FastBreak College Basketball 2010 (PC) Review

Fastbreak College Basketball 2010 Review

Game: Fast Break College Basketball 2010
Developer: Brian Nichols
Publisher: Grey Dog Software
Genre: Text-Based Basketball Simulation

If you have followed my game reviews since I joined 411mania you know that I am a sucker for text-based management games. Baseball Mogul, World of Mixed Martial Arts and Total Extreme Wrestling are some of the games I have reviewed and played for months at a time. A lot of people hate text-based games, but the reality is that you can find in them an experience that is sometimes more realistic and well developed than the “simulations” with graphics. Such is the case with Fast Break College Basketball from Grey Dog Software. In a year were popular college basketball series like NCAA Basketball and College Hoops have disappeared, Fast Break makes its return in glorious form with one of the best management games I have ever played.

Fast Break is not a new series. Back in the early 2000’s the developer Brian Nichols released both, a pro game and a college basketball game. The pro game actually made it to retail under the name Season Ticket Basketball. However, this new entry into the College game is the most polished yet. When you first boot up the game you will be asked to name your league, name the tournaments of your league (the primary and secondary tournaments) as well as set such options as allowing conference movement, which years can players turn pro, enabling or disabling the 3-point shot and choosing what method you want to use for stat ranges from three methods available: 1-100, 1-10 or letter grades. You can also choose a commissioner password, which is really useful for online leagues. Then you create your coach and assign points to your stats in such categories as Scouting and Recruiting as well as Coaching Offense and Defense. The game is pretty much a sandbox, so you can create a coach with max ratings and choose to coach the most prestigious basketball programs right away or choose a different approach and create a coach with low statistics and coach a team like Air Force. In other words, you can easily make the game as easy or as challenging as you want.

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Once you have chosen a school to coach, it is time for the real fun to begin. You are responsible for setting the depth chart and the gameplan, hire your assistant coach, scouting director and recruiting coordinator, use your scholarships and recruit talent, set your non-conference schedule and any pre-season tournament invites and deal with such things as the RPI, Prestige and Polls. Unused players will complain about their playing time during the season, injuries and academic suspensions can play havoc with your depth chart and of course, you have to meet the goals of your current school. Lowly programs will be happy with a conference championship or an NCAA (Or FBCA, the default league name) birth, while more prestigious schools will demand Sweet 16 or Elite 8 appearances. The off-season brings its own set of challenges, from replacing assistant coaches that leave for other schools, dealing with unexpected draft entries (nothing worse than losing your Sophomore All-American Center without warning) and entertaining offers from other schools. You can also follow your player’s progress and see if they were drafted to the pros.

Dealing with players is one of the more entertaining aspects. They complain about playing time and those with low academic ratings can get suspended. Usually you have to devote training camp points on working with these player’s academics just to make sure they don’t miss half the season. Draft predictions are just like in real life: Hit and miss. As the new season begins you are warned about the draft prospects of some of your players. If you have a sophomore center that is predicted to go in the second round he might stay around another year, but if he is a lottery pick, make sure you recruit a replacement! Sometimes players enter the draft without warning, just like in real life. A player might not have been on anyone’s radar before the season began, but suddenly he puts up All-American numbers and decides to enter the draft after going from nobody to 1st round pick. Players also make mistakes: I had a Junior Center named Arthur Orlando that put up decent numbers with Cal: 15.0 PPG, 12.3 boards and 1.3 blocks. In spite of not being a projected draft pick he decided to leave me anyway (and with no warning until the end of the season) only to go undrafted. I am sure he regrets that decision and would have benefited from another solid year in college basketball. Unhappy players also transfer to other schools if you not appease their demands for more playing time. Sure, losing a walk-on PF to a lowly school is nothing to regret, but losing a projected All-American prospect that just needed a couple of years of work is a real blow.

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Recruiting, just like in real life, is a crapshoot. The game uses a colored system to identify player’s potential. For example, red means warm-body, just a player. Orange is better than red, but not by much and usually signifies a player that could be a starter in a low prestige school. Yellow means mid-major starter, green means a good starting player on a top school and blue means potential All-American. When you scout a player he usually shows two colors. Showing red and blue means that the player’s current level is low, but he has All-American potential and just needs some work. You can also see the player’s current ratings and his potential ratings in different basketball-related skills. For example, a player with C Jump Shooting and A+ potential in that area means that he is a decent shooter that can blossom into a fantastic one. However, a player with C jump shooting and F potential in that stat means that the player has reached his “peak” in that particular skill. You have to measure their skill levels, potentials and their interest in your school before you commit to offering them a scholarship. They also have star ratings that are the way they have been rated by independent scouting organizations, but these are somewhat wonky. Most of the time a 5-star player is really great when you scout him, but I have seen 4 and 5 star players that are really crappy and some 2 and 3 star players that turn out great. Juggling your school’s scouting budget, your team needs, independent scouting organizations, your own scouting evaluations and the player’s interest level is a real challenge. Sure, you like that 5-star SF with All-American potential, but how does he fit into your gameplan and the players you will have next year? With his interest level at Average, is it worth it to pursue him and risk wasting valuable time and money when you have a solid and dependable 3-Star SF with an interest level of Very High in your board? Those are the questions you need to ask yourself and even then, things are not 100% guaranteed. I once had such a bad year with Gonzaga that I ended up with 3 Walk-Ons and only one solid recruit because I pursued the wrong players and by the time they went off the board to other schools most of the talented guys were also gone.

