had "rated" in a variety of skills and "carded" for use in their game.

The leagues we would play, replete with a fantasy draft, player contracts and trades, and all form of advanced roster management was a game unto itself. Most of our time "playing Strat-O-Matic was lost in these meta activities. That is not a knock on the game; it is a reflection of how being the general manager, more than the coach of manager at the game level, is the ultimate joy for the particular type of sports geek like me.

So, as I get older and become increasingly interested in world football, I can't help but remember those old Strat-O-Matic days and want a similar experience in this infinitely more global and compelling sport. Sure I play "Football Manager" on the computer. But while the game is long on options and realism, for me at least it is a little short on fun.

The incredible depth and detail is intellectually compelling, but I find myself smiling or laughing far less than in the old Strat-O-Matic days. More than just the benefits of tabletop as a tangible experience the space constraints forced by paper make that kind of game more about actually playing it than trying to decode the massive puzzle of a system that a deep computer game like FM offers. So it was that I perceived a need: a fast, fun, and strategic football game with lots of uniquely rated players who could form national sides and club teams.

At the start of any creationary process it is important to have specific objectives in order to keep development on the right path.

For Futbol Strategy it was two things: first, like Strat-O-Matic, create a rich universe of uniquely rated footballers that could participate in strategically interesting games while encouraging a deep meta-world of roster management at both the club and national levels.

Second, in a departure from Strat-O-Matic, have the game itself be more representationally correct and realistic. For example, in Strat-O-Matic hockey, each team simply places their players opposite each other, chooses a level of offensive and defensive intensity, and draws cards that simply resolve the game without any decisions being made by the players.

While the games were indeed fast and fun to play as a child they also didn't have the feel of a game of ice hockey. They lacked the feeling of speed, of crunching physical confrontation, of players flowing through space on the ice.

In my game it was important to keep the attributes of fast and fun but bundle those into a system that enabled 11 men per side to move around the pitch, finding and closing down space as they battle to victory. Along with a more modern design sensibility - Strat-O-Matic is more than 50 years old - the intent was to make playing feel more like a real game of football.

So, the priority list for the design looked like:

1. Footballer ratings that feel unique and bring out the different types and styles of players

2. Plays in under an hour

3. All 11 footballers for each club represented on the field together, moving around and contesting space

4. Easy to learn, easy to teach, easy to play

5. Have the game ready for World Cup 2014

We managed to achieve four of these five goals. Which one proved impossible? Stay tuned to find out…

 Dirk Knemeyer, along with Daniel M. Levine, designed Fútbol Strategy. This series of articles for Tribal Football provides an overview of that design and development process, continuing with an article a week through the end of the World Cup. If the game sounds interesting learn more about it at Kickstarter,

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