Football Highlights 2052
- Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
- Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
- Players: 1-4, not including 3
- Age: 10+
- Time: 40-60 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Eagle-Gryphon Games
Football Highlights is the second game in the futuristic sport series designed by Mr. Fitzgerald – a few years back, we looked at the first game, Baseball Highlights 2045. In this new version of the game, robots play a drastically different sport – teams can now Run, Pass and Maul (because the future football ended up borrowing more parts of its spiritual predecessor, rugby). Oh, and it’s gender equal – there are both men and women players in this futuristic sport! In this game, players or teams use 10 cards to show the highlights of a half of a football game.
Each player has a Play mat where they play cards. There is a yardage chart on the edge which has a truncated 50 yard field, with each space representing 5 yards. Each drive in this game starts at the 45 yard line, and you have 4 plays (cards) to score. Players start with a team deck with 5 Star players and 10 Team players. These cards are double sided with one side corresponding to a defensive play and the other side showing an offensive play. Color coding tells you if the is run (brown), pass (blue) or maul (purple). Helmets for defense or footballs for offense show you whether the play tends to go left, right or center (or any combination of those). There is also another deck of Action cards – these will be drawn during the game to determine extra yardage, field goal success, injuries, penalties, etc.
To play the game, set up the two play mats head to head so that the “In Play” spaces are next to each other. Each players gets their pre-built team deck, or advanced players can use a drafting system to build their team decks. These decks are shuffled, and each player draws a hand of 10 cards. Each player additionally has the option of placing one card face down on their mat in the Audible position.
The first player (A) plays their card so that the offensive play is pointed towards the opponent’s board. The second player (B) then chooses a defensive play from their hand, orienting the card so that the defensive part of the card points towards the first card. This first play is resolved (more on this later), and then the game goes into an interesting alternating play mode. The current offensive card (played by A) is discarded and moved into the “used offensive drive cards area”. The current defensive card (played by B) is turned around so that its offensive side is now pointed towards the opponent. Now, the first player (A) chooses a new card from his hand, playing it with the defensive side pointing at player B. This second play is now resolved, and then the pattern continues again. This goes on until both players have played 10 cards and the half ends. (The first player either uses his Audible card or the top card of the remainder of his deck for the final defensive play, so actually player A plays 11 cards…) So, in case It wasn’t clear (and I was confused when I first read the rules) – each player is tracking their own offensive drive on a board, and both drives are being played at the same time.
So – how are the plays resolved? It feels easy once you play a few games, but for the first game or two, you’ll find yourself referring to the player aid. Which, amazingly enough, is a full folded 17×11! Well, you really only need the front page – but the other 3 pages on the folded sheet give you all the expanded definitions for terms found on the varied cards. There are 3 different possibilities found when resolving the play.
Case 1: Mismatch in the type of play – Essentially, if one card is a run and the other is a pass – there is a mismatch. Note that the maul (purple) counts as both a run and a pass, so it always creates a match. When this happens, the Offense gains the yards stated on their offensive action, and 5 yards are subtracted from the total for each match of helmet/football (though never into negative yardage). Finally, the offensive player gets to draw an Action card to see if there is additional yardage given.
Case 2: Match on type of play, at least one unmatched offensive football – In this case, the offense gets it’s listed offensive yardage, and 5 yards are subtracted from the total for each match of helmet/football (though never into negative yardage. No Action Deck card is drawn.
Case 3: Match on type of play, all footballs are matched with helmets – The offense starts by taking their yardage, but then this is modified by the Defensive play. If there is a yardage penalty, the yardage is reduced (but never negative). The defensive play may also specify “No Gain” or even give specific instructions that override the offensive play.
In all cases, move the offensive yardage marker appropriately. If a run crosses the goal line, a touchdown is scored. IF it was a pass, it must be completed within the ten yards of the end zone to score a touchdown. If the drive is ended (due to a score, four plays without scoring or due to a defensive play), the drive resets at the 45 yard line for the next play.
Of course, to further complicate things, both sides can possibly call an audible – where they discard their current card and play the card facedown on their Audible space OR the top random card from the remainder of their deck. Each player gets 3 Audibles per half. If you substitute for a defensive card, it remains in play and will be flipped around to become your next offensive card. If you use an Audible in place of your offensive play, it is discarded to the Used Offensive Drive space after use, and therefore, the defensive side is never used.
At the end of any play (as long as the drive has not been ended otherwise), the offensive player can elect to kick a field goal – this does not count as a play on its own but rather an extension of the current play. Based on the current location of the football marker, you need a FG value of 3-10… Your current FG value is determined by two things – the FG icon on the current offensive player card (can be from 1-5) added with the FG icon from the top card of the Action deck (Can be 1-7). The FG is successful if your value is equal or greater to that based on your field position.
Anyways, play goes on like this, again for a total of 10 cards in the first half. At halftime, players can choose to have an adjustment draft where each player will add 5 new cards to their deck, and then discard any 5 to get back down to 15 to start the second half. This is played identically to the first half.
At the end of the second half, the game is over, and the player/team with the most points wins. Remember, touchdowns are worth 7 points, field goals are worth 3 points and safeties are worth 2 points. If there is a tie, there is a sudden death overtime where the first player to score a touchdown will win the game.
