IF Comp 2012 – Kicker

The kind of kicker with which I am more familiar: from the board game Cosmic EncounterI don’t think that it’s a spoiler to reveal that this is a simulation game, not only of American football, but of what it is like to play the kicker position.

I am bringing a lot of emotional baggage to this review, so in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I lived in Buffalo, New York from 1988 to 1997. You can’t live in Buffalo without being a fan of the Buffalo Bills, and you can’t be a fan of the Buffalo Bills without suffering.  In particular, during the period that I was there, the Bills went to the Superbowl four times in a row. And lost four times in a row.

Despite sitting through too many games to count, consuming the yearly output of the sun in suicidally hot Duff’s Wings, nearly freezing to the aluminium benches in Rich Stadium in -40 degree weather, and knowing all the stats on every player during that period, I don’t know the first thing about football… except that Scott Norwood missed the final kick in Superbowl XXV, and to this day, if there is just one thing that I and everyone else who still lives in Buffalo can remember about football, it is that one 47-yard field goal that went sailing to the side of the uprights and cost Buffalo their one true chance at victory.

So, when this story relates that kickers are held in low esteem by their teammates and everyone else in society, I can believe it.

Enough about me… onto the game itself.

This is really a first class effort — the descriptions are well written and beyond reacting to player actions in the usual sense, must also conform to the rules of American football. The status bar has been modified to track the field position, who has possession, team scores, etc.

When I started playing this, I tried to make rational decisions and to follow the rules. But, as was the case for me in school, I have little interest in watching others play. The game continued to unfold while I searched under the benches and tried to make conversation with everyone nearby. Occasionally, I’d be tapped to go in, but the rest of the time, I was in my own world.

Unfortunately, there are a limited number of things to do on the bench, as everyone’s reaction is to brush you off. Absent other things to explore, I found that I had little choice but to watch the game or wait. Maybe that’s the point: being a kicker is a mixture of boredom and social exclusion. At this point in the game, I realized that if that’s the case, I might as well cut my losses early and I quit. Although the writing is good and the attention to making this a detailed simulation is certainly there, I just couldn’t bring myself to repeatedly watch the game / kick / watch the game / g/ g/ g/…

Story: 6

I recall playing another game, I think it was as part of a Club Floyd session a few years back, where the object was to get into the equipment needed for fencing — another IF piece addressing a very specific domain. I wonder how many other sports-simulation IF works are out there.

The “story” in this piece is not strong in terms of plot. I’m not sure if the game that is programmed is deterministic or if it has random elements that change on replay, but for me, the story was more about other characters’ reactions to me, the kicker.

Voice: 6

There’s a negative tone about kickers, but we don’t know much about this particular kicker, or how he feels. As I played him, he must either be naive or unusually optimistic, because no matter how many times he was rebuked, he kept searching for people to interact with.

Play: 6

Everything worked smoothly and I did get reasonable responses to everything that I tried, but this story is not playable as a game. The player’s actions may delay the game, force time outs, etc., but I don’t think they truly change the course of the game or have side effects beyond the football game.

Polish: 8

This work has been carefully written and proofed. I’ll have to give the author the benefit of the doubt on the accuracy of the football rules, but at first glance, they seem right.

Technical:  8

I didn’t encounter any glitches, and this work gets some credit for creative use of the status bar and for maintaining the football simulation in the background of the story.

Average: 6.8

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