Thursday, August 29, 2013

Kevin is Right! Football: The Secret Best Gamer Hobby

What if I told you about half of my gamer friends ignore the best game there is?  It is a game that has more strategy than Magic, more tactics than X-Com, more excitement than the most tense dice rolls in D&D, requires more physical skill than Starcraft, and despite being over 100 years old, challenges the top minds in the game to bring out new innovations all the time.  Now, what if I told you that game was football?

Some of you get it.  There are some of you that don't.  Every year, right around this time, I fall right off the edge of the traditional nerd Venn diagram.  I have friends say to me, "Dude, I don't get it."  I start cosplaying as my favorite football player, and start breaking down film instead of watching MTG Draft videos.  Do I miss being a nerd?  Not even a little bit.  The reason is this: I'm in full-on nerd out mode.  Let me show you the game for jocks and meatheads in a whole new light.  Let me show you the game of football.

Tactics Ogre (or Lion, or Duck, Or Knight, Or get the idea)

I love tactics games.  I fell in love with them the first time I played Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSX.  X-Com is awesome.  The addition of hex grids (along with restrictions on unit stacking) in the Civilization franchise has added a whole new level of depth to the game.  D&D 4e is my preferred edition.  Warmachine is a game that is currently blowing my hair back-big time.  Why?  There is no more satisfying feeling than outflanking your opponent to land the killing blow.  Using positioning to gain advantages, accentuate strengths and minimize weaknesses just tickles my nerd bone something fierce.  It's a dragon that wargamers are constantly chasing.  And guess what?  Football is filled with that stuff.  To the fucking brim.  Its trophy overfloweth.

Seriously, football is an incredible blend of the RTS genre with a Turn-Based Tactics game.  (How's that for a Kickstarter pitch?)  You can think of each down as a turn, each coach as the players, each play as a move, and the teams on the field as the units to control; the armies.  Each player dials in their move for the turn, the ball is snapped and things are executed in real time.  Sounds pretty awesome, right?

I want you to watch two videos for me.  Two minutes and thirty seconds of your time.  Watch this first video up to 1:20.  Not only is it a good explanation for beginners on a play that's designed to scratch each and every one of the above itches, but it is delivered by one of the world's most bonkers human beings.

Having trouble conceptualizing?  Watch it in action the in-game engine:

Look familiar?

These represent just one out of a million potential tactical maneuvers that are happening every single down (read: turn) of a game of football.  If this doesn't turn you on, maybe you just don't like games.

Strategery Part I:  Getting in their head.

There are two levels of strategy that make up any good game.  In brief, they can be broken down to in-game strategy and out-of-game strategy.  

In-game strategy involves how you interact with your opponent in such a way as to limit or control their moves.  An example is the intense strategic decision tree of Magic players deciding what spells they should counter and which ones they should let resolve.  They can bluff that they have the counter when they don't, forcing an opponent to "play around" a potential counterspell.  It buys time that may be critical to achieving a win.  Conversely, they can bait out a counterspell on a card that isn't important, clearing the way for the big fatty about to drop.  In a word:  Mindgames. Are you the type of player that likes to get in your opponent's head?  Do you love the interplay; the guesswork; the anticipation and the psychology?  Maybe you should start calling plays.  Check out these mindgames:

Also, if that analyst isn't a nerd, I don't know who is.  We can smell our own, after all.

Strategery Part II:  The Meta

Gamers love to talk about "The Meta."  This breaks down to any number of strategic decisions.  What strategies are best against the strategies you are likely to face?  What components (cards, models, etc.) can be assembled to most effectively suit this strategy?  What components work best together, creating a total (be it a deck or an army) that is greater than the sum of its parts?  Where's the synergy?

Ever spend time thinking about whether control or combo is the way to go in Legacy?  Ever read an article that debated the best way to fight an attrition army?  Ever feel the rush of putting together an insane combo?  Ever try to "break the format?"  Guess what, you do the same shit that every football coordinator has ever done.  Ever.  What is incredible about the game of football is that the rules (read: Mechanics), despite being rigid in appearance, are so flexible as to allow for almost infinite creative and successful answers, and therefore fuel a huge wave of constant innovation.  Look at these three plays.  How can solutions be so different and yet so successful?  They're strategies in a very good game, is how.

Strategery Part III:  GM has a couple of different meanings....

