DDSCF 23 Review - A solid option and flows very well

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Reviews Windows PC 🏈 NFL and College Football Simulator Games
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While the sim engine is solid, I think the gameplay aspect has further improvements to be made.

I have an addictive personality. I can get really into things, especially when I am able to immerse myself in a universe. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that I am a Social Studies teacher. I love the history of things.

I say that to say this:

I really, really want a college football game I can really get into.

Note: Team logos are not licensed from Wolverine Studios. The images displayed are from a community-driven modification.

I’ve been watching YouTube videos of NCAA 14 Revamped. I have looked into getting an XBox or PlayStation only for that game. I have begun reading details for the next NCAA game (potentially out next year). I downloaded the PS2 mod and downloaded NCAA ‘06.



I long for the days of my NCAA dynasties, and how immersive that can be.

That brings me to Wolverine Studios’ Draft Day Sports: College Football 23. In last year’s DDS: Pro Football 22 review, I brought up how I tried to get into this game several years ago, and could not. There were several reasons for it, the UI being the biggest issue for me. 


With the somewhat recent unilateral UI changes at Wolverine, and my absolute desire to have a full-fledged sports universe, I am giving this another shot. Brooks Piggott, the developer of the Wolverine football line, has always had an ear to the community. He also has taken a different approach to make games, at least early on, then Gary Gorski, the founder of Wolverine and developer of the basketball line of games. Piggott focused his games towards online leagues over the solo effort. So there are features in his games like custom plays and playbooks, which are excellent editions.

However, the games always had difficulty scratching my dynasty itch. Will this year’s version be the game that finally breaks through for me? Let’s find out.

For those wondering what is new this year, these are the chief features, according to the CF23 page:

I should note this before I get into the rest of this piece: I am running this on a MacBook Pro (M1 Pro 16), using Parallels Pro (granted, this was easier to swallow with a teacher discount). On regular Parallels, the game runs fine. Screens can take a second to load, but they’re fine in general. On Pro, the game runs very smoothly. I’m still figuring out games that are more graphics-intensive, but if you have a Mac, you aren’t totally shut out from playing this game, nor any games from Wolverine Studios.

(Note: I am not advising anyone to drop $100 in order to play these, or any other, PC games. There is a free trial, so you can try it for yourself if you are interested.)

Graphics / Interface

As I wrote earlier, all Wolverine Games carry the same UI now. I said this was a good thing when it was first introduced in the basketball games in 2020. For this game, it’s a great thing.

The interface is smooth and easy to navigate. All screens are clean and generally self-explanatory. And the back button works, something I had an issue with in DDSCB22. That’s bigger than you think.

Overall, it’s sleek and easy to use.

That said…I have issues that are slowly turning me into Randy Quaid in Major League 2. First…why is recruiting separated from the sidebar on the left? It’s a big part of the game…perhaps the biggest. The first time I played this game, I couldn’t find it. Why is it not in the top part of the sidebar? It should be the first thing under the action buttons. The search feature should move to where recruiting is now. I just clicked on it; it is the first time I have.

Where games-by-Brooks need to really improve, to me at least, is in its presentation of information. The news section is really frustrating in how much wasted space there is. There is just one column of articles. Why, exactly, is there this much-wasted space? They could combine three screens into one here: You could add performers of the week, news, and the new rankings.

Staying with the news…why are players and teams not clickable in that section? That thing should be a hyperlinked minefield of information. For that matter, why are there no full names in the news section? What news section starts off an article with “Baker, H – LB from Georgia”?

In the end, the news and media fail the game, because they fail the player. I go to those sections to get immersed in my universe. I want to be drawn in by the storylines going on around the league. I want a headlines section. Did #1 fall? Was there a major conference upset? Was there a recruiting coup? I want to be overwhelmed with the amount of information that can come my way.

Instead, we get ONE COLUMN OF REPETITIVE INFORMATION WITH NOTHING YOU CAN CLICK ON FOR MORE INFORMATION.

You know what? I did turn into Randy Quaid from Major League 2. That absolutely infuriates me. It makes what should be an amazing and robust area of the game feel like a last-second add-on. And this is happening in multiple products by Brooks, which tells me he’s treating it like it’s a non-priority.



