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There have been many roster building games in the past, in all versions of football and just about any other sport you might like. Until Gameplan appeared almost all sports games were variations on the same system for a simple squad-management game. As far as I'm aware none have been very successful on any basis, which is to say they don't make money as commercial games and they don't last very long as amateur ones. They're usually very difficult and inefficient to run, with the GM having to make lots of manual actions. They usually do a poor job of simulating the sport they're covering.

The question we're looking at is whether we can produce a version of Gameplan that will work as a roster-building game and still work as a football simulation. For that we need to think about what we need to do differently. We've had an assortment of suggestions as to what people would like, including something very similar to Gameplan Baseball with bigger rosters, trades and a salary cap. There's an Outline of the ideas on the table so far, at the end of the page.


The roster system is Gameplan is designed to provide variation between teams, so that you need to devise different gameplans against different opponents, and to to encourage parity. The game gets more difficult for winning teams, and easier for losing teams, so that it stays competitive. The system has a high proportion of random events (reductions, retirements, step losses and conditional free agents) and it's strongly biased against extreme values. If you build up a strong roster then the system in Gameplan will work against you, and if you've got a weaker roster then you'll get extra help.


In a roster building game everything needs to be more predictable. Players rise and fall more gradually, and results need to be more predictable and related to the abilities of the players on the rosters rather than the play calling abilities of the coaches. My view is that coaches in a roster building game need to be in control over their rosters, using a system where things happen in a predictable way so that they can make long term decisions, to plan for the future, rather than day-to-day decisions concerned with adjustents for the opposition this week or adapting to cope with random events (whereas in a tactical game random events are good: they bring you extra decisions an provide you with new alternatives).


In a roster building game we need a lot more variation in the abilities of players. In Gameplan we have a simple yes-or-no for most playing strengths, for whether a player has that ability or not. That's the best method to simplify the logic for a play calling game: you look at your roster to see if your players have the abilities you need. But for a roster-driven game you want a greater variety of skills and a wider range of strengths. In Gameplan Baseball the players are rated as values 1-35, but you're not told the actual value. Instead the player has a "class" for each skill (from "poor" up to the "world class").

Run Chase uses much the same system, but also has a number of logical and variable strengths tacked on, making it very difficult to be sure exactly what any given player is really worth (that's so you have to use your own judgement, on the basis of results). In Soccer Strategy we use the actual numerical values, and there are fewer extra strengths, so that it's much easier to judge how good a given player will be in a given position.

It's likely that we're going to go down the route of expanding the range of different player skills in Gameplan in any case (see Player Skills for details). So we'll probably get the extra player data that's needed from developments in the existing versions.

Rather than mucking around with altering the visible strengths of the players in response to age, we could be cleverer and simply change the age function so that players get better with more experience, up to a point, and slower with age shortly after. At present players just get better with age, and then start collecting reductions, until eventually they keel over and retire. That's similar to what we want, but instead of having player reduced effctiveness we'd simply keep a count of the reductions and make them less effective with each one, counting in the same way as experience but in the opposite direction. That'd be a much smoother system.


As they stand the rules for Gameplan Baseball are very similar to several other games that are a lot less successful. It probably isn't the rules that are the reason for it working so well.

Danny is convinced that the multiple fixtures are the main reason why the format works so well for baseball when it hasn't worked so well in other games. When you play nine games each turn, with a natural rotation in your lineup (because you must rotate your pitchers) you can get visible results from small differences in rosters. A 10% difference is strengths is the difference between going 6-and-3 or 5-and-4 on the week. A 1% or 2% difference over a 162 game season is one to three games. In a 16 week football season it'd take ten seasons to show the same effect, and that's longer than the career length of most players. So small differences in teams are going to be invisible among the random variations.

Another advantage of the nine-game schedule and the rotation is that losing teams only lose some of the time. A weak team is still going to win two or three games a turn. Will all the effort concentrated into a single game, and no rotation of players, a gameplan team playing at the 3-and-6 level is going to win rarely, if ever.

It would be possible to play more than one game per turn, so as to shorten the season and compress the action. The real action of the game is mucking about with your roster and in the draft, most of which you can't really do in football during the regular season. If the play calling system (see later) is replaced as suggested then this should work okay, and we could cut the reports down to reduce costs and concentrate on the key features.

Even with multiple games, however, football doesn't have the rotation element that we've got in baseball. Your team strengths don't vary from week to week the way they do when you rotate your pitchers. We could include some variation through injuries. Real life football involves a lot of injuries, but they're very random and that's not something we can really include in Gameplan. The trick might be to step away from reality entirely, and actually schedule the injuries so that they're predictable and absolutely definitely even out over the season. It's a completely silly concept, but workable.

