Move the Chains: A Football Card Game

First Down MarkerI love football. American football. (I also really like soccer … but they are two completely different animals and really should never be compared. It would be like comparing water polo and volleyball.)

For years I’ve toyed with a couple of different sports-based tabletop games. I even brought a card-based football game called “Fistful of Football” with me to Protospiel in Ann Arbor back in 2009 … it wasn’t a very good game and was shelved as soon as I returned home.  But it sat there in the back of my mind, teasing me with different ways to make it work.

Eventually, I just started over from scratch, with the following goals:

  • *Just* use cards … no board or pawns/markers or other typical football game pieces.
  • Focus on the “chess match” of the two coaches trying to figure out which type of play to use and how to best use their players’ strengths.
  • The coaches should be able to build-up/hone/tune their playbooks as the game went on.
  • Keep the game at a “fantasy football” type level, instead of tracking ability ratings, stats, and other lower-level details.

So, here is what I’ve come up with so far …

The game will mainly function around offensive play cards and a clock/results deck that will randomize outcomes and determine when the game ends.  A few defensive selection cards will help with some of the strategy and bookkeeping, and a smaller deck of player cards will add some flavor, variety and tactics to the game.

ALL ABOUT MOVING THE CHAINS: Instead of using a typical board of a football field with exact location markers for first down and ball position, I wanted to have players simply track the number of first downs they accomplish. Play results are all given relative to getting a first down — one-third of a first down, two-thirds of a first down, first down gained, etc.

Move the Chains Results Icons

For longer plays, the results will essentially be equivalent to gaining multiple first downs. Since most drives in the NFL and college are around 70 yards, I’ve set 7 first downs as being a touchdown.  (I’ll keep how players track their progress as a secret for now.)

This means that there won’t be any kickoffs or punts … everyone just starts, essentially, on their own 30 for their drive, unless a player misses a field goal, a 4th down attempt, or there is a turnover.  So, there *will* be field goals, turnovers, and break-away runs — but no kickoffs or punts.

OFFENSE, DEFENSE, and RESULTS: The main deck of cards will be 49 offensive play cards.  These cards are broken down into 5 different formations and 5 different play types.  Keeping things high-level, the “plays” are simply descriptions of the types of play (such as “Run Inside” or “Pass Short”) and not specific play diagrams.

 Move the Chains - Offense Cards Examples

You’ll notice that the formation is shown on the back of the card.  This is to give the defense a hint as to what the play might be. “Heavy” formation has a lot more runs than it does passes, while the “Pro Split” is quite balanced and “Spread” has the most passes.  The card backs also show the Run-to-Pass ratio as an added reminder.

A normal play would have the offensive player presenting 1 play card facedown, so that the defender can see the formation.  The defender would then place 1 Defense card face-down and another on top of it face-up.  The face-up card shows the type of play the defense will be “strong” against on this play, while the face-down card holds what the defense will be “weak” again.  The other 3 types of plays will be defended in a “normal” manner.

Move the Chains - Defense Cards

Once ready, the offense’s play is revealed, followed by the defense’s weakness.  Then a single “Clock/Results” card is turned over from that deck to find which result symbol will be used for the current play — the large icon at the top of the card.

Move the Chains - Clock/Results Card Examples

There are 3 different result symbols — the Shield means “better for the defense,” the equal-sign-in-a-circle means “about average,” and the Football means “better for the offense.”  Using the symbol and the Strong/Normal/Weak status of the defense for the type of play that is being run, the results are found on the grid on the face of the Offense Play card.

That’s the basics of how plays are carried out.  There are 32 Clock/Results cards, with a few of them reserved to simulate using timeouts … but once through the deck will be the end of a half.

DEALING, DRAFTING, and BUILDING: Some of the cards will be dealt out as the start of the players’ decks of offensive play cards.  Then there will be some drafting to let players adjust their decks for the start of the game.  After that, each positive results for a player (first down for offense, stop for no gain for defense) will allow that player to select and add another card to their deck.  Over the course of about the first half, the players should have their decks completely built.

However many of each thing will happen exactly?  I’m not sure yet … but that’s what the early testing will be for.

Move the Chains - Player Card - BackAlso for early testing: Working out each of the 441 results cells to make sure they seem realistic, while allowing for excitement as well.

AND MORE: I haven’t even mentioned the Player Cards yet … or audibles … or “doubling down” on defense … but I think this first intro post is long enough for now.  More after I get my initial prototype decks for testing. :)

About MattWorden

My name is Matt Worden, and this is my website ... I live in Minnetrista, MN, with my wife and our 2 awesome kids.
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One Response to Move the Chains: A Football Card Game

  1. Neil Roberts says:

    Looks like you’ve made some good choices about what aspects of the game to simulate. Looking forward to hearing more.

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