I want this to get better. I would be happy to help this area of the game get better because it needs to get better. It can be little things like, in the conference preview section, why is there no preseason all-conference team? No Heisman odds? No draft rankings? 

Those things would immensely improve the game and the need to accumulate information at the start. Instead, we get a “Season Preview” magazine that doesn’t really preview anything. Sweet, you get positional grades. Why aren’t the starters listed? Heck, you’ve got enough space to go with the two-deep. You could even turn that into a pull-down menu of sorts, where you click on the position, and you get the depth chart and the grades of each of the players, along with career stats.

The game does so little with so much in this regard. It disconnects me entirely, which is a shame, because the game is deserving of more.

(Note: I get that there are people who don’t care about that aspect of the game. I am also understanding that I am just one person, and that my take on this game should be treated as such. My point is that, with games of this genre, where the visuals are secondary to content, the way the content is set up and presented in DDSCF and DDSPF is so distracting from the rest of the game, it causes me to put it aside in favor of other games. This is a good game, as you’ll see if you read the rest of the review and, more importantly, try it out for yourself. Which you should do. This is simply a point I have made in more than one review, though.

In my opinion, if this game is to progress into something that becomes a must-play, this is the biggest area that has to be addressed. It isn’t a wish list thing to me. It is an integral part of the user experience. It is currently broken.)

As I want to end this on a positive (because, so far, I have absolutely not done that), I want to make a suggestion that I believe would lift this game up into an immersive powerhouse.

That is, of course, RedZone.

I am certain I wrote this in the DDSPF22 review I wrote back in January. Front Office Football had this as a part of its game years ago, where you sim the week (but hide the scores), then you could go and watch the games play out in relative (to the game) real-time. You could jump into individual games, or just watch them as a whole.

Out of the Park has had Real-Time Sim for years. The online league I play in, MLBPro, was the first league to be a literal daily league (even in the offseason, the league has always played the current actual day only). This wouldn’t be possible without Real-Time Sim being a thing, because that’s maybe the biggest selling point for the league…the fact that there will be an opportunity to watch your game play out in (again, sped-up) real-time, as well as all other games on the schedule. The league runs it at 8pm EST, every night.

If DDSCF were able to have this (okay, if all Wolverine Games) were able to have this, it would add a sets-it-apart dimension to the game. Imagine watching Rivalry Week play out when you’re in charge of Michigan, and you’re sitting at #6 in the polls, with #2 Ohio State in town and a spot in the conference championship on the line. 

Not only that, but since your league is in a four-team playoff, you also have had an eye on #7 Oklahoma State (in Bedlam with #8 Oklahoma), as well as on #3 Oregon, who is on the road at #24 Oregon State.

Meanwhile, #5 BYU is watching while hosting #11 Notre Dame, knowing that there is a path into the playoffs if things all shake out well enough.

Now, imagine everyone on Slack or Discord, watching this play out live on the interwebs, with all games playing out at their scheduled times (as what happens with OOTP). The BYU and Oregon coaches would go into the late afternoon slate of games knowing what has happened to Michigan, while Oklahoma State/OU (who plays in the prime time game) would have the entire league watching them, especially after Oregon State picks off Oregon and Michigan takes down the Buckeyes, creating all sorts of chaos.


Whether you are in a solo league or online league, this would single-handedly bring new players to the game. I say this with all the confidence in the world. (I also think it would do the same for the basketball games.) If head-to-head coaching is not a thing that can happen (the oldest of heads will still remember the pain that was the OOTP5 head-to-head journey, which ended with the most dispiriting of thuds), then this is the next best thing. All the game needs (I think) is to add game times that go into the script, and a third party could create a utility that does the same thing, if the powers that be don’t find this worth pursuing.

Grade: 6/10. If this were on the interface alone, it would be a 10/10. However, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how the details of the league are presented. In my opinion, everything about the news needs to be completely redone…from the templates of news pieces shown (both the quality of writing, and quantity of pieces available), to the way news gets presented on-screen. This disconnects me from the game, which is the last thing the game should do.

