Now that Cricket Coach 2012 has been released it is time to take this game through it’s paces and see what this latest version has to offer in way of new enhancements and improvements on previous versions. First of all it will be necessary to state once and for all, that I will be reviewing this game on it’s own merits and possible shortfalls. I will not be comparing it to other games of this nature. Each particular game has it’s own qualities and shortcomings and is so dependant on peoples personal preferences anyway that comparing just doesn’t fit in to my objective at the moment. Nor will I be reviewing the in-game game-play graphics. Yes they are limited. It is not the strongest point of the game. But it is not a 3D cricket game and I just switch them off. It doesn’t add anything to the game for me but doesn’t take anything away either. Others might disagree. Great, have a biscuit and write your own review you fairy!
So what are my objectives? Cricket Coach is a cricket management game. It is not real life. My criteria is then based on the fact that it is a game and to be a “good” game needs to give me moments of satisfaction and pleasure whilst at the same time giving a momentarily illusion of being connected in some way to an imaginary real world in which all this stuff really matters. In the wide scheme of things it of course doesn’t matter. I still have to get up tomorrow morning and go to my job and clean the dishes when I get home even though I have just managed to guide Bermuda to three straight wins in their World League Division Five match against sterling opposition in the nature of Fiji, Suriname and Germany (that well-known famous cricketing nation who of course became famous during the so-called Blitzkrieg tour of ’41) and astonishingly nobody seems to be rushing up to me in the streets congratulating me on my marvelous skills of guiding a budding young team to such heights.
Regardless, it still gives great satisfaction to achieve these little milestones we set ourselves and to wade through the masses of available stats to gloat over our victories or to marvel at our ineptitude of picking a middle order that has about as much capability of sticking around as Teflon Man. That is the one true virtue of a good game: it makes you forget for a certain moment that it is a game. It engrosses you in it’s game-play and possibilities and makes you have to think about the next steps.
Does Cricket Coach achieve this? Again this will be a question that will have so many different permutations for each and every individual player. If you like your games to be full of graphically stunning adventures, explosive violence and heart-beating tension, then you might be a tad disappointed with what Cricket Coach has to offer in this realm. However if you are a cricket lover in the truest sense of the world, love statistics, averages, percentages, spider charts, ball lengths, partnership charts, season averages, pitch condition variation charts coupled with the sense of guiding a virtual team through it’s season, then you will possibly start up Cricket Coach 2012 and meet Saint Peter at the ticket office, with a key in his hand saying; “Welcome, my son, to Heaven……
Now this review is not going to be an endless list of all the things the game has to offer. You can quickly get an overview by going to the Cricket Coach website or reading my article in the Cricket Coach forum section of this website. What I want to do is to review the game by taking you with me through a few aspects of the game, giving some screenshots and discussing the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly as I come across it in the game. It is impossible both time-wise and space-wise to go into every different detail of the game. You can experience all the different aspects yourself by downloading the free trial available at the Cricket Coach game website. (www.cricketcoachgame.com)
When starting the game you get the choice of either starting a career mode as a coach of a team, creating an International Series of your liking between two teams, or taking part in International Challenges. The latter two I have not really tried as they don’t interest me personally that much but it is nice to have the possibility of playing a certain series or shorter challenges rather than having to go through the whole season. Another aspect that the game offers is the Editor function that enables one to create custom teams, players, competitions, playing countries, grounds, histories or alter existing parameters.
In the Cricket Coach 2011 version I created my own imaginary custom Dutch league with different divisions and competitions based around one-day, Twenty20 and First Class competitions, each team having it’s own custom ground etcetera. The great thing is, is that the game will produce the players for you. You don’t have to create each and every player in all those teams, and in the Dutch competition at last the created players had very realistic Dutch names. I enjoyed that immensely. Not only playing the competitions but also creating my own virtual cricketing world, gave me much joy and satisfaction.
Unfortunately the saved game of that competition is not compatible with this version of Cricket Coach so I can’t show you any screenshots and I haven’t as yet got around to re-creating that in this game but the editor is an excellent feature to the game with an amazing scope of functionality and has an easy to use interface although it takes a bit of getting used to. Setting the right amount of rounds in competitions and making sure dates don’t clash is a bit of a trial and error thing but not hard to muster after a bit of practice.
The editing function itself ensures that the game has a potentially infinite shelf-life and opens up many possibilities to suit the game to ones own preferences and needs.
Once in career mode you are offered the choice of picking either an international or a domestic team. There are many countries to choose from, from the well-known Test playing nations and associate nations to more obscure cricket-playing countries like Denmark and Cayman Islands etcetera. There are many domestic competitions and teams to choose from from all over the world.
