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09 Jan 2007

Game Review: Front Office Football

by Bill Moore

Let me start by saying, I love Madden Football. I've played Front Page Sports, ESPN's game, and all the other games over time, and they are all great. However, I suck. Some of it has to do with the fact that I play the games on the PC rather than a game console, but mostly it's because I suck. I spend too long staring down my receivers and don't "feel" the pocket collapsing all around me. By the time I recognize the read, my QB is inhaling turf. I can never remember what button is juke and what is jump, and I end up spinning my running back in circles rather the gaining that extra yard.

When Madden added a franchise feature, I gave up taking control of the players and focused on calling plays and managing teams. Unfortunately the AI in Madden has equivalent knowledge of my mother. That's no knock against my mom, but she's no Matt Millen.

I grew up playing lots and lots of Strat-o-matic, so ultimate franchise management in a PC game has always been the holy grail to me. Years before I stumbled across Football Outsiders, I discovered a downloadable version of a new game called Front Office Football in 1999. It had recently been licensed to Electronic Arts for distribution, and it consisted of the managerial features of Madden -- but way more. The game involved intricate play that provided a realistic approach to managing a football team without the responsibilities of being the player -- a perfect game for me. I led my New England Patriots over 25+ seasons and eight FOF Championships (back at a time when a Patriots dynasty was hardly realistic). I retired from that job and built up last-place Buffalo into a contender and finally led them to two Championships.

It was an intellectually stimulating game, but in the end, FOF was missing the graphics that added life to the game. I was not emotionally attached to my players, a process which comes from watching your quarterback engineer game-winning drives or your running back run for 2,000 yards. My hope was the EA would buy the game rights and integrate the AI into Madden. However, after two or three seasons, EA dropped the game and I thought the days of FOF were done.

When Aaron Schatz asked the staff of Football Outsiders to review a new updated version of Front Office Football 2007, I leapt at the chance. My original version of FOF is on a PC that is no longer operable, but I remembered enough about the game play to get started right away. Although the look is marginally different, I knew what to expect. However, it should be noted that a few other FO Staffers who tried FOF had difficulty figuring out how to begin. There are no tutorials and the interface isn't particularly user-friendly.

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The game is laid out in traditional Windows format with dialog boxes that the user needs to open individually. Considering they are each important to managing the game, I kept them all open simultaneously, and I wonder why it doesn't do that automatically. My first reaction was the game didn't fit. The game requires a screen with resolution of 1024x768 or higher, but I use a Vaio laptop which has a reduced-size screen. The boxes are fixed size and do not have scroll down bars. Consequently, some boxes didn't fit on my screen. That was an annoying start. Nevertheless, I managed.

Zipping through the opening choices. I actually don't remember what level of play I picked, other than I didn't want to start with a free-for-all draft. I wanted teams to have opening day rosters, and it was pretty close. With most non-EA games, the players names are the same, but the teams need to be "forged." The Boston Colonials, The Green Bay Green Wave, the Seattle Cyberhawks all need to be manually changed to reflect the non-licensed names. I did enjoy that the AFC East team was referred to as the New Jersey team. True. True.

Getting your team ready for the season ahead offers a remarkable level of complexity at the planning level that's exciting but also remarkably overwhelming. Overall, there are no spectacular graphics, images, or start up screens, but rather just wads and wads of stats, formations, coverage options, and game planning decisions. You can leave everything with default values, but even for someone who has played before, all this information is a little intense. For someone new to the game, it must be quite daunting.

For instance, on the Depth Chart and Game Plan drop down alone, there are 37 -- yes 37 -- option and execution screens. Things such as Depth Charts under Nickel Defenses, Depth Chart under Dime Defenses, Defensive Game Plan Adjustments, Formation Use in Extreme Running Situations, and Pass Coverage Slight Running Situations. Each of those screens has tens if not hundreds of choices and decisions. For instance, under Formation Usage -- Extreme Passing Situations, you allocate the percent of plays that your team uses certain formations in situations that are heavily weighted to the probability of a pass. You must allocate from up to 18 formations -- I-formation, Normal; I-formation, TE-Pairs; I-Formation, WR moves to slot; Weak formation, Normal; Single back formation, TE-pairs, and so on. Did I mention that your quarterback has only so many formations that he knows how to run?

