Wot I Think: Football, Tactics & Glory

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This Wot I Think is destined to go down in RPS history. For the first time ever a review on this site will make use of VAR (Virtual Assistant Reviewer) technology. If I make a “clear and obvious error” while describing Football, Tactics & Glory’s features or extolling its myriad charms, a team of ancillary reviewers known colloquially as ‘commenters’ will notify me of my mistake almost instantly. Heed the following ruddy exhortation to discover whether this revolutionary experiment in game reviewing succeeds or fails.

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As accessible as Saudi Arabia’s defence and as hard to turn your back on as a cloud of Volgograd midges, Football, Tactics & Glory casts you as the world’s most hands-on foot-to-ball gaffer. Not only do you get to decide who plays and where, you can personally engineer every one of your side’s tackles, runs, passes, and shots if you wish to.

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And you will wish to. FTG’s over-in-five-minutes turn-based turf tussles are optional but astonishingly moreish. I’ve waltzed through around 200 during the past fortnight and still can’t get enough of them. I’m currently attempting to guide The Blue Brazil from obscurity to scurity, and very much doubt I’ll be able to get through this entire review without nipping off for at least one fixture.

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Working out how much of FTG’s monstrous magnetism is down to the tac layer’s stylised-yet-evocative mechanics, able AI and beautifully judged randomness quotient, and how much is down to the way individual results speedily build into plausible multi-season club sagas is all but impossible. All I can say for sure is that I can’t recall the last time I played a PC wargame or simulation (my usual fare) with a long game anywhere near this compelling.

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Every new saga begins with a choice of country, club, kit, and sponsor. The default licence-dodging teams can be customised and modded to more closely resemble real clubs, but the league and cup structure is identical whichever country you choose and therefore probably wont represent conditions and rules in your part of the world perfectly (There seems to be no way of simulating the EFL’s play-off system, for example).

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Matches are IGOUGO, played on pitches ten squares long by seven squares wide, and last for 45 ‘actions’*. Each turn you get to use three actions however you see fit. One turn you might use your trio to press and dispossess some maddeningly skillful winger. In another you might spend them on a pair of beautifully weighted passes followed by an inch-perfect cross or fierce long-range shot.

* Longer games are possible

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Players aren’t complete automatons. Once sufficiently experienced to join one of twenty classes (sweeper, central defender, universal forward etc. ) they’ll perform certain actions automatically and for free. During an opponent’s turn your defenders may dart into neighbouring squares to tackle or intercept. In your own turn, strikers may push goalward or jump in response to crosses.

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Four core player stats (accuracy, passing, defence and control) modified by things like weather, fatigue and pressure, determine the likelihood of a move succeeding. Short-range uncontested passes never go astray but tackles, shots and ambitious long-distance passes always contain an element of luck.

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Try to thread a low cross through a Nottingham Forest of legs and your player’s passing roll will need to be higher than the defensive rolls of everyone the ball passes. Perhaps in the circumstances a shot would be wiser? Because the game uses an elegant mousewheel system for switching between order types and helpfully displays all the relevant modified base stats for any action, comparing tactical options is usually easy.

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Skills are the velvet-waistcoated foxes in the FTG hen coop. Acquired slowly as players gain experience and level up, party tricks like ‘nutmeg’, ‘rainbow feint’ and ‘lay-off pass’ represent those flashes of brilliance that stir crowds, sunder defences, or prevent seemingly certain goals. Like standard moves they don’t always work; unlike standard moves, when they do succeed they have no action cost – a powerful inducement. Almost every turn you find yourself choosing between safe, slow build-up play, and more swashbuckling moves capable of generating quick scoring opportunities. On the rare occasions a sequence of dazzling turn-extending skill moves ends in a goal, the pleasure pay-off is massive.

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Although goals are FTG’s most concentrated and common delight bringers, the game is littered with numerous other sources of satisfaction. Great saves. Timely tackles. Inspired substitutions. Nurturing youngsters – watching them turn into beloved fan favourites. Raising spirits during a mediocre season with a fairy-tale cup run. Even 0-0 draws can be gratifying when the opponent is formidable or you’re battling with injuries or fielding an exceptionally weary side.

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At the start it’s tempting to use your best players in every match. With experience comes a more thoughtful, bespoke approach. I’ve learnt to rest older stars before crucial matches and replace them with energetic teenagers when goal cushions are plump. In my current career I’ve just had to say goodbye to two long-in-the-tooth linchpins whose contract extension fees (which take the form of either cash or ‘prestige’ – an in-game success reward) were beyond Cowdenbeath’s modest means. The men that replaced the local legends were inferior in almost every respect, but, thanks to careful blooding and development choices, weren’t completely out of their depth when the call came.

