Sports Simulation Board Games

Chip Usage Strategies for SOCCER BLAST

In the couple of months since SOCCER BLAST was released, I've gotten a fair number of e-mails asking questions about the boost chips. Some folks are hesitant to use them, for fear that to do so would come off as feeling, for lack of a better term, "gamey." Others are unsure of how to use them, while still others are enthusiastic about using them but may not realize the full range of possibilities the chip option affords. So I thought I'd use this opportunity to spell out the ins-and-outs of the SOCCER BLAST boost chip! Here goes...

The point of using boost chips in the soccer game is to replicate the effect of "freshness," or "invigoration" teams get from replacing a fatigued player with a fresh one. Re-creating an "intangible" effect such as this has always been one of the big challenges of sports board game design. Specifically, how do you craft the game mechanics so that there's value in replacing a superior player with an inferior one yet at the same time recognizing that better players make better subs? How do you make it so that there's a benefit to bringing in an extra defender or forward for extra defense or offense strength, without exaggerating the effect? How do you arrange things so that two teams each bringing in subs don't necessarily just "cancel out" each other? From a game design standpoint, this is difficult territory to navigate!

The idea of using a plastic chip to represent an intangible effect is not new to PLAAY games. Those who own RWBR know that we've used this concept in that game, the blue "performance chips," and it has worked very well. So when we began to explore ideas for recreating the intangibles of player substitution for the soccer game, the idea of using colored chips was a natural direction in which to go. (Plus, we already had a supplier for the chips!)

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of player substitution was the desire to create value when bringing in an inferior player as a sub, value the player would not ordinarily have if used as a starter. We wanted it to be beneficial, not punitive, to bring in such players...but how? That, really, is the crux of the "chip" theory. A chip represents a temporary "boost" in effectiveness, as if extra symbols were printed on the player's card, but they can only be gained when a player is brought in as a substitute.

Still, we realized that not all subs are created equal! Generally speaking, better players make better subs. We wanted to craft rules that would offer coaches a benefit for "saving" a better player for use late in a game, if they wanted to. This is why there are blue chips and green chips. Initially, I thought that perhaps one colored chip would suffice, much as it does in RWBR, and that better subs would simply get more chips. It seemed better, though, to use different colors to represent different strength levels, particularly since it became apparent through play testing that a good percentage of subs would merit more than one chip. However, this brings up a designer note of which you may wish to take note: if you'd prefer to give a blue chip player two green chips instead, thus allowing you to perhaps get two separate three-symbol boosts instead of one six-symbol boost, feel free to do so.

How to make it so that there's a benefit to bringing in an extra defender or forward for extra defense or offense strength? This is why there are red chips.

Finally, we wanted to make it so that two teams each bringing in subs didn't necessarily just "cancel out" each other, rendering more or less meaningless the entire aspect of late-game player substitution. It was clear through our research that late game substitution is a critical element in real-life pro soccer. So we created rules that are designed to bring several levels of strategy into play, some quite subtle. Here are some things about chip usage that you may not have considered...

You have options when subs are called for. Most teams are going to have an option of gaining ANY color chip when substituting, green, blue, or red. It's important to consider ALL the options. If a team is trailing, it might seem like a no-brainer to bring in an extra forward and get the red chip for triangles. However, timing is important. A sub called for in the 60th minute has different implications than one called for in the 80th minute. Consider a scenario where a team, trailing by a goal, replaces a defender with a forward in the 60th minute, and promptly scores the equalizer. Now they'll have to play the final 30 minutes with weakened defense.

You never HAVE to use a chip. Often it's wise not to. For example, let's consider a situation in which Team A and Team B each have a blue chip on a midfielder. Team A gains an attack, and promptly spends its blue chip to gain the maximum of six triangles. Should Team B spend its chip for six squares? Not necessarily. Suppose Team B has four squares showing among its primary players; it might choose to try to stop the attack with its existing strength, and save the chip for an attack of its own in the upcoming minutes. Or, perhaps Team B has a goal keeper with a four-or five star ON-TARGET save rating, though only a one-star REACTION rating. Team B could risk the attack being successful, knowing that the keeper stands a good chance of stopping the shot, and if there's a rebound shot, the chip could THEN be spent to thwart it. If the attack failed on either level, Team B would maintain its chip for later use, with Team A unable to counter with a chip of its own.