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Up until now I have talked about personnel management and such, but what about the actual GAME of basketball? It is awesome. It is one of the most realistic engines I have ever seen and trust me, if it sounds like good basketball strategy in real life, it will work in the game. In one of my Elite 8 runs with Cal I noticed that most of my big guys were good rebounders and defenders, but their offensive stats sucked. So I surrounded them with a core of shooters, switched my offensive focus to outside and watched my team cruise. The 3 shooters all ended up shooting 38%+ from 3-point range and my inside guys went on to average double digits in rebounds, including one of them getting almost 6 offensive boards a game. I also averaged almost 14 threes made per game. On one of my challenge games, I was coaching Pennsylvania of the Ivy League and was seeded to play against the 4th best team in the nation, Kansas. I managed to pull off a six point upset over them simply by changing my strategy on the fly. My entire season I had relied on a pound –the-paint style offense, relying on my big men to score. However, Kansas had really good defenders and wrecked up my plans. Somehow my SG kept scoring and I was down only 6 points at the half. So for the second half I lowered my motion (thus, allowing more shooting freedom and creativity) and made my SG the focus of the offense. Why you ask? Because I realized his defender had low stamina and quickness and the guy Kansas brought off the bench to replace him had low perimeter D. So I made sure to increase the pace as well. My SG was able to outrun his defender and gas him out while scoring pretty much at will. The final score was 90-84 Penn, with my SG scoring 36 points. It is moments like this that really make you feel like a coach.

Sure, you are not really calling plays. What you do is adjust things like Motion, Pace, 3-PT Usage, Offensive Focus(Outside, Inside, Balanced), Defensive Strategies, the minutes your players are going to play, Defensive styles (man to man, 3-2, 2-3, 1-3-1 etc) as well as how much you are going to Press, Trap and use double teams outside and in. Most of these things are set by selecting a number between 1-10. Teams with highly creative shooters might benefit from low motion settings, while teams with poor inside D might benefit from doubling up on the paint. Once again, it comes down to player skill and a lot of trial and error to see what the better settings for your team are. I have spent hours just tweaking around numbers and seeing how they affect my team’s play. For those who find the prospect of managing so many numbers daunting, there is also a “Recommend” button that allows your CPU assistant coach to set the values according to your team’s skill and style and for the most part they are very competent, although human settings are obviously much better.

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However, not everything is perfect. There are several bugs that pop from time to time,like run-time errors and such, but patches come out almost weekly to correct the mistakes. There is no way to see pre-season tournament brackets, only the conference tournament and the main NCAA (or FBCA) tournaments. The interface is well done, but can be daunting and unfriendly to newcomers. The first few days I played the game were focused on seeing how everything worked and were everything was located, so newcomers can expect a tough learning curve. The interface is nice to look at, but with so many numbers, names and stats it doesn’t feel as clean and polished as other Grey Dog Software games. Still, it is one of the best looking text-based basketball simulations out there.

In spite of a few minor bugs and a steep learning curve, Fast Break College Basketball 2010 is the best basketball management game I have ever played. Choices you make truly affect the games, which is something I felt other text-based basketball games lacked. The engine is very sound and grounded on reality, leading to very realistic results. In a year were college basketball games are getting scarce, Fast Break Basketball 2010 proves that the best games can come from the smallest developers and more fun and addictive than those made by the bigger companies. But I must warn you: If you buy FBCB 2010, prepare to say goodbye to your life and bore your girlfriend with ramblings about how you lost the championship game by 3 points because your All-American SG is not clutch. Or how excited you are about your recruiting class. Or how tweaking motion improved your team’s total point output. In other words, prepare to be addicted and waste hours of your life!

Pros:

– Excellent basketball engine grounded in reality.

– Decisions you make truly affect the games.

– Full of depth and things to do.

– Makes you feel like a real coach.

– Very addictive!

Cons:

– Very addictive!

– Steep learning curve for newcomers.

– Minor bugs and errors.

– Interface is not as clean as other Grey Dog Software games.

 

 

Final Score: 8.6/10

 

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