“The best game I’ve ever played” is a remarkable endorsement for any man to make. But when the man making the claim is Alan Ball four years after lifting the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy with England you start to sit up and take notice. The game Ball is promoting is Soccerama, a board game released in the early 1970s. I was lucky enough to pick one up for a few quid at my local charity shop.
The box screams a myriad of game-play options to the unsuspecting gamer; Four Divisions! Promotion! Relegation! Transfer Deals! Thankfully for the avid board-gamer this game was released before agents were commonplace in football. Therefore Soccerama doesn’t suffer from the same difficulties as recent Football manager computer games. It’s Alan Ball’s smiling grin that adorns the box (the caption proudly displaying the words: EVERTON & ENGLAND) and the claim “The family football game with a difference” – though the difference isn’t particularly clear at any point whilst playing the game.
Despite being released in the early 1970s in an era of football that was supposedly pure as the driven snow (or Alan Ball’s boots?), the game is centred around the accumulation of wealth. Like Monopoly, each player is given a wad of fake paper cash to spend, but rather than constructing an empire of green houses and red hotels the gamer accumulates star player cards in order to reign victorious. These star players helps the player to propel themselves up the leagues from lowly Division Four to the epoch of the pyramid, The First Division Championship, FA Cup and European competition.
What dates the game more than anything is the seamless move throughout the divisions. The prize money for winning the First Division isn’t a great deal larger than the prize for the other divisions. Perhaps more tellingly the winner of the Cup competitions is awarded a full £10,000 more than the winner of the First Division. This game was produced when the FA Cup really meant something.
If the casual gamer gets bored of the rather outdated ideas in Soccerama (after all if a football game was produced today it’s unlikely a set of £500 notes would be in the box) I could suggest the addition of an “EPPP card”. This EPPP card would allow the player to purchase “star players” from opponents who are in lower divisions for a fraction of the price they are actually worth. Also players can award themselves £40m for winning the First Division rather than £40,000. It may be more realistic, but I bet Alan Ball wouldn’t think it was the best game he’s ever played.