By Cameron Deacon
When you say the term ‘Football game’ you think FIFA, Football Manager and PES. The longer inductees may also say Match Attacks or the legendary Subbuteo. In that time many football games have come and gone but never really broken through the market. The idea of table top games seems retro and almost farfetched in 2020 but at Fiveaside games Newcastle Fan James hopes that his new Football Card game can break the mould.
I got to talk to James about his new game, which launches on the 27th of this month, about his love of games and how he hopes that he can bring people together.
1) So, obvious question why did you decided to make a game?
For some time I’ve wanted to create a physical, interactive game revolving around football. Ironically, working in Digital marketing, I’m a fan of the “offline” gaming movement that provides time away from screens just allows people to interact face-to-face, even for a short period of time. As a parent of young children who already know how to operate phones and tablets it’s scary to think how easy it is for “offline” time to be eroded away and a balance is important. Timing wise, lockdown and 2020 has just provided more opportunity to focus on pulling all the elements together – design, mechanic, marketing etc. Inspiration wise, it’s very much the football influences from my youth, Panini sticker albums, Corinthian big-head figures, Top Trumps, retro football computer games etc. I worked at Codemasters on LMA 2007 so have always had an affinity to games and pixel artwork.
2) What is the goal of the game and how do you play?
The game is designed to be pick-up-and-play by nature, leaning on fun memories of simple mechanic games like footballer Top Trumps. The objective of the game is to get to 5 goals first. You can only score a goal by taking turns drawing Player then Referee cards trying to build a Fiveaside team of a specific formation (GK DF MF MF ST), which sounds simple, but Referee cards are designed to make it more unpredictable and fun – for example player revolts, VAR decisions and offsides can help or hinder your efforts to build a team and score goals.
3) There aren’t many football games about other than trading cards and Subbuteo. Do you think you are filling a gap in the market?
Trying to establish a unique game mechanic that has repeat playability is not straight forward, but there are limited games in the card playing game niche today. There is a bit of a renaissance in football games coming to market, with CounterAttack, Football Fortunes, Goalzo, but they are board games and by default don’t play in the same space because they are more long-burn or more strategic sometimes, whereas Fiveaside is supposed to be that take-anywhere, pick-up-and-play card game. Trading cards largely serve as a collection based activity, which I loved growing up, but there’s little fun interaction to be had between people aside from swapping.
4) The design of the game is very unique. Why did you come to conclusion of 8 bit?
The general artistic feel of retro/8bit is essentially a mashup of the influences combined. For a couple of reasons it made sense to go down this route, it’s more fun to make and play with these characters than photo-ready HD images and it makes the game unique in so much as the artwork will not be anywhere else, commercially exclusive only to Fiveaside, so if you like the look and feel then it’s something you’ll appreciate is special and it helps makes the ‘spirit’ of the game.
I’ve been working with a Venezuelan artist together to produce the characters and when I saw the first commission for the first time (it was R9) I was in the garden on my phone and did a Shearer-esque celebration because I knew it hit the concept on the head.
5) Also, everything looks very professional and smart, how much experience in the field did you have to start off or did you have much help?
In essence it’s been a lone venture, COVID has unfortunately meant less social interaction with friends and family, but I’ve still managed to get great feedback playing the game socially. Apart from some help with the character artwork from my Venezuelan friend, I’ve done everything from idea to physical prototype planning. I’d say having some Photoshop skills and a background in Digital and Marketing have helped shape the brand and build the assets for social/Kickstarter page etc. It’s been a real learning curve to get to grips with game specs, what makes a good quality card (‘gsm’ weight), how to prepare artwork for printing, trademarking the name to avoid copycats (I was going to use a Chinese printer, but have since found a great UK alternative) and many other elements, but fun none the less.
6) How did 5aside come to be? How long did it take to go from the dream to having the game in your hand?
Originally the concept is probably 18 months old, but only really during the last 6-8 months has the pace picked up. I tried to move the project along, but in the Summer I realised I needed a physical prototype product in order to be able to test the look-and-feel and to get attractive marketing assets. Prior to this I was getting some interest with CGI renders, but there is no substitute to a real product making a connection from a Marketing perspective. If the campaign funds then I’d expect physical products to be available and with customers early 2021.