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The Offensive Game Plan Adjustments is truly intimidating. On this screen, you can adjust your play calling by situation of lead and field position. There are 40 different situations from which to evaluate four different play calling actions per situation. That's 160 different adjustments for just this screen. Yikes.

Under Basic Defense Play Selection Chart, the user allocates whether to expect 'aggressive runs', run, pass, or 'aggressive passes' based on each of down and distance. It would be useful to have an option that adjusts all situations automatically with some super-sliders that would determine your level of your running or passing. Each of the Depth Chart and Game Plan options does have a "Recommend" button, but not a universal recommend button that covers all options.

Above and beyond getting updates on injuries, locker room cohesiveness, and depth strength, your scouting staff provides you a Scouting Report of your upcoming opponent, but I didn't find much value in it. I wasn't sure how to utilize the report's information to maximize my highly complex game plan. For instance, the report tells me that Atlanta's free safety is excellent at intercepting passes. What do I do with that? Run more? Yet, it also tells me that the middle linebacker is excellent at defending the run. So with all the intricacies and nuances of the game plan, I'm not sure exactly what to plan for.

A player with patience and diligence can take days (or even weeks) to plan a game or a season. However, an ADD-player like me can run an entire season in minutes. The choice is yours. You can have the AI simulate a game, a week, all games up till the playoffs, or the entire season. However, if the user is making all the decisions, the simulation will stop if depth chart decisions need to be made. Often, that can mean stopping the simulation each week.

There is a more simple approach. You can have the coach reset your depth chart and make all game planning decisions. Although this feature saves you the hassle of aligning your depth chart each week, losing control of that feature eliminates your ability to mold the team. If you want Laurence Maroney to start over Corey Dillon, you need to have control over that depth chart. Frankly, however, my teams played better (and more realistically) when I let the coach make most of the decisions. Under those same global options, you can allow the scouts to fill needed roster spots. The biggest problem with the latter is that your scouting department can end up releasing your favorite third-string running back, because the scouts believe you need a backup tackle.

As for game play, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the AI behind the simulation is very good. It provides very reliable and reasonable results. FOF creator Jim Gindin and Football Outsiders are of like mind. Jim collected and analyzed a wide variety of statistical data and utilizes it in a similar fashion to the creation of DVOA and DPAR. Look at Jim's own words in the Help file:

"I quickly realized that basing player ratings on the basic set of common statistics was not going to provide a realistic simulation. I took the play-by-play information for all of last season's games, generating a profile of all the rushing plays by distance and direction. The net result was a grid of every running back and team matched against each opposing defense. I could then normalize each running back by modifying his averages and standard deviations against each defense. In a similar manner, I rated offensive linemen based on the average running play in their direction. Since linemen often have set plays that involve them in rushes in other locations, a portion of their rating is based on all running plays. These, too, were modified by the average runs against each defense. For defensive ratings against the run, I compiled a grid of responsibility for each defensive position. For instance, the left defensive end had 25 percent of his run rating based on his team's performance against runs around right end and only 4 percent of his rating based on runs around left end. For offensive and defensive linemen, the ratings were based on whether or not the ball carrier reached the median distance for a carry in each direction."

The rest of the Help file reads like a FO-contributed article. It discussed items such as incorporating an unknown "X-Factor" in individual game play to mimic real-life variability in performance. That X-factor determines the random element that changes the core ratings each time you start a new game. When the X-factor is 0 (a new player), the core ratings can vary by up to 50 percent from the assigned rating. When the X-factor is 100, which it is for about one-third of the players in the league, the core ratings only vary by up to 10 percent. Front Office Football generates a new universe every time you start a new game. Most of the time, a quarterback with a 50 percent rating will be a decent quarterback. A good percentage of the time, he'll be outstanding. And some of the time, he'll be fairly mediocre. Like real life, sometimes the good guys have bad games. The established players will perform pretty much as they did in the past, but there will still be some variety.

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Although not my forte, the ability to call a team's offensive and defensive plays is a strength of the game. It too is a very intricate process, and requires a more than peripheral understanding of football strategy. You call the formation (18 choices), the type of play (run, short pass, long pass), and the play itself (one of 20 choices per setup). You call for the formation to have strength on the left or the right, and who is to pick up the blitz. The interface does an excellent job of describing and diagramming each choice and identifying the key personnel. Additionally, it allows you to toggle the personnel. Unlike Madden and many other football games, you are not held to the play clock, which I had always found an unnerving process of play selection.

