If you’re new to fantasy football, read our intro to fantasy football.
The online Fantasy Football market is undoubtedly one of the most crowded and competitive gaming markets on the web, forget war games, forget Football Manager, forget Lemmings (I bet some can’t even remember Lemmings?!!), all you need for a game is a list of footballers, a fictitious budget and a load of armchair Fergies.
So in this uber-crowded market, which games stand head and shoulders above the rest, and have made it into our top five?
Americans don’t get football, so I’m told. Apparently calling it “soccer” prohibits them from having any passable input into the beautiful game. But when it comes to Fantasy Football, the boys at ESPN have done a damn good job. As detailed as you would expect from the ultimate statistics zone, ESPN’s game offers players the chance to select not just a Premier League Fantasy team, but a La Liga one, a Serie A one, a Mexican Primera Division, the Argentine Championship and the UEFA Champions League. Enough to satisfy even the most broad-minded of football fans.
The presentation is littered with advertising, as expected, which can make the home page look a little cluttered for my liking, but the overall game is impressive. The rules are pretty standard, £100m budget, squad of fifteen players, points for goals, clean sheets and assists etc etc.
The slight difference offered by ESPN is that there is no limit on the amount of players you can select from one team. This is something which I think detracts from the quality, and trickiness of the game. Although inevitably the big players from the big clubs are the priciest, the lack of restriction means that theoretically you could have the Chelsea back four, with the United strike-force. For me the essence of Fantasy Football is in the bargain basement striker- Amr Zaki say- who you pick because you are stuck within a £5m budget, and who comes up with some serious points.
Anyhow I am nitpicking, the game is a damn good effort. A little slow loading, perhaps due to the sheer volume of features available. There is a message board there if you want to get Fantasy Banter going (Fanter? Bantasy?), there is the standard league option so you and your mates can go head-to-head, you get 30 transfers over the course of the season, and you can avoid those empty midweeks by selecting a Champions League team.
There are even prizes, the top scoring manager for each month wins a copy of FIFA 09, whilst the overall winner of the Premier League game for example gets a jersey of his/her choice, a $100 ESPN.com gift card, and five EA Sports video games. Not a bad haul considering it’s a free-to-play game. Good stuff, considering this lot are American.
4. Times Online
“Pay?” I hear you cry, “For a Fantasy Football game?” Ok, so I admit, at £3 a team (or three teams for £6) this is not the most economically friendly Fantasy Football game on the market- especially with the financial world about to hide under its duvet with its fingers in its ears. But Times Online has that extra incentive, the first prize is a whopping £50,000, with runners-up prizes of £5,000 for second place and £2,000 for third.
In addition to this, there are mini league prizes, with the highest scoring mini league winning £15,000 between its members, and the highest scoring “Chairman” of a mini league receiving £5,000 itself. It’s like the Manchester City of Fantasy Games.
The game itself is both basic and complex, if that makes sense. The basic nature is the same as most others, eleven players, £100m budget, choice of formations. But this game gives a little bit extra. For a start, it incorporates the Scottish Premier League into the game, meaning you can mix Celtic & Rangers with Manchester United & Chelsea- like a David Murray wet dream.
It also brings European football into the equation, with points earned by players playing in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. This is a fine concept, as it means that invariably you will always have something to look forward to midweek, rather than having to turn to your UEFA Champions League/ESPN Champions League team. It does however punish fans of non-European competing clubs, as your favourites will fall behind in value due to their lesser number of games.
The game offers a captain system, with double points awarded to your selected captain- this skipper can be changed up to five times during the season, but other than that the points system is pretty samey- goals, assists, clean sheets, yellow cards, red cards, missed penalties etc.
One nice concept is the Loans system offered (up to five a season), where teams can loan in players for a four week period to cover against injury or suspension without using a transfer (up to twenty a season), it also means that you can bring in a player who has a good run of fixtures and then see him leave when the tougher games come in.
The Times is probably a more in-depth game than most on the market (although it’s other game “PlayTheGame” makes this game look like pre-school business, but the prize fund and the simplicity of it makes it a huge success. I like.
Read our Times Online Fantasy Football Review.
Another pay-to-play game, the Telegraph was the first National Fantasy Football game in the UK back in 1993, and is still going strong today. At £6 per team, or two for £10, the Telegraph is a fairly expensive game compared to many others, but the prizes on offer are substantial. The overall winner receives £50,000, with £5,000 and £2,500 to second and third respectively. There are also monthly prizes of £1,000 and weekly prizes of £200 to be won by the highest scoring manager, as well as a Golden Boot prize of £1000 awarded to the team which scores the most goals in the season. Money money money.
In terms of the game, it is pretty much as you were. The Telegraph have been operating the same way since the concept started, the points system is simple, the presentation is neat and uncomplicated, and there are few surprises- the best players pick up the most points.
There are also games for the Coca Cola Championship, League One & League Two, so if you prefer Matty Fryatt to Wayne Rooney, or Ben Watson to Steven Gerrard, then you can show off your lower league prowess. Even other sports are represented, there are cricket and horse racing games to be played as well.
One other good gimmick that the Telegraph have come up with is by getting Alan Hansen & Jose Mourinho to pick their own sides, and the website runs a weekly round up of how the two are faring against each other- Hansen is currently 140 points, and 126,000 places better off than the Special One, although he may just have slightly more time on his hands.
