SportSims Online Fantasy Football Review (PC)
SOCOM: Confrontation. That may be an odd way to start off a review about an online football text sim, but if you have played Confrontation then you may understand my point when I get to it. For those of you that have not played it, SOCOM: Confrontation is a Playstation 3 squad-based objective-driven military shooter.
Do not yawn. The difference is that you are chatting with the players on your squad. Plus, when you have stuck your hand in a pile of goo that was once your teammate’s virtual self, you build a camaraderie, start discussing strategies and develop teamwork.
The bond that is forged among players is strong. A sense of group and friendship sprouts and you find yourself addicted, not necessarily because of the gameplay, but because of the personalities and friendly trash talking. The competition that develops among the players is strengthened by the human communication factor.
SportSims Online Football accomplishes the same sense of community with the ability to leave sim-text for individual owners or the community at large. Soon the developers will also be adding live chat and the ability to see which owners/friends are online. This is a feature that will figuratively blow the lid off this Popsicle stand.
However, SportSims Online Football is obviously not a chat room. I would call it an online GM/Head Coach simulator with much heavier emphasis on the GM portion. As the "coach" you only get to setup the general offensive and defensive strategies, then you have to relinquish control on game day to the virtual coordinators. But, you do get to shop for your own groceries being the GM/Head Coach, which is an enviable position -- just ask Bill Parcells -- and there is great depth and variability of options when setting up your game plan.
You enter a SportSims league on Day 8, the day before the regular season. This is the "Finalize Roster" day. Your only task is to cut or add players to meet the mandatory 55-player roster. You must have exactly 55 players. After you have done this, you can begin game-planning for the regular season -- and the regular season is the toughest part to grind through.
The first year you join a league, you do not feel much kinship with your team as there is very little you can do except for free agency, which is nearly always void of any third-string talent much less starters. The leagues are based on the NFL cities, with the one difference being that the New York AFC team is called New Jersey. Bear in mind that this is not a licensed game, but the developers were still able to use historical player names. Apparently any player that is currently retired is available. So you will have players like Aikman, Rice, Swann, and Jackson, but it takes a moment to get used to seeing the name Aikman on the offensive line.
I felt a bit disconnected as the results of the game appeared drive by drive before my eyes. You set up a game plan prior to each game, but you have no control of plays or changes during a game. So it feels a bit like watching lottery balls pop up in the machine. The developers are adding a graphics engine to simulate the result of each play with X's and O’s, but you still cannot help but think of that man behind the green curtain. And like the results of the football game, you are already home and you never really were in Oz.
So no matter how many times you click your heels together, the results of the game will remain the same. However, a nice feature of SportSims is that you can review the stats/drives of any game all season long.
Like I said, the regular season is the toughest part of the game to get through, but if you eat your veggies, do your homework, do the dishes, and finish your chores in real life, then you get a reward. And the reward of SportSims is the Draft (more on that tidbit later).
Let me leave no doubt about it whatsoever: SportSims is emphatically rewarding and the regular season only takes 16 days since one game a day is simulated. SportSims does a very good job supporting the game both technically and strategically. The owners of the site, Steve and Cara Olson, were always helpful when I had questions and the site contains a strategy guide that is most definitely a must-read. Plus, you receive the added benefit of bragging rights when you beat their teams since they are players of the game also.
Following the regular season is, of course, the playoffs. Again, one day for each round, so that is an additional 3 days before the "SimBowl." Once the confetti stops raining and the victor of the SimBowl is crowned, the season is over but the work and fun has just begun. Now it's time to prepare for the draft.
Like in most football sims, the draft is excitedly anticipated. The draft for SportSims is astounding or -- and I only use this word when I want to sound precocious -- but SportSims is deserved of the word because the draft portion of SportSims is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
You get four "Pre-Draft" days and you should take full advantage of each day. Besides evaluating the 280-plus prospects, there is a whirlwind of trading activity throughout the league since some owners dump all of their aged veterans for first- and second-round draft choices in an attempt to rebuild, while other owners offer up their high selections for that one veteran they need to finally make it through the playoffs and be crowned SimBowl Champion. There are no salary cap or selection limits, so you could have 10 first-round choices and not have to worry about signing them all because of salary-cap restraints.
Draft Day is an experience unlike any other. There is an amazing tingle that travels up and down your spine as you sit in front of the computer with draft board in hand, knowing that 31 other human beings are sitting down simultaneously to vault their teams to the top of the league. Be prepared to jump for joy when you get that first-round RB, and also be prepared to fight back the tears when Chicago picks the QB one pick ahead of you -- the QB that would have made you a contender.
If you plan on sitting at the computer and manually picking every player every round (which I did), then be forewarned that the draft for that owner picking last in the seventh round will occur six-and-a-half hours later.
Personally, I think it is worth it and cannot imagine letting the computer pick my next sixth round Terrell Davis, but SportSims has the tools to do just that.
There is a "Hotlist" where you can rank all of your potential draft picks, along with a general position and ranking "draft plan" that is used to fill out your team needs. All owners get 90 seconds to make their picks, and that time limit is consistent round to round. It is not a lot of time, so you must use those four pre-draft days to develop your draft-day strategy. Know who you are going to pick and who you are going to pick when that player is no longer available or you could end up with a sloppy mess of a draft.
Also, one of the major drawbacks to the understandably short selection time (after all the draft is already six-and-a-half hours long) is that there is not a lot of opportunity for true draft-day trading.
If you choose to let the computer pick for you, or if you happen to be away from your computer, then the sim will make a pick for you based on your Hotlist and the draft plan that you submitted. Either way, be prepared to spend at least, and I mean a bare minimum, of three to four hours working on the draft.
Once the draft is completed, the next two days of your SportSims season is "Training Camp" where you select the number of "Reps" each player will take on the field during training camp. These reps will increase the players' current abilities relative to the amount of time they work out. However, every player has a maximum potential that they can not exceed, and since there is a limited number of reps available per position, not all your players can be developed at once.
There is also a minimum of five reps per player that will eat up your allotted reps per position. (Hint, do not overload your roster during the pre-draft and draft, as all those players will take reps from the star players you need to work out so they can reach their potential. Also you must realize that the only time you can cut players is on Day 8.)
And that is where you will find yourself, once again, 28 days after starting your initial season. You will be finalizing your roster to meet that mandatory 55-player requirement, but with much more anticipation as you begin to bond with your team like you bonded with the other owners over the last four weeks.
Overall, if you do not need the NFL players of today and you are not afraid to do some legwork -- after all what you give is what you get -- then the sense of satisfaction you get from a successful draft, and the sense of community you experience while dealing and trading with the other owners makes SportSims a must play.
While you can sit back and let things roll during the regular season without much daily input, the hours of preparation in just two-three days time for the draft gives you the sense of pressure and involvement that turns the regular season into a well-deserved moment to catch your breath and chat (see: trash talk) with the other owners as you observe your team climb to the SimBowl or grimace as you plummet to the division cellar. Oh well, at least you will have a high draft choice -- unless you traded it away already.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)