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Experience has also taught me the importance of on-the-fly formation tweaking. One of the AI’s few noticeable weaknesses is a reluctance to alter a formation that’s proving vulnerable. When the opposition is statistically superior it can generally get away with a blinkered approach. When it’s weaker, the failure to re-jig invites carbon copy goals.

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The four division set-up ensures all campaigns start very gently and gradually toughen. I’ve managed to secure some silverware with my initial club, but, reassuringly, have yet to fashion a squad capable of reaching the top tier. As any supporter of a lowly side will tell you, you don’t necessarily need glamour ties and promotion bids to ensure excitement. In FTG as in life, a spot of FA Prestige Cup giant killing or an improbable eleventh hour relegation zone escape can be every bit as exhilarating as championship success.

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Although bolting extra elements to FTG would risk compromising its pace and approachability, I think I’d like to see a ‘reserve league’ checkbox added to the options screen. Hothousing second stringers with the help of the XP-generating ‘bench coach’ (one of ten purchasable multi-stage club upgrades) feels a tad bogus and reserve team success could counterweight first team failure rather nicely. Pepping up prosaic fixture lists and making painful partings with long-serving stars feel less perfunctory, local derbies and testimonial matches might also be worthwhile additions.

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Tellingly, my tactical wish list is almost empty. Penalties are pure Russian roulette at present (Choose left, right or centre for shot/save direction then cross your fingers) and I’ve yet to see a shot hit the woodwork, or ricochet in off a defender, so perhaps Creoteam could add texture in those areas. An interface aid that warns when specialists are out of position (some skills are only available when players are in specific zones) would arguably be of more immediate value. Although the embedded manual is excellent, and the rules generally clear and logical, some aspects of the game like putting players in positions where they can automatically exploit crosses, can be confusing at first.

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A beautifully engineered tactics title free of gimmicks and artificial grind, Football, Tactics & Glory abbreviates without over-simplifying, and absorbs without overwhelming. If, like me, you crave the drama and flavour of club football, but don’t have the patience to grapple with full-blown management simulations like Football Manager, or the manual dexterity or even-temper necessary to play games like FIFA, anticipate obsession.

Football, Tactics & Glory is available now, priced $18 ($20 from the start of July).

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This way to the foxer

48 Comments

  1. SBLux says:

    This looks great! I was disappointed to read it isn’t out yet as I was already opening Steam to buy it. The enlarged heads look quite odd but I’m sure I can get over that.

    P.S penalties ARE pure Russian roulette Tim, if foot-to-ball commentators are to be believed!

  2. shde2e says:

    This game has my intrigued attention.

    I do wonder: how enjoyable is this game for people who aren’t interested in the sports theme? It sounds like great tactics game, but I’ve always bounced off sports titles fairly hard. Is this more board-game or football manager?

    • Tim Stone says:

      A difficult one to answer. A significant part of the appeal is the plausibility – the condensed but familiar patterns of play. Obviously, you wouldn’t notice how cleverly Creoteam have distilled foot-to-ball if you had no knowledge of foot-to-ball.

  3. LNO says:

    Interestingly there is also a demo on steam, Ill check it out.

  4. arienette says:

    I don’t even like football but this has still caught my eye. Might have to try it out.

    I would add that since they don’t have to worry about real world licencing, seeing unisex footballing would have been nice.

  5. Jac says:

    I’ve had a game idea like this floating around in my head for years so this is awesome to see.

  6. Jimbo says:

    I like football and tactical / strategy games and still bounced off of this twice – once a long time ago in early access and once recently.

    Just couldn’t seem to break out of the early game of having awful players and available transfers which were even worse.

    • Flavour Beans says:

      One of my big knocks against the game is that it’s hard to do much when you’ve got a rotten transfer list. You can gain the ability to expand it and put younger players on it through club upgrades, but that only goes so far. There are times when I’ll just buy out the super-cheap players on the list and cut them immediately to get some new names on there.

      • TeePee says:

        That’s generally been my tactic, too – buy the rubbish out in order to roll the dice. In most cases, they barely cost chump change anyway, and it’s almost inevitably been worth it whenever I’ve done it in the Amateur league.

  7. thekelvingreen says:

    I’d never heard of this until today, but what a great idea! Sort of like Blood Bowl without the fantasy bits.

  8. Gothnak says:

    This has been on my wishlist for months, i think you have just popped it into the ‘buy when on sale’ list :).

