Front Office Football Seven Review (PC)
For all the hype Madden and the NFL gets each year, it's surprising that there are very few pro football text sims available. Even those available don’t get much press.
I’m not sure why, either. Football is as ingrained in statistics as baseball, and there are multiple quality baseball text sims produced each year. American football is more popular here in the states than football (soccer), yet there are at least two annual soccer sims that regularly get top billing on Steam.
However, for whatever reason, finding a football text sim is difficult. Perhaps the most “mainstream” was the NFL Head Coach series, produced for consoles by EA. But there’s been another option quietly gaining a following among football fans for over a decade: Front Office Football. The seventh iteration of of FOF was just released by the small company Solecismic Software; will Front Office Football 7 fill the pro football text sim niche?
As a text sim, you are put in charge of the daily operation of a professional football team, handling GM and coaching duties such as setting ticket prices, managing depth charts, and calling plays. Nearly every duty shared by either of those team roles is represented in some way through menus, text, and spreadsheets.
Front Office Football 7 attempts to simplify these responsibilities by breaking a year into phases: Staff management, Free Agency, Draft, Late Free Agency, Training Camp, Pre-Season, Season, and Playoffs. These phases are further subdivided, but basically you are guided through the season in a logical progression.
Finances and player ratings play an important part in the proceedings, perhaps more so than other text sims. There’s a nice emphasis on player knowledge (formations, etc) and personality. Even the end of season coaching carousel is represented through a “staff draft,” which, though not entirely realistic in form, adequately abstracts the myriad of coaching changes that take place each year.
In-game, the coaching options are staggering. You can call plays using a relatively streamlined screen, adjusting individual positions and assignments. For all of its complexity, however, it’s pretty easy to get a handle on how to manage an offense and/or defense. However, because of the amount of options, expect games in which you call ever play to take a significant amount of time.
While I’m not the world’s biggest football expert, I do follow the NFL pretty regularly; I could not find any significant aspect of the game that isn’t somehow represented in Front Office Football 7.
Like many text sims, there is no graphical representation of players on the field; the action is handled through menus and simulation screens.
In-game, your competitions take place on a screen that looks like a scoreboard, complete with field markers and some basic stats. All “front office” stuff occurs in one of three main menus: Simulation, Roster, and Depth Chart/Game Plans. To be honest, these menus would benefit from some reorganization, as it will take you a while to figure out where exactly everything is located.
The Depth Chart/Game Plan menu alone is cluttered with almost 40 individual items, from formation usage to specific team depth charts (Nickel Formation, Offensive Line, etc.).
This speaks to the largest problem with Front Office Football: its graphical interface. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this game looks like something from the late 1990s. From clunky pixel-heavy icons to low-res background pictures, this game’s visual identity and user interface really belies it’s statistical accuracy and depth.
It’s hard to fault the small (one-man?) operation at Solecismic for skimping on visuals in a text sim; it’s not crucial that this game looks good. But at various points, the organization and lack of visual feedback cause some frustration for me. As one who has played the very spartan but extremely well-organized Out of the Park Baseball for years, it’s a disappointment that FOF is so lacking in presentation.
All of that said, there are a few nice touches that add personality to the game (though it’s easy to overlook them). First, is “Solevision” -- essentially the “NFL Redzone” channel distilled to a text interface. Watch play-by-play for any game during the week, switching between games if desired.
Also are a number of “publications,” like the “Grey Sheet” which analyzes top-free agents, or the “Green Page” which reports on top prospects. These are nice concise ways to view the most interesting players in the league without sorting through various team rosters.
A few notes regarding players, teams, and stats. First, current NFL players are in the game with ratings accurate at the beginning of the season. Of the few players I studied in depth, none look to be wildly inaccurate in terms of their ratings, which are on a 0-100 point scale.
Secondly, all teams are in game, minus their correct nicknames. These are easily editable. However, there are no graphical logos (other than city names) to edit or modify.
Finally, in regards to statistical accuracy, everything I’ve simulated seems to be in good order. In fact, if you read the help file, you get some nice insight from the developer Jim Grindin on how the various simulation engines and rating systems were created, and what exactly he was trying to emulate.
Front Office Football Seven is a deep, accurate, intricate, complex, and realistic football text sim. It is also looks like it was made to run on Windows 95.
If the first sentence of that paragraph is all that you care about, this game is a definite purchase. The developer clearly puts his limited time and funds into the more meaningful portions of the game, and for that, what’s “under the hood” is stellar.
However, it’s the second sentence that may eliminate some of this game’s audience. Because the game looks so dated, the learning curve is steeper than it has to be.
Again, though, this game recreates enough of the intricacies and details of the game that climbing that steep learning curve is worth it. All told, Front Office Football capably fills the need for a true football text sim for the discerning fan.
Learning Curve: Relatively steep, even for a text sim. Made more difficult because of poor organization and user interface.
Online: While I wasn’t able to fully review this aspect of the game, it does have a fully featured suite of tools for commissioners and online leagues
Lasting Appeal: A very deep game with nearly unlimited replayability, especially if you devote the time to learn its inner workings. Would like to see a more customization options.
Value: At $40, it may seem a little expensive, especially based on looks alone. However, weighed against other text sims of its ilk, its content is of equivalent value.
Score: 8.0 (Great)
Scoring Note: If the game can get an interface to match its gameplay, this will be one of the premiere management sims on the market, as of right now it's kind of a novelty but a great one. If you have wanted more depth out of Madden's Franchise, this is worth a look in the dead period of sports gaming.