Front Office Football 7 is out to prove that we should never judge a book by its cover – or should we say, “A text-sim by its user interface.” Underneath the reams of text and uninspiring-looking menus hums a beauty of a pro football simulator.
Front Office Football 7 (FOF7) is the reinvigorated brainchild of Jim Gindin who first developed Front Office Football back in 1998. 17 years and 7 revisions later, FOF7 is still giving wannabe general managers and head coaches a text-simulator taste of NFL glory. But what keeps this game from being a first-round bust? Well, read on!
Graphics and User Interface
So, let’s get this out of the way up front: The graphics and user interface for FOF7 are nothing to write home about. The various menus and screens are relatively clean and functional, but not much more than that. For instance, I often found the text inside each menu to be a bit small and bland. Also, in a game which relies heavily on various menus being open at the same time, I wish the interface allowed me to manipulate multiple menus around the screen at once. It’s cumbersome to have to close one menu to access information in another menu – and then rinse and repeat. Also, I often wished it were possible to compare two players side by side or even have sortable statistics based on position, but oddly, FOF7’s user interface doesn’t allow for that. I find that puzzling for a modern text simulation game.
Thankfully, though, the player cards provide all the necessary data – and use basic colored bars to represent the current and potential ability of the player (according to your scouts). They even provide you with their helpful information like their injury and transaction history.
In terms of actual game-day presentation, FOF7 is minimalistic, giving you a miniature football icon moving on a field along with a working scoreboard. Again, it’s functional, but not exciting.
So, although FOF7 is definitely trailing behind other leading text sims like Out of the Park Baseball or Football Manager in terms of sheer presentation, as you begin to use FOF7 more and get use to its awkward-looking menus, you begin to appreciate what is present, rather than what is not. For instance, FOF7 does a good job of explaining key concepts or next steps when it needs to. Also, I’ve never experienced any game-crashing bugs or errors with user interface. So, while FOF7 may not eye-popping, there is more here than meets the eye – even if your eyes might initially hurt looking at it.
In terms of customization, FOF7 is flexible to a point. The game allows you to fully customize all the names and locations of the teams, adjust the salary cap increases, tweak the injuries and adjust how helpful the NFL combine numbers can be to revealing the true ratings of potential draft pick. Also, you can also download player-created custom logos or graphics for various parts of the game.
New Game Options
Also, once you’ve selected your team, you’re then given the option to begin your football experience with the mid-2014 NFL rosters, draft the entire league or do what’s called a “preference draft” where you use position sliders to determine what kind of players and attributes are valued more highly in the draft. You can even begin a league with randomly generated players where Tom Brady and Drew Brees never existed.
This is all great – if you enjoy the standard 32 team, 8 division NFL setup. But if you’re interested in creating an entirely different football universe, you’ll have to go elsewhere. Also, if you want to start a league with some history, there is no quick way to simulate multiple seasons. Finally, FOF7 doesn’t allow you to toggle a commissioner mode on/off in single player mode, edit player or coach ratings directly from within the game or easily import custom draft classes.
So, while FOF7 does provide for a good deal of customization and flexibility within the NFL set-up, it can feel a little rigid at times, particularly if you want to custom-create your own football league.
Gameplay and Simulation Engine
The gameplay and sim engine of a text sim is like the engine of a car. If it’s not running smoothly, the car is not likely to make it very far. Thankfully, FOF7’s gameplay and sim engine is a well-oiled machine.
In terms of gameplay, FOF7 is a varied and multi-layered experience. In terms of variety, the game allows you to be everything from the GM making all of the personnel and staffing decisions to the head coach calling all the plays. For instance, if you want to be the head coach, you can either call every play during the game or you can tweak literally everything from formation usage to run direction to even the percentage of fake kicks your team will go for. Personally, I prefer being a GM. Building a team slowly through the draft or going after the big name, but pricey free agents are the kinds of decisions I like to wrestle with. And FOF7 gives me plenty of stats to review, contracts to wrangle over and draft picks to interview.
