FDF Development Blog
#12 - Christmas Release Set for the College Version...
As everyone has seen by now, I have announced a 12/25 release date for the college version of the game. I've been having a blast with the game in testing, and I can't wait to get it into your hands. Changes to the college version are driven by two factors: 1) increasing scoring averages throughout the years, and 2) team-strength disparity across the ~130 team landscape.
To address the variable scoring averages, I had to create a new scoresheet game clock for three eras of college football. The eras are 1) pre-1968 where the scoring average is ~16 points per game per team, 2) 1968 to 1995 where the scoring average is consistent with NFL averages of ~22 points per game per team, and 3) the modern college game where the scoring average is ~28 points per game per team. The game will come with a custom scoresheet for each era, each with the appropriate game clock.
The solution for the team-strength issue has proven out extremely well in testing. The new STAR quality is what has necessitated changes to the Drive Result charts. Sprinkled in the charts are the STAR checks, and while I was in there I worked with Harvey Couch to bring some more collegiate flavor to the narrative, especially the Unusual Results. It's a subtle change, but I hope people appreciate it.
I know most of you can't wait to get your hands on the team creation guide, and I will be releasing a bunch of teams myself to get things kickstarted. I will be carding the top 32 teams (by SRS rating) for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 seasons. I am an Army/Navy brat so I will be carding the military academy teams too - no matter their standing. And because the team creation process requires pooling all Div-I FBS teams together to determine the qualities, I will post the team-creation spreadsheets too. That way, if you want to play a game with a non-carded team you can either whip up your own card with the qualities from the spreadsheet, or just write the team qualities on the scoresheet. I will release this spreadsheet with each new season.
A point about team creation when looking at teams from seasons prior to the year 2000. Getting team stats for turnovers, penalties, sacks and other qualities can be difficult for these seasons. The good news is that you can still field a Div-1 FBS team in FDFC with only average points for/against and their SRS rating, all of which can be found on sports-reference.com/cfb going back many years. You can then either ignore the other qualities or assign them based on historical knowledge or anecdotal evidence of team strengths and weaknesses. No matter which approach you take, the game will "work".
I have already had a couple of requests for an expansion to the college game for off-season progression, recruiting, etc. It's a fantastic idea, but I have no plans to invest time in such an expansion at this time. Real-life has given me a great new opportunity at work, and I need to focus on that with all of my available energy in the new year.
#11 - Update on the College Game
I initially had zero plans to support college teams with FDF, but I was eventually won over by the enthusiasm of the community. Some college teams have already been made for the game by gamers, but I knew the engine would need to be tweaked for the games to feel like college football.
The first problem to solve had to do with the core simulation engine. The FDF engine assumes an average of 22 points per game for an average team, where the modern college game (2000 to today) is much higher, now approaching 29-30 points per game. The way to address this issue was not a change to the game book, but rather a change to the game timing. By changing the value of each "tick" of the clock to be 60s - instead of 1m 15s - I was able to bump up the number of drives per team to 13/14 a game, which is closer to the actual college average (again - speaking about the modern era) and thus the scoring average issue was solved.
Once I had solved the timing and elevated scoring average, I had to modify the guide for team creation. It was just a matter of sliding the scale up from an average of 22 to an average of 28. Choosing 28 allows for realistic scoring outcomes from 2000 to today. If people want to try to create teams from years prior to 2000, then using the NFL average of 22 will work fine. Of course, this only holds true until about as far back as 1968, before which scoring was even lower, so an average of 16 would be best. Tying this all back to the timing comment above, this means that each scoring "era" will have its own game clock. Modern college football will have 15 ticks per quarter, 1968 to 1999 will have 12 ticks per quarter, and pre-1968 games will only have 9 ticks per quarter. I will make scoresheets with all 3 variations available when I release the game.
The biggest challenge, by far, was coming up with an elegant solution for the power disparity in college football. I tried a number of different solutions, leveraging various publicly available ranking systems, but I finally settled on the SRS method used on sports-reference.com. SRS stands for Simple Rating System, and it takes into account strength of schedule and average point differential. It aligns perfectly with FDF as a score generator, and allowed me to develop a unique game-situational quality that is activated by new readings in the game book. Before the game starts, you will compare the SRS ratings of the two teams, and if one team has an advantage of 3 points or more, they will be given a "Star" quality of 1 to 5 depending on the difference. The system works really well and does a good job of highlighting the difference between the teams.
