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The studio behind Darkwood are making turn-based tactical football, and you can try it free now

Soccer Kids is not the game I'd expect them to make next

90s playground footballing action in a Soccer Kids screenshot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Acid Wizard Studio

Following phenomenally frightful survival horror game Darkwood, Polish team Acid Wizard Studio are now making... a football game? They've just released a free public alpha for Soccer Kids, inviting everyone to try their turn-based tactical footie game starring schoolkids in 90s Poland. This is extremely not what I expected next from the studio whose debut game made Adam backtrack to kill his own dog "because the world is convincing and I didn't want to leave suffering animals lying around the place if I didn't have to." Come watch the trailer.

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It's a cute setup. After watching football anime series Captain Tsubasa, our lad decides to get really into football. He and his PE-shy pals try to brush up their skills and pull together so they can win a local street tournament. It is a great scrappy view of playing football in the 90s with your mates, right down to living in fear of your friend's brother who wears his karate gi everywhere and might very well bite you.

Soccer Kids is all about positioning and momentum. Find positions that maximise your opportunities while minimising or blocking your opponent's potential plays. Go fast to break through their space or take the ball right off them, but be wary of gaining so much momentum that you lose flexibility on future moves or maybe even slam directly into someone and take a tumble. And think about how you can use all that against them too. Throw in bonus abilities like chipping the ball over someone or shouting insults to make them turn and face you, and you have a fun foundation for turn-based tactics. I've enjoyed what I've played so far, and I find Fifa pretty boring.

90s playground footballing action in a Soccer Kids screenshot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Acid Wizard Studio

It looks good, too. The battle arenas are just detailed enough to capture a lived-in feel: the school gym sunk in gloom by the late afternoon sun, a scuffed park pitch aching for rain and a sack of grass seed, and the courtyard with the garages behind your block. Players have quasi-illustrated portraits, a great range of kids you probably knew too. Little retro CGI animation pop up on moves like kicks and tackles to jazz up the action. Then the UI looks like arts & craft projects, and I particularly like the turn title collages of graph paper and cut-out magazine pictures held together with paperclips. Several different styles which work well together, drifting between grit and nostalgia.

You can check out the Soccer Kids alpha for free on Steam. The developers stress that this is an early version and anything could change, but they are keen to hear feedback.

An astonishingly 90s PE teacher in a Soccer Kids screenshot.
I need you to see this PE teacher. You've seen him now? Okay, good! | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Acid Wizard Studio

The alpha has a tutorial, a bit of story campaign, and casual kickabouts against the AI or against another player on the same computer (yes, you can wangle it online using Steam Remote Play Together.)

Football was never my sport and I never really understood tactics, always ending up either goal-hanging or doggedly chasing the ball until exhaustion. When I do go see matches (mon the Hibees), I often miss or misunderstand pivotal moments because I'm watching the ball rather than spaces and the people moving through them. I'm always seeing a game in the present, largely unaware of the past which created this moment and the futures that might follow. I hope that thinking about football through this game's tactical model might help me with that, in the same way that playing cycling tactics games gave me a deeper understanding of professional racing.

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