I first played Championship Manager, the game that went on to become Football Manager, with the 96/97 edition. That makes me a relative latecomer to the game. It also means I retained four or five years of my life that would otherwise have been categorised as "lost".
The game just does that to you. You'll start playing it at 7pm one evening, only intending to progress it a couple of match days before maybe having a marathon session at the weekend. Next thing you know, it's four in the morning, and all you've really done is watch some numbers change on a screen. It's just that evil.
And so, for years, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of blokes all across the globe have lived the dream of taking their club to glory, winning trophies and titles with all manner of unlikely football clubs. And all by sitting playing, to all intents and purposes, a glorified spreadsheet.
The fools! Do they know what they're doing?
But there's one area of the globe that has not succumbed to the charms of The Beautiful Game - North America. And when you're selling video games, that's a huge market going untapped. But all is not lost! America has a number of sports of its own that they love, almost exclusively. Not only that, they absolutely love sports stats. So the Football Manager engine should be perfect for them. Oh... but they don't like football. If only it could be adapted for use with a sport they do like...
Well, Sports Interactive and Sega gave it a shot with NHL Eastside Hockey Manager, based on a game North America has a lot of love for - ice hockey. It's also a game that I have a fair bit of love for, having lived for a few years in the vicinity of Detroit... otherwise known as Hockeytown. Detroit is home to one of the finest teams in the game, the Detroit Red Wings, and I developed quite an appreciation for them, and the game, in my time there. I was always interested in this game, but never actually got around to buying it. Then I forgot all about it... until I saw it in Cash Converters, costing all of 50 pence!
The Captain. No more needs to be said.
Having played it a fair bit now, I can say that NHL Eastside Hockey Manager really is just an ice hockey version of Football Manager. And I say just... that's not a bad thing, in fact it's perfect. It works very well in the context of ice hockey. You get to run the franchise in exactly the same way as you run your club in the footy version, making all the same kinds of decisions, sending out scouts, setting up tactics, signing players.
That last bit is different, though. American sports don't use the same transfer system as we're used to in football. Instead, they go with drafts and trades. That being the case, your scouting network is incredibly important. You really need to be able to sign up the best young talent possible.
This screen is where you select your lines. This bit is deeper than your average football match.
So far, so good. And in fact, it's hard to be too picky with the game. It plays out a really good management game of ice hockey. And the classic text-plus-graphic representation of the game works just as well here as in Football Manager. There are a few things missing that could improve the game, though:
Not enough fights. In fact I haven't seen any yet. Anybody that watches ice hockey expects a good scrap to break out every now and then. Maybe as the season wears on and the tension increases, there will be some... hope so.
No sound. At all. It would have been nice to have the odd ref's whistle, and even nicer to have the buzzer blaring when a goal is scored. That wouldn't take much, and would add loads to the atmosphere.
GOOOOOALLLLL!!! Listen to the crowd roar! In your head... this game is played behind closed doors.
Not enough face offs. I know that the text just gives you the highlights, but you never, ever seem to see offsides or icings. As large parts of any ice hockey match, you'd expect to see some reference to them in the commentary. This is a bit strange, but can be overlooked in the interests of having a quicker-moving game.
These are but small issues, and the game itself is absolutely fine. It is in no way an arcade game, and in fact you'll have had it on for a good hour before you can even move past day one, by the time you've sent out your scouts and allocated squad positions and set up some tactics. But you're not getting into a game like this for arcade thrills... you've already got EA's NHL series for that. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager is a game that will give you hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of play. Just don't buy it if you have any responsibilities...