7) You’ve opted for kickstarted to help launch the game, tell us about the process and how much time you are having to spend to make sure its successful?
There are other crowdfunding alternatives, but the 100% or nothing model just provides that extra safety net. If that was not there, then you may end up deep out-of-pocket because you are having to produce a product at quantities so low it would be prohibitively expensive. I actually tried to launch the game in it’s “V1” iteration earlier in the Summer, but was quite naïve in terms of Kickstarter, it certainly isn’t “build it and they will come”. You need early backer momentum, you need to build a community and you need to know where about 30% of funders are coming from before you even launch, you cannot rely on swathes of unfamiliar Kickstarter browsers to back projects willy-nilly. So that was probably the biggest learning curve, I went back to the drawing board and have build a brand, product, imagery and campaign I’m really excited to share on 27thOctober. There are a load of really friendly folk online that have provided great advice. I’ve ended up having some very bizarre exchanges online with the ‘football community’ trying to drum up support – I’ve now become ‘DM friends’ with a number of random footballers/football ‘figures’.
8) Do you think there is potentially room to bring out further cards in the future and make them almost collectable, or is that something you’re going to avoid?
Yes and no, it will never be a collection-based activity, but it will be a game where expansion packs are available should you want to freshen up your Player or Referee decks. Really importantly, I want to provide at least a few Kickstarter exclusive Player characters that will never appear in the full retail version beyond that first print-run and providing ‘hooks’ or value to Kickstarter is another great way to attract buyers. The plan is to release an annual expansion pack just to be ‘present’ in terms of player popularity / cult players / latest kits, for example a pack of 10 players a year and ad-hoc ‘Legends’, ‘Women’ or ‘League two’ player packs for example. I don’t want to saturate the game with a gazillion add-ons, and none will be necessary to continue enjoying your original game pack, but I think it would be quite fun to create new players and refresh the Player cards occasionally.
9) The characters range from Akinfenwa to Messi. How many cards are there and how did you decided who to pick?
Player choice was driven from a couple of angles, 1) Players people wanted to see. I asked people if they liked to proposed players and largely the feedback was yes fine, but ideally not all superstars from the top leagues would be interesting and that’s where the actual real-life character of Akinfenwa was an obvious choice. 2) The scoring system accounts for 3, 4 and 5 star players, so not all players are Messi/Ronaldo, we had to select some still well-known, but alternative players like Umtiti and Saint-Maximim. You’ll notice the player names are “PES style”, this was a nod to retro-gaming, avoided any licence issues, but above all added a bit more character to the game. If they were the correct names I don’t think it has the same charm. It’s also tounge-in-cheek, Otamendi is ‘Notamendi’! There are 48 Player cards and 30 Referee cards in the core, Kickstarter pack, so the game comes with 78 cards and 20 goal tokens.
10) What is the dream for the game, where do you want it to go?
First and foremost it needs to attract some people to Kickstarter who think it looks like a bit of fun to help me bring it to life. The whole point of Kickstarter is to build a community and bring a product to life that you otherwise don’t have the funds to produce. In the gaming space, the largest hurdle is meeting the minimum order quantities demanded by the supplier, so right off the back some suppliers ask you order 500 copies, well that’s thousands of pounds, so if you can find a supplier who offers lower order demands like I have now, then you are lowering the barrier to that first run. Beyond that I would like it to be appreciated by football fans as something they then remember in 10-15 years time as a bit of simple fun. If the demand is there, I would like to refine the card game mechanic over time through feedback into something that could be developed into an app. I think only by hundreds (or more) of players feeding back could we really start to understand what would work well and what not so well in app format, but that’s something to consider for the future, you never know I might Kickstart the app development!
If you’d like to see more about how the game looks and plays, visit www.MyFiveaside.com to register for launch reminders.
The Kickstarter campaign launches on Tues 27th October.
Not familiar with Kickstarter? It’s a crowdfunding platform where you commit to purchase a product should it reach its’ funding goal – the total amount of money set to make the project viable and a go-er! If it doesn’t attract enough ‘backers’ and fails to reach the funding goal you pay nothing and the project doesn’t go any further. It’s low risk and you don’t pay anything immediately, you checkout after the campaign of 22 days has completed and funded.