Reviewed by Ellis Simpson
The Return of Heavyweight Champ is a Lambourne product which I picked up at the Burton meet. It is a solitaire game in which you select a (British) boxer and manage him on his way to (hopefully) the world heavyweight title and beyond.
You are initially presented with a selection of 10 (British) hopefuls. Their game stats and a mini biography are provided. Having made your choice the details are entered onto an A4 double sided control sheet which keeps track of events.
The game unfolds in monthly turns. Each turn there will be a variety of opponents on offer. You can put the boxer into fight, or train in the gym, or switch (money permitting) to and from a UK or USA base. Each month you calculate the cash out (from training and fight expenses) and cash in (from fighting) to give you a running cash balance that is a measure of success as well as the actual fighting record.
The opponents willing to meet you are randomly generated from 67 individually crafted fighters. Each of them has his own game stats and mini profile on a cut out card. The willing foes depend upon your current reputation. This is a clever mechanism whereby the more successful you are, generally, the more dangerous your opponents are likely to be. Reputation points go up when you win (and vary according to how you win, who you beat etc) and down when you lose. Of course, to get a crack at the title you need to build up your reputation but to build up your reputation you need to keep winning. To keep winning bouts you'll need to do well in training and have a little luck in the ring.
And not run out of time. The first 6 months is a deadline for the cash balance to be in credit failing which the managerial contract is ended and after 36 months there is a rule for the effects of age.
If you don't fight you can train. Training is dependent on a random set of tables and the availability of experience points. These you secure by fighting. Thus, you have to fight to get experience to train to improve your skills to fight to get experience and so on. Your training will need to be varied and there is always the risk of injury.
One major choice open to you as manager is whether or not to opt for a move to the States or to stay at home. A USA base will get you better quality opponents, quicker recognition, and more chance of injury/burnup as a result of the demanding pace. It's also more expensive at the outset, but it does save you money if you end up with bouts against other USA based fighters.
In the short game (see next paragraph) you will be focussing on skill, punching power and defence. The better your skill the more you are likely to win the round. So, a first strategy is to train in the gym and work on your fighter's skill. You promptly step into the ring where some no hoper loses 5 rounds out of 6 only to clobber you with a haymaker punch. Oops; back to the bag to concentrate on building up the punch power, or road work to get the defence in tune and so on. These are the decisions a manager must make in the game and they are far from easy. It is very frustrating to have done all that graft only to have the fight stopped because of cuts!
In the ring you can resolve fights using the simple system provided (called the short game) or use the fully fledged version of boxing simulation provided by Lambourne (separately) as Championship Boxing which, with a degree of understatement is referred to as the long game. The simple system involves using a special deck of cards and provides ample chrome; fights can be won on points, or knockouts or stoppages or cuts. This way the bouts take a maximum of five minutes to resolve and the complete campaign game can easily be run through 36 months in 90 minutes or less.
If the boxer makes it he can attain British, Commonwealth or World championship status resulting in a need to defend titles and more pressure. Being the undisputed number one is probably when the game is at its weakest because what one does by way of picking and choosing bouts at this stage is a bit wooly. Never mind. Getting there is great fun.
In essence this is a roll 'em and read 'em game of dice and charts. The production is typical Lambourne - photocopied A4 card - and whilst serviceable is uninspiring in itself. Common sense says, because of that the game should be lack lustre and a dull playing experience.
Far from it. Terry Goodchild has managed to incorporate enough chrome and characterization in the fighters to ensure that the sports gamer will have intense pleasure. He will also sometimes have bouts of frustration (sic!) as he attempts to secure what no real British boxer is likely to achieve. This is one of those rare games that is truly likely to be worn away with play.
Excellent value for money and only one error that springs to mind: the short game training circuits are both labelled 'European' and the lower one should be relabelled as 'American'. Highly recommended.
On a further look at The Return, I have the following observations:-
1. It would be a nice option to be able to fight, for example, only the world title bouts using the Championship Boxing system. For this there would need to be a way of translating the short game stats to the full thing. At present only the starting stats are given for both systems. The translation procedure could be used both ways so that historical bouts (ie with real fighters) could be fought in the short game manner.
2. The costs of training look a little low, particularly for title holders. My suggestion is that the costs be raised to 2k for a fighter who becomes British champ, 3k for Commonwealth champ, 4k for European champ and 10k for World champ. Losing/forfeiting the title would not reduce these costs.
3. I wonder if the fight negotiation table could be improved by a greater variety of results? For example, a fighter at the top reputation is stuck pretty well with a world title bout that he may not want and he is likely to have exhausted his mismatch option. Might a 2d6 roll across the top of the table be used? This would allow the present range of opponents to be expanded upon.
4. A fighter who becomes world champ should be able to pick his opponent or be given more options than presently exist - and more problems. Whilst achieving that coveted title gives great pleasure, what follows thereafter is left too much to the inventiveness and knowledge of the gamer. More rules/guidance/options would be very welcome. What about making each turn take up 2 months (natural lethargy in the wake of success) as a simple twist? Might the champ select any opponent from 50+ for a non title bout with purse determined as per the table and a 1d6 multiplier? You could even have a Fate Table for such niceties as 'wrapping Porsche round lamp post' or 'going three rounds with ex wife - TKO' or similar!
5. Here are other 'games' to be played with Return: (a) run a knockout competition with all 67 boxers (3 prelim bouts) then going from 64 to 32 to 16 etc and using a seeding system as per Wimbledon. Thus 67 takes on 1, 66 takes on 2 etc., all over 10 or 12 rounds; (b) try to work out the shortest amount of time each of the contenders could legitimately become world champ assuming they could fix the die rolls and card draws;
6. Is an expansion kit a possibility? New boxers would be nice. What about a similar set for other weights in boxing, or other sports?
Lambourne Games can be contacted at 8 Waters Avenue, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR33 8BJ (0502-562748).
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