When the men upstairs asked me to review Lords of Football, I had literally never heard of it. They linked me a trailer that showed something like a cross between The Sims and Football Manager. The game is sold as football ‘lifestyle’ management. OK. That’s pretty new. I don’t know any other titles that deal with the “off-the-pitch” side of football. I thought then that this game could be interesting. Oh how wrong I was… how very, very wrong.
Lords of Football is made by Italian indie developer Geniaware. As far as I can tell, this is their one and only game. As the trailer suggested, this game combines tactical football management with simulated lifestyle management. Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds. You won’t be sitting, sweating on the edge of your seat, but if you slouch correctly and slowly let the chair swallow you, you may catch some shut-eye and wake up in a time when people have realised that combining The Sims with anything is generally a bad idea.
So to begin… the first thing you’ll notice is that Geniaware has no money. Hey, they’re just an indie developer and this is only their first game, apparently. Actually it’s kind of charming and yes, there are good things about this game but we’ll get to those in a second. You may have guessed that I’m talking about licensing. Just like with the PES series, this game has no licensing to give teams and players their actual names, but you can obviously tell which fake team is supposed to represent which real team.
First things first, choose the nation and league you want to play in. It’s the big five: England, Spain, Germany, France, or Italy. I’m going to start my game with the *ahem* Dortmund Bees. Next is the team sheet, where you can see all your players and learn their fake names. Essentially you’ll have a team of random names that mean nothing to you and any knowledge you have about these players from this team in real life is now redundant. The odd player or two is given a nickname as well as a fake name, and you can guess who they are supposed to be in real life. My Polish striker is named “The Professor”. I don’t know the relevance but he’s obviously meant to be Lewandowski. Oh and this other guy is called M. Kamph… subtle.
On the training pitch you can place various activities for your players.
According to the game ranking system, the Bees are a four star team and rated ‘easy’ difficulty. Probably won’t provide much of a challenge but what the hell, I just want to power through this thing and see what it can do. Now that you’ve chosen your team, you’ll begin Day One of training. There are only two modes to this game, training mode, which includes football training and lifestyle management, and game mode, where your team competes in the league of the nation you chose. In training mode, you command an aerial view of the club facilities and surrounding town. Your team will show up to the locker room and change into kits, then wait for you to tell them what to do. The game guide will welcome you to the game and explain how to get started. The object of training mode as you may have surmised is to set up training exercises for your players to improve their skills on the pitch. On Day One, there are only eight different things you can do. On the main pitch, you can set up passing training aerial ability, or penalties. In the gym you can do cardio or weights. In the locker room you can train leadership or creativity, and on the running track you can… run. Using the filter system as the game guide explains, you can see the areas of skill that your players need improving and instruct them accordingly. When a player gets tired, you can send him to the clinic for a massage! As you use each activity, the building it is based in will earn points and upgrade, giving you more room to place exercises and expanding the options available. Completing challenges in game mode like consecutive clean sheets or winning streaks also upgrades your club facilities, making your training more effective.
M. Cromwell has gone to pump up his ego! He’s addicted!
Once the days training is over you must let your players loose on the town or they will get unhappy. This is where your Sims, I mean players, go off and fulfil their vices. There are several buildings in town that provide nightlife for your team such as the pub, casino, and fan club. This part of the game is where your players develop addictions in alcohol, gambling, food, ego, and partying. Once a player is addicted he must be sent to therapy instead of training or he may show up to your games drunk! You can also set up punishment exercises for example; a player with an ego addiction can be made to clean the teams’ shoes. You can fast forward the clock at any time during training mode so I usually did this at night. Other than watch them party, you can’t really do anything else.
Michael’s been a bad boy. He must abate his ego by polishing the team’s shoes.
Once the night is over you will proceed into game mode. The goal of the game, as the game guide will tell you, is to guide your team to European Cup success and thus become a ‘Lord of Football’. To do this, you’ll first need to qualify for the continental tournament by competing in your national league and finishing at least third. Before the match, you must set your tactics and your line-up, its all pretty self explanatory provided you have some understanding of how football tactics work. Having done that, its basically like Football Manager where you just have to leave it up to your team and watch the game. You can make tactical changes and substitutions, and you can also give direct instructions by pausing the game, selecting a player, and issuing a move based on the options provided. In this way you can have a direct influence and effect at a critical point in the match.
When the match is over you return to training mode and the next day’s training will commence. And that’s it… you just switch between endless cycles of training, partying, playing, training, partying, playing, training, partying, playing, training… let me just close my eyes, just for a second…
After five games with the Dortmund Bees I had won all five without even conceding a goal and it was time for more of a challenge. What better challenge then the Premier League? According to the ranking system, Southampton are the only team in the Premier League with a ‘hard’ difficulty rating so I’m going to play with them. I’m also going to use this opportunity to experiment with the game’s customisation. I said earlier that there were good parts to this game too, and if you’re into customising your game like I am, then you will have fun here. You cannot create a team from scratch, but you can edit everything about an existing team except for the city or origin, stadium name, and player appearance/stats. So I turned Southampton into the PCG Mavericks and put us on the first team roster. You can edit the names of the players to make them more familiar to you, and save you having to learn who everyone is. You can design a new logo for the club and tailor new kits to match. If you’re into this sort of thing, you can make some pretty decent logos/kits using the layered templates provided. For me this was the only fun I had playing this game. Getting a kick out of seeing you and your friends’ names on the team sheet is about as exciting as it gets.
Fully customise your players, logo, kits and team name. Even spell it wrong!
Changing to a ‘hard’ ranked team didn’t even make much difference in the end. As the PCG Mavericks I went seven games undefeated at the start of the season. I beat both the teams pretending to be Tottenham and West Brom, who are both ranked as 4 star teams (The Mavericks have a lowly 2 and a half) and I finally lost the eighth game to the team pretending to be Arsenal, who have five stars. So whether you play as an ‘easy’ team or a ‘hard’ team, this game is just too damn easy. All I’m doing is following the training filters advice for where my players need improving. It’s really that simple.
It was then that I realised it had taken four hours to go through eight training/game mode cycles. If the goal of the game is to win the European Cup, that means I’m going to have to play around twenty hours just to even qualify for next season, provided I even qualify, and then the chances are I won’t win it at the first asking. It was at this point that I quit the game.
Lords of Football is fun for the first hour or so, but then the novelty wears off. It’s too simple and repetitive to devote the number of hours you will need to finish this game. The biggest problem is that it tries to appeal to two different types of gamers. As a football management simulator, it wants to appeal to the type of player who wants to get stuck into the nitty-gritty details that a series like the Football Manager franchise provides. As a lifestyle simulator, it tries to appeal to the casual gamer who would pick up a copy of The Sims or FIFA. The problem is that when you combine the two, you’re left with a two-sided game that is both, and neither. As a player who loves the detail of the Football Manager series, there just aren’t enough layers to the management simulation in Lords of Football. On the other hand, for a player who’s just looking for the entertainment value of the lifestyle management, I’m afraid you’ll grow bored pretty quickly, going through the same mode cycle over and over and over again.
It’s the bane of the indie developer I suppose. Without the financial backing of a major distributor, Geniaware probably didn’t have the budget for man-hours or staff to give any sort of detail or depth to this game so in that sense, I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on them. Unfortunately though, the sad reality is that I’m not going to sacrifice my game time playing Lords of Football out of some puritan principle of supporting indie game developers, when there are much better titles in the field.