  9. Faldrath says:

    As usual, Tim Stone is a shoo-in for the Golden Boot of game writing!

    (yes, this previous line will elicit almost as many groans as the ones heard in Argentina after That Caballero Clanger.)

  10. Jurple says:

    Ah yes. Posting on the DL without the Flare Path title. They’ll still find you, you know!

  11. OpT1mUs says:

    So basically Blood Bowl for boring people?

    • Flavour Beans says:

      Blood Bowl for people who enjoy Blood Bowl and want something similar, but different enough to feel novel and worth exploring. There’s room for both of these in someone’s collection, just like there’s room for XCOM and Battletech, or Bioshock and Prey.

    • Mr. Unpleasant says:

      edgy ;-)

  12. Rorschach617 says:

    I have so many problems with this game that I am sometimes amazed that I still have it installed.

    Comparing it to the closest game in this field, Blood Bowl, it feels like it still needs a lot of work. Graphically, its fine and quite stable, but the underlying skill rolls behind it, while simple, are just so random that they defy the player’s attempts to form any kind of coherent play.

    If the devs opened up the rules set to modders, this would be a must buy.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Have you tried it lately? I feel Creoteam get the randomness-determinism balance just about spot on. I know when I’m unlikely to get past a defender, or shoot or tackle successfully. The odds are clearly displayed. If you don’t want to take big risks, you can build slowly, ‘holding’ regularly with high control players.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        I started a new game last week because you mentioned it in the Flare Path and found exactly the same issues as I had in the 50+ hours of play when it was in Early Access.

        For example, my player has the ball and his Control skill is 50. He is going to try to dribble past an opposing player with a Defense skill of 25. Both players roll off against each other, my player rolls something between 1 and 50, the AI between 1 and 25. This should make 1250 possible outcomes, in which the opposing player should win 325 of them (I had to do the maths by hand and I may well be wrong, it’s been a long time since Maths GCSE). The game has the opportunity to show the random chance of success/failure as a percentage to make it easier to decide whether or not to try it (74%/26% in this case), maybe even reduce the number of rolls to one percentage roll, but does not, which can lead to a lot of frustration when all you see is numbers on the screen.

        Couple that with the “3 moves each/48 moves a game” concept and you have a recipe for situations where it feels like the whole game can be won or lost on one or two rolls of the die. Yes, you can increase the number of turns in the game to ameliorate that feeling, but it does not solve the central issue that the odds could be better portrayed and/or simplified.

        To compare that with Bloodbowl, BB resolves all the randomness with one roll of the dice with a much smaller area of randomness (with a choice of one from 216 possible permutations).

        Admittedly, the current system allows for multiple players to intervene with an action, for example, when a striker tries to shoot at goal and defenders and goalkeeper can block the shot, but I am sure that better mathematicians than I can break down the complexity to a simple roll.

        • Tim Stone says:

          The option to have odds displayed as percentages should be there, but the current system isn’t exactly opaque. In your example (my player with 50 control attempting to dribble past opposing player with defence skill 25) once you’ve grasped the simple fact that you’re, in effect, rolling a 50-sided dice, and the AI is rolling a 25-sided dice, you’re away.

          For me, the fact that a single shot or pass can involve multiple players/stat checks, is a design strength. I love that I can watch a ball elude one, two, three! defenders, before being plucked out of the air by the keeper. A single dice roll would be dull.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            I only argue to simplify the systems down to making single rolls because, when confronted with a situation like this, I ask myself how would I implement it in a board game, when every die roll takes time to process and increases the range of possible outcomes, making it harder to assess the odds of success.

            Personally,I admit I have a bit of a bias against the “opposed skill roll” concept because it increases volatility, I feel, unnecessarily and makes ascertaining the odds of success harder.

            As an example, a skill 25 player will win the ball from a skill 50 player 26% of the time (if I did the maths right). That falls to 17% against a skill 75 player and 13% against a skill 100 player. These odds are not immediately obvious, at least to me and I was surprised when I actually sat down and did the maths, because seeing 25 vs 100 suggests “snowball’s chance in hell” when they are actually better than 1 in 10.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        If we reverse the situation of my previous example and the AI is trying to take the ball away from my player, again the odds are that he only has a 26% chance of success, essentially the “high control player, build slowly” plan you suggested.

        The AI player either succeeds (and I have to replan everything) or he fails. And when he fails, he gets “Motivation” points. If he is particularly unskilled, he reaches “Motivated” status and gets to tackle my player again, with bonuses, and the results of that are either he succeeds (rebuild my plan) or he fouls my player which raises the possibility of injuries.

