by Keith Avallone, PLAAY Games
In the March 2018 newsletter, inspired by Vince McMahon's announcement of a revival of the XFL springtime pro football league (and the subsequent announcement of the Alliance of American Football), we borrowed McMahon's buzzword and talked about what "Football Re-Imagined" might look like. Our "Football Re-Imagined" article presented some ideas of a faster-playing, more streamlined rules set for professional football, and how they might translate to the tabletop. You can read the whole article here, but the key points of our "re-imagination" were 1) using the Canadian style of play, with three downs instead of four; 2) 10-minute periods instead of 15, with a five-minute "bonus" period if the teams were within two scores of each other at the end of the fourth period; 3) incorporating a continuously-running clock, with stoppages only on changes of possession and penalties. In the article, I expressed the desire to try out a quick demo project with these rules, choosing four teams from the Football America series and playing a six game schedule.
A couple months ago, I got a follow-up e-mail about the article from Bob Hansen, Menomonee Falls, WI, asking if I'd gotten any feedback on the "football re-imagined" ideas. Coincidentally, I DID: exactly a day later, I got an e-mail from Mark Zigler, Corona, CA. Mark had actually formed a "re-imagined" football league and wanted to share some thoughts, having reached the half-way point of his 28-game season. Mark's league consisted of eight drafted teams, with a round-robin schedule. Here are his observations, which I shared with Bob and am now sharing with everyone. (Remember, these are Mark's words, not mine!)
- Bomber rating for quarterbacks really make a difference!
- With the continually running clock, there is little opportunity to run the clock down or play slow to protect a lead.
- "Two-and-outs" take a minute.
- The run game is interesting. Even with the 'add one yard to all run' rule, I'm finding I'm not establishing a run game, but more going against the tendency. A short pass is quite effective on a 2nd and 1 or 2, where a run seems to work well where there are 3-5 yards to go.
- The scores are pretty reasonable. I've had a 42-14 game, and a 10-7 game, with most games being in the 24-14 range.
- I really like the idea of a five-minute bonus period at then end of the game IF the game is within two scores. In one game, the leading team was up 14 with 1:30 to go in the 4th. They played it using timeouts like they were down by 2 points, drove in for the field goal and kicked it as time ran out. Up 17—game over.
UPDATE 11.26.18: Mark sent along an e-mail with final statistics and standings from this project, we've created a downloadable PDF with this information.
Sounds like Mark has had a pretty favorable experience with the new rules. It was incentive enough for me to get out my own copy of SECOND SEASON and the 2018 Football America teams and (finally) try "football re-imagined" for myself!
In my first game, San Diego beat Chicago 22-9. The second game, San Antonio came from behind to defeat Golden Bay 19-15. Both games went into "bonus time," (i.e., the games were within two scores at the end of the fourth period). Both games took just over an hour real-time to play. Both games featured around 90 offensive plays (that is, 40 scrimmage plays and five punts/kicks for each team) instead of the usual 120.
Now for a couple of my own observations, to add on to those expressed by Mark above...
- The three-down idea works pretty well, it definitely makes for some interesting play calls. Fans of COLD SNAP will appreciate this.
- Concurring with Mark: without a boost, the run game is tough to establish (not surprisingly). That extra down in NFL football really makes the run game viable. Parenthetically, I always wondered why Ricky Williams wasn't more of a force when he played in the Canadian league several years ago—now I think I understand: It wasn't so much that he was a different (i.e., less effective) runner, but more that the different down-and-distance strategies take away a lot of incentive/opportunities to run the ball. I felt like I wanted to address this—whether or not it's "realistic," it makes for a better tabletop experience. I rolled a decider die with every play, run or pass. If the "bullet" came up, I used whatever the white die read and added that many yards to the result. (Obviously, no yards added to incomplete passes or sacks). So, let's say I rolled a "42," and the game book result was a six-yard gain. I would add 2 more yards, turning it into an eight-yard gain. (I know, I could have just re-rolled a die for the additional yard, or used a different-colored die solely for this purpose. But I prefer letting dice to double-duty when possible!) Doing this inflated the run gains, making the average run gain around 5.5 yards instead of 4.0. That might be a bit rich for some tastes but I liked it, and thought it worked pretty well. The extra die yardage has more impact on run plays, which is what I wanted to accomplish.
- Point-After Touchdowns: For my games, I used the old XFL methodology: 1 point for converting from the half-yard line (1 yard gain or more); 2 points for converting from the two yard line (3 yard gain or more). I also included the option the XFL added for the playoffs for a potential 3 points, if converting from the ten-yard line (11 yards or more). After playing a couple games, I'm on the fence about this procedure. As predictable as it is, there's something to be said for the NFL/CFL choice of high-percentage kick for one point or scrimmage play for two, at least in in terms of decision time. I found that it was requiring a lot of time and thought to decide how I would convert with the XFL array of choices. Without the context of "what they do in real-life," it's a bit uncomfortable to have to choose your conversion rate. I often found myself really not knowing whether a team should go for one, two or three points.
- I also decided that using the three-point conversion option, the game had to be within ONE score for "bonus time" to happen. That is, if a team was winning by ten points at the end of the fourth quarter, game over. The first game, I said it was TWO scores. But with a three-point conversion option, the means a team had to be winning by 19 points to avoid "bonus time." San Diego had a 15-3 lead, but tried to put the game out of reach, driving in for a score and a 1 XP to make it 22-3. But Chicago managed to score just before the end of the fourth to make it 22-9, so we went to bonus time even though there was not much hope for Chicago to catch up. Indeed, the 22-9 score held up as the final. So I changed the rule for the second game.
- Statistics: The stat lines for "reimagined" games look and feel more like high school numbers than pro. You're not going to see quarterbacks throwing 50 times for 400 yards and five touchdowns with "reimagined" rules, and even with the higher yards per carry average, 100-yard games from running backs will be relatively rare. Scores are generally going to be "20-something to something-teen," and it'll be uncommon for a team to get beyond 30 points. You could adjust this by using a shorter field, maybe 80 yards instead of 100, which would produce more touchdowns. On the other hand, I think that would be moving in the direction of "football lite," which as we stated in the original article is something we DON'T want to do.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. With the "reimagined" rules set, game time definitely moves along faster, and it's a more streamlined game. Before I undertake a full-blown league season, though, I think I would tinker with the defense settings a little. I played "normal" defense settings on first down, and usually a "passing down" defense die roll on third down. It was hard to know what defense setting to use for, say, second and four. I also think it might give some perspective to play a couple test games with real teams instead of fictional.
Overall, though, I thought the "reimagined" rules set holds a lot of promise! Comments? Questions? Contact us!