Have you ever wanted to rule a basketball franchise with an iron first? Perhaps you want to buy and sell players at auction as if they were cattle? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you are in the right place.
A quiet underdog in the sports management genre emerged earlier this week in Icehole studio’s World Basketball Manager Tycoon. It was released on Steam on November 18th, and it is the first game developed in Greece to ever be released worldwide. I am very late to this party. Tycoon was actually released on April 19th, 2013, and the World Basketball Manager series actually began way back in 2001. There are currently two games out in the series: World Basketball Manager Tycoon and World Basketball Manager. A complete list of each game’s features, as well as a bundle offer for both, can be found at the game’s website. As Tycoon is the only one available on Steam (and on sale for $8.49 until November 25th), this review will only be covering the features found in WBM Tycoon.
If you haven’t figured it out by my NBA 2K14 review or my guide for its career mode, I am a huge basketball and sports game fan. Which is why I almost went full “shut up and take my money” mode when I saw this on Steam. However, I was a little scared off by the video on the game’s Steam account and screenshots like this:
I decided to check out the game’s website before purchase, and I was pleased to find a 2 day demo available. At first, the game is really overwhelming. There is a lot you need to learn; especially if you aren’t familiar with typical basketball attributes and their abbreviations (block and BLK, offensive rebound and ORB, and so on). The game comes with a manual in a PDF file, but it is a solid 60 pages. Look things up as the need arises, but do yourself a favor and print out the parts dealing with offense and defense in games (pages 40-48). You will also want to follow the instructions here to get team rosters (from the beginning of 2012) and images from all over the globe.
The first comment I have on the game itself is pretty simple and obvious: there is no game. You will need this:
Tycoon does not have much of what many of us (especially the young tykes) today would consider a game. The graphics are older than Xanga. You don’t actually play any basketball, nor do you watch an actual basketball game. Instead, you do what the other sports management games or games with “tycoon” in the title have you do– you prepare. And that is where the fun resides in this unassuming little fella.
The first step is to create your manager and team. The game allows you to use custom images for your manager’s picture and the logo for your team, which I am guessing is one of the small touches that come from years of players and developers tweaking the game. If you create a new team in a league, it just gives you a team’s roster and calls it your own. For example, if you create a team in the USA league and name it the South Bakersfield Accidents, you will be given the Houston Rockets’ roster. This will happen every time. I would much rather have seen an expansion draft where you are given a budget and you select players from free agency to fill a brand new roster. It would just fit the overall “control all the things!” feel of the game a little better.
After I created my team, I immediately fell in love with all of the customization options. I could invest my money in new facilities, new money-makers like cafes and restaurants, new players, re-signing current players, and a slew of other philanthropic shenanigans. I was also able to manage how and to what extent my players will progress. The game has two training types: general and attributes. Choosing which drills and how often to do them is essential to keeping your player growing and well rested. Games give players experience and also take a toll on their bodies. Balancing all of these factors throughout your season will keep you quite involved.
The actual basketball games in WBM Tycoon are just mathematical equations fighting each other. The game uses an algorithm that I can’t even begin to comprehend. If I knew math, I promise you I wouldn’t be a writer. Basically, the game makes some probabilities kiss each other and then you score or miss. Just pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of your players and keep learning. You are responsible for adjusting your game plan on offense and defense throughout the entire game. The AI is pretty merciless, so if you are allowing a poor shooter to take any shot he wants, it will hurt. You will need to do your homework. You will need to adjust on the fly. You need to have a defined leader and give him the keys to the car. Should you add a player or have an injury, you will have to change your plans again. This can be tedious. But this is par for the course for any sports management game, and any Football Manager or avid sports fan will appreciate the details. You are going to mess up. I certainly did. I channeled my inner Isiah Thomas in my first managing gig. Pro Tip: You NEVER go full Isiah.
To sum things up, this is a niche game that will make a small percentage of gamers very happy. It is not for everyone. There are no shiny visuals or quick decisions. The game itself takes place almost exclusively in your mind much like a browser or tabletop game. I feel a sense of balance in my basketball gaming life with Tycoon and NBA 2K14. On the one hand, a low-budget, slow and complex game with nothing to offer visually. On the other, a multi-million dollar monolith that offers quick and simple gaming with the best graphics available. They cover the same subject, but they are not similar in any way. It makes for a nice change of pace from constant 2K14 play. Hopefully, the game’s presence on Steam will add some cash to Icehole’s continuing development of the series. It stacks up pretty well with the Football Manager games, and that’s at a fraction of the budget. The framework for an amazing game is there– it just needs a little polish.