The bad news is that unfortunately, "watching" the game is undoubtedly low tech. When I say low tech, I mean it. If Madden's visuals are a Cray Supercomputer, then FOF is a typewriter. You watch the play-by-play scroll past. You are essentially Owner, GM and Coach rolled into one, but you are forced to monitor the game by the equivalent of the NFL.com Gamecast. In one particular game, I called a Single-back formation, "shotgun TE cross 25, FL fly 25," in which the tight end runs a crossing route from 19 to 26 yards as the primary receiver, and the flanker runs a fly route from 19 to 26 yards as the secondary receiver. The resulting interface shows this:

New England is lined up in a Single-Back formation, aligned to the right.
The defense is in a 43 and 4-deep zone coverage.
They are keying on the pass. Hill is blitzing.
Tom Brady receives the snap from center.
Roderick Coleman simply ran through Matt Light to pressure the quarterback.
Brady was sacked by Defensive Tackle Roderick Coleman for a loss of 5 yards.

I called the play again:

New England comes out in the Single-Back formation, the right side is strong.
The defense comes out in a 43 alignment and 2-deep bump-and-run coverage.
They are aggressively expecting a pass.
Tom Brady fields the snap and drops back to pass.
Mike Patterson just blew past Logan Mankins and is all over the quarterback.
Brady heaves a long pass to Wide Receiver Steve Smith.
Patterson is credited with forcing that incompletion.

Can't you just feel the excitement! I must admit that the post-game log provides endless detail that any FO reader is sure to love. This lasts a long time if you are calling every play. Eventually, I abandoned "watching" the games altogether. I became the Billy Beane of FOF. Sure, this game could be so much better if I could really watch my new rookie running back break tackles and give stiff arms, but this game is not designed for that. It is not attempting to compete against Madden, but rather be smarter and more intricate for the football strategist looking to build a dynasty.

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And if you love information about your team, this is the game for you. The game keeps 135 different individual statistics and 182 different team statistics. That includes FO's very own Adjusted Line Yards, on a page which also features a link to our site.

(Ed. note: Some of our readers who also play Front Office Football asked Gindin to use FO stats, so he offered us a branded page in the game if he could put one of our metrics on it. There wasn't time to work the complex DVOA equations into the game, so we went with Adjusted Line Yards. Full disclosure: Part of the deal was for us to review the game, although we probably would have done that anyway; we like reviewing games.)

Although the game play feature can be frustrating at times, the crown jewel of FOF is the AI behind the real aspect of dynasty building -- drafts and free agency. I really enjoyed the draft and the free agent process. It actually is probably my favorite part of the game. In the draft, not only do you get every draftee's combine results, but you also have the ability to interview up to 60 players. Interviewing a prospective player will yield interesting results such as "very overrated" or "as scouted." You have to interview the players prior to the draft during the free agent process. That step like many others is not intuitive and requires that you pay attention to each step, or forfeit the opportunity. Players are drafted in a realistic manner, and draftees perform in a manner similar to their draft position.

FOF tackles a traditionally tricky aspect of drafting in a fairly interesting way. The program generates players for the draft in a random fashion. Your perception of those players is solely dependent upon your scouting reports on that potential draftee. Although I did not get an opportunity to try this feature, Solecismic Software has a college simulation game in which graduating seniors and some of the most talented underclassmen will leave college and can be packaged into a draft file that one can import into FOF in place of the randomly generated amateur draft pool created each season. As a result, your draft has life that a random generator can not replicate.

Drafts may build the team for the future, but the free agent process is the way to build up your team now, and the AI for this step is among its best and unique features. Players choose the team they are willing to sign with based on money (of course, in this game like life, it's always about the money), but it also factors things such as loyalty to existing team, proximity to home, and other factors. I wish there could be some kind of dialog with agents. Having a player burn you for another team without notice is a pain, but it does happen in real life. Ask the Jets who thought they signed Antoine Winfield until Minnesota whisked him away by private plane.