When you get to the NFL, we go even deeper.  Miniature wargamers are familiar with the concept of  "points."  For those of you not familiar, this is a fantastic mechanic to make sure everyone is on a level playing field.  A complaint you hear all the time about Magic is that it can boil down to "whoever can buy the best cards, wins."  Wargames circumvent this.  Each battle has a "points" level.  Each unit is assigned a point value.  Players cannot exceed the pre-determined amount of points when building their army.  Thus, the trick isn't to get the absolute best units; it is to get the units that can be used best, given the limitation on points.  Hours are frittered away on forums debating the best lists for a 500 point Army.  If this sort of thing appeals to you, you might want to look into being an NFL GM.  Just replace "Points" with "Salary" and "Limit" with "Cap" and "Army with "Football Team."  That is to say, every NFL General Manager, who manages and selects players and personnel, has to work under a limitation of how much their total team's salary can be be per year.  You have an expensive, awesome QB?  Maybe you're going to have to settle for a less expensive running back, and maybe, next year, you're going to have to make a choice between your star QB and your star defender.  Oh, and just in case you Magic players are feeling left out?  Guess how you restock your team.  A draft.  Booyah.

Rolling 20s 

So, we've established that football has the mechanics.  But what about the excitement?  After all, as great as D&D is, it wouldn't be the same game if this never happened:
This is not an 8, this is a 20.  Bad angle.
Just like Magic wouldn't be exciting if this never happened (much to the chagrin of MTG players everywhere):
Top Decking a Bonfire is bullshit.
There's a game design reason behind this:  Randomness is an essential element to a game.  It is why you roll dice.  It is why you shuffle cards.  It is essential because it allows inferior players to have a chance at winning.  It allows the game to not be over before it starts.  It forces decisions as players react to adverse outcomes.  It also creates drama and emotion like nothing else.  Football has had a name for this for a long time.  It is called "Any Given Sunday."  It is the idea that on, indeed, "Any Given Sunday", the worst team in the league can beat the best.  Upsets happen all the time.  They have another saying, as well.  "That's why they play the games."

Nat 20s, bonfire topdecks and botches happen all the time.  But I want to share with you the most ridiculous string of 20s and 1s I've ever seen.  The 2006 Fiesta Bowl.  Although the commentators do a nice job of providing in-game context, you have to understand the story here.  Oklahoma was a level 30 Giant in full PVP Gear.  Boise State was a level 5, wearing mostly blues.  Oklahoma had a tradition of winning national championships, they had one of the best running backs of all time, Adrian Peterson.  Their defense was frightening.  Boise State was at the end of an undefeated season, but from a much smaller conference (The WAC), with much more obscure players.  They were supposed to be run out of the stadium because Oklahoma was supposed to be light years better than him.  Congrats on winning your local PTQ, kid, here's your button that says "I played a Magic Hall of Famer" and your drop slip.  But, that's why they roll the dice.

Nice job by the DM there at the end.  Good thing he didn't fail his diplomacy check.  I'd imagine scoring the game winning touchdown probably gave him a pretty high modifier.

Bridging the Gap

Football is the best game, with a culture that seems different than what nerds are used to.  There are many sides.  Your impressions aren't bullshit.  There are plenty of meatheads, and there are plenty of idiots, and there are plenty of dudes living vicariously in some sort of male power fantasy.  It's all there as well.  But the things is, they just don't know the secret that you know.  It's under their nose.  I just let everyone in on the secret.

Further, some nerds and gamers do know all about this.  There's plenty of ancillary gaming experiences that football touches on.  The initial comic touches on Fantasy Football, and sums it up nicely.  What about Fantasy Football?  Do yourself a favor and go check out Bloodbowl.  Bloodbowl is a football board game taking place in the Warhammer Fantasy Universe.  Now you can have your sportsball and your orcs too, you fucking nerd.  Or, you can just go jam on a game of Madden.

Football can be a common ground.  Maybe there aren't as many differences between the jocks and the nerds after all.  Maybe we can all stop beating each other up. Maybe we can stop with the condescension and the judging.  Maybe we can all just get along and enjoy each other.  At least for four quarters; on any given Sunday.  (Provided they like the right team.)


  1. "Now that is a high dexterity player."

  2. Growing up in upstate NY in the 90's, football was huge. The Bills were being the Bills. I always loved it, if only for the supreme amounts of junk food involved. Then later, when I became more of a sentient being, I loved it for the strategy. And then when puberty hit, it was for the sexy football player butts. And once the puberty calmed down, it was for the strategy again, the athleticism, and the excitement of following a team.

    But alas, I dropped following football after one too many sobbing sessions. Games shouldn't make you cry, and football is so good that it can be truly heartbreaking. :P Being a girl, I'm allowed to cry, and boy did I ever. If, in the future, we can ever afford cable again, maybe I'd pick it back up- armed with the knowledge that I'm going to have to acquire a thicker skin, hehehe...