Customization

DDSCF23 has a bunch of options for customization, and they are generally excellent. At the start, you have three base options: Career Mode, Sandbox, and Multiplayer. The main difference between Career Mode and Sandbox is that you cannot be fired in Sandbox.

The biggest addition, at least when it comes to customization, is the added playoff options. In fact, one I am *really* excited to try, and impressed Brooks has added so quickly, is the 12-team playoff. It was not in the original release, but included in the most recent update. The 16-team playoff was added in the original update.

This is also where major props need to be given. The game does NOT release with official teams and logos. None of Wolverine’s games do; you need to be officially licensed in order to do so. However, at the release of every game, there is always a third-party release that includes all logos, teams, and home fields/courts (obviously just the field, not stadiums). In DDSCF23, coaches are also added.

(Note: Real players and coach images are not included. Remember, this is a third-party app, generally supported/curated by one person, or a very small group of people. While I am aware that these things exist in NCAA Football Revamped, it would be a rather monumental effort for such an effort here.)

Once you’ve selected your basic setup, You will then go into your coach setup. (Note: I have not tried this on my PC laptop, and perhaps I should…on a M1 Mac Pro in Parallels, the initial roster creation process does take a little time. The game is creating some 15,000 players at the outset.

The ways you can create your coach are pretty extensive, and something I would like to see more of in the basketball games (things like how a coach coaches particular position groups would be fantastic, as well as what type of players they prefer at positions).

Okay, so that doesn’t seem like a very extensive customization section…just the basics, playoff teams, etc. Go to the main menu (three lines in the top-left of the screen), and click on “League Options”.

Customization. Overload.

This borders on OOTP-level customizing insanity (well, it waves at the border, while OOTP looks at it, scoffs, and sets up an amateur league in Lincoln, Rhode Island…technically, a scoff is an acknowledgement of existence, which is how DDSCF should view this exchange). 

Options that can be changed in DDSCF range from how players are labelled in 2D games to how much activity the transfer portal typically gets (ranging from low to very high). There are a couple I like toggling on, mainly related to allowing for complete control of positional changes. (I also unlock the depth chart, though, to be honest, I really don’t know what that means.)

I also toggle the “Disable Hiding of Scores” option off.

Okay, so there are a ton of options there. But just you wait, friend. DDSCF isn’t done. The options screen has a menu at the top.

Okay, that’s awes–

Oka–

My goodness.

I actually really like the “Fog Level” here. What this does is condense your ratings down to from on a 1-100 scale to three other options, with 1-20 ratings being the foggiest.

I wonder how this impacts your coaches’ ability to scout players, especially in recruiting. (This is one reason why I would love for a recruiting coordinator and greater opportunities to scout recruits, such as camps, high school film, etc. This is where I think DDSCF should be borrowing HEAVY from DDSCB. More on that later, though.)

Overall, users should be really pleased with the options available for customizing. There is one thing that I would add, though, that I think would really enhance the overall experience.

I would allow for customization over how the playoffs get set.

I would allow for the user to set which conferences get an automatic bid (note: this was apparently put in, something I just learned; it is turned off by default for the Real World Mod). I would set up options that allow for how at-large teams are selected. Heck, I might even allow users to set up exactly which teams make it. (I don’t know if this feature is available for multiplayer leagues, but it absolutely SHOULD be. Could there be a more realistic online league experience than bickering over whether or not BYU beating Michigan State makes them more playoff-worthy than Mississippi State defeating a three-loss Auburn team on the road?



Grade: 9.5/10. The only thing missing from this, and I’m listing it here, is historical setups. That’s it. If Brooks can add formats to led us to where we are now, that would be awesome. I would love to have the original Big Ten, or the Pac-8. (I also want these in DDSCB). If Brooks does not want to pursue that, then setting up a streamlined process of importing/exporting data, including the league structure, would be a fantastic addition for the future.

Gameplay / Sim Engine

Your career starts in Training Camp. And your learning curve is steep. You have to learn your coaching staff, your team, and consider redshirts.

(Note: I would probably open the game with staff hiring, as well as with an email detailing your roster strengths and weaknesses, and what offensive and defensive styles might be best to look for in a potential coach. I write this as someone who hates coach hiring, too. Unless the team is already setting you up by putting players in your program that generally work well with your coaches, because they presumably recruited them to the program, then starting here makes things a giant wild card.

