Review – Guardian Fantasy Football

Can You Kick It
Website: www.guardian.co.uk/fantasyfootball
Price: Free
Private Leagues: Yes

Strengths

* It’s free
* But there is prize money
* Private Leagues are available if a little clunky to set up
* A good balance between the FPL and Yahoo games
* No multi-entrant managers

Weaknesses

* No automatic substitutions
* The squad selection interface is slow
* The scoring system will put off casual players
* No initial supporting stats to help you with squad selection
* No supplementary cup competitions

Game Rules

The Guardian game adopts a squad-based system similar to the Fantasy Premier League game. You select a squad of 15 players with a £100 million budget to splurge. Unlike the FPL game however, this game chooses to differentiate between midfielders and defensive midfielders and your squad must be made up of 2 keepers, 5 defenders, 2 defensive midfielders, 3 midfielders and 3 strikers. This game also has the biggest choice of any fantasy game when it comes to formations. There are 10 in total, ranging from the usual 4-4-2 to the likes of 5-1-2-2 and 5-1-3-1.

You are given 5 transfers per month to allow you to tinker with your team. Like the FPL, player values will fluctuate once the season kicks off, based on real-life performance and their popularity within the game.

The scoring system in this new game is a cross between the FPL game and the Yahoo game. There are the basics included with players scoring 8 points for a goal and 4 for an assist. However, like the Yahoo game, The Guardian are using Opta stats to measure defensive stats such as tackles won, last man tackles, blocked shots and interceptions. All these defensive stats score points for all players, while defenders and keepers also get the traditional points from clean sheets. Keepers lose out on the defensive stats, they gain 2 points for saves with additional points available for penalty saves. There are also attacking stats that contribute points with accurate crosses and shots on target contributing.

Like the FPL and Yahoo games, only English Premier League games contribute to the scoring of your team.

Review

Having opted out of the fantasy football circus for a season, the Guardian have returned with a brand new game that merges the popular Fantasy Premier League and Yahoo games. Like those game, the Guardian is free to play but, despite this, does offer up a £50,000 prize pot with £25,000 going to the winner and manager of the month prizes along the way. So far so good.

To be fair, analysis of the rules and scoring system appears to demonstrate that this game is going to be a very welcome addition to the fantasy football menu. It’s by no means a light experience, but at the same time it’s not gone crazily highbrow like the Times “Play the Game” fantasy game.

The game operates a squad based system with 15 players required to be selected for a nice round £100 million. That will be familiar territory for many. What might not be so familiar however is the scoring system which is based on Opta stats. It’s a very similar system to that employed by the Yahoo game but wisely, the Guardian have decided to cull some of the Opta stats employed by Yahaoo – excluding the more obscure factors such as committing fouls, winning corners and scoring match winning goals. The Yahoo players out there will take to this scoring system easily then. The rest of us will find it a little unsettling that we will suddenly have to measure all our players on such factors as interceptions, last man tackles, blocks and crossing accuracy. Sadly the game does little to help us through the initial intimidating bombard of stats to consider.

While Opta do a fantastic job of collecting this data, for more casual fantasy managers, selecting an initial eleven could well be guesswork. Bizarrely The Guardian have failed to provide any data from last season so there is no guide to help you select your side other than your own knowledge of the players and their potential. Opta don’t publish their stats for free so you’ll be selecting a squad completely blind.

For me this is an oversight by the Guardian. They really needed to provide some initial stats as a guide rather than offer “expert” advice emphasising that defenders from struggling clubs are perhaps a decent option after all. Together with the overwhelming number of formations available, the lack of support for newbies immediately places this game firmly in the realm of the more experienced fantasy football manager. That’s fine, it just cuts the audience for this game by a considerable margin and makes if far harder to get private leagues going with casual players. I’m not sure that’s what the Guardian are intending or indeed, would want.

As a tip, signing up to the Yahoo game is a help with this game since Yahoo do have stats available for players from last season. As I’ve mentioned, the Yahoo game does use stats that aren’t used by the Guardian so the translation isn’t 100% but it’s still a major help when you’re selecting your side.

Experienced fantasy football managers should still be mildly excited by this game. It looks like combining the excellent squad management and fluctuating player values of the FPL with the rich scoring system of the Yahoo game. While I’ve always fancied trying my hand at the Yahoo game, the fluctuating player value system they used and the fact that you can’t make a gain on your 100 unit budget, always put me off. I wanted to play the market with the Yahoo game but the rules never really allowed me to maximise the potential of fluctuating player values by cashing in on my bargains. This game fixes that.

The Guardian appear to have come up with a player value system which mirrors the Yahoo game but allows you to profit from shrewd transfer activity, just like the Fantasy Premier League game. It remains to be seen just how well this is balanced and whether the managers that quickly identify the profit-making players, will gain a big advantage in terms of funds.

One major shortfall between this game and the FPL is that there is no automatic substitution facility. This means that if you have a player in your eleven who doesn’t play, don’t expect the game to sub him out for you. You’ll pay the price for your oversight. At least the game does allow you to set up your team selection for two gameweeks in advance. This operates rather like the Fantasy League system whereby you save your team selection in advance of a set of fixtures. Unlike the Fantasy League however you can only set up a side for a particular Gameweek, not for obscure kick-off time. A good thing which cuts down the ability for hands-on managers to gain big advantages.

There are also some other minor but immediate gripes. I found the website interface, particularly when it comes to selecting your initial squad, a little slow. The squad selection area appears to be Flash-based which is all very nice but doesn’t allow for user friendly sorting of the player list. Luckily there is a good old-fashioned html player list available but there is no means of selecting players from that – you are forced to navigate the slower Flash based interface. I found myself using pen and paper to make up my squad shortlist and then navigating back to the squad selection area to find the players all over again. In contrast to the graceful and less flashy FPL interface, the squad selection here is badly designed and implemented.

As you would expect there are private league or “Friends” league options. Again, the process for setting this up is a little clumsy. What you want here is an FPL style password to distribute. I think that’s exactly what you get here but instead of making that clear, the game offers you a form on which to add email addresses of those you want to invite. That’s fine but it’s not clear that you can just mail around your league password to allow folk to join. I’m sure this works but for a game in its infancy, it should have been explained a lot clearer.

In addition to any Friends league you set up, you are also automatically placed in the games’ overall league and also a league for the real-life team you support and your nationality. Aside from this though there is no mention of a cup competition or a head to head league, both of which you can find in the FPL or the Fantasy League games. A shame.

Despite the small gripes, there’s no doubt that this latest game is a hugely welcome addition to our world. For me it’s striking a nice balance and pitches itself at a decent level of expertise. For FPL managers it looks like a good alternative as a second game, particularly for solo play. Whether it can prove as popular with more casual players and for the office leagues is another matter. A very solid return to the world of fantasy football for The Guardian then.

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