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Jay Moore
United States
Webster Groves
Missouri
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OVERVIEW
My wife and I are big football* fans (we love the Chiefs, and Missouri football, of course, such as it is) and have occasionally enjoyed playing football games on Xbox or Playstation. However, both of us are too old to hit those buttons fast enough, so we usually stick to board games. So when my wife saw this game at Origins '05, she tried it out. A bit later she took me over to the booth and we both gave it a whirl, and went ahead and picked it up. All in all, I like it, as it captures enough football feel to seem real, but incorporates enough luck to make it something besides a statistical puzzle.

I should say here that I have not played any football board games in the past, so I'm not comparing this game to Strat-A-Matic or anything, and I know there are lots of fans of that game out there that might be looking at this. Even though I haven't played Strat, my impression is that these are two very different games. The designer of the game told us that he has played a lot of Strat, and there were things he didn't like about it that he wanted to fix. So please read this review with the understanding that I'm not a big-time football board gamer.

COMPONENTS
The game is, as the name suggests, packed into a pizza box (probably about the size of a Domino's small, but a little taller, for those who want detail). The play area is a fold-up football field that fits flat into the pizza box when it is fully opened. Yardage, score, and such are tracked with pegs that fit into holes along the playing surface. There are plenty of six-sided dice included, so you won't need to rob your copy of some other game to get extras. Virtually every rule you need is printed on a set of sturdy laminated cards with all the play charts included.

We had some concerns when we first opened it up that it might not hold up to extended play. I mean, it's a pizza box, right? But the cardboard is, thankfully, more sturdy than a typical pizza box, and I don't think we'll have problems in the long run. I guess as long as we don't put an actual pizza in the box, it'll probably last a long time.

GAMEPLAY
The box boasts that there are four ways to play, and while this is true, the core mechanic stays the same throughout all four versions. The defense starts off by choosing a play. When playing the basic rules, the choices are Run, Short Pass, and Long Pass. The defending player picks a colored die representing the play type and hides it in her hand. Then the offense announces the play type they will run, and the defender reveals her guess. The defender consults a chart cross-referencing the type of play she guessed with the type of play the offense actually called, and then rolls 2 six-siders. This result modifies the offense roll which comes next. If the defender guessed correctly, they have a pretty good chance to hurt the offense, but it's not set in stone.

Then the offense rolls 3 six-siders and looks at the chart corresponding to the play type he called. The result might be modified by -1 or loss of the "bonus" rolls (explained in a minute) if the defender picked correctly and rolled well, or it might be modified by +1 or the addition of the bonus if the defender chose poorly and/or rolled something awful. The result listed on the chart tells whether the play succeeded or failed. Most yardage gains are marked by something like "10 + 3 dice," which means the offense gains 10+3d6 yards. Of course there are other results on the chart as well, like sacks, fumbles, interceptions, and so forth, with their own little subcharts to track results.

One interesting bit is that some plays result in dice rolls with bonuses. In this case, when the offense rolls for yards gained, any result of six grants a bonus die. So, a 3d6 roll of 1-4-6 gets a fourth die, and if it's a six, a fifth die is added on. With a good roll, the offense can just keep adding on the yards. Some defensive rolls result in this bonus being lost, or granted, which can make a big difference when the offense gets to roll 3 or 4 six-siders.

The four versions of the game differ in the way time and possessions are tracked. The first and most basic is "Red Zone Shootout." Players take turns starting on the 25 yard line and trying to score. You can play one set of possessions, in which case the game is very short, or as many possessions as you want. The second version is "Backyard Brawl." Each player gets six possessions -- two each from their own 25, the 50, and the opponent's 25. The person with the highest score after all twelve possessions wins. In both of these versions, turnovers just result in the end of the player's offensive turn, and the other player takes over. Punts and kickoffs don't occur (you have to go for it on 4th down!)

The "Smashmouth Full Game" and "Professional Full Game" introduce time tracking. In the Smashmouth game, there are 30 plays per quarter, regardless of who has the ball. After each play, the time marker is ticked down one step. Kickoffs start the half and occur after scores, punts are allowed, and the game feels like real football. The Professional game adds clock management to the mix. Each play type takes a different number of ticks from the time tracker. Runs and pass completions take 4 clicks, while incomplete passes take one. Time outs, spikes, and the hurry-up offense are all available.