Rounding out the package will be a new chart for overtime, and the guide for creating teams. Creating teams will be straightforward for modern seasons since the data is all easily available. The father back you go, however, it becomes harder to find information on sacks, etc. There's not much I can do about that, and in cases where you can't find data for a particular stat I would suggest skipping that set of qualities altogether. I should also explain that team creation for college is exactly the same as it is for the pros, which means that all 130 Division-1 (FBS) teams are rated relative to each other. This means that you can't just pick one team and create a card for them - you need to collect the data for all teams in order to create 1 or all of them. It may sound like a lot of work, but it's not that hard to do (I use sports-reference.com for most stats and CFBstats.com for the sack data).
I'm excited to release the game, and expect to have it ready to go (with 2019, 2020, and 2021 top 30 teams) by the end of January, 2022. I expect I will release the top 30 teams in my card format every year. Let me know if you have any questions over on the Facebook group.
#10 - So. Many. Words.
The Commissioner Expansion is almost complete! Well, the initial release anyway, there's always going to be a fast-follow-on for anything with so many words - even with spell check, etc. I did my best to keep the instructions concise, but I needed them to be clear too, so it may look somewhat intimidating at first glance. You will get a couple pages worth of an introduction, 4 pages of instructions for how to create a new league from scratch, 5 pages of instructions to progress a league from one season to the next, and 12 pages of tables to support league creation and off-season progression. Additionally, there are a dozen pages of tables if you want to randomly assign team locations and nicknames, as well as head coach names. Then rounding the package out are 6 pages covering some sample league schedules and a quick-play table.
There will also be supplemental material posted to this website including some quick-start fictional leagues created by myself and Bob Hansen, as well as templates for creating your own teams. I will be providing both Affinity Publisher templates for those that want to create cards on their computer, as well as PDF templates so you can print cards and complete them by hand. I really wanted to support a more accessible software platform for the cards like Google Sheets, Excel or Word, but in the end I wasn't happy with the results so I decided to leave it to the community. Thats said, Affinity Publisher is really a great piece of software and not very expensive so I highly recommend it if you want to create cards that look like mine.
I will release the expansion on or before Thanksgiving. In the meantime I plan on making a few walkthrough videos that I will post here leading up to the expansions release.
#9 - "68-95-99 Hike!" .... or "Creating a Useful Model"
When I started developing the engine for Fast Drive Football, I was primarily focused on the season-over-season distribution of "points per game" or PPG for every pro team during any given season. After all, at its core FDF is simply a pro-football final score generator. I was struck by how similar the numerical mean (average) of season scoring was over the span of 50+ years. It didn't take long to realize that I could leverage this fact and build a reasonable simulation model and game.
About the time I was working on the game, I was also reading business books about enterprise transformation models in the technology sector and I came across a quote that has stuck with me to this day, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." - George Box. You can go down a statistics-focused rabbit-hole on the Web if you search on that phrase, and I encourage you to do so because while the articles won't discuss tabletop-gaming, the parallels are easy to observe. My takeaway was that modeling the real-world is never going to be an exact science, but with some insight into the subject being modeled you can create something useful (and fun!).
A number of years ago, Keith Avallone taught me that the parity in professional sports can be leveraged from a simulation perspective. This insight, coupled with what I was learning on Wiki pages and YouTube convinced me to focus on normal data sets, standard deviation, and the 68-95-99 rule. By applying the formulas, it didn't take long to realize that no matter what NFL statistic I was looking at, the 68-95-99 rule was reasonably accurate and would be the perfect mechanism to base the FDF quality system around. In a nutshell, the rule states that in a normal data set (like the NFL) the values within one standard deviation of the mean account for about 68% of the set. That simple mathematical concept is the beating-heart of the "chaos engine" for FDF - any team in the "average" distribution for any particular statistical category does not get a quality in that category. That means that they have just as good of a chance of performing 34% better or 34% worse than the average. What's so interesting to observe, however, is how often they don't deviate from their actual performance.
So what about the teams who don't fit the average data set in a particular category? Those are the teams that earn a quality. The qualities are the statistical magnets that pull the performance of a team into the other 32% - either the top or bottom 16%. So if you wondered why more qualities weren't distributed to the teams, that's the reason.
