Solitaire Football is a print and play game that’s self-published by Mike Keeley. I discovered this game by chance while reading through the Front Office Football forums on the Operation Sports site. I also read some information about the game on the Delphi Forums. Just goes to show you that football sims are definitely a niche game, and you’ll be surprised what you get by visiting forums and looking around.
A look at the 1950 Cleveland Browns team card, led by the formidable duo of Otto Graham and Marion Motley. Above that are the FAC cards which drive the game play.
When you print out your components, you get a set of Fast Action Cards (FACs), a set of team cards, rules, and some minimal charts. The rules are clear and include several examples to help understand the game play. Team cards show skill players on offense, return mean, and defenders that may intercept the ball. It doesn’t take long to get the game’s terminology down and understand the wealth of information on the FACs.
Skill players on offense are given ratings for average gains and production. Production values are used to determine both effectiveness and stamina. It’s a simple system that allows you to quickly see who your best skill players are. Defense, though, is rated simply by team numbers. Even then, the numbers are broken into five letter categories. Once you learn the system, you can understand how effective your defense can be, but it’s fairly abstract. The only defensive players included on earlier season cards are players that may intercept the ball (and then their ratings are based on returning an interception, not their ability to defend a pass). Later editions have a system for determining who got a sack, but again, you get no sense of who your strongest pass rushers are.
I have to give Mr. Keeley some credit for coming up with what may be the most complete set of FACs in any game I’ve played. Everything comes from them. As a solitaire player, you can control what the offensive play is and who will be handling the ball. From there the FACS determine how the defense reacts and the result of the play. A play can be resolved in as little as two card flips if you call your own plays. Penalties, interceptions, and sacks add to the number of cards used, but it’s all down fairly quickly. The biggest obstacle will be learning the abbreviations of the cards. It took me awhile to get through the first half of my test game, but after that the second half flowed very smoothly. The issue is in the game’s core. The FACs don’t just drive the game. They really control it. There’s no “guessing right” for the defense. The FACs generate a random letter (A to F) that determine how strong the defense will play. You have no control over whether the run defense will react with a negative modifier or no modifier at all. For example, Marion Motley has a 4 rating for his rushing average. (Note: This wasn’t his actual rushing average in 1950, it’s just the average used in the game) The Giants have run modifiers of -3, -2, -3, -1, 0, and 0 for A to F respectively. When running with Motley, you flip a FAC to get the defensive letter rating for the play. Say it was D, which is a -1. The result of the play on the next FAC is “Ave +2”. Motley would gain 5 yards (His average of 4, minus the 1 for the defensive adjustment, plus the 2 for the card result). There’s nothing you can do to improve your defense’s reaction. The FACs control that. Offensively, the impact of your line is abstracted added into your runner’s average. Again, the FAC can simply determined whether your runner gained, lost, or broke away for yardage. In reality, you can allow the FAC system to control the entire game, including calling the plays. Again, Mr. Keeley has done a neat job of installing an offensive play call system, but the entire system has the feel of watching a game on TV. Your participation in the decision-making is minimal at best.
At first I was a bit concerned that the control of the FACs would skew the stats. I was wrong. The stats in my test game between the Browns and Giants was pretty spot on. Otto Graham was a bit interception prone early throwing three picks as the Browns dug themselves a 21-7 hole, but he settled down and ended up a respectable (for the time period) 10 for 19 for 180 yes and a touchdown. Motley rumbled for 95 yards on 17 carries. The Giants running back committee grounded the ball 40 times for 170 yards. I compared my results to actual season results and was pleased with what I saw. Again, the research that went into the FACs to make sure the game was statistically balanced is evident. The true strength of the game is its ability to statistically simulate a game.
With a name like Solitaire Football, you know it was built for the solo player in mind. In that regard, it reminds me a lot of Second Season. Simple team ratings unfold to produce a statistical accurate game. However, where Second Season tells a narrative of the game as it produces scores and stats, Solitaire comes across as an exercise in recording statistics. Thankfully, I enjoy number crunching, but a solo player looking for decision making or story telling may feel a bit let down.
Head-to-Head: Considering defensive calls are taken out of a player’s hand, there’s no chance for any sort of interesting game between two players here.
Replay Ability: This is a very good replay system. Anyone who enjoys matching up teams for what-if scenarios or replaying seasons will be satisfied. Unlike other games, there are no injuries in this game. Frankly, that doesn’t bother me as I tend to minimize injuries in replays so I can see how teams would perform at their best. If that bugs you, that may take a little out of the game for you. Even stat freaks may be a little annoyed at the lack of defensive statistics to be kept. Overall, though, it’s a smooth and relatively quick system for generating replays. Bonus here that a some of the years offered aren’t offered by any other game (such as the 1950 set I purchased).
Availability: Unlike most games that have websites, this game is purchased through direct contact with Mr. Keeley. From there, you’ll meet a friendly guy who’ll give you a list of the couple dozen seasons available (a scattered mix of teams from 1950 up to present day). Prices are cheap. I got two full seasons and multiple sets of FAC cards (to add variation) all for under $40. You can be up and running with a season and facts for half that.
Final Score (not an average): 7
On one hand, I greatly appreciate what Mr. Keeley did here. He created an entire system that runs smoothly from the opening kickoff, generates great stats, and provides a solid football experience. However, the game is so smooth that you lose a lot of control of the action. It’s not meant to be as deep as 4th Street or Fantasm, but it also feels more limiting than simpler games like Second Season or Inside Blitz. Football sims are playgrounds for solo gamers. With a few exceptions, most football games are either built with the solo player in mind or have a dedicated fan base that creates solo play charts. Solitaire Football is a game that showcases Mr. Keeley’s love for the sport. It’s got the smoothest game engine I’ve ever played. But other games provide a little bit more immersion.