All in all the Telegraph offers an uncomplicated package, the £6 fee may put some players off, but the £50k prize kitty will attract others, and the laid back nature of the game, and the website itself, means it is a quick and easy game to play. And who really wants to miss a chance to tell their mates they are a better manager than Mourinho (and there are 131,000 of you out there at the moment apparently!).
Read our Telegraph Fantasy Football Review.
2. The Guardian
The Guardian, and its readers, like to think themselves as connoisseurs of the game. Thinking men & women as opposed to your tabloid quoting, beer swilling, stereotypical fan. Of course they are totally wrong in this, but this attitude is undoubtedly reflected in their Fantasy Football Game.
The first thing that strikes you about the Guardian’s effort is the complexity of the points scoring system. Yeah we all know that goals win matches, clean sheets earn points and assists count for midfielders, but the Guardian game takes Fantasy Football that bit further by analysing the contributions that really matter.
Who would you say are the best defenders in the Premier League? Rio Ferdinand? John Terry? Jamie Carragher if you ask me and my red tinted specs. But the Guardian’s statisticians currently have the top three defenders as Martin Laursen, followed by Michael Turner & Andy O’Brien, with Titus Bramble in fifth place!
Why? Well the points system used is far more detailed and hard to suss than most other games. Yes the usual suspects are there, clean sheets count of course (though they are split into first half clean sheets and second half clean sheets, which is a neat trick), but points are awarded for each tackle won, each clearance, each block, each interception, each accurate cross, each shot on target and each save by a goalkeeper.
Therefore, the likes of Bramble, O’Brien & Turner, whilst not being as accomplished as the likes of Terry, Ferdinand & Carragher, earn points simply by being kept busy. The more busy a defender is, the better. Of course they lose points by conceding goals, but they win them back by getting in the way of a few shots and hacking the ball clear.
The game has also kept up to date with modern tactics and systems, with a huge range of weird and wonderful formations on offer. Forget 4-4-2, it’s all about 4-2-3-1 these days, with two holding midfielders (there is a special selection pool for defensive midfield players, which Gareth Barry & Denilson lead the way in), and three attacking midfielders behind a lone striker (Jermain Defoe if you are smart, Fernando Torres if you are biased). Or you could go wild and have 3-4-3, with a flat midfield and three forwards (but in this game it’s the defence that gets the points!).
Transfers are limited to 5 a month, and squads are limited to 15 (with a maximum of three from any one team), there are the usual mini leagues and such like, with prizes of £25,000 for the winner, £10,000 for second place, and £3,000 for third place, with a monthly prize of £1,000 and a weekly prize of a signed Premier League shirt to the top scoring manager.
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the points system is hard to get to grips with, and the website can be a little slow at times (although that could just be my computer!), but for the deep thinking football fan, this is the game for you.
Read our Guardian Fantasy Football Review.
Ok, predictable maybe, but this game really is the best out there, trust me.
The Premier League game, as might be expected, enjoys the full backing of the Premier League, meaning all the official strips and logos are plastered across the screen- even West Ham’s new sponsor is represented, and the game has the authentic feel in comparison to other games- a bit like FIFA 09 up against Pro Evolution Soccer in terms of presentation.
Rules wise, I am beginning to sound like a broken record I know, but there are few shocks here. The one concept which the Premier League game has over its competitors is the Bonus feature, whereby bonus points of 1, 2 and 3 are awarded to the top three performers in every match. This has caused controversy in the past with certain players seemingly receiving bonus points through reputation alone- e.g. Steven Gerrard received 1 point for his 12 minute cameo against Manchester United earlier this season- but is a useful way of rewarding players who play well but don’t make points scoring contributions- e.g. a keeper who makes a string of saves but lets a couple in, or a defensive midfielder who bosses the match but doesn’t score or set a goal up.
The transfer system is a lot less rigid than in other games, with each team awarded one free transfer per Gameweek. They are then able to make unlimited transfers, but at a cost of 4 points per transfer. In addition to this, each team is given a “Transfer Wildcard” to be used any time during the season, this allows a side to make an unlimited amount of transfers in a particular week, without any points cost. Ideal for when those winter injuries and suspensions kick in.
The website is as easy to use as it gets, all major issues are covered- FAQs, Transfers, Rules, Player Lists etc- managers even get the option to pick the order in which their substitutes will appear (subs are brought in if a player in your starting line up doesn’t feature), as well as change their captain (double points for him) every week. Formations vary from 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 5-3-2 & 5-4-1, and the budget and pricing system makes the game hard to master.
Another nice touch is the addition of the “Team of the week” feature, whereby you can view both the highest scoring actual team of the week, plus the highest score you could have possibly made for each Gameweek. There is also a “Pundit” section, which usually focuses on a big game each week, and shows the biggest movers in transfer value or points total each week.
A new feature brought in this year is the Head to Head league, which pits your team with 19 others in a league situation. Rather than basing the league table on total points, the Head to Head league allocates fixtures each week, and the team with the most points in each fixture earns itself three points. It is a neat feature, and adds extra realism to the fantasy, if that is at all possible.
The prize is probably the only real place where the game falls down, although as a free-to-play game that is to be expected. First prize is a VIP trip for two to a Premier League game of your choice, featuring tickets, accommodation, travel and spending money (£250), there are also monthly prizes given out to the highest scoring teams of digital cameras, mp3 players, and replica kits.
All in all, for presentation, ease of use, accuracy, and enjoyment, I would say the Premier League Fantasy Football game is by far the most complete on the market at the moment, just make sure you don’t sign Torres til at least the New Year!
Read our Premier League Fantasy Football Review.
Which are your favourite fantasy football games?