Can you outwit your opposing coach by calling all of the right plays?
Android & iOS
# of Players
Eagle Gryphon Games
Football Highlights 2052 is a back-and-forth deck building game from Eagle Gryphon Games, brought to the digital realm by Peter Kossits. Players use their cards to call offensive and defensive plays, attempting to score touchdowns and field goals while stopping their opponent. After four quarters, the game ends with the team having the most points winning, this typically takes about 25 minutes.
As you might have gathered, this is the spiritual successor to Baseball Highlights 2045. I reviewed that one a while back and found myself really enjoying the underlying game despite some flaws in the digital version. Spoiler alert: this review is going to play out a lot like that one.
A game begins with each player starting on the opposing 45 yard line. They are dealt ten cards each from their chosen team. Each card has two different plays on it; offense and defense. The first player chooses a card to play for offense. Offensive plays can be run or pass and can be directed to three different sections of the field; right, middle, left. There is also a yardage on the play and, potentially, some other keyword information for unique circumstances. Once played, the defense responds by playing their own card. The defensive play call similarly has run or pass plays and can cover one, two, or all three of the field directions. Audibles are optionally called it one side doesn’t like their option, and then the play is resolved.
To resolve a play, first it is determined if the defensive play type (run or pass) matches the offensive play call. If it doesn’t the offense gets to run its play unimpeded and also gets a bonus yardage which can potentially add huge gains to the play. This is the worst case for the defense. More optimally, the defense will at least match the play type. In this case, it is determined if the defense matched the section of the field. Many offensive, and defensive, plays can cover multiple sections. The offense always gets the option to run a play to an uncovered section in Football Highlights. If the offense can’t run an uncovered play, the defensive condition is taken. This can range from a sack (loss of yards), a pick six (touchdown for the defense), no gain, minus X yards, and so on. A basic example would be if the offense ran a play to gain 25 yards and the defense matched the type and section of the field with the text of “minus 10 yards, minimum 0.” The result here would be the offense gaining 15 yards on the play.
After the play is resolved, the defensive play is flipped upside down which is where the offensive play is shown. The opposing team (who just ran an offensive play) must play a defense to counter this offensive play. Each drive starts at the 45 yard line and lasts until four downs are over or a team scores a touchdown or field goal. Ten cards are played by each team during each half. At halftime there is a brief card drafting period where each team adds five new players to their team and must cut five of their current players. The second half plays out exactly like the first. Should a drive stall and the fourth down play does not result in a touchdown, a field goal is attempted. Field position, kicking power of your fourth down card, and a bit of random luck play a part in determining if a field goal succeeds or not.
That’s basically the gist of Football Highlights. There are a slew of small details such as safeties, two point conversions, penalties, injuries, hail marys, and some others. All of these add some nice layers of depth to consider while playing, but aren’t necessarily vital to understand the game.
This is a really fun game. I thought Baseball Highlights was also a really fun game and enjoyed the baseball theme it was wrapped in, but it never felt like I was playing a game of baseball. Football Highlights makes significant strides in that area. The crux of the game is tactically deciding whether to focus on stopping your opponent or playing a strong offensive card. The penalty for not matching your opponent’s play is brutal, so you almost have to get that much right, but do you really want to spend your best defense card right now to fully block the play or would you rather give up 20 yards but get to make a better play call on offense? Do you want to use one of your three audibles to try to luck into a better call or is the current bad call acceptable enough to let it slide? Each turn, or down, in the game presents this kind of choice and it is a ton of fun.
There are some very powerful cards which can turn games instantly. Despite very much being an “act and respond” type of game, there is a fair share of luck which is mostly introduced via audibles which can result in blind draws from your deck. The agonizing feeling of having a perfect play called only to have it randomly squashed by an audible is all too familiar.
All of this adds up to a great deck builder. The tension is high and the decisions tough. Games can swing quickly with a defensive score followed by a big play. I can safely say that this surpasses Baseball Highlights for me as it does a better job of making me feel like I’m coaching the actual sport and not playing a card game.
