Review: StreetSoccer20 Nov 2013 0
Being American and old enough to remember the 70’s, my knowledge of soccer is, well, lacking. I know that if you you want Sylvester Stallone to be your goalie, you need to break the British goalie’s arm. I’m familiar with the concept of capturing the Golden Snitch for 150 points. Oh, I’m also aware that soccer is the reason I have to drive all over God’s earth nearly every damned Saturday to watch a bunch of kids suck at it. You know what, screw soccer.
So, like any reviewer worth his salt, I brought all my ignorance, resentment, and anti-soccer bias with me as I started playing StreetSoccer, and was fully ready to hate it.
I didn’t hate it. In fact, I ended up liking StreetSoccer more than I ever thought I would.
Unlike the myriad of board games ported to iOS this year, StreetSoccer is based on a board game you might not have heard of before. I know I hadn’t. Designed by Corne van Moorsel and released back in 2002, StreetSoccer attempts to replicate soccer as played by my 8-year old: only 5 players per side, very little passing, and many players stand around and do nothing for long periods of time. If there was a button that would force your players to attack the ball en masse akin to a rugby scrum, it would be a perfect simulation.
The beauty of StreetSoccer comes in its simple and quick-to-learn gameplay. You begin the game by placing your players on the pitch, Settlers of Catan style, and then taking turns rolling a die and moving the ball around. Each turn, you’re allowed to move one player and the ball for as many pips as you rolled on the die. If you complete a pass to another of your players, a pip is added to the die. You and your opponent have 25 turns to score as many goals as possible. Easy. Even the rules that limit the movement of players and the ball are simple enough that you’ll have it all down after a couple of minutes.
So, can a game that relies so heavily on randomness and such easy rules offer any strategic depth, or is this the equivalent of Chutes & Ladders in shin pads? I’m happy to say that, while the dice can be a major factor, there is enough strategy here to mitigate some bad rolls. In the few online matches I’ve played, I found the game to be like Backgammon. Sure, there are dice, but a good player will overcome any string of ones and twos and still trounce a poor player. The trick lies in clever placement of your players and making sure the ball isn’t in an easy spot for your opponent to snatch it. Using low dice rolls to set up a defense is more important than using those rolls to simply move the ball one or two squares.
The gameplay isn’t the only thing that’s simple about the app, however. The game is presented with a simple pitch gameboard rendered in 3D, and all players are represented by that ambassador of European board games, the meeple. There are no animations, no fireworks displays [Are you taking your kids to soccer or the Monsters of Rock Tour? --ed] . Everything you need is laid out plainly and simply. It works very well for the game, and I think gussying it up any further would have been a mistake.
StreetSoccer also gives you things that might not expect from a small indie developer, either. Muliplayer options for both asynchronous and real time games, a full replay of any game you’ve played after it’s over, and the ability to customize your team name and jerseys. I love the fact that all your meeples are given names. It’s completely unnecesary, but it’s a cool touch.
The game does have a few rough edges, however. I found the 3D board to be touchy, and there were many times I couldn't get the camera to go where I wanted it to. That said, the game works best from a top-down perspective, anyway, so just don't mess with the 3D and you'll be fine. Also, the rule that you've broken is often vague. There were a couple times where I had made an illegal move, and even with the help text at the bottom of the screen, I couldn't figure out what, exactly, I'd done wrong. The only option at that point is to undo your entire turn. I found the graphics to be a little blurry as well, but when I've asked others about it, they haven't noticed it. That one might just be me. Lastly, the dice are, well, not dice. It looks like a die, but it's rolled automatically and just appears on screen. It's a small thing, but I really would like to roll my own die. Again, this one might just be me.
I do wonder if I’ll be playing StreetSoccer a few weeks from now. I fear that the game might wear out after a bit with very little to make each game different from another. It’s the same reason I don’t play Backgammon much anymore, either. That said, I do still play Backgammon every now and then and have for the last 30 years. I can see StreetSoccer not being an everyday game, but one that I’ll be coming back to for a very long time.