I actually have asked this on the forums, so assuming I remember that I asked this, you won’t see this at all. 

Update: Brooks responded and said that rosters are mostly randomized. Not sure how I feel about that, but okay.)

(One More Note: If you go to League Media, and click on “Staff”, you can see every coach in the league, as well as their rating and reputation, as well as their previous job. I have two suggestions here: Add a column that says their background; all three of my coaches have college coaching backgrounds. I wanted to see if anyone has a high school coaching background, if that even exists.

I would also add more positional coaches. I know that can make things way more tedious, but read me out: I wouldn’t make those playable except for two things: promotion and hiring from another school. I would also allow for your coordinators to hire coaches, so that you don’t have to go that deep. As I said, I hate coach hiring stages. But it would be awesome for you to unearth some high school coordinator that because a QB whisperer for you at James Madison, and watch them transform your mediocre 2* QB, and transform your program, until you lose them to UVA.)

(Okay, I have a second note: I would love it if you could adjust your schedule before your first season. I generally play as Penn State (WE ARE); my initial non-conference opponents are

Week 1: at James Madison (this wouldn’t happen)
Week 2: at Tulane (this definitely wouldn’t happen)
Week 3: at Air Force (okay, WTFMR)

Note the date. It is MARCH. The schedule should not be set, and the game should not be locked (which it is). I would love to be able to schedule Pitt (a natural rivalry that has been rekindled), and teams more to my style of scheduling (similar-or-higher prestige teams). Brooks recently said on the forums that the scheduling aspect of the game is difficult. So, put it in the hands of the user from the start.

I also think you should be able to contact schools, and vice versa, about scheduling. But, a good first step would be to allow for user control in the first season. Okay, moving on.)

Once you run training camp and redshirt, you jump into the regular season, and things are pretty standard from there (in a season progression sense).

The options here are pretty solid, though, of course, I have suggestions here. Mainly, I would want the Top 25 to be more prominent here, and I would love for a ticker or top news and scores along the bottom of the screen, or even in the dead space next to the playoff bracket.

(I also want the Top 25 to be preserved for the league and team history. It is not right now; I don’t know how difficult it is to keep, but it is…I don’t think upsetting is the right word here, but with context, it’s upsetting. It would be great to be able to see how teams rise and fall over the course of time, and having to manually chart this is kind of defeating. Again, this is an immersion issue.)

One note here: Before you go start playing or simming games–especially if you sim games–go into the depth charts and ensure they are set. (They are not set by default.) Also, go to the strategy screen, and make sure you have things as you like. As I am doing just the review here, I am being more hands-off with this process. But the game planning defaults to the head coach. In one test, my PSU team was utter crap, because of James Franklin.

(I actually like him in general, but PSU fans will still identify with this.)

Once I changed the primary game planning and calling to the coordinators, my team went on a run to the playoffs. So, to me, there is definitely a difference here.

The big explicitly advertised change is revamped depth charts and substitution logic. (I say explicitly because Wolverine also lists “multiple new improvements to match those included in DDSPF”. Okay. Lucky for you, I’m a generous researcher.)

I’m guessing they mean the fifth bullet point here, though it could also be discussing the social archetypes. I don’t know if those were in the previous version; I am guessing they were not.)

Regarding the packages and substitution logic, I have no way of knowing if they are working as intended, outside of what I see on the forums. I don’t see any pitchforks out, so I am guessing the community is pleased so far.

What I do see, and this is important (and indicative of this community overall) is Brooks consistently on the forums, in conversations, discussing everything everyone brings his way. His dedication to building the best possible game for the community is quite impressive.

The rest of the in-game product is as recent versions have been. The 2D model is good, though I wish for the entire screen to get revamped. As I said with DDSPF, I don’t think the space is utilized for peak information and efficiency. Oddly enough, I also think the field should be spaced better.

The hash marks are too narrow, aren’t they? Like, not-to-scale narrow. This causes the action in the middle of the field to be really condensed and cluttered. You don’t need to move the hash marks out too far, but I think it would make a big difference.