PPG is the primary statistic driving the FDF engine and the game-book results. As some people have already observed, it's not a season-by-season evaluation (e.g. the top/bottom 16%) but instead a static range applied to all seasons. The model is centered on the mean and one standard deviation for the NFL from 1960 to today. This helps explain why I was hesitant to support the 1950's, but we got it to work out in the end. It should also help explain why supporting the college game with the current game-book is a challenge - the Pro Game is a model of normal distribution, but the college game is not. That said, I have some ideas percolating for the college game and look forward to the challenge.
#8 - Friends
I think the most important asset that a game developer has is friends.
There are friends that have ideas for your game and friends who don't even know you play board games. For the former, friends in the hobby are an unlimited source of ideas. The ideas may not always meet the vision you have for the game - but they often spark a fresh thought that helps progress development forward. As for those other friends, they are good to give your mind a rest... because focusing on something different from time-to-time is essential to avoiding burn-out.
Over the past couple of weeks I was primarily focused on testing. During testing, one of my aforementioned friends asked if we could use a quick-play result table to resolve games quickly. A few minutes later he sent me a draft, and today that draft has become part of the game materials. It's something I probably wouldn't have considered adding to the expansion, but now that it's there I can't imagine not having it.
About the same time I asked for ideas on how to expand the narrative around team owners. Less than a day later my small 1d6 table had turned into a 2d6 table with a bunch of fun results to add some "flavor" to the off-season. I couldn't have done it alone.
Development and testing is exactly where I had hoped it would be by this time. I am still on track to have all materials completed by the end of the month so that I can expand the testing group a bit wider and get feedback on the near-final product. Onward!!
#7 - The Day After a Long Slog
I've never been a morning person. Like EVER. But for some reason, all of my ideas for FDF come in my sleep or first thing in the morning. After many hours of testing and tweaking this weekend, I was BURNT OUT last night. I figured I was done for a couple days at least, but this morning I woke up with a solution to a problem I was noodling on, as well as another "fun" idea.
Before I get to that however, I wanted to share some great news. I took the time tonight to build a spreadsheet so that I could simulate unlimited seasons of quality progression changes at the push of a button. The math works!! (I'm generally surprised when anything I create works.) Over a hundred year span, any given team will have an average offense 65% of the time. The other 35% will be split between any combination of PROLIFIC and DULL. Same numbers apply for the defense as well. When teams do go on a HOT or COLD run of seasons, they never last for more than 5 years. This was exactly what I wanted the system to create when I developed the progression tables.
My first thought looking at these results is that the core tables for creating teams and progressing from season to season are good enough to stand on their own. You could absolutely use these tables without any of the fluff that I'm adding to the expansion and have a solid method to progress your football universe year over year. I'll make sure that is clear in the instructions. The expansion is completely modular.
So now that I've said that, let me tell you about some fluff I just added! LOL!! Something about the Head Coach and Front Office interaction left me a little flat in all of my testing. Part of it was the 13-step grading system. Too much detail that had no real use. So it's been replaced by a simpler 5-point scale (A, B, C, D, F). But most good systems require 3-way tension, and I was missing that third piece. So today I added Franchise Owners into the mix. They now appear in both league setup, as well as the off-season. They come in 3 flavors with this first version: Insightful, Patient, and Interfering. Teams with an insightful owner stand a chance of getting more Influence Points, and teams with an interfering owner are going to be frustrated by their antics from time to time. Patient owners are just there in the background, hands-off, no impact to day-to-day operations. It will be fun to figure out ways to use the owner quality as I continue development....
#6 - Season Progression: Training Camp
The draft is over, and the players are reporting to camp. So while the annual draft and free agency was all about establishing the new offense and defense profile for each team, Training Camp is about establishing the rest of the team qualities, along with the chance for something unexpected to happen that may shake things up a bit.
Front Office Grade Adjustment & Franchise Influence Points.
As teams enter Training Camp, Front Offices are being graded on how well (or how poorly) the off-season went. Their new grade will be used to once again assign Influence Points to be used during training camp as the remaining qualities are assigned. The Head Coach grade is used again for IP's as well.
Like the inaugural draft, a blind draw is used to distribute the remaining (non-Profile) qualities for offense and defense. The teams then move on to the charts for establishing the special team ratings. Unlike the system for determining offense and defense profile - where the update is dependent on the team's profile from the previous season - the slate is wiped clean for the other qualities (turnovers, discipline, efficiency). I'm still noodling on if I want any dependencies here, but in the interest of streamlining the system, probably not...
