Quite inexplicably, given how unsporty a person I am, I have a fondness for games based on sports – even sports I don’t particularly like watching, let alone participating in, in real life. Along with, it seems, most of the world’s population, I do like football, though; which makes me doubly a sucker for soccer games. So when I spotted To Je Fotbal (in English, This Is Football) on sale at a discounted price, I obviously had to buy it immediately.
As readers will probably guess from the foregoing, TJF is neither the first nor the only football-based game in my possession. I have Subbuteo, and Super Striker, and a few others, and they all get dusted off every now and then. How does TJF compare to such old stalwarts?
The first thing that has to be said, straight away on unboxing, is that I like the scale of the game. The player figures stand 45mm tall (that is, approximately 1/40th scale), each mounted on a circular plastic base about 5mm thick; nice and easy to handle, they have more presence than the smaller Subbuteo models and look far more realistic than, say, the chunky Rooney-a-likes of Super Striker. However, there are some issues with the quality of components, in my view. My copy arrived with some slight warping of the three boards that make up the “pitch”; not enough to be a problem, and they tend to flatten out once slotted into the plastic walls that are designed to run along either side of the pitch and connect the three boards, but it’s a little annoying. Each goal is made from a single piece of plastic (an actual net would have been a nice touch), and call me pernickety but for aesthetic reasons alone I would have liked the football to be represented by some kind of spherical representation of a ball rather than by a flat counter. Some such issues are easy to resolve, mind you. I was momentarily a bit concerned, on unpacking the player figures, to find that several forearms had become detached in transit. They just push back into place, having been moulded separately; I’d recommend a dab of glue to make the attachment permanent, as I found a couple of the figures had a tendency to lose their forearms again on being moved around the pitch. Or I suppose you could just count that as an injury, and bring on a substitute…
Another thing to mention is that you won’t find any variety in the teams. The game – which hails, I think, from the Czech Republic – is presented as a “derby” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. You won’t be able to buy additional teams as you can with, say, Subbuteo. On the other hand, there’s no account taken of individual player characteristics in the rules beyond defining them by position as goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, forward or captain, so it doesn’t make a lot of difference other than in the aesthetics of the game, and you can easily just think of the teams as “Reds” and “Blues” if you prefer.
The game rules themselves are pretty straightforward. Movement is alternate and measured on squares, while the movement of the ball is decided by dice throws that can be adjusted by the playing of cards that allow long passes, long shots, and so on. There’s a time scale of one move equals one minute, and so for a full match you’re looking at ninety moves, which sounds a lot, but to be honest once you have the hang of the rules the moves can be taken very quickly.
I stuck to the basic rules for my first play-through of TJF, which are okay as far as they go, but I think most players would want to adopt the more advanced rules very early on, as in the basics there are no dead ball situations or fouls, etc.
I learned two things very quickly. One is that I’ll be doing away with the set up rule that insists the miniatures have to start each game on specific squares. As things stand, players are thereby stuck with a 4-4-2 formation and a lack of the sort of tactical flexibility which could add extra interest to the game. The other is that it’s very hard to break through and score against a well organised defence – which perhaps indicates at least some similarity between TJF and the real thing!
For the record, my first game of TJF ended as a 1-1 draw. The Czech Republic struck first, in the 27th minute; Slovakia eventually equalised, after a period of quite intense pressure, on 87 minutes.
Overall, a game I enjoyed and definitely will return to. It’s available from Modiphius (makers of the excellent Airfix Battles) at https://www.modiphius.net/products/to-je-fotbal-this-is-football and is priced at a more-than-reasonable £9.99 – though be aware that postage and packing will add quite significantly to that cost.