(To anyone who tells me that wouldn’t be realistic, I would point out that you are watching bubbles slide around a computer screen in a way that is supposed to imitate football. I think we can suspend reality enough to make watching the plays a bit more clear, can’t we?)

With regards to the personalities, that’s just noise to me. I have no idea what’s under the hood on this, and I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe I need to pay any attention to this. In basketball games, personalities are at the forefront. This makes sense; it’s a smaller roster, and therefore, every piece to that puzzle needs to fit well for there to be success.

I have no idea what a “careful workaholic” is, or a “bland survivor”. I had thought there was a rundown of what these things mean, but I can’t find it. This is still the only time I have seen someone at Wolverine discuss it on the forums.

To be honest, I have no idea how these impact anything, if at all. I’m inclined to believe they do absolutely nothing, because I don’t see any evidence of it.

So, if that’s the case, take it out. If it isn’t the case, explain it. I know I’ll come across as selfish and bitter, but this feels like it was thrown in. If so, especially with the little improvements that can be done to improve immersion overall…I don’t get that. I don’t think it’s good prioritization…you’re sitting on the only college football game out there (for another year), and you’re choosing to ensure users know a QB is a “Lazy Schemer”, instead of ensuring your history is as complete as can be?

Oof.

Recruiting is another entire game itself here; there is a pretty solid guide to assist new players. When I last attempted this game (DDSCF17), this was the area of the game that broke me. That stinks, as I love recruiting in the old NCAA Football games, and have come to like it in DDSCB. Being able to delegate actions (and knowing where they are, something I couldn’t figure out in DDSCF17) is a great option if you are more of an in-game coach, or simply want to outsource that aspect of the game.

I think this game has a ton of growth potential. The emailed reports can be packed with more information, especially with a big one: how they are playing this particular season. Where are the high school stats? Does that slow down the game too much? (That’s a serious question.) I hope that is more of a resource decision, and not a design one. I want to know the kids who go to Elite 11. I want to know what players I am recruiting that are all-conference, all-state, etc.



Furthermore, and this is where I hope they go in the future…I want to talk to the kid. Employ the texting system used by DDSCB. I know, it’s more players…but you don’t have to necessarily talk to everyone. But it’s a way to get more easily attached to players, and…you know, better immerse yourself into the universe.

But, and I’ll write about this later…there are some cause-and-effect issues regarding the gameplay that drag this down for me.

Statistically speaking, I don’t see many outliers, which is a good thing. Of course, this is all anecdotal. You can see league averages and such in the League Office window, found in the mini menu to the right.

Grade: 7/10. The game seems to play as it did in previous versions. I think people are still learning how what has been done under-the-hood has affected the overall game. The reason I give this a 7/10 is that, while the sim engine is solid, I think the gameplay aspect has further improvements to be made. A good portion of those improvements can be made with more complete information, as well as improving the immersive aspects of the game that would bring me more into the universe.

But, and I’ll write about this later…there are some cause-and-effect issues regarding the gameplay that drag this down for me.

Online Modes

Brooks’ original vision for his games, as I wrote before, was to be primarily an online game. So, naturally, there is the opportunity to create an online league. If you are interested in starting or joining a league, I recommend joining the Wolverine Discord

As with DDSPF, DDSCF has a solid commissioner portal. That includes the Configure Teams section, which makes most of what a commissioner needs to be rather easy.

One thing that needs to be addressed is that you can only create a player if your roster is under the roster limits. This applies to the commissioner screen as well, which seems counterintuitive and prohibitive to creating recruits. (Yes, I am aware you can edit recruits. It is still a curious decision, to not allow to create a recruit.)

Grade: 10/10. It does what it says it does, and seems to do it in a straightforward, easy-to-implement manner. For commissioners, online leagues are 95% administrative, 5% games. So making the administrative duties as easy and as stress-free as possible is the most important thing a game can do. DDSCF seems to do that.

Fun Factor

I asked for some feedback from users on the Wolverine Discord. This is what one person said:

I asked some users what they thought of this version. One person who has played multiple versions said something that struck a chord with me:

“There is almost nothing available to help someone learn how different things in the game work or what they are. No glossary for stat abbreviations. No explanation of how depth charts work. If my starting QB is hurt do I have to take him off the depth chart to use the backup instead? Or will the game do that for me?