Many of the teams also now come with both senior, A-sides and U19’s which is a brilliant new enhancement that gives great depth and possibilities for coaching. You can either take charge of all three of these sides or delegate teams to your assistant. You can keep an eye on your developing players and move them up or down the ranks as you see fit. You can release players from their contract if they become superfluous to your needs, demote them, promote them and you can buy in players at certain moments of the season as your overseas player or as Twenty20 specialists etcetera. Again you can either handle the whole contract side of things yourself or ask your assistant to do the bulk of the dirty work, leaving you to get on with more important stuff.
If you do take charge of all three sides you are going to have a lot of work on your hands as they all play various competitions and formats through-out the season. I have delegated my assistant to look after these sides but at any moment I can take charge of them and suit things to my liking.
In career mode I am given board expectations at the beginning of the season which I will need to accomplish or be out on my ear or another part of my anatomy. This is a good new feature and has potential: at the moment it seems a bit thin and the interaction between board and coach is as far as I can tell not possible unless the game decides it. However I can imagine this feature could become more enhanced in future versions and adds a bit more spice and variation to proceedings.
I can also start as unemployed if I wish, waiting for a side to offer me a job or wait for a vacancy to appear somewhere in the world. This is great if you want to start off randomly somewhere in your coaching career and work your way up. You will not be asked to take control of England; you will most likely start off in Fiji (not a bad place to play cricket I imagine!) or a small domestic team in Zimbabwe or wherever, having to build a reputation that allows you to pick-up interest from higher ranked teams, both domestic and international.
Again this is a wonderful feature but could be fleshed out a bit more to give it lasting interest. At the moment of writing the job-offer mechanics are a bit off meaning that you generally have to wait a long time before receiving a job offer. I waded through nearly three simmed seasons before finally being accepted as a coach somewhere obscure, in a small dingy back-alley of the world (Some long forgotten part of Swaziland or was it Yorkshire!?) This seems too long for me and the interest slowly wanes into frustration as one is once again rejected by even the most obscure of teams. When one is by-passed for the job at Guilford Women’s Iraq War Veterans Cake-baking Second XI one senses it is going to be a long night. I have understood that with coming updates this will be tweaked somewhat.
Once you have decided on the team you wish to coach or have been given a job you can wade through the various players and teams at your disposal, having a look at form etcetera. At the start of your first season in a fictional job many of the players will of course not have stats yet as they have been generated by the game itself and will need to build up their stats over the course of the coming seasons. Real-world players and teams generally have career stats already there, generally reflecting their real-life situation although the keen observer will be able top pick holes in some of the stats. It never bothers me that much I must say if these career stats are sometimes off. It is a game and if I am going to pick holes in that I might as well go and pick holes in the Great Wall of China.
Having said that the developer has promised season updates and corrections in coming patches and the database is itself under constant review and development by both users and the proficient and very helpful “Brownbear”, a forum-member and part of the permanent furniture at the Cricket Coach forum site.
A few words over the user interface. It is sharp, clear and I find it smooth and easy to navigate. Again this is a personal matter as I know some have found it somewhat cluttered with its many buttons. I have no problem with this as I like the general lay-out and feel to the whole thing. Perhaps in the future the move could be made to a more a web-page-like tab-page based layout that gives different pages for different aspects of the game rather than have everything on one initial page. The user-face has a distinct and unique feel to it that really belongs to Cricket Coach but again it will be down to personal tastes what one thinks of it. For me it looks good and functions and that is what I am looking for.
As a coach I am now in charge of setting my home ground pitch conditions, based on my teams strengths and weaknesses and on the weather conditions. There is a long term weather forecast that gives me an indication of what match conditions will be like and I can ask my groundsman to create a certain pitch for these conditions.
A nice feature again but it would be nice to be given more information about the weather and what I can expect the ball and the pitch to be doing. At the moment it feels a bit too general and could be fleshed out a little. At the moment as well the pitch generally only deteriorates in the advantage of the bowler: the pitch becomes harder to bat on, takes more spin etcetera as the days go by. It would be wonderful if this could fluctuate more; in the morning session heavy cloud, the ball seaming. In the afternoon the sun comes out and makes batting easier etcetera. These fluctuations would make things more interesting and really enable me to coach my team. Order them to go into their shell a bit knowing that the pitch will get better by the afternoon. Or to be able to turn up to the ground in the morning and that despite the sunny weather prognoses for the day, I discover it had rained quite heavily overnight, making the pitch a touch greener than expected.
Cricket is about these subtleties and it would be nice to have these aspects deepened a bit more in the game. Having said that I am no computer programmer and have no idea how much work it is to implement these subtleties whilst keeping a smooth and realistic game engine ticking over. Even if these things were just more cosmetic it would add a certain depth to the whole feel of things.
