A few weeks ago, the folks at Out of the Park Developments asked us to try out their new hockey simulation game, Franchise Hockey Manager. The game is similar to the acclaimed soccer games of the Football Manager series; you can manage your own hockey team in a plethora of different ways, leading them to a championship in whatever league they happen to play in. FHM features an insane amount of teams to choose from, many of which being from leagues that I didn’t even know existed (seriously, it ranges from the NHL, to the Kazakhstani Open Ice League, to the FIFTH TIER of the English professional leagues). Naturally, I nearly wet myself with excitement when it was proposed that I should review the game for Last Word on Sports.
Inside the article I have included thumbnails of screen caps from the game. Just click on the thumbnail for a full-sized version.
If not perfect, FHM is certainly the most detailed and in-depth hockey game I’ve ever played. As mentioned above, there are over 300 teams to choose from. And, if none of those teams are quite what you’re looking for, you can load up a historical game, choosing a team roster from years in the past. One of my personal favourite run-throughs of this game was leading the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup final series they deserved, against the Canadiens – the game has no Kerry Frasers to get in my way.
In FHM, you play the role of the team’s general manager and head coach. You get to make trades, sign free agents, set tactics and practice routines, and pick lines. Everything, pretty much. You can even scout players in other leagues, and find some diamonds in the rough to sign to your own team. Once you’ve done everything you can to make your team good on paper, you must surrender your beloved team to the game’s advanced simulation engine, which is quite terrifying, as the human player has very little control over what happens there.
This game really makes you get deeply involved with your team. If you aren’t playing a league you know well, you’ll have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the players and their various strengths, and playing around with who fits where. In fact, if you ask me, the experimentation is one of the best parts of the game. Trying different line combinations, tinkering with the amount of minutes each line gets per game, and changing up your strategy is all part of a process that makes you (or me, at least) feel like a genius when the team wins.
Of course, like any game, FHM is not without its flaws. Some of the player ratings need adjustment. I don’t think many people would agree that Colton Orr “would be a second-liner on most teams in his current league”, as his in-game scouting report suggests. And I really don’t think Dave Bolland is a first line centre – I’m using Leafs examples, since that’s the team I played as most. To be fair, FHM is, for the most part, very accurate (weirdly, though, it seems to like sending players back to teams they just left – I kept seeing messages saying “Jarome Iginla signs with Calgary”, or “Mason Raymond traded to Vancouver”).
The game’s interface takes quite a bit of getting used to as well, as navigating it can be quite tricky at first. And, I think I might like to see a little more involvement during actual games, rather than watching a scrolling play-by-play (although that one might be asking a bit much).
Nevertheless, this is a hell of a game. There are a ridiculous amount of approaches to take to managing your team; you can look at numbers (the game records advanced stats, such as Corsi and PDO), or you can build a team with characters, through players scouted to have strong “intangibles”. Whatever you want, you’re in charge.
Of course, I must warn you. If you buy this game, be prepared to lose a significant chunk of your life. It will suck you in, and then you’ll get absolutely nothing done until you win a trophy.
You can follow the game on twitter @FranchiseHockey.
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