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You not only need to manage a realistic salary cap (players contracts have signing bonuses, salaries, and even voidable years), but also manage personalities. Certain players have affinity with some others, while some have conflict. Understanding a free agent's leadership qualities and personality will help your team building process as much as the understanding a player's physical attributes. When acquiring or retaining free agents, the attitude of the player toward the team (or your general reputation among your players) will factor in that player's willingness to accept your offer. The responses you receive from players when conducting transactions will help you understand your standing.

As a side note, the hiring of the scouts and coaches is a much more frustrating and vague process. The strengths and weaknesses of the staff members are laid out well. But here's the thing: 1. you can't fire your coach and hire one of your own coordinators to do the job; and 2. you can't hire someone else's coordinator as your head coach. The basis behind this seems lacking given the detail involved in player negotiation.

Similarly to a good free agent system, a realistic simulation needs a good trading protocol. If you can cheat the computer franchises out of their top players, you'll build a great team, but quickly lose interest. The computer GMs will evaluate the importance of their players on the rest of the team and factor such intangibles as fan favorite and cap impact. As a bonus, you can trade future draft picks as well as trade during the draft to move up spots. The other GMs will interact with your trade offers (and their future responses will depend upon your trading integrity), but it remains mostly a one-way dialog. Although the opposing GM will offer you feedback, the ability to seek a counter-offer would make the process less grueling.

Overall, the "game" is in building a team and leading a franchise. When I got into it, I found myself not caring about the game-to-game action, but only the finality of the season. I was most curious about how the team that I built had performed. You can run a whole season in a couple of hours, or stretch it out as long as you want to work on it. Certainly there are features that I would like to see improved, but in totality, I think the AI of this game makes for a realistic and interesting front office simulation. I enjoyed the basics of the game, but some of the intricate features were too complicated or time consuming for me. Nevertheless, I can see others getting into the minutiae of game planning and roster administration.

FOF ends up with a strange combination: it falls short in some of the basics of game design, but it is far ahead when it comes to the subtle back-end elements and realistic football details. While a game this complex is not for everyone, the great thing about FOF is that you will never feel that your intelligence is being insulted -- and there aren't many sports games where that's the case.

Posted by: Bill Moore on 09 Jan 2007

51 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2011, 10:38pm by xiaoz


by tanner (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 1:39pm

Seems like FOF gets right everything that Madden gets wrong, but leaves out everythng that Madden gets right. I bought Madden this year after missing several versions, and the AI is indeed still hopeless.

by IsaiahC (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 1:44pm

I played the original FOF and greatly enjoyed it. It really opened my eyes to the nitty gritty of the business of football. Unfortunately, I don't have the patience to play it over and over. I think they need to update the graphics a tad. Even if we could get gameplay graphics similar to madden 04, or to Tecmo bowl, it would be better.

by Subby (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 1:45pm

This is an outstanding review of the game. Thank you for taking the time to give such a well thought-out treatment.

One thing I would like to point out is that there is a multiplayer feature in FOF 2007 that allows you to create leagues and compete against up to 31 other human-controlled teams. While the implementation is fairly low-tech, it works and there are a number of existing multiplayer leagues out there simming three, four or more seasons per calendar year. The challenge of going up against human GMs is even more rewarding, in many cases, then taking on the game's impressive AI.

Anyway, thanks again!

by Worm (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 1:56pm

Great review!

I played the demo a while ago, but it only allows you to simulate up to the second week of the regular season (meaning no draft, no free agency period, etc.), and I lost interest. I'll have to take another look.

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 2:02pm

I played the original and it sounds like there are some good improvements. I have a problem playing football games in that anything that is significantly different than real life annoys me too much.

The thing that was way off in the original is that it was relatively easy to game the AI in trades to create a monster team. My friend enjoyed winning 20 straight FOF championships, just as he enjoys calling the same play 45 straight times in Madden. I do not.

by Sidney (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 2:11pm

FOF a few years back was a great game but what Jim needs to do is open the game up so that people can design UI "skins" for the game. There is a ton of information but accessing it and making sense of it is almost impossible. The back end system is brilliant but the presentation layer needs help. Still, it is worth getting used to.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 2:45pm

It can be really, really difficult to develop a system that uses graphics to model a football play accurately. (Check out the most recent versions of Madden on NCAA: after all these years, you can still have players diving through each other to recover fumbles ...) It also wouldn't make sense unless the engine uses simulated player motion to determine the results of plays, otherwise you might as well just have generic video clips for each play result.