For me this is where the future development of Cricket Coach has it’s potential and it’s challenges. Off the field and statistically it is second to none. A marvelous array of every possible stat is available. On the field things seem more limited to what I as the in-putting mastermind can do, or at least theres is a lot of unclarity as to what the various possibilitis are. The lack of a manual makes everything very much a trial and error process and leads to frustration.
Once one gets to grips with different aspects and learns how to do the things to make them stick, one begins to see how much one can actually do in terms of strategy and tactics for the particular situation in the game. I can ask my batsmen to increase or decrease aggression. With the bowlers there is more scope to add variety and change tactics and I can ask my bowlers to bowl more aggressively or more defensively. The match-engine has been vastly improved and I must say has become both much more smoother and realistic since the last couple of versions. It is less erratic and seems to reflect reality more accurately.
However there seems to me to be a vast area of potential to really enable the player to live out his tactical capabilities, or incapability, and have a much more hands-on feeling to the whole game-play experience. Particularly on the batting side of things. The whole fielding and bowling strategy interface is very complicated and not easy to fathom for newcomers and older players alike and leads to frustration. I would love to have much more information regarding the players strengths and weaknesses and to be able to guide my team accordingly. I have understood that Oli is working on a Video Manual to help in this regard.
When I look at the players attributes there doesn’t seem to be a great margin between say front-foot and back-foot capabilities, which I then have to question whether it really makes any difference at all what my player does. It sometimes has the feel that my player has a general number achieved by grabbing the average of his attributes and this determines his batting or bowling ability rather than each attribute playing a unique role. I could be wrong on this and am open to correction but I feel this is an area where growth potential is both available and neccesary.
These are not game-breaking things I am talking about. The game is still immensely enjoyable and very, very playable but this is a review and not an advertisment and I would love to see the game move more in this direction because it is such a great game to play, in my humble, but ultimately correct, opinion. I play the game so much because it brings enjoyment and satisfaction but as a mangement game I want to have more of a feeling that it is me guiding and tweaking and nurturing on the actual field of play rather having the feeling that I am being left over to the grindings of the match-engine. More strategic on-field game-play enhancements please!
Another brilliant enhancement to this years version of the game is the Almanac. I can ask the game to reproduce every scorecard, every match of either my team or any other team, or all the teams for that day or the whole season. This is then saved as a web-page like overview and is absolutely brilliant. Your cricketing world, published and kept for sacred eternity at the press of a button. Every page, every squad, every player, every statistic comes up in your web-browser over the course of many seasons. This alone is truly worthwhile getting the game for! I just love gleaning through those statistics and seeing how a certain player or a team has performed over the course of a certain time.
Have a look at these various pages. You will need to double click them to open them up in your browser. In the real Almanac you can click on every feature and it will take you automatically to that page, whether it be a competition, a team, a series, an individual player, squads etcetera. Truly mindboggling detail! You will need to camp out for three weeks to go through that lot. Utter joy. Where is my tent?
Final Comments and Judgements
Cricket Coach 2012 is an excellent game for those who like this type of game. It has great depth, many variabilities and options that ensures that one does not quickly get bored. It has built further on it’s past foundations without falling into the temptation of producing the same drab content in a slightly fresher coat of paint. Enhancing features are continually being developed and new aspects and features are added to each new version of the game.
It is not just a database update and not just the same old meal mashed up and warmed again for general consumption. It is a new and a better game every single time.
The support and development of the game is really second to none. I cannot emphasise enough how much time the developer, Oli Norwell, puts into to trying to achieve the difficult balance between all the wishes of the folk out there and the parameters of the game, which of course as with everything has certain limitations as to what one can and cannot do.
The support forum is active and quick and bugs and tweaks constantly ironed out and updated free of charge. I have said it before and will say it again, unashamedly; many developers, many companies could learn a lot from how Mr Norwell approaches his customers.
Cricket Coach 2012 is the pinnacle as far as I am concerned of this type of game and in it’s development cycle. There is room for improvement in certain aspects and I look forward to following its progress in the coming years as I am sure Oli will once again surpass even these efforts in future versions.
My conclusion: In a time that cricketing games just aren’t growing on trees, Cricket Coach 2012 is an excellent addition to anyones arsenal of games. It will give massive value for money, will give hours upon hours of gaming joy and will continue to lead the way forward in the years to come. There is massive scope to edit the game to personal liking and many possibilities to use ones cricketing knowledge to coach the team both on and off the pitch, although as said the interface could be more user-friendly or at least coming with some help to work out how to do things. Customer support and updates and patch availability are second to none and free of charge. There is a great group of fans, tweaking and enhancing the game for other users to use if they wish.
Thus concludes the Dutchad Review. Thanks for reading if you got this far and I hope the article gave some beneficial insights into Cricket Coach 2012.
Trial-game available at: www.cricketcoachgame.com
Planet Cricket Cricket Coach forum at: http://www.planetcricket.org/forums/cricket-coach-forum/