Dale Yu: First Impression of Time Vault Soccer

Time Vault Soccer

Designer: Scott Shea
Publisher: Sneaky Prawn Games
Players: 2
Ages: 8+
Time: 30-45 minutes
Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Sneaky Prawn Games

Time Vault Soccer was offered to me over email – as I have stated in the past that I am apt to try just about any sort of soccer game… In my quest to find that perfect translation of sport into boardgame format.  There are many different types of soccer games – ranging from in-game simulations where all 22 players movements are plotted out to dexterity games where the ball is flicked along to franchise/dynasty games where you take control of a team over the long haul working on improving it bit by bit until you’re at the top of the heap.  

To be honest, I’m not even sure if there is one type which I prefer over the other – but I’m always on the lookout for a tabletop soccer game to hold my interest as well as the gamers I normally play with (who are generally not soccer players).  Thus, when I got an email requesting that I try out Time Vault Soccer, I eagerly said yes.

The game comes in a small format card box – the game being comprised of 64 cards and a rulebook.  The idea here is that you are a manager of a soccer team, and since you have a nice time travel machine in the basement, you have been able to go and get a team of sixteen famous footballers from the 1960s and 1970s.  Well, they’d be famous if you were a soccer fan back then… If these names mean anything for you – you’ll know what I mean: Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Pele, Zozimo, Tarantini.

some players you might recognize

Each player gets a pool of sixteen players, and from that pool, he chooses 11 players to play with.  Each player has 2 cards, and both cards of all 11 players are pooled and shuffled to form a deck. A starting player is chosen and each player draws five cards for their initial hand.  The remainder of the deck is placed on the table with space to the left being reserved for your Defend Zone and space to the right being reserved for your Attack Zone. The start player then kicks off.

Each player card has a rating for attack and one for defense.  Additionally, some cards have special abilities printed on the card that are situational – and come into effect if the conditions are right.

In general, players will play a card from their hand and place it on either the attacking or defending side to form an Attacking or Defending Move.  Later cards can be played on top of existing moves to make them stronger (many of the conditional effects of cards rely upon other cards in a move). Alternatively, you can also create a new column of card so that you can be working on multiple moves at a time.  Remember that you have 2 copies of each card in your team – your players cannot be in two places at once; so you cannot play the second copy of a player.

At some point, an active player will decide to shoot.  A shot can be taken on a turn when the current player has just played a card onto an Attacking move AND that move has at least 3 cards in it.  The player then sums up the total attacking power (Adding up all of the attack values of the cards in the move and whatever additions come from the special actions on those cards).

The other player now has a choice – he can do nothing and simply concede a goal.  He can choose to play a defending move – to do so, he must choose one of his moves whose Defending value is greater than that of the Attacking move.   The final option is the defender can trigger a Goalmouth scramble – the player can play up to two more cards from his hand onto a Defending move and then use it.   It is important to note that if a Goalkeeper card is in a Defending move, the defending rating of all other cards in that move are doubled. Once the attack and possible defense has been resolved, any cards that were used are discarded.

If there is a tie in Attack and Defending value – then compare the appropriate value of the most recent card played to each move – if the defender has a higher value, then they win the challenge and get a free kick.  Otherwise, the attacker has managed to draw a penalty.

Penalties are simple.  The attacker plays any card as the penalty taker, and uses that cards attack value.  He then draws, at random, any card from the defender’s hand and reveals it. If the defending value is higher OR a goalkeeper card is drawn, then the penalty is saved!  Otherwise, a goal is scored.

A half is timed by one play through the deck of 22 cards.  The player with the most goals at the end of two halves is the winner.

My thoughts on the game

Time Vault Soccer is an interesting and simple take on a soccer game.  It is a simple 2p duel, and the rules for playing cards and resolving shots is simple.   Despite the minimal components, there is a fair amount of strategy in this little box. The game starts with each player looking through his sixteen player club (one player gets the 1960s and one player gets the 1970s) and choosing a squad of 11 players.

You can look at the different values and special abilities on the players to try to create the combination of actions that you want.  For instance, you may choose to focus on attacking players and abilities and simply try to overwhelm your opponent. You may choose a particular player for a special ability that you think will come into play at a critical juncture.  Anyways, I didn’t think that there would be a lot of difference in a squad when you are choosing 11 out of 16, but the feel of a team can really be quite different with the change of even a few cards.

Once the game is in play, many of the card plays are straightforward – you work on building up attack and defense moves.  Sometimes, how and where you play the cards is directed by your opponent’s play. For instance, when Ryan has an attack move of 16, and I have a card in my hand that will bring my defense to 17 – I might play it and use my larger defense move as a deterrent from shooting.  

Alternatively, if I am on the attack, my opponent may have a huge defense move in place (say 18 points), and I might attack with a much less strong attack (Say 9 points) – however, the other player will have to choose to either burn his huge move to stop the goal or else concede a goal in order to save his huge defense move.

The cards themselves are functional.  The graphic design is not going to win any prizes, but all of the necessary information can be found on the cards, usually without too much work.  The player pictures remind me of baseball cards from the 50s. The actual player choice is a bit perplexing – they are not all the stars from the decades.  How do I know this? At least two players are American. Enough said. The cards even include some stats (a la baseball cards) showing appearances and goals in both domestic and international competitions for a particular year.  While it is sort of interesting, I find that it clutters up the cards. It also serves to completely confuse non-soccer fans with all of the extra numbers and such on the card.

who are these blokes?

Anyways, Time Vault Soccer gives two players an enjoyable and quick battle on the table/pitch.  Games move along quickly, and as I continue to play the game, I am surprised by the depth of the game – there do appear to be different strategic paths to develop, and clever decisions to made throughout the course of the game.  It’s certainly not a perfect soccer game – in fact, I still have yet to find one – but this one deserves to be thrown in my game bag and pulled out when I have another football-crazy gamer around.

Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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