I might check these out, although I'd probably be more interested in the college sim than the pro sim.

I played a couple of text-based soccer sims for a long time: one was a scaled-down version of English soccer (the old-style divisions, but with fewer teams) and the other used national teams and had you compete for continental trophies and World Cups.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:03pm

Dave, Text-based soccer! Hmm. I think I'd rather sit and watch milk spoil.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:11pm

The problem I have with games like this IMO, is that you get very little feedback on many of the decisions, and it is not even clear that they matter. It is poor game design to include a bunch of options just to include them. Particularly if the players don't know what they do, and don't get decent feedback from the game.

I did have a lot fo fun with the college years once I automated everything except the player scouting and depth charts.

by JasonC23 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:13pm

Anyone who is intrigued by this review is encouraged to check out Front Office Football Central, the unofficial home for FOF players. (You should be able to click on my name to get there.) This is one of the most active, intelligent, entertaining communities on the Web--right up there with the Football Outsiders community.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:13pm

I'm a big fan of this series and have played previous releases (prior to this I think 2004 was the most recent version). As noted in #5 above the trade AI was very poor originally and while later versions were better (taking into acount salary cap implications, for example) I still had to handicap myself (limiting trades to those initiated by the AI) to make things interesting. If this is improved in the 2007 version to the point where I can initiate trades and not feel like I'm cheating, that would be huge.

Another point that I hope has been improved is the impact of guaranteed/bonus money on Free Agents. In previous versions, once you reached some threshhold for bonus money, it didn't matter if additional money was gauranteed or not.

One final point, in previous versions the AI relied to heavily on 'starter' status in determining salary demands. It was very easy to keep extremely talented players (that didn't start over half of the games the previous year) on your roster for relatively low salaries.

It would be nice if all these were improved and the fact that they weren't mentioned as issues in the review has me at least optimistic.

Looking forward to trying the latest version.

by Joe Rowles (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:20pm

Great review!

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:29pm

I just finished a rudimentary playbook in Madden that replicates all the historical wing formations and installs an option game. Makes the Falcons superb. Madden never gets old as a sandbox, but I hate going through franchise mode, playing the games and every season having my #2 cornerback record more passes defensed than my middle linebacker has tackles. I mean, having the number one run defense with 15 tackles behind the line every game, and doing it season after season gets a bit old.

I like the franchise mode, but the salary cap is so bonkers the farther out you play in franchise that you have to make up extra rules to play realistically - like paying players over a certain rating double their desired salary and never making trades.

I'd like something like this that simulates a franchise more realistically, and I think I might check it out.

by J.D. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:37pm

I downloaded the demo version, but I'm lost in a sea of complexity. Is there a tutorial or primer online that could get me started?

by KillerB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:42pm

Basilicus, how'd you manage to work the option into Madden? I haven't played with the play editor in a few years but I could never manage it.

by Signor Sack (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:48pm

I always thought Action PC Sports looked like a good (by good, I mean realistic) football sim. I never played it though. Linked in my name.

Has anyone here played it?

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 3:49pm

"Madden never gets old as a sandbox, but I hate going through franchise mode, playing the games and every season having my #2 cornerback record more passes defensed than my middle linebacker has tackles. I"

Seriously? I keep ending up with 170 tackle middle linebackers, and have never had a CB with more than 8 picks. You playing a 4-3, or 3-4?

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:01pm

The thing about Madden is that there seems to be absolutely no innovation from one game to the next. There are many evolutionary improvements, but not revolutionary changes. I bet FOF has a much more realistic way of generating player's stats... you wonder why EA couldnt do that? Why couldn't they pro-rate my players stats so that I don't ALWAYS have the number one defense and the worst offense in the league? It seems like such simple things... and its a multimillion dollar franchise...

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:06pm


I'm playing Madden 2005 on PC first off, because I read about the passing cone and the superstar mode in subsequent releases and realized that I didn't think the gameplay or franchise mode would be that much improved or more enjoyable than 2005's already is.

As for installing the option, setting up the basic formations is easy enough. I've got Double, Triple, Stretch, Deep, Tennessee, Y, and Wildcat base formations so far. Getting single wing is nigh on impossible without - I would suppose - going in and changing some code or whatever, which isn't really my thing. The problem there is that the game requires any new formation you make to have two linemen either side of the center, which means no single-wing goodness since the linemen are spaced out on the weak side. Then you sub in backup fullbacks, tight ends, guards, and whatnot to cover the extra off-the-line linemen the wing necessitates.