Sometimes a lesser chip is better. It might seem that it's always best to gain a red chip when substituting, but that's not the case. Blue chips placed on midfielders can be used for squares or triangles: this is a big benefit. A red chip can only be used for triangles (if placed on a forward) or squares (if placed on a defender). In a tight game, the extra flexibility afforded by a blue chip can be a big plus. Or, consider a team with a sharp-shooting reserve forward who has four or five SHOT stars, but no symbols. Bringing this player in with a green chip can be a better choice than gaining a blue or red chip, especially if the supporting cast around the "sharp-shooter" is already rich with triangle and square symbols.

Positions determine chip color, not position boxes. One point that I want to underscore is that the numerical boxes are not the determinant for chip color, or for position. In the designer notes, I wrote, "The rules read, 'The game is designed for forwards/strikers and/or midfielders to be deployed in box 1, midfielders or defenders in boxes 2 and 3, and defenders in boxes 4 and 5.' And then it says, parenthetically, 'you're allowed to vary the arrangement if you like, for strategic purposes.' What does this mean?  Well, in designing the game, my desire in the simplest sense is for it to be "carte blanche:" Play anyone, anywhere. I do realize that some (many?) gamers will feel uncomfortable with that level of freedom, feeling that it perhaps legitimizes unrealistic usage of players. My assumption is that the gamer will incorporate by realism in their usage.

What all this means, for chip purposes, is that if you replace a defender with a forward, the forward gets a red chip for triangles that can't be lost through "switching." It doesn't matter what box the defender is in. Similarly, if you switch a forward with a defender, he gets a red chip for squares. Again, it doesn't matter what box the player is in.

So, let's say you're trailing by a goal with ten minutes to play. You replace a defender in box 5 with a forward, giving the forward a red chip for triangles. You could then re-arrange your players in such a way as to get the forward further up in the box hierarchy, if desired. NOTE, though, that sometimes this is NOT desirable. For example, if you bring in a forward who has double scissors. The rules are designed to give these players some value. You could leave the fresh (double scissors) forward in box 5 and still get the red chip, but not have the scoring liability.

As an aside, I feel like it's also important to note the effect chips can make, outside of substitutions. Creatively used, chips can make up for some of the issues inherent with tabletop recreations of pro sports.

For example, If you use as-played line-ups, I encourage you to use the game's chip rules: they're necessary to amp up a team's scoring power when key players are not being used in order to comply with as-played line-ups. One of the sticking points that we wrestled with in the design phase is that different people play the same game differently. The reality of our hobby is that it's a smaller segment that uses actual line-ups--most people want to play the best players (sometimes to the point of over-using them!). This is normally not a big problem in a sports game, at least not to the degree it is in soccer. However, in soccer, there are typically scant few scores in a given game, so each one takes on a much larger scale and scope. Thus, I made the decision to calibrate the game so as to account for the way I anticipated most people would play it. I felt that if we calibrated the game so as to require as-played line-ups to generate the most realistic scores, then the larger segment of the hobby would experience too many goals. We'd see lots of 4-3 and 5-2 games. Thus, the short story is, if you are using as-played line-ups and don't use the boost chips, you are probably going to experience fewer goals.

On page xiv of the Advance Options section, there's a paragraph on using boost chips for the home team when "triples" are rolled (i.e., 2-2-2, 3-3-3). For those who want to see more goal production, I recommend this rule as a starting point for integrating chip usage into the game outside of substitutions. For as-played line-ups, you could say that whichever team had possession of the ball when the triples were rolled, that team gains a green chip. You might even experiment with some house rules for as-played line-ups that would allow players with a START rating "X" to have a chance to be given a red chip at the beginning of the game.

Hopefully, you now have a good idea of how the chips are supposed to work, and maybe the "lightbulb has gone on" with regard to some new ways chips can be used to enhance the strategy component of the game.