Dale Yu: First Impressions of Time Vault Soccer Rivals: England v Germany

Designer: Scott Shea for base game, designer of Rivals expansion not found in rules
Publisher: Sneaky Prawn Games
Players: 2
Ages: 8+
Time: 30-45 minutes
Review copy provided by Sneaky Prawn Games

A few years ago, I reviewed Time Vault Soccer.   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.    The original Time Vault Soccer was a quick compact 2p card game duel which was a pretty decent translation of ths sport.

The original game pits the two players as managers of soccer teams, 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…

Time Vault Soccer Rivals: England V Germany is an extension/stand alone expansion to the game – now providing you with players from two iconic World Cup winning squads.  Now you can play with players such as Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton, Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann.

In the game, each player gets a pool of sixteen players, and from that pool, he chooses 11 players to play with.  (I mean, I am not sure why you wouldn’t always start with the Starting XI from each side – but just in case, you are the manager and can set the lineup as you wish…)  Each footballer has 2 cards, and both cards of all 11 footballers 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 – there is a new rule in Rivals – now there is a REF’s CALL.  Now, the Defending player chooses a card from the Attacker’s hand.  If there is no card shown in the upper right corner, a save is made.  If there is a yellow card, a free kick is awarded and the last defender is given a yellow card.  If there is a red card on the drawn card, the last defender is sent off with a red card!  This adds a bit of spice to the attack, as the composition of your hand now may determine whether or not you try to shoot.

Penalties are changed as well. Now, the defending manager chooses 3 cards from their hand to represent left, center and right.  The attacking manager first reveals a card from their hand to represent the shot, and then he chooses one of the three cards laid out to reveal the DEF value on the card.  If the DEF card is a Keeper or if it has a higher DEF rating than the ATT – the shot is saved!  This somewhat replicates the cat-and-mouse game of the shooter and the GK during a penalty situation IRL.

The new rules (Ref’s Call, and free kick/penalty changes) are overriding changes – “All 2021 rules supersede any previous rules and can be found in the “Rivals” Rule Book”.

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 English champs and one player gets Mannschaft) and choosing a squad of 11 players.  If you have previous sets, you can freely mix and match as well.

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.  Additionally, with the introduction of the Ref’s Call rule, you may also want to examine the composition of players with  yellow and red cards on them.

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 my opponent has an attack move of 18, and I have a card in my hand that will bring my defense to 19 – 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 20 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.  We have found a surprising amount of depth in this card game as we have played it.

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 original game had actual pictures that looked like baseball cards from the 50s. 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.  The Rivals expansion cards use hand drawn art that is…. rudimentary.  Some of the cards have a pretty decent likeness on them while others look like unfinished mannequins.  Regardless of the art, the necessary information for playing the game is relative easy to read and find, and in the end, that’s probably all that matters.

Good art…

somewhat less detailed art…

Time Vault Soccer Rivals: England v Germany gives two players an enjoyable and quick battle on the table/pitch and allows them a chance to settle a great bar argument – when comparing two teams from different eras, who would win?  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 still 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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3 Responses to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Time Vault Soccer Rivals: England v Germany

  1. Jafar Yousaf says:

    Really Impressive

  2. gamercidejoe says:

    Found this game through this review and have just now taken the plunge. Game comes next week so holding my breath as I have also never found a truely great football game, but will keep on trying.

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