(Edit: Peter has graciously corrected a couple of things. Rather than mention them here, I’ll note the edit in each spot. I apologize for the errors. Thanks, Peter!)
Mike Fitzgerald knows card games.
My first exposure to his work was the brilliant trick-taking game Diamonds, but lately he’s been in a sports frame of mind.
Baseball Highlights 2045 was a fun little game playing a futuristic version of baseball, but only really the “highlights” of the game (hence the name).
Then COVID-19 hit and the game’s still at work waiting for me to return to the office and my normal 2-player game opponent.
So when I heard that Peter Kossits, the developer of the excellent Baseball Highlights 2045 app, was doing the app for Football Highlights 2052, I began panting as I enjoy this game a lot more.
The app is now out on iOS and Android devices. So how is it?
Let’s take a look.
I explained how the game works in the February “New to Me” post, but here it is in a nutshell.
The game is divided into two halves and each player will have 10 player cards in their hand (and an 11th that could be saved to be an “audible” that you can substitute in if you don’t like the current play). Four others will be left in your deck for audibles or end-of-half defense.
Each card has two uses. The defensive play is on one end of the card with the offensive play(s) on the other end.
The first player each half plays an offensive card, then the other player counters it. The play could result in big yardage because you put a run defense against a pass offense, or the play could just happen as planned due to playing the right type of defense but not having any helmets opposite the footballs on the offensive card.
The cool thing is that, once the offensive play is done, your defense will then flip to its offense and that’s what play you use. The other player has to counter with one of their cards, and it goes back and forth for ten card plays. So sometimes what defense you play will depend on what you want to run next.
Then there’s a free agent draft at half-time (oh, if only real football were like that!) and it continues for a second half.
Each player has 4 plays to go 45 yards and they have to try and kick a field goal if they don’t succeed.
Go to the post if you want any more detail, but that’s basically how you play the game.
I haven’t played the board game enough to review it, but how is the app?
The app is great with a lot of polish but yet it’s kind of minimal in a sense.
The graphics are serviceable but they’re never going to wow you. I don’t think that’s necessary in a game like this, so that’s definitely not a complaint.
Kossits has captured the look and feel of the board game brilliantly, with the cards having the great artwork that the board game does.
The interface is pretty intuitive and I like how it gives you the results of the play very cleanly. It tells you what the offensive play is, the defensive play, and then the net result. It could easily be “No Gain” as above, but if it’s a defense that just subtracts yards (to a minimum of zero) then it also gives you the net gain in yards as well.
If it’s a play type mismatch, it tells you about the gain in yards (minus any helmets opposite the play) and then says that there will be more as well. Then it gives you the bonus card draw and tells you where you’re starting from.
Some of that is a bit obvious and may be considered unnecessary. Looking at your scoreboard will tell you where the extra yardage is starting from. However, it’s nice to have your attention focused in one place and that’s where the card is going to be drawn anyway.
It keeps your sight line from shifting, which is a nice touch.
The tutorial is also top notch (though bringing in Casey from Baseball Highlighst 2045 seems a bit out of place, as he’s dressed for baseball not football!). It walks you through the game step by step and then lets you finish the 2nd half of the game with only as much assistance as you want.
I liked that, and it made it easy to learn the game and the interface (I’ve only played the board game once so it was a nice refresher).
There are a couple of interface issues that it would be nice to change, however.
First, when your offense is countered by the AI player, there’s no handy “see what audible I set aside at the beginning of the half” button. For defensive audibles, when you have your entire hand to choose from, you can check to see what your saved audible card is.
But for offensive audibles? I hope you remember what it is, or you better be damned sure your offensive play is so bad that choosing a random audible works even if your saved one doesn’t. Because there’s no going back once you choose to use an audible.
(Edit: Peter says that this isn’t true, that you can back out of an audible. Not sure how I missed that. I guess every time I called an audible I wanted to use one.)
The second interface issue is scrolling the cards in your hand.
To scroll, you have to hold the brown bar above your hand and swipe right or left. This is a bit annoying. Especially when I use the brown bar to scroll and it won’t stop! I have to try hard to stop it where I want to stop it.
This is mostly the case when you are scrolling trying to figure out which cards to discard after drafting free agents at halftime (once you draft 5 cards you have to then discard 5 which can include any that you drafted). Scrolling during the first or second half isn’t too bad because you don’t have that many cards in your hand and 7 of the cards already show up on the screen (though there can be the occasional issue).
(Edit: Peter addresses that in his post to me here, if you want to hear some tips on how to do it properly. I still find it slightly annoying but it’s certainly not a dealbreaker)
The game only has the option to play the AI in a season format, a 6-game season where you play against the other three teams two times each. There is no online multiplayer. This may get added, but according to Kossits, it will mostly likely not be asynchronous, which is kind of a bummer but for a one-man developer it’s understandable.
(Edit: Apparently you can play the boardgame draft option to start a game, but only if you are playing a one-off game. If you play a season, you can’t draft your starting team. Too bad, but I can understand that. And I’m not sure how I missed the “just play one game” option, so apologies for that as well.)
You are competing for the Highlight Bowl, so if you manage to actually complete everything, you will play 7 games in a season.
The app also keeps your stats season to season as well as team to team, which is pretty cool.
The AI is a bit weak overall, certainly weaker than the AI in Baseball Highlights 2045 (which I can’t seem to beat at all). It still does present somewhat of a challenge, especially if you’re not familiar with the game.
Overall, the Football Highlights 2025 app is very well done and it’s definitely worth the money if you are on iOS or Android.
Supposedly updates will be coming which will include expanding the number of teams available, which will be really nice.
There doesn’t seem to be an option where you can draft your entire starting team, like is optional in the board game. You play your season with your starting team (Dallas, New England, Philadelphia or San Francisco) and then can draft at half-time (which doesn’t carry over from game to game).
Maybe with the expansion that will add something to your options.
The game itself is fun and the app does a great job of bringing that fun into digital form.
This is what football should be.
Pure skill, with no head-hunting and hopefully no career-ending injuries.
Have you played the card game? How about the app?
What do you think of this?
Let me know in the comments.