However, beyond the variety of roles you’re allowed to play, FOF7 also gives you a dynamic, multilayered experience. For instance, building a winning dynasty isn’t just about getting highly rated players and a great coach and running off five straight Super Bowls. In fact, with the variability of the draft, the presence of injuries and the potential volatility in player ratings, what you thought to be a great roster could be frustration waiting to happen. But beyond that, the game forces you to reckon with things like player personalities, the amount of formations your young quarterback has mastered or even the financial state of your team. For instance, how much do your tickets cost, what’s your attendance like, is your stadium in shambles, is it time to pick up and move the team to another, more lucrative market? Being a successful GM in FOF7 requires you to delightfully wrestle with these kinds of multi-layered decisions.
FOF7 also scores big in having a very realistic sim engine. Although certain stats can be a bit high (i.e. running-back yards) or a tad bit low (i.e. defensive sacks), the game generally pumps out very realistic NFL-like statistics.
Also, in terms of CPU GM AI, FOF7 doesn’t allow you to easily yank away star players from teams. For instance
I tried to snag Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay for a bunch of players,
but they refused to budge indicating that they were “unwilling to trade away a fan favorite. Attendance would suffer.”
Also, during the draft, the CPU AI seems to draft relatively smartly – for instance, taking highly-touted quarterbacks or defensive ends, and not kickers in the first round. Also, the CPU GMs will offer you trades from time to time and according to the Help File, if you consistently offer absurd trade offers, CPU GMs will begin to gradually stop listening to your offers for a period of time.
Game Planning Screen
However, there are a few areas where I found FOF7’s gameplay could be improved. For one, if you’re new to FOF or football text sims in general, the game-planning options are not very accessible. In fact, they’re downright intimidating. Although Jim has done a good job providing helpful videos to navigate you through the various screens (see https://www.youtube.com/user/frontofficegames), I was a little put off by how many screens and options existed. While some might enjoy this intense level of detail, I personally don’t want to have to tweak what percentage of times I throw short passes on 1st and 6-7 yards to go before every matchup. Yes, I can have the CPU “recommend” the entire game-plan, but then I feel like I don’t have as much ownership over my team. I wish FOF7 had simply provided me with sliders or the general options like “Run the West Coast Offense” while still giving me the freedom to tweak game-planning minutiae if I feel like it.
Also, another aspect of FOF7s’s gameplay that could use a little polish is the ability of coaches to have specific offensive or defensive schemes that they typically like to run. For instance, Lovie Smith is not represented in the game as preferring the 4-3 (Tampa 2) style of defense. Rather, FOF7 simply represents him as a head coach who focuses on linebackers and has a particularly strong reputation for developing young talent. And although you can certainly tweak FOF7’s myriad of game-planning options to run your style of offense or defense, this is not only very daunting and time consuming for newer players, but also removes the challenge of having to find the right coach for the kind of system that you’d like to run or need to run with your current roster.
However, despite a few gameplay hiccups, FOF7’s gameplay & sim engine usually provides a very smooth and enjoyable ride.
When it comes to online play, FOF7 is no slouch. It supports up to a 32 person multiplayer league, although not directly through Steam. Commissioners need to setup an FTP site in order to begin multi-player games. The multi-player games in FOF7 are stage-based, so team owners send their files to the commissioner who then processes them and then exports new league files to the participating owners. FOF7 does allow multiplayer leagues to use HTML screens to post information about their league on the web. In fact, some of the online league pages out there are rich with detail. Probably best of all, FOF7 has a dedicated and passionate online fan-base with numerous multiplayer leagues running all the time. So, if you’re interested in multiplayer, FOF7 will definitely satisfy.
Replay and Fun Factor
So, we’ve come a long way. But in the end, is the game fun or not? And to that question, I can give a hearty, “Yes!” If you can get past the aging interface, the limited customization options and the intimidating array of game-planning options at first, FOF7 has a LOT to offer. It keeps you coming back for more – even if you don’t have a lot of time to give to it. That’s more than can be said for a lot of games. In fact, I will go a step further and say that because of Jim’s renewed development of the game and the invaluable contributions of its very loyal fan-base, FOF7 remains the undisputed champion of pro football simulators on the market. Simply put, buy this game if you like the NFL and a good text-based simulator.