Developer: Sports Mogul
Release Date: December 20, 2006
My kids hate football season. As far as they're concerned, football is nothing more than a rude interruption to their weekly "Hannah Montana" marathon. Every Sunday, at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m., Dad picks up the remote and changes the channel to cries of, "Not football! Noooooooo!" If I had sons, I would feel like I were failing as a father.
Why do I torture my children so? Because I'm a guy. Being a guy means liking football. I like to watch it, I like to play it, I like to read about it, and I like to manage fantasy football teams. My kids love — and I am saddened by — the fact that football season only lasts a few months. A lot of guys feed their off-season needs with games like Madden, but that doesn't work for everybody. Some guys are more interested in a different aspect of the game, and that, friends, is where Sports Mogul's Football Mogul 2007 comes in.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sports Mogul or the Football Mogul series, here's a synopsis. This is your chance to manage a football team. You're not controlling players here. Heck, you won't even see the players or the field. This game is all about trying to build a football dynasty and make as much money as possible doing it.
My initial reaction when inspecting the game packaging was, "This looks pretty lame." A few hours later, I was surprised to find out how addictive the game could be. Don't get me wrong; Football Mogul has many flaws, but I discovered that they really did not detract much from my overall experience. There is a definite sense of satisfaction and pride that goes along with turning an expansion team into Super Bowl champs in four years.
The game is pre-loaded with the 2006 rosters of all 32 NFL teams. When I first started it up, my initial instinct was to begin with my beloved Seahawks and see what I could make them do. The accompanying 22-page manual isn't really all that helpful, but fortunately, you have the option of allowing the computer to handle anything you aren't ready — or willing — to handle on your own. Initially, I was really only playing with the play-calling feature, which is new to this iteration of the series.
While I did enjoy being able to call my own plays on every down, there were a couple of frustrating issues. On the defensive side, you have to guess which of the 30 available defensive plays you should use based solely on the current down and distance, and the other team's tendencies. In real life, defensive plays are often called based on who the offense has out on the field. Offensively, I wanted more options for my plays so that I could take advantage of my team's strengths. For example, there are a lot of running plays that go outside to the right, but if I'm playing as the Seahawks, I probably want to reverse those and go left behind future Hall-of-Fame left tackle, Walter Jones.
One thing you can do is make substitutions right before the play so that you can make sure you have the right guys on the field for the play you wish to run. This will give you the opportunity to do things like swap in better blocking tight ends and halfbacks. Football Mogul is also set up to use players based on your order of preference.
If you're pressed for time and don't want to finish calling the plays for a whole game, or simply want to skip a game (or multiple games) entirely, you can let the computer simulate it for you. The simulations are based on a whole bunch of calculations, probabilities, and other mathematical things that I don't understand. What's important is that they're generally pretty good, and will follow the "any given Sunday" rule. I have not yet seen a team go undefeated, although I have seen a couple of expansion teams (including mine!) go 0-16.
If you're like me and prefer to focus more on the team management side of things rather than play-calling, you can do that. You will be able to make trades, acquire free agents, participate in the draft, release players, negotiate contracts, etc. This is where you build your dynasty. You have a stadium where you set the price of tickets and concessions, and you determine the budget for scouting and medical. Although you won't make a whole lot of money on concessions, it still has an impact on the amount of cash you have available for signing bonuses and expenses. Scouting is critical, as the more money you spend, the more accurate your scouting reports will be. No manager wants to spend a ton of money on a player who turns out to be only half as good as you'd originally thought. By upping your scouting funds, you can avoid that scenario, and accurate scouting reports are tremendously valuable in making draft decisions, as well.
Believe it or not, Football Mogul also includes statistical information on every NFL city in the U.S., as well as all of the likely alternates in the U.S. and Canada. Population, per capita income, and fan loyalty all come into play when determining how many tickets and concessions you will sell per game. Although most of the population and per capita income information is outdated, they are all outdated equally, so the impact of this is nil. City and stadium statistics can all be edited by the user, and if you choose to create your own league as I did, you will probably want to do so at least a little.
That's right — you can create your own league, which I found this to be more enjoyable than just playing as my favorite NFL team. I had the game create random players for the entire league, and added two expansion teams to the NFL (L.A. and Portland). At this point, the game became highly addictive, as I was constantly trying to tweak my team, and take advantage of my cap room to get the best players available while aiming to make my team a playoff contender in a couple of years.
If you look at any of the screenshots here, the first thing you will notice is that this is not an attractive game, but sports simulations rarely are. Although I give Sports Mogul props for making the interface easy to figure out and navigate, there are some definite style problems here. On the upside, there are a number of good skins available on the web.
Before I forget, one thing I need to point out is that the interface changes a little depending on which version of the game you have installed. The screenshots accompanying this review were taken with the most recent update available (188.8.131.52) installed, and therefore appear slightly different (and better) than the base install of the game.
While I'm on the subject of patches, let me talk about Football Mogul's flaws. First of all, your gameplay experience can change fairly dramatically depending on which patch you have. Features change, the available plays change, bugs are squashed, and sometimes new bugs appear. It all makes the game feel very much like a work in progress. There are lots of little bugs that are readily noticeable, but only one or two will actually diminish the experience. For example, when a turnover occurs, the play-by-play dialogue will not show the name of the defensive player involved; instead, you will see the name of another player from the team that was on offense. Additionally, game schedules will often have you playing against the same team twice, but in the same stadium both times, and sometimes in back-to-back games. Even more commonly, you will have an incorrect ratio of home games to away games. And yet, because the patches come so quickly, any of these bugs could be fixed before you actually read this review.
Probably the most irritating thing about the interface is that you can't have multiple screens open at once. For example, during free agency and the college draft, you will want to have your roster window open and the free agency or draft window open so that you can see what you currently have versus what is available. As a workaround, I kept Notepad open on one side of the screen so I could make notes about what my needs were, and who I was willing to get rid of.
Overall, despite Football Mogul 2007's many quirks, I have to say that the experience provided was still just plain fun. I was able to play this game for hours straight without realizing it while having the advantage of being able to get up and walk away at literally any moment without it negatively impacting things. Unfortunately, there does get to be a point where the quirks and bugs start to become a little frustrating. Save often.
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