My own view is that one reason why Gameplan Baseball works very well as a roster-building game is that baseball itself is basically a roster-building game. Baseball is a very simple game and there aren't a lot of complicated tactical things happening on the field. The responses to all situations are very conventional. Tactics don't vary between teams. Different teams don't have different traditions or different playing styles. Success in baseball is mainly concerned with assembling a group of players with sufficient talent who work together reasonably well.

Whatever we do, we might find it's less successful in football than in baseball. And it's not that successful in baseball. The players involved like the game a lot, but there aren't huge numbers of them.


There seems to be an assumption that a game would be more interesting for having bigger rosters (ie. more players on the roster). The only players missing from the starting roster at present are separate kick and punt returners, a long snapper and a few other specialists on special teams, plus the dime back (the sixth DB) and an extra running back or two (you tend to see separate backups at FB and HB in real life, and the third down back is often a different guy again). Under the current rules we don't really need extra offensive linemen, as they don't normally get rotated except in response to injuries.

But what else would extra players do? Do we want rules for fatigue, so that backup players become important in the later stages of the game? Or injuries, either for a few downs at a time, or from game to game, so that you must keep backups to cover for them?

Both fatigue and injuries would have an effect on your play calling. If your star QB is out of action, you might want to hand off to your running game, for example. With your star running back sidelined, you don't want to be trying to run the ball. So you need very fine control over your play calling, or a system of defaults for what plays to substitute when the key players are missing, or a play calling system that is more flexible than we've got at the moment. One that calls the plays for you, on the basis of the current situation (see later). That's a lot of complication for not much benefit.


Real life backups don't often make it into the starting lineup. They stay as backups until someone is injured or a better backup appears, or someone else arrives to challenge for the starting position so that a backup isn't needed. A backup is usually a guy that already had a shot at a starting position and failed to win. The verdict probably isn't going to be any different next year, if he's still there. There isn't really a progression from backup to starter, except for rookies who need time to learn the ropes.

If we add rules for potential, and have players decline more gradually with age, then we can give backups a role in team development, although this is not actually realistic.


Who's going to volunteer to play a bowl game with their starting center injured? That's a game you can't win. Every season in real life there are teams who crash out of contention due to injuries to key players. Are coaches in a PBM game going to cope when this happens to them? I can tell you they're not.

Gametime injuries, of a few downs at a time (easiest if it's always a whole series) would be easier to handle and probably easier for the coaches to cope with. They could easily be distributed, rather than random, so that everybody gets their share. But I don't see it as a priority.


Fatigue isn't so complicated to deal with. Just keep a count of how many downs a player is playing, and carry an estimate of how much effort each player type has to make. But it's fairly dull. It's not reaslly going to add anything to the game, except that it might make for more games that swing in the fourth quarter (due to teams that start well, but get tired, being able to run up early leads that they can't defend).


One of the things players usually want in a roster building game is trades. There are very few player trades in pro football today, although trades have been important in the past (usually in the off-season, however). Our experience is that a system that restricts teams to fair trades will see very little action. Often the coaches imagine they'll be able to get good players for old rubbish, but that doesn't happen because the coach on the other end of the trade isn't stupid.

A common feature of league games produced by other people is that private deals are often allowed, in which case the winning strategy is simply to introduce as many of your mates to the league as possible (imaginary ones are best) and trade their best players to you before they drop out. There's usually no point playing these games except in cartels, and not much point even then. If people can abuse the rules this way, then they probably will.

One way we could make trades more likely to be relevant and happen more often would be to make playing positions more specific and less flexible, so that coaches will often be in a position of wanting to trade a backup from one position for someone with specific skills in another, or for a utility player who provides more flexibility. This way a trade can make sense for both sides, and trades can be made on the basis of swapping value for value.


A major problem with similar games in the past has been parity, so that when a team does well then it does better and better. Some people insist that's how it should be, but of course a game like that will not last for long because the other players will soon give up. Computer games can work that way because there are no other players involved, but most of us would prefer a game with some opposition.

In a football game we have the draft for parity, and in Gameplan we use losing points instead of cash and allocate these to represent the other advantages that losing teams have in deploying resources for making improvements. It's a very neat and efficient system. It's very easy to use.


The alternative approach, that we use in many other games, is to allocate a much larger number of points with a much smaller difference between the totals for winning and losing, but actually accounting for the wages of the players. And the wages don't have to relate very closely to the strengths of the players involved. This makes for a lot more work, and it makes a team a lot more difficult to run. It's usually easy to mess up and acquire players you can't afford to pay, that no-one else will take off your hands.

