Lockett in your pocket

Over the years footy has had little success in the board game world. Whether the speed of play or the challenge of incorporating those myriad rule interpretations is proving to be so intimidating but whatever the reason it seems to have flummoxed many a budding game designer. Which is a shame because footy’s unique elements of player positioning and disposal methods strike me as an area ripe for innovative gaming.

‘Polly Farmers Footy Game’ and ‘Up There Cazaly’ were among the early attempts at putting our national game onto everyone’s shelves. Both are now as rare as a Demons win but I’m reliably informed ‘Cazaly’ was rubbish. My source for this opinion is a long time Carlton supporter and so knows a thing or two about under-performing games.

Early last decade the AFL themselves had a crack with ‘Full on AFL.’ With thirty-six player counters spread over the field it certainly had the feel of the real thing. Sadly that’s where it ended, with play so random you’d rarely hit up a team mate let alone the goal.  The whole thing descended into chaos, with the ball jagging around the oval like a summer time streaker avoiding the MCG security.

More recently I tested the physical and iPad game ‘The Coach’s Box.’ This one takes the player-positioning mechanics of ‘Full On’ but brings to the mix different player strengths, random card events and dice rolling odds on how successful your disposal is. It’s a good game but the field of play is quite small and with the probability calculations involved I’m surprised Tom Waterhouse hasn’t somehow shown an interest.

Within the last couple of months the AFL,  strangely having learnt nothing, released what looks to be a $60 hybrid of ‘Snakes and ladders’ and ‘Tiddlywinks.’

Enter ‘Pocket Footy’ into the fray.

I have no recollection of how I came across this one, probably work-related Google research. What I can say is that it’s the brainchild of Cairns local Hamish Sterling.  His previous creation ‘Pocket Cricket’ is now part of Cricket Australia’s official merchandise line and he probably deserves similar success with his footy game.

‘Pocket Footy’ is seven different coloured six-sided dice and a sheet of rules squeezed into a 6x9cm cloth drawstring bag. Four of the dice represent your defence, midfield, wing and forward line positions. The other three dice govern the results of centre bounces/ball ups, kicking accuracy and umpire whistles. Quarters are five minutes long. The only thing you need supply is something to keep track of the score.

Starting with the centre bounce one player rolls to decide who gets the ‘ball’ then play proceeds to the midfield.  Roll the midfield die and you either keep possession through a run and bounce, handball off to another midfielder, kick to the wing or forward line or in the worst case scenario the umpire has a say in proceedings. True to life the outcome is rarely the right one. Disappointingly the umpire die isn’t yellow nor does it have a maggot on it which would have made for a nice touch.

Most positional kicks require you to roll the purple % die to see whether you mark cleanly, have the ball punched away or turn it over. Keep possession and you roll the positional die the ‘ball’ stopped at for the next set of play. Turn it over and your opponent starts from that same position except in the forward line where naturally the defence gains possession. Get the ball successfully to your forwards and you have a shot on goal. There are a couple of advanced rules allowing for a change of die result based on certain conditions.

The dice mechanics provide ‘Pocket Footy’ with a fast flow, plenty of near misses and turnovers, all elements of a good footy game. Luck clearly plays a massive part but take that on face value and it adds to the fun. Most importantly you’re not mucking around with a gazillion rule interpretations; maybe something the AFL should look into quick smart.

Those looking for tactics should look elsewhere as at its heart it’s a pure simulation game requiring some mental visualisation of the ball’s position. The fact that handballs are always successful is a minor niggle; perhaps there could have been a % die for this disposal method. Still I understand the designer’s hesitance here. Any temptation to build in more elements of real life rules would mean a shopping bag full of dice and more stoppages than your average Swans match.

Overall I really liked this one. Part of it might be my championing of independent outfits but ‘Pocket Footy’s’ mix of elegant play and portability are drawcards. You can pull this one out anywhere with a flat stable surface and for $12 (+ $1 postage worldwide) it’s a steal. Hawks fans though a word of caution; the small components could cause choking in the last quarter.

Quick, someone buy Bruce a copy so it’s at hand whenever he feels like a ‘last roll of the dice.’

About Tom Bally

Born in 1834 Tom Bally was instrumental in establishing the rules of the modern game. It's a little known fact and the rare times he talks about it all he'll say is "that bloody Wills chap got me full of grape one night and the next thing I know he's peacocking around Richmond Paddock like he dreamt up the whole thing on his lonesome. Still I got the last laugh didn't I eh? Introducing the Umpire and all that."

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