Couch Footie

May 8th, 2019

Some of you might know I've got a soft spot for football. Both kinds, cause who knows anything about Australian football, amirite?
I seldom get to play the American version anymore, but until recently I was part of a weekly soccer league between friends... that I also no longer have the time to partake in, which makes me a very sad boy. Thankfully, it looks like I'll be able to supplant getting up at 6AM on Saturdays to act like I know how to goalkeeper with having friends over at reasonable times of the day for beers, pretzels, and a decidedly less injury-inducing time.

Enter, Counter Attack: the football strategy game.

DISCLAIMER: the photos seen below feature in-play prototype components and are no indication of the final, more qualitative state of the game.

In order to properly convey my enthusiasm for this currently-running Kickstarter campaign, I have to rewind to a few years ago.
I'm a collector of many things miniature-related, and one such line of plastic bits was Soccerstarz: funny-looking, big-headed, 2-inch high renditions of famous football players on 25mm bases. Just the kind of thing that I thought would go well with a tabletop football rule set... But there wasn't any such rule set around when I started collecting these, and I wasn't in the position to go and make one, so the whole idea died an early death and the minis started amassing dust in my study.

Back to the current year and a clever-looking rendition of the worldwide pig’s bladder kick-around phenomenon has now hit Kickstarter in style. A realistic funding goal, simple and elegant components, a straightforward ruleset, and obvious care for the subject at hand are what Scottish designer Colin Webster brought to the table (aren't I clever?) when putting this game together. And the public responded positively as the game is (at the time of writing) sitting at almost $12,000 amassed of the $9,185 funding goal, so it’s well funded and on to Stretch Goals!

I've been following the project for a bit and am obviously a happy backer.
I’ve also managed to have a bit of a back and forth with Colin in regards to some of the aspects that I thought were of interest with this kind of product, but before getting into that, let me tell you a little bit about what it all entails.

The first thing that might draw your attention is it's a time-sensitive game with sand timers being used (which isn't mandatory, mind you) to keep things going at a brisk pace for a recommended 2 halves of 45 minutes each. Players take turns moving and acting with their... players in accordance with a series of self explanatory skills. An opposed die roll that is added to the skill value is the determining factor when performing major "versus" moves like dribbling, shooting, making long passes and any manner of other football match occurrences that might hold a possibility of failure.

There are specific rules for anything from corners to penalty kicks, interceptions, fouls, snap shots, and so on (you can find the whole WIP rulebook on their website). While that may sound like a lot to take in and act out during a match, the system is set up in such a way that it encourages fast play and doesn't bog down in details. There are very clear (and logical) guidelines when it comes to how you should perform each and every task, and while I haven't played the game myself, the feedback so far is that everything flows by smoothly no matter your level of involvement in the tabletop hobby as a whole.

There's also an interesting way that movement alternates during a turn with the attacking team acting with 4 players first, then the defenders responding with 5 players of their own, and the attacker capping it all off with a further 2 players that are only able to move for a more reduced number of hexes than they normally would. This, coupled with other specific rules like final third triggers which allow players lagging behind to move up so as to not fall completely out of touch with the play at hand leads me to think that there is a big focus on pushing the feeling that the entire team is working as a unit and you won't end up with a rogue duo just running rings across the pitch and knocking one into the net.

The pieces the game comes with are wooden discs that will be coloured in a not-Ajax and definitely-not-Juventus manner for the couple teams you can find in the base game, with a pledge level of around $38. The action takes place on a board that's basically a hex grid overlaid on top of ye olde football pitch, which I found a good choice for a couple reasons:

A. Hexes allow a wider range of movement on a board and I've always preferred them to squares, for instance, and
II. it's not a far cry away from the types of moves you could pull in football video games before the whole 360 degree revolution came about and we only had 8 directions to prod our virtual players in.

The latter is just something that I thought was a cool thing to consider, especially since Colin mentioned he's a big fan of the video game side of things, too.
And speaking of video games, he mentions Football Manager and Championship Manager on more than one occasion as inspirations for the game, which brings me to another point: there seems to be a fair bit of coaching to be done here, not just quick thinking and a lucky die roll, but long-term play-by-play action and leading attacks and defenses, which I quite like the sound of.

The skill sets I mentioned before are coupled with generic, fictional players from around the world, but what if people want to act out their real-life fantasies with the real "heavyweights" of the football world?
Well, I guess the easy option would be to just slap real life names on the existing players (it's actually quite easy to discern who they're supposed to represent most of the time), or you could do up your own squads. There will probably be a "build your player" type guide to come out in the future, Colin has mentioned something like that is definitely on the cards but not the focus for the time being.

There was a distinct possibility this game would attract the Blood Bowl side of the fandom, I thought, so I asked Colin what he felt about league play to take the game further into a bigger audience. He had this to say:
"I really like the idea of Counter Attack becoming a mass social event where strangers would play against each other in tournaments, but let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet! First and foremost, I want to put the game into the hands of the Kickstarter backers, and then I want them to love the game! Next step after that is world domination."

Them’s fighting words! I like!

Going back to the Soccerstarz aspect, we had some measurements done when I mentioned it to Colin, and he expressed interest in seeing things crossover in the future, while keeping the spotlight on the campaign itself, currently. The issue is that the SS bases are around 25mm wide, whilst the hexes on the board measure only 17mm at their widest point. Not an issue with just a couple players on the board, but put 22 on there at any given time and people will start stepping on each other's plastic toes pretty quick.
Colin has said a bigger version of the board is being considered so I'm looking forward to that.

Finally, I asked him about the possibility of crossing into different sports as the system itself is bare bones enough (that's not at all a bad thing) to be adapted to different fields and teams. What I mean by that is the core concept seems very solid and simple to adapt various rules and styles of play on.
Colin mentioned friends already asking him about a possible ice hockey version and admitted that while not completely out of the realm of possibility, other sports don't fall quite as well into his area of expertise as football. We'll just have to keep watching and see what happens.

So there you have it: a neat, fair priced, fun footie game that can be played in the comfort of your own living room, on your kitchen table, or that you can pretty much pack and take on the road with you as far as I can tell.

I'm really excited to see this game published and I'm definitely happy for it taking a great sport and translating it to the tabletop, thus marrying two of my hobbies. I had to double check that last sequence just to make sure I wasn't running into any legal trouble.

Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!

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