Microleague Football: The Coach's Challenge. (computer game) (evaluation)
by Peter Scisco
The title says it all: This game simulates the decisions and strategies that go into coaching a professional football team and presents them in animated fashion on your PC. For all of you Monday morning quarterbacks who think you could have pulled Sunday's game out of the fire, this game is a ticket to fantasyland.
The main package includes 20 great NFL (and AFL--remember those?) teams of the past. Choose two and get ready to write history. Coach Bart Starr's Packers of 1966 against the undefeated 1972 Dolphins; run Broadway Joe's 1968 New York Jets against the awesome Chicago club of 1985. Any way you slice it, there's plenty of action.
MicroLeague Football is pure strategy--no arcade action or joystick finesse required. After choosing your teams, you and your opponent (either the computer or another person) make all of the defensive and offensive calls. If you get stuck, you can ask the computer to make the decision for you, but that takes away from the fun of it.
Play in either Normal or Expert mode. The Normal mode provides a diagram of formations and plays which you can choose during the game. In Expert mode, you call the plays strictly by number, with the aid of a card listing offensive and defensive plays (22 separate offensive plays, not including kicks; seven defensive postures, with multiple blitz patterns and double-team calls).
Input for calling plays is at first difficult but becomes easier with practice. A more consistent interface would make the game easier to learn. Start out in Normal mode; then, after a few games, move up to the Expert level. Also, it's difficult to decide whether or not to accept a penalty because the results of disputed plays aren't immediately clear. You may give up a 15-yard rushing gain for a 10-yard penalty gain if you don't pay strict attention to the animation.
Although not as complex as some other computer football simulations, MicroLeague Football succeeds in capturing the feel of a real pigskin contest. The animated players, which represent real athletes, react fairly predictably within the parameters of their statistical abilities. That makes the strategy of play calling all the more important.
A few added features would've boosted this game's realism quotient. A 30-second clock would have added tension to the battle between the hash marks. Instead, time ticks away according to some inscrutable system clock, which makes it difficult to know when to call those last precious timeouts.
To its credit, the game does account for weather conditions (you set these at the beginning of the game), injuries (the game produces these at random), and penalties (also random). These variables make player performances less predictable and put a more human face on the game.
MicroLeague Football supports CGA and EGA graphics, but even on a 16-color monitor there isn't much detail. You can follow the players on the screen, but the uniforms are either blue or cyan -- no hometown colors for your favorite team. Your viewpoint is from the side of the field looking down. You can see about 30 yards of the field at any one time -- the screen scrolls horizontally as players move down the field on a run or pass play.
Sound is limited to the internal PC speaker and consists of beeps and whistles. You can turn off the sound by pressing the Alt and S keys simultaneously (undocumented).
The depth of this game reveals itself when you create your own league. Creating a league is incredibly simple. Initialize a league by giving it a name; then decide on the number of conferences you want in your league (one, two, or six) and assign teams to the league. On the main program you can choose from among the 20 included teams; other teams are available for your league on franchise disks you purchase separately.
Playing in a league lets you build statistical records over the history of a season. The game's Quick Play option is ideal for compiling stats. It's possible, for example, to play a complete four-game season with 18 teams in six conferences, with a best-of-five conference championship series and best-of-seven world championship series, in 15 minutes. Think of it as your own personal Super Bowl.
Straightforward, basic, well-designed, and fun--MicroLeague Football presents the strategic side of the computer gridiron. Its simplicity fosters an addictive urge to switch the computer on during spare moments to watch how you would fare against some of the best teams to ever play the game.