Advanced rules, which we got for free at Origins, change the game just a bit. In addition to the three basic plays, a Run Blitz, Route Jump, and QB Blitz are added for the defense. The offense can choose from the three basic plays, or QB Draw, Screen Pass, or Play Action. As with the basic rules, a simple chart is consulted to cross-reference the offensive with the defensive play. This gives one of seven possibilities ranging from a strong offensive advantage to neutral to a strong defensive advantage. A second chart is consulted with the advantage result cross-indexed with a 2d6 roll that gives the defender's modifier to the offense's roll. This is a simple system that doesn't add much to complexity, but adds a lot to strategic possibilities.

The rules are easy to learn and simple to follow. Everything you need to know is printed on a reference card, and the designer is smart enough to include two big cards (with all the play results) so that each player can have his/her own. A big pet peeve of mine is lack of sufficient play aids, so that the rules are constantly consulted during a board game. This game certainly does not have that. After your first game, you can probably toss the rulebook out, as everything you need is easy to find on the reference cards.

DISCUSSION
I have a good time playing this and am excited to give it more playtime. It captures the feel of real football reasonably well, and incorporates rules for the most important elements of American Football.

The game plays pretty quickly, despite the number of rolls and cross-referencing results and so forth. By the end of our first game, my wife and I could make plays, find the results, and track them on the gameboard, plus advance the time and down marker, in about 30 seconds. This means the game moves quickly and there's not a ton of time spent looking up this or that between each play.

Something I like a lot is that guessing the offense's play does not necessarily mean the offense will automatically fail. A small penalty is given to the offense when rolling their result. This feels a lot like the real game, as even the perfect defense can't always stop a good (or in this game, lucky) offense. But if the defense guesses the play correctly more often than not, they certainly have the advantage over time. The same holds true in reverse. Just because you call a long pass when the defense it set to stuff the run, it doesn't mean you're going to break out for a touchdown every time. After all, that's why they call that guy in the secondary a "safety," right?

The time management aspect of the game is cool, too. The professional time management version of the game especially forces the players to pay attention to the clock, and it's not terribly complicated.

Players looking for a very detailed statistical model of a football game are probably better served looking elsewhere. Individual players are not modeled in the game, and at this time individual teams are not, either (although the designer told us they plan to come out with a "Teams" expansion that gives new and varied charts to each NFL team). This means that every game plays like every game before it, and a long pass always has a set percentage chance of success against a short pass defense. It'd probably be easy for a fan to come up with a few modifications without much trouble, but I am not that fan.

CONCLUSION
If you're looking for a quick, fun football board game, this is a great choice. It's quick to set up, easy to teach and play, and can be played in less than an hour. The components are not fancy, but serve the purpose well enough, and are more sturdy than they appear. I'd recommend this game to any fan of both football and board games that are stuck in the dry spell between the Pro Bowl and Opening Day with only the NFL Draft to keep them occupied in the meantime.




*Apologies to readers in places other than the USA. The use of the word "football" in this review refers to American Football, not the sport that we backwards ingrates call "soccer."
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Big Willy's Taxidermy
United States
Clearwater
Florida
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Good review. I too got this at Origins and was really pleased with it.
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Hilary Hartman
United States
GLENNALLEN
Alaska
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Just your friendly, neighborhood game player and superhero!
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Great review! Not only do I want the game, but oddly enough a pizza, too!
 
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Alan Kaiser
United States
Aurora
Colorado
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Almost sounds like a new version of 3Ms Thinking Man's Football. It was a fun game to play but I quickly tired of the very limited play selection.
 
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Mikko Karvonen
Finland
Tampere
Tampere
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The game page says that the game is for 1-2 players. Is that true? Is the solitaire version any good? Because that's probably the only version I'd get to play if I got my hands on this one.
 
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Jay Moore
United States
Webster Groves
Missouri
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Gargoyle wrote:
The game page says that the game is for 1-2 players. Is that true? Is the solitaire version any good? Because that's probably the only version I'd get to play if I got my hands on this one.