Wages are probably the dominant system for enforcing parity in pro football today. Successful players expect more money, so that the resources available to a winning team tend to be gobbled up their players.

My preference would be to stay with the system we've got, but use the conditional free agency rules so that every season you have to splash out to sign back a proportion of your own players. We could chuck in rules for franchise players and the like to help control the process, but free agency is a much neater way of going about it, that directly encourages (enforces...) the circulation of players. It actually has the same effect as wages, except that you only have to consider the question periodically, instead of week in and week out, and once you've balanced the books at the start of the season they stay that way until the next. Which is more like how it should be.


Salary caps are actually irrelevant to a game in this format, because everyone has the same resources. It's needed in real life to prevent the situation where the richest teams can dominate simply by spending more money (and to prevent ambitious owners from over-spending and bankrupting themselves and everybody else at the same time).

A salary cap is relevant only if player salaries are represented in a realistic way. In Gameplan players are valued in proportion to their strengths, so a salary cap would simply be a roster cap.


People have often asked for a roster cap (ie. a limit to the number of strengths) in the belief that it would encourage parity. It would actually have the opposite effect. The most successful teams aren't the ones with the biggest rosters. They're the ones whose coaches make the best play calls. If you remove the opportunity to increase the roster strength of the less successful teams then the best coaches are going to win more often, not less.

A salary cap or a roster cap would be a very negative step. Conditional free agency does it better. It gives you the decision you actually want to make, only it does it directly. You have to decide which of the players involved you want to keep, and which to release, given that you don't have the resources to keep them all.


A important element of the system we use in other roster oriented games is that form is individual and volatile. To use the same system in a version of Gameplan would be very difficult. Football is a team game, and we play it at a team level, so it would be tricky to pick out individual players. There are some positions where we could use the player stats, provided we also make the player stats more relevant, but for many of the most important positions we can't.

We could attempt to substitute individual form by matching players up with their direct opponents and attributing form to players where the mismatches appear, but I'd be surprised if that turned out to be satisfactory. Football just doesn't work like that. Most of the time when someone does something spectacular it's because someone else did something good.

So we'd probably have to do without individual form, or we'd have to put up with it being rather unrealistic by simply picking someone with the right skill and allocating form to that player.


See the Design Concepts page for details of why we think you can't have a roster building game which depends a lot on tactical decisions (like play calling).

The most important thing in deciding the results of games in Gameplan is the play calling. Good coaching will usually beat a stronger team. The second most important things is probably luck. There are lots of random numbers and low probably events in Gameplan. Roster strengths probably only rate as the third most important factor. There are things that can be done to reduce the luck element, but in my experience it's important to keep it if a game is to be successful. We've got games that don't have a luck element, and they don't work so well.

To reduce the importance of play calling the most obvious thing to do would be to remove it. It can't be the same both sides (which would be another alternative) as different teams and team strengths require different play calls. A better method is probably to make the play calling dependant in the roster strengths, so that the players you sign decide what plays you use. That way we get a very intense game where the things that happen on the field depend very heavily on what you do with your roster. When you change your roster about you're also changing your play calling.

Another option is to limit the play calling by generalising it. A simple way would be for the coaches to decide what plays are going to be used (the coaches decide what the team does in training) and then in gametime the plays are called according to team strengths, stats and what the coach has chosen to put in the playbook. The coach designs a playbook rather than a gameplan. The result would almost certainly be a lot more accurate in terms of stats than the existing basic and advanced games, where you're allowed to do some fairly unrealistic things, and that would be a good thing.


So, the elements proposed for a roster-building variant are:-

1.   Play calling driven by roster strengths and training.
2.   Expanded player skills, including potential.
3.   Cumulative reductions in place of reduced effectiveness and step losses.
4.   Less flexibility in player types and playing positions.
5.   Trades in the form of player swaps.
6.   A few extra positions on rosters, plus a trade and draft squad.
7.   Separation of starters and backups according to starting formations.
8.   Backups to be involved via apportioned injuries of short duration, and fatigue (maybe).
9.   Individual form, maybe.
10. Shorten the season so as to bring the playoffs and draft around more frequently.
11. Shorter game reports to help keep costs down.
12. Restrict the balancing elements of the current roster system to the tactical versions.
13. Interactive draft, with trades, if we can swing it.

Feedback wanted. Other ideas? Preferences? The list of changes here is actually quite short, but I think it would produce a game with a totally different look and feel.

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