        And that’s if the opposing player doesn’t have the Sliding Tackle skill, which completely ignores my player’s stats and rolls randomly on a completely different metric.

        Building play slowly is not really workable in this game. The best you can do is try to hide the ball in a distant corner of the pitch to force the opposition to use up actions just to get into tackling range and even then, the pitch is so small that you don’t get much value from that.

        The fact that the players cannot do certain actions reliably causes me immense amounts of frustration. Yes, you could set up the game in easy mode so that all your skill rolls end up within a range of 30%-100% of your skill but that seems, to me, like a surrender and a missed opportunity.

        Off the top of my head, there are two ways that leap to mind that allow for more reliability.

        Firstly, players that reach a certain level of experience in a position automatically take advantage of the reduced range of randomness already mentioned (in essence, instead of rolling 1-100% of their skill, they roll 30-100%). Because even semi-professional footballers can avoid tripping over their feet most of the time.

        Or, whenever a skill roll is needed, it is rolled twice and averaged. That way, the higher skilled player still has an advantage but the chances of an outright clanger are vastly reduced.

        I am totally serious about what I am going to say next. I want to be able to recommend this game and the interface is very good. The cartoony effects on the players, their movements and expressions and so on, which I believe would have been tricky to implement, are spot on and I really like them. But, under the bonnet, the rules the game runs on need revision. If the Devs had released a simple way to rewrite the rules system, I would be elbow’s deep in it right now because I want it to be better.

        And yes, I know that “Better” is a purely subjective term, but the game in it’s current state won’t allow you to hoof the ball up the pitch to clear pressure, but will allow a new forward to power a shot at goal with pinpoint accuracy (they never miss the goal, do they?) and a chance to win a corner. That just doesn’t feel right!

        • Tim Stone says:

          “The AI player either succeeds (and I have to replan everything) or he fails”

          But isnt this 90% of a real football match? The majority of build-ups come to naught.

          “Building play slowly is not really workable in this game.”

          It’s not guaranteed to succeed but having scored many, many goals using patient multi-turn build-ups, I disagree. Holding with high control players in thoughtful (ideally, screened) positions is a great and fairly reliable way to create good shooting opportunities and drag defenders out of position. Worried about defenders with the sliding tackle skill? Try to avoid them.

          I can totally see where you’re coming from with the “it’s too random” and “it’s frustrating” complaints. I guess I simply feel that the way things work at the moment, captures the character of football rather well, and doesn’t discourage thoughtful play. It’s a game about creating chances and minimising risks, but, yes, sometimes, however intelligently you play you will be kidney-punched by Lady Luck. Cest la foot-to-ball. There’s always next Saturday.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            The game does come quite close to foot-to-ball, but, like I said, I wish I could get into the systems and sub-systems and change them around a bit, replace the sources of my frustration with clearer mechanics maybe…

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Just watched an opposition forward with the sliding tackle skill score 2 goals through a 6 man defence, send one of my players to the hospital and, because he failed on two goal attempts, he was “motivated” for 7 turns during which he was untouchable.

            Since I lost the game, my players gained practically no xp and, what was actually a close-fought game against a better team gives me the same end result as if I had been trounced.

            Frustration….. RISING!!

        • Tim Stone says:

          The failure to model shots that totally miss the target is indeed odd, and is something I definitely should have mentioned in the review. I hope Creoteam improve things in that area.

          I use long-range lofted passes as clearances from time to time. The effect is generally the same.

          • Tim Stone says:

            I hadn’t noticed that XP was linked to results! I’m planning to put some questions to Creoteam and will raise the issue.

  13. Someoldguy says:

    I take it from the testosterone-loaded screenshots that this is the exclusively machismo fuelled 20th century side of the sport where the ladies are invited to be not seen or heard on the pitch?

  14. mgardner says:

    Thanks for the review. My concerns after playing the demo are that the AI team never altered its positioning (20+ games), and as a result there seemed to be very narrow options for scoring. For example I never ever got to use the skills head play, nutmeg, or cannon shot. And most other skills had lower chance of success than standard shot. The demo is set up where your team is much better than the opposition, so it was trivial to win all the matches, but there was just no variety. So the demo did not sell the game to me.

    As reference, I do not watch sports (e.g. Roy and Moss “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?”). I enjoy Blood Bowl and FFX Blitzball, and FTG has similarities to both.

    • Tim Stone says:

      I haven’t tried the demo, but in the full game you encounter numerous formations.

      The nutmeg and head play skills are handy in many different situations. Specific formations shouldn’t render them useless.

  15. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Ooh, this looks great. It looks potentially small-screen able? Is it, and are there plans for mobile/tablet?

