With the World Cup currently dominating the news, never before has the beautiful game captured the attention of so many Australians.
Every day you can see countless bleary-eyed Aussies staggering around in daylight hours, talking excitedly about how Togo put in a good showing against the South Koreans, or how the feisty Croatians could upset the Socceroos' chances of making it into the round of 16.
Football Manager allows you to get behind the scenes by taking the reins at a football club in one of seven countries (all European -- England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Scotland, or Spain). You're given a budget for the year with which to buy players, train them up and manage tactics in games. You don't get involved in playing the games themselves, but all the decisions you make off the pitch have a direct impact on the results.
The game is essentially built around a rich database of teams, player stats, and other details and most of the game play takes place on screens that resemble spreadsheets.
One of the elegant features of the game that helps make it accessible for all levels of football fans is the fact you can choose your own destiny based on the team you select. If you're a Sunderland supporter, you can take control of your team and work with the relatively paltry resources on offer to build up the performance to avoid relegation. The well-resourced clubs like Real Madrid have enormous buying power, but there's more pressure to win games and keep management happy.
The game isn't incredibly difficult to get into -- it takes a few minutes to get used to the way it works, but the menu systems are well designed and most of the game play is intuitive. You have an incredible level of control, and it's structured around the life of a manger. You have to check e-mail messages, apply for player transfers, and you can even compare your results with other managers in the league. The entire game is text-based, which forces you to use your imagination to enjoy it -- a rare pleasure in modern gaming.
While I initially found the game extremely engrossing, playing it for several hours at a time, it doesn't have a huge amount of variety to keep you hooked for marathon sessions. I've since found myself playing it in short bursts -- up to a half an hour at a time -- and it's much more rewarding to play in fits and starts. It's a title I keep coming back to, so it's got plenty of longevity and there are so many different stats for each individual player (17 attributes, each scored out of 20) that you it would take years to master it.
If you're an avid soccer fan (enough of a fan to refer to the game as football), and follow European leagues, Football Manager offers an excellent way to try your hand at the 'other' side of the sport. In terms of sports management simulations, it's without an equal.