My thoughts on the game
I really like the way that the cards in Football Highlights 2052 are used twice (for the most part). It makes decision making more complex, and leads to some interesting decisions when you try to manage the cards in your hand. Trying to find the right time to play a particular card can be challenging, but clever strategy can be rewarded with a good payoff. I have only played with the most basic of team deck setup rules, and we’ve had fairly balanced and competitive games. I’m sure that some players will love the drafting version of the game to further increase the complexity, but for me, I’m super glad to be able to start playing within 5 minutes of opening the box.
With the possibility of drawing an Action card with an unmatched offensive card, just about any card in your hand can lead to a score in this game (just like in the real game of Football). It makes the game more exciting with the constant possibility of unexpected success… The way the game is set up, players have a chance to try to minimize their risk by trying to make sure that they at least match the type of play – but audibles and luck of the draw usually lead to a few mismatches.
The playmats are well thought out and they make it easy to keep the game organized, keep you aware of the number of cards in your current drive, and where all your cards should be. A lot of clever thought has been put into coming up with names for some of the players which should sound familiar, yet not quite like the original…
The scoreboard is also neat – and I like the fact that it includes tiles with the name of all the current NFL teams so that you can play as your favorite team in this game. (Well, Oakland is still in the game, but Las Vegas is too!) In the future, Canada, London, Huddersfield and Australia also have teams! This does make me wonder is someone at EGG or maybe Mr. Fitzgerald is a supporter of the Terriers – who knows! The backside of all of the team names have the current baseball teams as well – so you can use the scoreboard for Baseball Highlights as well!
Components – The components are good. As I mentioned above, I really like the player boards and the scoreboard. Another nice touch about the scoreboard is that the reverse of the team name. The artwork is a gritty cartoony style, which is in line with the first game of this Sports Highlights series. The graphic design of the Team cards is a little busy, but all of the information is readily found. On the other hand, the Action cards are spartan, with text in grey rectangles; but again, it’s easy to read the info, and that works great for me. The one thing I wish were different are the card backs – the Player cards and the Action cards look nearly identical, and we’ve mistakenly had cards of the wrong type shuffled into another deck.
Rules – the player aid is long! And rules could be cleared. In case 2 on card resolution, it should be clear that 5 yards are subtracted for helmet/football matches – but this isn’t clearly stated. It’s in the rules, in an example box. I really hate it when important rules are put in example boxes. The rules are also not well organized. The rules for safeties and FG attempts come early in the rules, before you even understand how to resolve a play; and then these options aren’t really mentioned at all in the resolving a play part. Same go for Audibles – this is a pretty important part of strategy but it is only mentioned early on in the rules, and not mentioned in gameplay nor on the player aid. In summary, everything you need is in the book, but I feel it is not organized well. Re-read the rules a few times before playing or set up a practice game to run through all the different scenarios.
Expansions – there are already a number of expansions out for the game, a 15-card promo pack filled with all stars as well as a number of team based expansions to give you a little bit more variety in your team building. I was given two expansions, but honestly, I’ve had so much variety with the original set that I haven’t even felt the need to explore these extra cards yet!
And before I head back to the gridiron – a few notes in comparison to Baseball Highlights 2045
I liked the card-game implementation of the first game in the series, Baseball Highlights 2045 https://opinionatedgamers.com/2015/03/13/dale-yu-review-of-baseball-highlights-2045/
A similar system is used here, but it doesn’t feel the same. Football, at least in tabletop form, is more complex than baseball, and this game is more complicated. There are more pieces of information to parse on each card, and resolving each play takes a lot more work. That is not to say that this game is better or worse though – it’s just different. I think people will be attracted to one or the other for a number of reasons: which sport they prefer more IRL, their desire for an easier/more complex game, etc.
The game wants to be a deckbuilding game, but honestly, there isn’t as much opportunity to really draft and build the deck. After all, you only shuffle your deck twice – and at halftime, you can change up to 1/3 of the cards in your deck, but… after a random shuffle, it’s actually possible that every single one of those new cards remains in the deck and not in your hand!
Overall, Football Highlights starts up quicker and plays a little bit faster (as you only play one game in FH as opposed to a series of preliminary games and then the World Series in BH). However, each individual card play and game in BH is much simpler than FH.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson: For the record, I’m a big football fan (NFL team: Titans; college team: Baylor Bears) as well as someone who finds baseball interesting primarily when I’m in person at a game and I have money for ballpark food.
That should mean that I’m iffy about Baseball Highlights and ga-ga over Football Highlights, but the opposite is true. I found Baseball Highlights to be engaging and a wonderful play experience – both head-to-head and in a four-person ‘tournament’ (proper components for both modes were in the base box.) On the other hand, multiple tries at Football Highlights did not spark the same level of enthusiasm.
My frustrations with Football Highlights start with the badly organized rulebook and the overly complicated player aids… and then really kick into gear with the glaring difference between the two designs: flow. The amount of text on the cards, grokking the interaction between offense and defense cards for resolution, the cognitive load of all that information… it loses one of the most important elements of a good sports game – flow. The game need to move like you’re in the middle of the game, not pulled out of the experience because you’re busy manipulating all the levers and switches. Baseball Highlights balances this perfectly; Football Highlights… not so much.
Drafting teams adds some interesting choices to the game – but it doesn’t change my personal feeling that the game lurches when it should glide.
Hear me out: I’m a huge fan of the designer, Mike Fitzgerald. His Mystery Rummy game series is fantastic (including the outlier, Wyatt Earp) and Baseball Highlights is a personal favorite (despite having similar organizational problems with its rulebook). But I think that Football Highlights doesn’t reach that same high water mark.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y; Alan H
- Neutral. Mark Jackson
- Not for me…