Pizza Box Football was a game released by On the Line Game Company in 2005 with updates printed until the 2008 season. I had originally given this game a pass as it seemed popular among casual gamers, but I’ve since learned through games such as Masters of the Gridiron that casual games can be just as fun as the hardcore simulations I play. I eventually snagged a copy with the 2006 expansion (real NFL teams) and got the game on the table.
There’s a lot packed into the box, including tons of dice!
With the base game, you’ll get nearly a dozen dice, some generic charts, a football field board that folds and fits inside the game box, and pegs to use with the field. The dice come in difference colors and are used by both the offense and defense to not only resolve plays but call plays as well. The fact that the football field fits into the folded out game box is a cool feature, though the peg board design can make it difficult to tell exactly what yard marker you are on. The base game charts are for a simple offense. The expansion cards, which I highly recommend adding for variety, read the same as the base game charts. All charts are laminated which is a nice bonus from simply using thick card stock.
There are no individual players in the game. Instead, each NFL team is rated from 1-3 (3 being strong) in the areas of run, short, and long passes and the defense of the same. The generic team has no such rating. For example, Pittsburgh’s 2005 card has a pretty impressive rushing chart, while Indianapolis can throw the ball around quite effectively. Defensive strengths can allow extra die to be rolled that may improve the defense’s chances of succeeding on a play. It doesn’t take long to see exactly where a team’s strengths and weaknesses lie so finding teams comparable teams to play is pretty easy. In a way, the team charts a slightly reminiscent of Paydirt.
Once you’ve picked teams, you use the generic chart system to determine the kickoff and return. From there, the defense secretly selects particular colored dice. These dice determine the defensive play call: run, short pass, or long pass. When using expansions, the defense can additionally call aggressive versions of those by calling run blitz, jump routes, or QB blitzes. The offense then also selects run, short, or long pass, but they also have the option of adding strategies to each such as draws, screens, and play action. Once both sides have selected, the calls are compared on an advantage chart. This chart determines which defensive chart is used on the play. The defense rolls and the result may be a modifier that is used on the offensive chart. The offense then rolls and adds or subtracts any defensive modifiers. The end result will determine the success (or failure) of the play. It’s an extremely easy system, and I can see why casual gamers may see this as an approachable game. The charts can all lie easily in front of you, so there’s no page flipping or chart browsing to determine the play. A few chart checks, and you’ve good to go. If you choose to use only the basic game, then you’re teams will be even, and it’ll come down to strategy. Even with the NFL teams, the bad teams will have chances to win with smart play calling though even correct guessing may not stop the offense from moving the ball effectively if the dice are on their side. The downside to the easy game play is that it does feel a bit repetitious after a bit due to the limited options available on both sides of the ball.
You’ll get team stats instead of individual ones, but the stats generated are pretty spot on. Scores tend to be fairly realistic with this game. There’s some subtleties that come out. When pressured, Pittsburgh’s card will tend to have the quarterback run more while Indianapolis’ card will have the quarterback throw the ball away. This is a good reflection in the difference between their respective quarterbacks. It still won’t keep you happy if you like to see individual stats, but the game engine works pretty well in generating realistic results
Solitaire play calling charts can be found on the game’s website. This enables you to play against a complete opponent using the solo charts for both offense and defense. Charts are based on general tendencies like most solitaire play calling systems. With just a handful of offense and defensive choices, the guessing game can be somewhat limiting. Other games have more in-depth solo experiences.
Head-to-Head: Like Paydirt, playing defense comes down to guess work and figuring out your opponents tendencies. However, there are less options here than with Paydirt. In fact, playing a vanilla defense (run or short pass) may be your best as statistically you are more than likely going to have no more than a slight disadvantage on a play. On the other hand, being aggressive can backfire as often as it succeeds. This may end up taking something away from a head-to-head experience.
With only three seasons available, no individual stats, and a fairly simple system, I’m not sure there’s enough here to keep a replay enthusiast enthralled for any length of time.
Availability: Though the website remains up, it doesn’t look as if On the Line is still in business. Only 3 seasons were ever made, and there’s no system for making your own teams. Luckily, the versions that are out there are pretty inexpensive to get.
Final Score (not an average): 6
The game is fun, quick, and not very complex. For that, Pizza Box Football is a pretty accessible game for someone just getting into football board gaming or just looking to play a light football game. Those wanting more of a challenge can find it without sacrificing simplicity. Both Paydirt and Second Season have similar guessing styles of game play, but Paydirt has more choices than Pizza Box Football while Second Season provides more immersion. Still, if you want something that’s simple and inexpensive just to try a football game out, Pizza Box is a decent bet.