  16. MonkeyJug says:

    Really glad this game has grabbed a bit of RPS attention. And a ‘RPS Recommended’ to boot!!

  17. aircool says:

    I tried the demo, and it is a good game. However, as a football fan, it didn’t feel much like a football game. It is a good TBS game, but it’s not really football.

    However, if you like TBS games, you should enjoy this game, even if you don’t like football.

    • Tim Stone says:

      “it didn’t feel much like a football game”

      Care to elaborate? While the IGOUGO three-actions-per-turn mechanic inevitably means many players remain in their squares, apparently static, for substantial periods of a match, once you accept the shorthand, learn how to use crosses and drag opponents out of position etc, I think the pattern of play and overall feel is pretty evocative.

  18. Jievo says:

    Okay, perfect place for this. I downloaded and tried the demo (total kudos for them for that, by the way), thinking this seemed like the very thing. I was a bit miffed by the short games and a bit baffled by how unclear the numbers were – I remember my first shooting chance was displayed as an “8”… Out of what, I had no idea, though I kinda came to assume it was out of 100.
    But what really drove me away within a few matches was the AI’s ludicrous propensity to score directly from kick-off, clearly giving me absolutely no chance to do anything about it. Kick off, pass to forward, dribble, shoot, score… Every time the AI had a kick-off. I vaguely wondered if 3 centre backs was the answer but as an English football fan I’m not kidding when I say that I refuse on principle to play any football game that thinks 3 at the back is superior to 4. Perhaps that was just terrible luck or perhaps I simple had done something terribly wrong, but can anybody reassure me that it’s possible to prevent the opposition scoring in their first turn and directly after every one of your goals?

    • Tim Stone says:

      Unfortunately, the demo doesn’t seem to work for me (its exe just starts the full version) so I can’t provide specific tips.

      In the full version, the tutorial explains how odds works (the ‘8’ in your example is basically the number of sides on the dice to be rolled, so 8 vs 8 would be a 50% scoring chance). It’s straightforward once you’ve grasped the principle.

      While the AI will score ‘direct from kick-off’ from time to time, against sides of similar quality you can usually seriously reduce the chances of this happening by using a tailored, defensively oriented formation.

  19. Falsadoom says:

    I want this game to succeed. But right now it suffers from being totally owned by a strategy of direct tactics. As in the shortest distance between two points is a direct line. Which translates into the shortest distance to winning from kickoff, you guessed it, straight at goal. Hopefully this Base idea really grows into something worthy.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Heading straight for goal just isn’t a sensible option in many matches, especially if you’re facing a strong, dense defence. In my current campaign I’m struggling for traction in the middle of Scottish ‘League 3’ and often find myself forced to try more elaborate, patient, or circuitous tactics.

  20. Landiss says:

    I played the demo, had quite some fun, but it appears to have some weird bug or design choice – every enemy team had a field player acting as goalkeeper, resulting in -50% to his control and defense. It made the game quite easy, especially in connection to the fact that almost all opposing teams in the amateur league have lower or much lower stats than your starting team. The only challenge came from the prestige cup,but that quickly became simply impossible to win, the difference in strength to the opponent was simply way too much and I felt I had no chance.

    The game was fun, but to be honest, it started to feel a bit repetitive (and the demo is only one season). Perhaps with more skills it gets again more interesting later on, hard to say.

    Overall the game feels very static, I would love it they captured the dynamic feel of football. There are skills that make players sometimes move on their own, but it feels more as an exception, not a rule. I would rather have the game move all players every action or every turn automatically according to some rules (of course that would require completely different design and probably much more tiles).

    • Tim Stone says:

      It sounds like the demo does the game no favours. Moving through the leagues in the full version is far from easy.

      Do careers/campaigns start to feel repetitive after a while? I’ve played hundreds of matches over the past few weeks and am probably more engaged now than at any time. Each match brings unique challenges. Who to play. What formation to use. How best to neutralise threats and utilize assets. When to gamble and when to consolidate… After years of carefully scripted/modulated wargame campaigns, FT&G’s completely dynamic long game feels bally refreshing.

      • Landiss says:

        Thanks for reply. I will keep that in mind. I have already made some purchases in the summer sale that will keep me busy for now (Pike & Shot Campaigns is 75% off), but I’ll have this in my wishlist.

  21. ben_reck says:

    I have been totally addicted this past week.

    Of course, I have some niggling concerns, but I will just share one.

    I know players have their own predilection for developing one skill over another (their fate). But are all players essentially equal? With the same type of development, will one player match another? Or are there stars out there? duds?

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