Corner Kick!: Rules for playing the world's most popular sport-- "in miniature"by Bob and Jeff Wiltrout (available from The Virtual Armchair General $25USD [bound]; $15 USD [pdf])
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that, though a born Yankee, I am an avid fan of the Beautiful Game. My weekend mornings are generally booked up from late August until June, occupied with watching the Premier League, and cheering on 'Arry Redknapp and the boys from White Hart Lane in North London. When, during one of my previous trips to Historicon, I came across a group of animated fellows playing what appeared to be a football match (we don't use the 'S' word in this house!) in miniature, I was quite intrigued. I discovered they were playing with an as yet unpublished rules system that was set to come out in the near future. Corner Kick! is that rule set.
I want to start off my review by first stating that I love these rules. The most important feature about them, to my mind, is the game that results from them feels like real football, from the tactics, the ebb-and-flow of the match, and the excitement which it generates.
The book itself is not flashy, but there are several useful and aesthetically pleasing pictures. Most importantly the book is well organized and follows the structure of the turns. And it has a table of contents (something all games should include, but unfortunately there are still many which do not).
The rules themselves are quite easy to get the hang of. The games last for a total of 30-34 'turns' (the variance is due to a clever stoppage time mechanic), divided into two halves of 15-17. Within a turn there is a clearly defined sequence of play: 1) The team with the ball moves their figures except for the player in possession of the ball. 2) The player with the ball moves half. 3) Defending player adjusts the angle of his keeper. 4) Player in possession of the ball decides to pass, shoot (if in range), or continue movement. 5) Defender moves all players and may attempt to tackle to gain possession.
A turn is only complete when ALL of the phases have been completed, so errant passes or defelections in phase 4 of the turn that result in a change of possession means that the turn starts over at phase 1. This gives the game a variable flow and turn length which is nice, as not all turns will be exactly the same length. It breaks up the sense of it really being an IGOUGO game.
All movement is in a straight line, and so may be handled with movement sticks of various lengths. Anyone who has played and enjoyed games like Song of Blades and Heroes will know how much quickly things move when movement sticks are being used. It makes the game quick-paced, and that goes along way when trying to capture the excitement of a live sporting event.
The basic mechanic of the game involves a simple d6 roll and adding the correct stat rating for the action as to that roll once modifiers have been added and subtracted. The modifiers make good sense for the most part, and are what any gamer familiar with war gaming would expect to find (positive and negative modifiers for distance, negatives for nearby defenders, people in the way, etc.). The quick reference sheets included in the set are well-organized and contain all the information you will need while playing. I suggest laminating, as you will be handling them a lot.
This brings me to what I find to be one of the best parts of the game, and that is that it requires you to stat out the attributes for the various players on your squad by yourself. The team sheets you create are entirely subjective and due to the participants' opinions of the abilities of certain players. This already creates good spirited sports debate, which is, I think, one of the good reasons to watch sports. (This may not suit the temperaments of those who like having things their way and only their way, or cannot see past the biases they have towards their favorite squad.)
Outfield players must be given stats for Pass, Shoot, Header, Control, Tackle, Fitness, and Awareness. Keepers have all these stats, and must also be given a Save rating. All stats range from 1 to 4 (higher being better, as it is added to the d6 roll), except for Save, which is rated 1 or 2 (hey, there is only so much a keeper can do!). So when creating stats, keep in mind 4 is world class, 2 i s roughly average in the EPL, as I see it. Luka Modric would be a 4 passer in my opinion, for example; Robin van Persie (as much as I hate to admit it, as a Spurs fan) deserves a Shooting of 4. Then there are special traits which may be assigned to players to give them more of their on the field personality: you can give Gareth Bale the Pace ability for example, which allows him to move an extra inch; Rafa van der Vaart gets the Curve ability for bonuses on corner kicks and direct free kicks. I have already thought up a few new special skills I would like to incorporate, which the rules encourage you to do. This subjectivity (for me at least) is a big part of the fun. I would be more than willing to share the stat sheets for the four teams I currently have (Spurs, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Sunderland).
EDIT: I also forgot to mention: the rules provide a points system for the creation of teams for those who are unfamiliar with the players of various teams, or who do not wish to bury themselves in stats. Differing levels of ability cost a certain amount of points to buy, and special traits have a point cost attached to them as well. This method can be used to ensure an evenly matched game. If you want West Brom and Man City to have at it on level pegging, go for it!
After the rules, there is an 'Arts and Crafts' section which details how to construct your own pitch, obtaining figures for your players, constructing goals, etc. (The book does come with paper goals which can be cut out and constructed. I opted to make my own. They are quick and easy, and look great on your pitch.) This is all helpful information, and well appreciated by this reader at least.
The book also contains many optional rules to vary the level of depth and complexity of the game. The ones I highly recommend are the flank movement rules (which really opens the game up) and the central defender recovery move. Both work well and are 'realistic.'
A game can be played (with experience) in about 3 hours, as my experiences have shown, which is only about an hour longer than it takes to watch an actual match. For your first few games, however, it can take up to 4 or so hours as you solidify the rules and get used to things. The game is family friendly: my wife and son both love it, and we have a good time playing. I have also got friends who are not necessarily in to wargames, but who are both football and board game fans to play, and they enjoyed it immensely as well.
It is also worth mentioning that the game could easily be played with counters until you have enough figures painted up.
I rate this rules set as excellent, and a great deal of fun. It is must have for any miniatures gamer who loves a good game of footy.