Australian Design Group, £29
Designed by Peter Grosse
2 to 24 players, about an hour
Reviewed by Mike Clifford
Let's consider some inconceivable pairings: How about The Sun newspaper and truth? Or Tony Benn and sanity? Beirut and stability? And most unlikely of all, Harry Rowland and a soccer game. Harry Rowland is the Antipodean behind World In Flames and Days Of Decision, outstanding games both, but which certainly do not qualify him or his minions to produce a World Cup/Olympic football tournament replay. In fact, am I correct in thinking that the Aussies have only qualified once for the World Cup, and don't even have a professional league? I feel personally affronted by this impudent intrusion.
This dubious background set the negative wheels in motion, and a quick perusal of the rule book seemed to confirm suspicions. WCTFG appeared to be a third-rate Wembley clone, but without the excitement factor. And then some clever sod said 'read the Player's Notes'. And we did, and all was revealed. Not only is WCTFG a first-rate game, with a particularly clever card mechanism, but it also rates a '10' on the fun scale.
As you would expect from a company whose graphics are matched only by those of GMT's Roger MacGowan, WCTFG is a particularly attractive package, although let down a tad by the O Level artwork on the box cover. The full colour playing board is double-sided, the counters well up to the standard of WIF and the unwieldy (192!) card deck clear and concise.
Game play consists of selecting teams to compete in the tournament (either fictional, or a historical chart is included for all previous World Cups and loads of team counters are provided), randomly selecting which sides each player will secretly 'manage', and playing cards from an initial deal of five each, which are replenished each turn. Both the team counters and cards have two numbered sections. The first (football symbol) indicates goals scored, the second (goalie icon) represents penalties and is used as a tie-breaker. Each team is rated either 0, 1 or 2 and these values are added to the cards played to give a final total which decides group positions in the preliminary round and individual match scores in the knockout section.
And therein lies the clever bit. Players may influence not only their own teams, but those of the other participants. What joy as you lay three '0' cards on Scotland (if you are English) or England (if you are Scottish). The clandestine arrangement at the beginning of the game allows furtive play, and chances are that you will not want to reveal the teams under your guidance until they have safely qualified from the round-robin segment. Subterfuge is paramount in WCTFG, and those unable to remain deadpan will find themselves easy prey.
Whilst the preliminary boxes are being filled (maximum 3 cards, face-up), it is also permissable to lay cards on any 'pitch' for the subsequent knock-out rounds (again, a maximum of 3 cards, but these are played face-down). For example: As the manager of Brazil (rated 2, one of the best), you have played 2 'hat-trick' (3 goals) cards, giving a total of 8, which should be sufficient to win the group. Once qualification is certain, you may then play adverse cards on your likely opponents in the next round and positive cards on your likely 'path' through the tournament. This course of action can be followed through to the final, despite the somewhat limited opportunities for speculating that far in advance, though if you are quick it is possible to at least stack the odds in your favour. Note however that if you get your qualification group wrong, and finish second instead of first, you might find your fast track being utilised by Haiti.
WCTFG can be played by up to 24 players, but experience suggests that the ideal mix is four to six. What immediately saves the game from the 'file in the loft' category is the anticipation of results of all involved, even if determining the outcome of the group matches is a little fussy (especially establishing the four best third place finishers). As long as you don't arrogantly assume (as I did) that WCTFG is no more than a party game, your interest will certainly be maintained. And if you're still in doubt, read those Player's Notes! As with a majority of the better 'made everywhere but UK' games, WCTGF is available from Just Games and Esdevium at around 30 quid (ours, not theirs).
On to the review of Chamelequin or back to the review of Suzerain.
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