Saying this game is a one player game is... well, in my opinion, stretching it a little bit. The rules only have one mention of solitaire play (that I can find, and they're not that long, but maybe I missed something). It says that all versions of the game can be played if you just drop the defensive die roll. That takes all the fun out of it! Nah, this one is meant to be played with two. Guessing what the other person is going to do is one of the best things about the game!

However, I will say that if you have any friends who like football, I think it would be easy to convince them to play this. The quick versions can be played in a very small amount of time, and it's very easy to learn.
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Rob Burns
United States
Troy
MI
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Now it's time for Pizza Box Baseball!
 
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Mikko Karvonen
Finland
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Tampere
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MUKid wrote:
However, I will say that if you have any friends who like football, I think it would be easy to convince them to play this. The quick versions can be played in a very small amount of time, and it's very easy to learn.


Ach... maybe I'll have to stick to reading about this game, then. The problem is that I don't think I have any friends interested in the american version of football. Most finnish people have rather... uneducated view of the sport. And in my gaming group, any sport-themed game is a difficult one. Even things like Street Soccer that should in theory be well-received by some people are hard to get into table.
 
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Patrick Lewis
United States
Winona
Minnesota
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I just got the game a couple days ago and I've been playing it solitaire. Instead of dropping the defensive dice roll. I pick my play first, then I roll the large red, green, and yellow dice along with the small white die. Whichever of the colored dice has the highest number, that's the one that's used for defense. If two dice are tied, I reroll them until one die has the highest value and then add that to the value of the small white die. It's not the same as playing against an opponent, I'm sure, but at least it keeps that defensive variability in the game.

I'm really looking forward to the advanced expansion for this one and I can't wait to play this against my main gaming opponent.
 
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Ray Gavel
Canada
Ohio
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Excellent review for an enjoyable game.

Not much to add except for a couple of gripes. Yes, as much as I enjoyed the game, I thought there were a couple ways it could be improved. Neither of these are major gripes.

1. Either reduce the size of, or move elsewhere on the field, the Pizza Box logo that presently sits in the middle of the field. I found my son and I could quickly and easily count off yardage, unless or until it hit the middle of the field in the area of the logo. The clash between the logo and the yardage markers was such that it was difficult to count by 5-yard amounts, and we were reduced to counting yard-by-yard. (I know, I know, I'm nit-picking, but it DID affect the fast flow of the game as we played, and in fact, it was my son who pointed it out)

2. The game clock. It seemed very realistic that the clock was broken down into 10-second intervals, each segment of the clock reflected one minute of play, and the entire clock was laid out in a 5 minute timeframe, repeated three times for an entire quarter... yet... instead of the clock reflecting actual minutes (5,4,3,2,1 - which is ideal because when you reach the two-minute warning, the clock actually shows 2 MINUTES left, not 12 plays), it has this unnatural numbering system (30,24,18,12,6) which makes it look quite strange when the two-minute warning is enacted at peg 12. I realize the clock reflects number of plays and not actual time, but it ironically ends up reflecting actual time anyway. So why not show it reflecting the actual time?

Anyway, those were my only two complaints about the game. (honestly, I don't miss the missing penalties)

All in all, a very enjoyable game for head-to-head competition or league play. Now 'cuse me, I have to go convince three of my sons to start a four-man league with me.

RayG
 
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Erik Smith
United States
Walnut Creek
California
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MUKid wrote:
Gargoyle wrote:
The game page says that the game is for 1-2 players. Is that true? Is the solitaire version any good? Because that's probably the only version I'd get to play if I got my hands on this one.


Saying this game is a one player game is... well, in my opinion, stretching it a little bit. The rules only have one mention of solitaire play (that I can find, and they're not that long, but maybe I missed something).


FYI, since Jay's original post, we've made available our Solitaire Rules for free download at www.PizzaBoxFootball.com. We have solitaire rules for the basic plays, the expanded plays and for determining your opponent's coach's strategic decisions.
 
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Stephen Foulk
Canada
Toronto
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Yes...

And they usually beat me blush! Mind you I usually play Oakland arrrh

Steve
 
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