Private Leagues: Yes
* It’s free
* Private Leagues are easy to setup
* You can enter multiple Private leagues with a single team
* Fluctuating player values adds a play the market strategy
* Squad system with automatic substitutions keeps the casual players in touch
* Well-balanced scoring system
* Wealth of statistical support if you want it
* Live score updates
* Free mid-season national knockout cup competition
* New Free Head to Head League
* Deters Multi-entrant managers
* No cash prizes
* The bonus point system can be frustrating
* The wealth of information makes discovering gems a little easy
* The Captain=double Points system can require hands on management
* Level of team management can create some divide between casual and hands-on managers
You build a squad of 15 for 100 million from which you pick your 11 using the choice of formations. You get one transfer per week with additional weekly transfers available for the cost of 4 points off your total. You also have one opportunity to play a “wildcard” and make unlimited transfers for one entire gameweek for no point cost. You can tinker with your lineup each week but, in your absence, the game will auto adjust your lineup and formation to maximize the number of players that appear for you each gameweek.
Scoring is not traditional but pretty simple all the same. Players get 2 points for appearing on the pitch and 3 for any assists they contribute. Forwards get 4 points for a goal, midfielders 5 and defenders and keepers 6 points. Clean Sheets meanwhile, get defenders and goalkeepers 4 points and midfielders a single point. Additional “bonus” points are awarded to the top 3 performing players on the pitch, whilst the points haul from your assigned captain is doubled each gameweek.
This game hosted by the official Premier League website is a gem. It’s one of the very games that has its own rules and systems and yet displays a clear understanding of what it takes to balance a Fantasy Football game. Everything from the differentiation in points scoring for goals, to the inclusion of a “wildcard” opportunity to allow managers to start from scratch, it’s all been included with a clear regard for the overall balance of the game. Meanwhile, the support available to managers via the website statistics, injury news and live scoring updates, is second to none. In a nutshell, this is the best free Fantasy Football experience around which is why, for the 2006 season, the game boasted over a million registrations.
The game operates a squad system with each manager having 15 players from which to choose an eleven for each gameweek. There are a wealth of formations available and each week you’re given a single transfer to tinker with. You’re free to make additional changes each week but at a cost of 4 points per transfer. Again this feature works well. You never feel restricted to a single transfer and yet, you are well aware that every additional change eats away at your score. As I’ve mentioned, there’s also one opportunity in the season to use the wildcard and make as many free transfers in a gameweek as you want, so you can always repair that disastrous initial lineup or make some massive strategic changes to gain advantage on your private league rivals.
Even if you’re happy with you lineup, tinkering is something that can pay off since player values fluctuate as the season goes on based on transfer activity in the entire game. So for example, you can sign Drogba in week one, then watch his value soar as more managers jump on board as he starts banging goals in. Similarly, if he fails to do the business, you’ll see his value begin to drop as managers get nervous with the big money they’ve invested and flog him sharpish. There’s plenty of strategy involved here, as you try to anticipate player values rising and falling with form and with some effort, you can actually increase the value of your team quite considerably, giving you an obvious advantage in the transfer market. However, again it’s clear that the designers have put some thought into this system and they’ve been careful to ensure that those players who play the market don’t gain a massive, unassailable advantage. As one of your players increases in value, you’re only able to get half the increase back if you sell him. In other words, Drogba might rise from 11 million to 11.6 but you’re only get 11.3 if you flog him when valued at 11.6. This offers enough incentive to play the market, without creating a major imbalance between the casual and hands-on players. A nice touch.
The website itself offers fantastic support for all managers, whether you’re logging in daily to monitor player values or just once a week to check on injuries and suspensions. In fact, the game even caters for more casual players who want to fire and forget their team. The game has a superb automatic substitution system which swaps in subs for those players in your 11 who don’t appear in a gameweek. This means that more casual players can actually keep in touch with the pack by selecting a strong all-round squad and popping in once a month to make a transfer here and there.
There are a lot of statistics available that, at first glance, could bewilder those new to Fantasy Football but if you take time to do some basic analysis there are actually plenty of tools here to help the new manager. In fact, there’s actually a little too much help here. It only takes a few clicks to identify the form and good value players and, with the wildcard option, a manager can turn his mid-table side into a formidable lineup in one gameweek. Plus, each week, managers get a clear indication of which players are injured or suspended in time for them to swap them out of their lineup. This level of assistance may frustrate those who pride themselves on spotting bargains, unknown talent and keeping up to date with team news but then it means the top Fantasy Managers have to keep on their game to stay ahead. Not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the ways a more dedicated player can earn some advantage is through their chosen captain. Each manager must assign a captain for each gameweek and points scored by that player count double. Again there’s a certain amount of strategy involved here and it’s easy enough to assign Ronaldo as Captain week in week out but then dedicated players might see an advantage by tinkering with their captain according to fixtures and form. Again, it’s a nice game mechanic that balances the overall experience for casual and hands-on managers alike.
For the 2008-09 season, this game got a further boost with the introduction of a free Head to Head league competition. This new dimension placed all new managers in a random league with 19 other managers. Your side is then paired with a rivals side each week in a series of 38 home and away matches. Just like the Premiership, teams earn 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw while points scored and conceded decide your goal difference. It’s a beautifully simple mechanic and a new competition that adds longevity and interest to a fantasy season even if you’re struggling in your own private league.
Honestly it’s hard to find fault with what’s on offer here. If I had to find something then it would be the award of bonus points which can annoy and baffle in equal measure. Each match, 1, 2 and 3 points additional points are awarded to the best 3 players on the pitch. The awarding of these points seems random at times and downright dodgy at others. There are clear favourites when it comes to winning these points – players like Fabregas and Carragher reap in the points even when it appears that there are a half a dozen players more deserving each match. It’s certainly something that needs to be addressed or even scrapped for future seasons as it’s proving frustrating for a good few managers and I’m sure its a source of many emails sent to the organisers.
Despite this little annoyance there’s little doubt that, bar the Original Fantasy League games, this game offers more than most to the dedicated player who wants to invest time in their team. At the same time it also offers plenty of assistance and tools to give the more casual player a fair crack at the title and keep their interest throughout the season. This is all the more surprising when you consider you can play this game for free.
As a solo game, the lack of prize money will put some managers off. The game also limits entry to one team per registration so multi-entrant managers are actively discouraged. However, the fluctuating player market, the lack of transfer windows and the squad based system makes this a very rewarding game to play solo, providing you’re chasing kudos and not a big prize pot and the Fantasy Football kudos doesn’t get any bigger than winning a game with over a million registered teams.
An immensely satisfying solo game then plus, if you’re looking for a free game to set up a private-league with mates. For me, the squad systems, the player market and the fact that you can enter any number of private leagues with a single team, plus the new head to head competition makes this the Fantasy Football game of choice.