Pro Football Fantasm Review
Pro Football Fantasm was a short lived football simulation game published by Fantasm Sports from 1989-1991. It had some highly ambitious game play elements, but sadly emerged at a time when football board games were in decline and the NFL was cracking down on licensing.
Every NFL team is included and every team consists of roughly 30 cards of individual players. A football field, offensive and defensive formation charts, offensive play charts, three dice, and rules were also included. The base game is incomplete though. There are enough players to play a one off game, there are not enough included to compensate for injuries in any type of replay. Extra cards could be ordered to fill out teams. The cards and all charts are pretty flimsy, and the charts aren’t much better. There were other extras you could order as well, the best of which are the team play calling charts that allow you to play against an opposing “coach” (I’ve uploaded all team charts to boardgamegeek). It’s a shame the original game didn’t include all the extras to start with.
Players are rated on a myriad of skills. For example, Receivers are rated for route running, break away speed, hands, and several other categories. Even lineman have multiple ratings. You end up getting a real sense of a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Some running backs might be able to break long gains, but have trouble fighting for the tough yards. Others are bruisers that can get you three yards and a cloud of dust. Little used players that have overblown stats, a peril in Statis Pro, are balanced because of this system. Instead, the true stars have the cards that showcase their talents. Dan Marino is impossible to sack on quick passes thanks to his quick release. Montana is able to go through his progressions very well. Barry Sanders is excellent at finding holes and making cuts. It’s really remarkable.
The offensive team can choose one from 36 different play calls. Each play call has its own card and its from here the play is resolved. Players are arranged on their respective formation charts. An offensive player chooses a play and the defensive player makes his call from 9 options. Each defensive option also includes a style of rush and pass coverage. The offensive player then rolls 3 dice. A blue d20 determines if a possible penalty or fumble happened on the play. The white d20 determines what row on the play chart you will refer to. This can be altered by the defensive call. Then, the row determines the individual match ups. Those match ups are added (for offensive ratings) and subtracted (for defensive ratings) to a red d10. Players refer to the column matching the adjusted d10. That gives you the result on the play. There’s a lot going on and it will take you some time to get a flow for the game. But once you do, you are bound to appreciate the chess match off play calling between the offense and defense as well as the individual battles that happen on a football field. There are charts for wild plays and even weather that really add to the game.
Though I don’t have as much experience with this game as others, what I’ve seen so far as proven to be pretty solid. A recent game against the Bills and Dolphins showed the depth of the game. Thurman Thomas was equally deadly in the running and passing game. Marino could move the ball through the air, but the Dolphins struggled to develop any type of run game. The ending stats were pretty realistic. As with any game, sticking to endurance rules is a must.
If you find the base game, there’s a generic play calling chart that works fairly well. But if you use the individual play calling charts, the game shines in solo play. The charts enable running teams, like the Bears or Colts, to focus on grinding out the yards while the Dolphins will put the ball in the air more times than not. Even defensively, the individual charts allow blitzing teams to take more chances while other teams play more conservatively.
I haven’t had a chance to play this against someone yet, but I can imagine it would be great experience. There’s so much to think about, it almost resembles a heavy war game. What play would you call? Which direction will this play go? What formation would you use? What defensive calls can be made? What’s their formation? Do you blitz? Play safe? There’s a lot going on. The only downside is this would be one of the longer games to play. This game could easily take as long as an actual football game, perhaps longer if both players aren’t familiar with the system.
I only own the 1989 season. I’ve seen pictures of the 1990 and 1991 seasons (the 1991 seasons do not contain player names, only numbers), but I’ve never seen them for sale. Even when the game does pop up, it won’t be cheap. Unless you are lucky, expect to pay at least $40-50 for a copy. It’ll be even harder to find the extra materials.
If you are a fan of the 1989, 1990, or 1991 seasons, then sure, there’s replay possibility there. I would love to do a run through the 1989 season with these cards. But after that, there’s not much you could do. There’s no system to create your own cards and with the wealth of information on the cards it would be time prohibitive to even consider creating one.
Final Grade (not an average)
9. It’s a flawed masterpiece. I believe this is the most in depth football game I’ve played. There are simpler systems that provide a similar feel (see 4th Street Football), but I truly believe everyone needs to experience this game at least once. It’s a brilliant concept even if the execution is a bit long and the presentation less than stellar.