Reviewed by Herb Levy
FOOTBALL HIGHLIGHTS 2052 (Eagle-Gryphon Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 9 and up, 45-60 minutes; $44.95)
We can expect lots of changes as the 21st century moves on. There will be, of course, technological advances of all kinds. But even our sports will see change. Designer Mike Fitzgerald has already postulated a new way of playing baseball with his Baseball Highlights 2045 – but why stop there? Certainly football will not be immune to the wave of change that will inevitably come. At least, that’s the premise Mike is working on as he has come up with a new way to play football with (Mike Fitzgerald’s) Football Highlights 2052.
Although essentially for two 2 players, the game comes with two sets of playing boards (allowing two sets of two players so you can have a tournament), four starter football teams (San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia and New England), additional players, “footballs” (in red and blue), an Action deck and a deck of cards for solo play. There are 2 play aids and, of course, a rulebook.
Players begin with a pre-constructed team of 15 cards including 5 STAR players. Each player shuffles his/her deck and deals out 10 cards. If so desired, one card may be placed aside (to be used as an “audible”) and replaced by a blind draw from the remaining 5 cards. Player boards are placed head to head with each team’s football beginning on the opposite 45 yard line. Flip a coin (or any other way to choose the start player) and the game begins.
Card play is the core of the game. Each card has an Offensive side and a Defensive side. Offense will indicate whether a play is a Pass (blue) or a Run (brown). There are also “Maul” plays – which are purple – that will match either a Pass or a Run (inspired by Rugby and Australian Football). Footballs, on the Offensive side, indicate where the play is being done (left, right or center). Some cards will have more than one football giving the player on Offense a choice as to which play to use. Defense will also indicate the type of play being guarded against (Run or Pass or Maul) and display one or more helmets. The first player plays a card with the Offensive side pointing towards the opponent and now the opponent must choose a card from his/her hand to counter the offense revealed.
If the play type matches (Run against Run or Pass against Pass or anything against Maul) AND all footballs are matched by helmets, the defensive play on the card is triggered. If the play type matches but all footballs are NOT matched with helmets, the Offense gains the yardage on its card. If there is NO match on the play type, the Offense gains the yardage on its card BUT 5 yards is subtracted from any gain (to a minimum of 0) for any helmets that match any football on the card. In addition, the Offense turns over the top card of the Action deck and can, generally, pick up extra yardage on the play.
Once the play is resolved, roles change. The player who used the Defense portion of the card now ROTATES the card so that its OFFENSE is facing the opposition. Roles shift and the opponent becomes the defender and must play a card from his/her hand in response. The resulting card match-up is resolved and play continues with cards rotating and being played out of hands. (Used cards are placed aside. Once you have had four cards played and failed to score – or if you have scored, you have to “reset” which means bringing your ball back to the 45 yard line.) As your hand of 10 dwindles down to a few, you may find yourself with no satisfactory match. In that case, you may call an “audible”.
As mentioned above, at the start of the game, players have the option of placing a card as an “audible” and drawing back up to 10. A good memory is not required as this card may be looked out throughout the game. At any point, a player may call an “audible”, discarding a card in hand and playing that audible card in its place. Sometimes, however, that audible card may not be as useful as you had hoped when placing it. In that case, you may discard a card from your hand and make a blind draw, using the top card of the remaining unused cards from your team deck.
Play continues until all cards in hand have been played and match-ups resolved. This ends the first half of the game. Now, as with any good football coach, players will make adjustments.
There is a 35 deck of additional players available. These are more “powerful” players. Six of these are dealt to each player. One is picked with remaining cards passed to the opponent. This is done until only 2 cards are left. One of these is chosen and the other discarded. From this new team deck of 20 cards, each player must discard 5 to get down to the standard 15 card team deck. (You can, if you wish, discard a card or cards that you have drafted!) Now, play continues with these revised team decks shuffled and 10 cards dealt for a hand. When all of these cards have been played, the game is over. The team which has scored the most points wins!
Football Highlights 2052 captures the feel of the game remarkably well. For example, a run through the end zone will grant you a touchdown but a pass that goes further than the last two spaces on the track is considered incomplete! The game also manages to incorporate penalties and possible injuries into the game (through use of the Action deck). And that feel survives despite a few twists – like the Maul – and the non-traditional handling of the Field Goal. At any time during the game, a player may opt to try for a 3 point Field Goal. Unlike normal football, a FG attempt may be done AFTER a fourth play! (A Field Goal attempt is not considered a play!) In any case, the brown number on the Offensive card is added to the brown number found on the Action card drawn. Beside the yard numbers is a number in brown. Meet (or beat) that number and you have scored!
Game dynamics follow an increasingly challenging flow. At the start, you have a full hand of cards so you will have a relatively easy time of matching plays. As the game goes on, your hand size and your card choices shrink. Because these cards are multi-purpose, you have to think ahead, not only consider which defense to play but also which offense will be yours on the following play. (Admittedly, you can always call an “offensive” audible if your situation seems dire. ) This adds another layer to the strategy. For gamers who feel their strength lies in choosing talent and deck-building, the “reinforcements” you draft can add some challenging decision-making and, if you like that, the game allows you to draft your entire team (starting with your five STARS) if you prefer. And you are not limited to the basic four teams. Expansion sets are also available: #1 (Chicago and Green Bay), #2 (Pittsburgh and Atlanta), #3 (Denver and Seattle), all priced at $11.99.
Quality card stock and components enhance the gameplay. While the game is easy to grasp, the rules as presented make it more difficult than necessary. “Game Concepts” are presented first and then the rules follow, a good idea but one that doesn’t make for a smooth learning curve. The play aid presents matching and non-matching card results in an awkward manner. (The matching/non-matching is easier to handle if you follow the way it’s done in this review.) And some things are just not to be found. For example, how do you separate the basic team cards from the cards you have drafted and added to your deck? Answer: next to the team name is a small ◊. But you won’t find that answer in the rulebook!
Although the artwork on the box immediately makes you think of gridiron glory days of the 1920s, Mike Fitzgerald’s Football Highlights 2052 is not a football simulation of those early days of the sport. With Football Highlights, Fitzgerald conceives of a melding of traditional football with rules borrowed from Rugby and Australian Football aided by advancements in Bio Mechanics. As a result, we have a two player game that does not simulate but rather captures the style and feel of hard-hitting play and strategy. Mike is a master at cards (he designed the Mystery Rummy series of games as well as Baseball Highlights 2045) and, in what is essentially a card game, his masterful touch is once again evident. Mike scores and you too can score big with Football Highlights 2052. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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