As for making it run the play correctly, I cheat. I make it a pass play with everyone but the QB and the target back given blocking assignments. You give the target back a custom route and play around with it out of each formation so that he times his outside option sweep well with the QB. So you have your nine guys sweeping one way and the running back with an option route that's really a custom pass route.

If you just let the computer run the play, the QB drops back to pass and only has one target, the back. That doesn't work. It's only playable correctly with player-control. Sweep the QB out behind the blockers by switching him to running mode, read the D coverage and the blitz, and make your judgement as to whether to hold onto the ball or "pitch" (throw) it out to the option back.

It's not an honest option, per se, but with some tweaking it works just like one. It also takes some practice to know when your QB should get rid of it and when he should hold on. I tested it in an all-pro exhibition game with the Daunte Culpepper/Onterrio Smith led Vikings and it worked very well. If only I hadn't also been testing my 6-1 Cover Two defense, I might have won the game. Needless to say it was an offensive fest, with my opponent recording a lot of quick, 6-play scoring drives and my team recording 16-play scoring drives. There's a lot of different plays you can design with an option philosophy, and once you get a handle on running it well it's fun to execute.

The backdraws are that the AI doesn't run it like an option if you tell it to run that playbook against you (it runs it like a max protect, one-receiver-out-of-the-backfield offense), and that statistically your running plays are recorded as passing plays. (In the wing formations, you can still hand off; you've just got to play around with spacing between the QB and RB a lot, but that's wing formation and not option offense.) Oh, and in any created formation you of course can't have pre-snap motion. Some of these problems I may be able to iron out, like if I learn coding and quit my job or something.

In terms of sheer player-controlled gameplay, though, it works really well and it's a hell of a lot of fun to execute. Don't try running it with anything slower than a Josh McCown, though, or you're asking for trouble. Keep it to the Vicks, Culpeppers, and McNabbs of the world.

Oh, and also don't try running a 6-1 Cover Two either. I was just doing it for fun, but it's just a bad idea. The 2-5 Man Under, on the other hand, is money in the bank.

Oh, and purely non-football related, but go out and see Children of Men at the theater.

by joel in providence (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:08pm

do you get extra points for playing while wearing a gray sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off?

by Lance S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:26pm


I play Action PC & love it. I'm currently in a keeper draft league w/20 other guys (about half from the UK). Much more rewarding being a GM vs. real people, & there are plenty of Action leagues out there. Accuracy is pretty good & Dave Koch is very active in improving his product. Just about every past season is available. It is much simpler than FOF sounds. Mostly play calling.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:30pm

I've played the last few versions of FOF. A few thoughts on the new release:

-- The biggest upgrade has been to the Free Agency AI. In the past, the computer teams would fall all over themselves to sign the 63/63 (that's Current Rating/Future Potential; a rating of 63 would make him a somewhat above average starter) 31 year old MLB to a cap-killing contract while ignoring the 45/65 26 year old player, who signs with me for a pittance. In FOF2007, the young players with potential rarely reach the market to begin with, and when they do they're properly valued.

-- The Free Agent pool in general is more realistic, as the AI is now better at managing the cap and holding on to their own players. In any given offseason, there will be a few above-average starters available, a couple dozen average starters (not enough to go around), then an abundance of scrubs and roll-players. Good QBs, in particular, almost never hit the free agent market.

-- The draft is different. This time to be successful you have to rely on your scout's interviews, along with one other trick to pick the interviewees, which I won't describe. The thing that worked with the previous version -- looking for players whose combine numbers were much better than their scouted rating would suggest -- seems to be totally ineffective this year.

-- The AI is better at handling trades in this version, but still not perfect. The biggest weakness is that poor teams are too willing to trade away future 1st Round picks. This means that the optimum strategy is to snowball 1st Round picks -- trade for one or two Firsts from bad teams, then if one of them is in the top 3 or 4, it can be traded for multiple Firsts from other bad teams. And so on, until you've got six or seven 1st Round picks every year. Of course this problem is easily avoided with some simple house rules.