“What if my team sucks? How do I make it better? There’s no way to tell really where the problem is. You get an email telling you who performed well which is cool, but there’s no after game stat report to tell you how each player on the team did (like in BBCF).”

He went on to say that “it’s a game where I’m supposed to run a college football program but it still doesn’t feel like I’m doing that”.

That is where I am with the game. If you want to call plays, there is a ton of fun to be had. If you want to be in an online league, where there is interactivity with other people and you can get direct feedback on your actions, you will have a great time.

In solo mode, though…the learning curve is steep, because I have no idea what the lessons are. I don’t know how to address problems. I don’t think I get enough feedback from my coaches to inform me. I don’t think I get enough scouting information in recruiting to know which recruits I should go for, especially if I am coaching a small school.

With the basketball games, you see a complete correlation between your actions and the results. This is backed up by the information you receive. That is missing here, and, as a solo player, it leads to me automating too much of the game to feel like I am getting a worthwhile experience out of it.

The foundation of the in-game aspect is there. The roster building needs to feel like more than a star-grab, though. To me, that comes through the myriad suggestions I have made throughout the piece. It is very difficult to get immersed when there are parts of the game that seem to go out of its way to keep you from getting immersed.

Once more, I do need to point out that Brooks’ original gameplan was to serve primarily online leagues. However, since you have a solo mode, you have to address those needs.

These dots need to be connected. I really want there to be a solid college and pro game that link up. While this links with DDSPF, they don’t feel at all connected to one another.

Grade: 6.5/10 solo; 9.5/10 online. Why two grades? There is a pretty good foundation here, overall. But I cannot get past the “what am I doing?” phase. And no matter how many compromises I make internally, I cannot get myself immersed into the game. I have not been able to make connections with the players on my own team; I don’t really have a grasp on how they are doing from game-to-game. (How is “Value Per Snap” calculated, anyway?) I am not making connections with the recruits. I cannot find a way to emotionally invest myself in the way I can with DDSCB.

I really do think there are a lot of simple ways to get there in a short amount of time. But this becomes a death-by-a-thousand-cuts situation for me to play solo, unfortunately.

In an online environment, where you can interact with others and fight over the same players, and have (presumably) a more dynamic media section? Yeah, I can absolutely see that being fantastic. But that should be in solo mode, too.

Final Word: When I was asked to write a review for DDSCF several years ago (either for 17 or 18), I ended up tapping out. It was such a tedious, frustrating experience. That is gone here; the game flows very well. If you want to call plays, create plays, be in an online league…DDSCF is a solid option for you. Remember, I am just one person, who plays games a certain way. What I have issue with, you may not.

The best thing for you to do is use what you have just read as a small guide, but go try the demo, and see for yourself.

Official Download for Draft Day Sports: College Football 2023

Leave a comment for John or GM Games on reddit…


Good

  • The game is streamlined and pretty easy to follow
  • Playcalling is fun
  • Multiplayer-league friendly

Bad

  • Steep learning curve without much in the way of a guide
  • Media/News section detracts from immersion/experience
  • Inconsistent in-game info muddles program progression
8.1

Very Good

Gameplay and Sim Engine: 7 / 10
Customization: 9.5 / 10
Replay Fun Factor: 8 / 10
Online Modes: 10 / 10
Graphics and User Interface: 6 / 10
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John Comey has been in the sim gaming community for over twenty years, and has justified his bachelors in journalism by writing thousands of pages of material, ranging from articles and reviews to online leagues. He has been the creator of several failed blogs, as well as a LiveJournal or two...not that there's anything wrong with that. He is also the author of the worst technical manual in gaming history (Total Pro Football), and has been an intermittent podcaster since 2005. He has collaborated and contributed to products with Wolverine Studios, Grey Dog Software, and Out of the Park Developments. A native of Harrisburg, PA, Comey has been a New Englander since 2007. He currently resides in the Providence area with his girlfriend and two kitties (Ello and Chidi), where he teaches middle school Social Studies and coaches basketball, soccer and baseball. He also continues to play competitive basketball and baseball, and loves live music and comedy.