Barrier to Entry
Football Highlights features a tutorial which walks you through the first half of a game, providing instructions on how to perform actions and also some insight into strategies behind why you might want to do certain things. In the second half of the tutorial game, the game makes strategic suggestions but doesn’t hold you to using them. There are no text rules in the game, but I think the tutorial does a good job of covering most things. There are some odds and ends which aren’t covered all that well, or at all, in the tutorial. These, however, are explained as they occur. Examples are a safety or what to do when an injury occurs. I am coming from a background of having played Baseball Highlights, however, so my personal learning curve would be lower than those who haven’t played that game.
Look and Feel
The controls in the game are simple and work well. Drag-and-drop cards, with some button choices to be made during specific portions of the game such as deciding whether to audible or confirming the players you are cutting at halftime. There is no undo button in the game, but each turn immediately results in hidden information being revealed, so it is difficult to see how an undo button could be effectively added. You can back out of running an offensive audible if you don’t like your options, which is effectively an undo.
Visually, the game doesn’t look great by any means. It’s entirely functional, but nothing about the game pops. There are some nice animations here and there, but those run a little slowly, and overall the look is a bit disjointed at times. The card art is cartoon but the referees making the field goal signs use photographs (with robotic eyes added, for good measure). It’s an odd mismatch. The text styling is bland and the colors don’t pop. In short, don’t come to Football Highlights for the visual flair.
The game does a good job of presenting all of the information on screen at once. The top section has the current game situation, you can see all of the cards in your hand, and information on the current play is presented clearly.
There is no multiplayer in this game, it is entirely single player.
There are two modes of play: single game and season. Single game is, as you would expect, playing one game against AI with any two of the four available teams you choose. Season has you selecting one of those teams and playing against the others in a season format where records are kept. The season is six weeks long, having you play each team once. You can only keep one season going at a time.
The biggest potential downside here is that there are no AI levels. I’ve played quite a few games and I find it to be challenging with almost all games being close, but it is always difficult to judge how a game without distinct AI levels will hold up in the long run. Will the AI get too easy? It is tough to tell in a game like this. There are clearly optimal plays most of the time, but how does the AI weigh playing a strong defense versus setting themselves up for a strong offensive play?
Adding to this issue is the fact that the true solo mode from the physical game did not get ported to the digital version. A fantastic way to remove the need for strong, varied AI is to have a true solo mode. Football Highlights has this in its physical game, but it didn’t make it to the digital implementation.
This is truly a no frills app. There is limited stat keeping kept in season but only shows in between season games.
Baseball Highlights was oft-expanded with new teams, promo cards, and much more. Football Highlights (the physical version) is a new game, releasing in 2019, so they haven’t begun that expansion rollout yet.
As it stands, the game features four teams. Three of the NFL bluebloods headlining things; Dallas, New England, and San Francisco. Philadelphia is there as well for some unexplained reason, perhaps the designer is a fan or they meant Pittsburgh but didn’t catch their mistake until development was too far in? We may never know. For the teams that exist, the players often have names using some of the franchise favorites. Emmitt Dorsett is a Dallas player, for example, combining Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett (this card features a running play, as you would hope). There are also players from other teams mixed in for the draft. J.J. Clowney is an already dated ode to Houston, for example. It is fun, as a football fan, to see these players.
The Wrap Up
Football Highlights 2052 is a fun game. I prefer it over Baseball Highlights 2045. It does a really good job of making you feel like you are coaching a football game. The tactical back-and-forth on each play makes for a really tight, tense game. Weighing a potentially strong offensive play versus a potentially strong defense provides a great, tough decision on every turn. Add in audibles which, as in real football, can be game breakers and you’ve got a really fun duel.
The digital implementation is, unfortunately, lacking in many areas. No multiplayer is especially heartbreaking given how incredibly well two player deck builders tend to translate into online games. Elsewhere, the visuals are dated and lacking while the absence of true solo mode from the physical game feeds into the lack of distinct AI difficulty levels.
Overall, this app works best as an inexpensive way to test out Football Highlights 2052 and decide if you like it enough to grab the physical version. It isn’t one I see myself returning to all that often, despite the fun underlying game. There simply isn’t enough in the digital version to keep me coming back.