-- For some reason, they didn't fix the rookie LB bug from the old version (though I've never seen it mentioned elsewhere, so maybe I'm the only one who knows about it). As in past versions, a newly drafted ILB will usually be a better player if he's switched to OLB, and vice versa. Since this works both ways, any time you draft a LB the best thing to do is to switch his postion twice (for an OLB, switch to ILB and then back again). This can turn your 1st Round pick from a future stud (45/75) to a future Hall of Famer (53/86). Again, with a simple house rule (don't cheat), this bug provides no problem . . . but it's still tempting to switch to a 3-4 defense and build the greatest LB corps ever. (By the way, don't try this in a multiplayer league -- they will boot you out.)

-- FOF multiplayer leagues are a great gaming experience. Highly recommended.

by the K (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:48pm

EA should have kept FOF onboard, and used their statistical models to go with the NFL Head Coach engine, particularly the gameday feel and graphics and the process of hiring coaches. That would be one hot game.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:59pm

So how do you hire coaches in this game if you can't promote from within or hire other teams' coordinators?

by paytonrules (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 5:59pm

So you were the other guy who bought Front Page Sports Football huh? The one with Ron Rivera on the cover...as a player.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 6:53pm

Basilicus - For coach hirings, you can re-sign your own guys, or hire someone from the ranks of the unemployed.

by The Grizzle (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 6:54pm

In addition to DVOA, I also like to use a system I’ve created. Basically, on offense, a stat I call PVOO (point value on offense) a team gets six Value Points for every touchdown, three for every field goal, two for every two-point conversion and one for every extra point. This adds up to get a PVOO for the season, or you can break it down by week, quarter, whatever. The flip side is a stat I call PVOD (point value on defense), where a defense get charged six Value Points for every touchdown, three for every field goal, two for every two-point conversion and one for every extra point. They do however, get to subtract defensive value points in the amount of two value points in the event of a safety. I’m still working on special teams.

Essentially, I use this system along with DVOA to gauge offense and defensive team success…

by Tim D. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 7:12pm

While we're on the topic of sports sims, anyone here play Hattrick? I won't link since I'm not trying to advertise, just wondering if any other FO readers play.

by The Grizzle (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 7:23pm

I don't care what anyone says... the greatest game of all time is Tecmo Super Bowl.

It has it all...

by Nathan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 8:21pm

Tecmo Super Bowl 3 was the greatest game ever. Why I'm the only one who thinks this alludes me.

I am the demographic for this game. It looks more complicated than I want to spend if I can't actually play the games.

What makes me buy this game and love it? Really wanting to have a decent draft/free agency period?

That doesn't seem all that high in priorities. Especially for someone who doesn't like rosters being too divergent from their actual current teams.

by joe football (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 9:21pm

I love FOF, but I also basically rush through the seasons. A couple hours would be extraordinarily long, I try to keep it to 30 minutes per

by Dan R. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 9:25pm

Is this a multiplayer game? I don't much enjoy 'realistic' games unless I'm playing a human.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 10:26pm

#32: Yes, there are plenty of multiplayer leagues out there (google "Front Office Football Central" for listings). Most sim either 2 or 3 weeks of a season every calendar week. The offseason goes quicker, so that most leagues will run through about 3 or 4 full seasons per year.

I think the FOF multiplayer leagues were the best gaming experience I've ever had. They're especially fun when the league has an active message board.

by Vince (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 11:00pm

#25: Front Page Sports was GREAT. I spent hours on trick plays with motion, multiple handoffs, intentional fumbles, all kinds of cool stuff.

by BD (not verified) :: Tue, 01/09/2007 - 11:02pm

Re: Grizzle

I agree... the arcade-style matches of Tecmo Super Bowl may never be successfully replicated. I still fondly remember a marathon Oilers-Bills game against my brother where both teams combined to score 110 points with the winning score in overtime being Scott Norwood returning a blocked field goal for a TD... classic and true to life.

Too bad they can't find a way to blend arcade-style action with realistic franchise-management... am I the only one who would ask for such a thing?

by Sean (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 3:42am

Biggest bug in Madden Franchise mode is being able to trade draft picks (your 1st and 2nd for the worst team's 1st 2nd and 3rd) and always have the option of picking at the top of every round.

Xbox version of Madden 07 seems to have more bugs than the 06 version, most notably in Superstar mode - multiple balls on the field, and Al and John saying the wrong team is leading after 3 quarters....hang on, is that a bug?

by J.R. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 4:26am

I just played through the first two weeks of the demo and went 2-0 with the Detroit Lions. Heh.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 11:10am

Front Page Sports '96 was really good. They rushed out '97 (I think I have the years right - it was the one with Marino on the cover), and it was so full of bugs it was completely unplayable. It killed whatever franchise they had.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 2:07pm

Re 38:
I had '97 and remember it working. It was like 4 floppies and I had to use a boot disk. Something happened to the files though because I've tried to install it a few times and nothing happens.

by apricot (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 2:28pm

What would a game review thread be without a mention of the seldom updated, but fun as hell PlayMaker Football? It isn't flashy, but it does provide another take on coaching that I'm sure some folks here would like. And I'm looking forward to the FO review - should 3.0 ever come out. Sigh.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 4:08pm

I have multiple editions of FPS Football Pro, mostly the ones with Barry on the cover. I also stumbled across Lorne Sundby's utilities for the series (link provided): they fix a lot of issues and basically got me playing it again. Sierra's decision to spend resources on baseball and fishing and then to phase this out was a really bad one.

At the time, for sim fans, this was huge. I remember sitting around with my friends the one time we got a league together, poring over the printed-out draft sheets and yelling at the guy who was on the clock to pick already. Now, well, I just play too many games to get back to that one.

Yeah, Bill, I know, it's kind of sad, but I'm a simaholic, and I like soccer, and there weren't many sims from which to choose in the early '90s ... plus the relegation and promotion aspects of soccer make it much better for a sim (I have Championship Manager at home, but don't spend enough time on that either), and the in-season cups are fun. And there's nothing like playing for a world title.

If I'd been born 10 years later, I'd never have made it out of college, not unless I could major in sports sims and minor in RPGs.

by DWL (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 9:11pm

Any possibility that FO could start a FOF league (or 2 or 3)?

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 3:28am

You know, it's too bad you couldn't work more stats into the game (perhaps in a future release?). It would have been very cool to get "live" success rate stats and such (although I wonder how live they could be and still preserve their propriety), and it might give you the opportunity to sim a few hundred seasons and see how different player populations affect DVOA et al.

On the other hand, there might be something about FOF that is unlike the NFL that would also be something that DVOA might amplify, so you might end up drawing conclusions that wouldn't apply to real life.

But it would still be cool.

by noah of the ark (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 12:55pm

How is the screen thing solved? I downloaded the demo and I can't see all of the windows. I am thinking of buying the game, but not like this!

by noah of the ark (not verified) :: Sat, 01/13/2007 - 12:59pm

Desk, right click, properties, configuration, change resolution to 1000x700 +/-

by noah of the ark (not verified) :: Sat, 01/13/2007 - 1:01pm

Thank you, noah, got it now. But do you have to do this every time you play the game? Is there no easier way?

Answer: I guess not.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 4:28pm

So I took the plunge. It's not bad (keeping in mind that my background is with text-based sims).

It's not as configurable as Out Of The Park (a similar baseball sim) - it doesn't seem like you can add new cities, and some of the colors seem to be either hidden settings or not very obvious settings. (I thought it might be fun to set up a league with teams in NCAA cities, but it's not quite the same if you can't get the colors to match, and of course not every city is represented.) It's also too bad that the settings for cities are global and not league-specific.

It would also be nice to create smaller leagues like in FPS Pro.

I don't like that most of the windows are modal (they have the focus until you finish with them). I also don't like that you can't sim one game at a time - sometimes it would be nice to sim a couple of games and then close the app.

I did start with an initial draft (do you always end up picking 32nd?). It's interesting, to be sure. It drives home the point that teams don't have 11 All-Pro-caliber players on each side of the ball, not to mention on the bench, and that we can't all have All-Pro QBs.

I'll have to check out the college game and see what it's like.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 2:26am

Ah, I see, that draft position was just random. (Started over with the actual NFL cities and picked 16th.)

I'll need a couple of weeks to absorb all of this and the college game and will post what I think, not that too many people really care. :)

by joekata (not verified) :: Thu, 03/04/2010 - 3:42pm

Front Page Sports is awesome!! FOF isn't bad either, but FBPro 98 is the last one. FBPro 99 was a marketing decision gone wrong. You can download those games for free online at pretty much any online league website.

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