There is a 36 row table called Unexpected Events that is the final step before kicking-off a new season. At the moment, there are 18 positive results and 18 negative results. Anything from a new special teams coach improving a place-kicker’s success range, to a rebuilt offensive line not coming together and sticking the team with the POROUS quality, to surprise late free agent signing that makes the team PROLIFIC•.
I'm currently saying that a random draw of 25% of the league will be required to be a candidate to roll on this table. I'm also saying that if a team still has a remaining IP, they can defer from rolling.
While writing these first six blog posts I have come across a number of issues that still need resolving... So while I'm happy with the progress to date, there is still much work to be done before it's done. :)
#5 - Season Progression: The Off-Season - Annual Draft & Free Agency
This is the heart of the Commissioner Expansion. The fans of each franchise hope their team improves through the draft and free agency, but not everyone can be that lucky. In addition to the Influence Points earned by the Front Office and Head Coach of each franchise, bonus IP's are earned by teams who earned a high draft pick with their bottom-of-the-barrel record. Specifically, the worst record in the league earns +2 IP, and the rest of the bottom 15% of the league earns +1.
Annual Draft & Free Agency
The annual draft & free agency are abstracted into a single series of off-season steps for determining a teams new offense and defense profiles. Teams will roll on charts that take their current offensive and defensive profile into account, and teams have an opportunity to use their IP's to influence the outcomes, in the form of re-rolls. The charts are designed so that it is hard for a PROLIFIC or STAUNCH team to keep that quality - so opportunities for re-rolls are key. It is more likely that they will at least drop a semi-quality, or even go back to average. Of course, it's also possible they get EVEN BETTER, or flip the script and go from first to worst (or vice versa). (The same can be said for DULL and INEPT teams of course. ).
The charts are simply result-oriented at this time, without narrative, relying on the gamer to imagine what may have happened to drive the outcome. This could be expanded - it's something to think about.
Once the draft and free agency are complete, it's time to head to Training Camp! Training camp is when the "unexpected" stuff can happen to a team. :)
Before we do, however, lets take a look at what what happened in the CEL during this phase of the off-season. See notes in the Off Season Outcomes column.
#4 - Season Progression: Beginning of the Off-Season
The first season of the CEL was exciting, with both division races being decided on the last weekend of the 12-game season! In the end, it was the Anaheim Gunslingers defeating the Birmingham Tornadoes 30-16 in the Championship Game. Now that the season drama is complete, it's time for the off-season fun!!
This post is going to talk about the first part of the Off-Season phase, determining the impact of the previous season on Front Office and Head Coach grades, resolving the Coaching Carousel, and finally doling out the all important Influence Points. To illustrate, I've copied my league notes below although on your tabletop all of this information could be penciled onto your team cards.
Front Office Grades
Front offices of teams that had success in the playoffs have their grade increased, and those that had losing seasons will see a decrease to their grade. There is not much activity in my league since I have a very simple playoff system - only the division winners advance to the Championship Game. Front Offices are never "replaced" (at least that's not built into the system now!), but random off-season events may also impact their grades.
Note that for the grades and the upcoming Influence Points, much of the testing period will be ensuring the balance of all these factors are right.
Head Coach Grades & The Coaching Carousel
Head coach grades are much more volatile than the Front Office grades. The average tenure of a Pro Football Head Coach is around 3-4 years, and I am trying to tune the CE system to replicate that as much as possible. You'll see that after only one season, we already have 3 coaches on the hot seat!! They are the names in orange below. They ended up on the Hot Seat after having to roll on the Coaching Carousel table, which they did because they were either already on the Hot Seat (they weren't), or they had a grade of C- or worse. If they post a winning record next year, they are REMOVED from the Hot Seat. However, if they remain on the Hot Seat, they will have a 50% chance of getting fired at the end of next season. (No, I do not have mid-season Head Coach firings in the game.) At any rate, next season will have another layer of intrigue as coaches begin fighting for their jobs.
Assignment of Franchise Influence Points
Before the Annual Draft and Free Agency, you will determine the number of Influence Points that each franchise will have to spend. See the purple column below. The points come directly from Front Office and Head Coach grades. As noted above, I'm still balancing these values but I think they are close.
As we get ready for the annual draft, Orlando is optimistic that they can make a splash in the offseason, while Birmingham is hoping to solidify their spot as a top team in the East, maybe even making a return trip to the big game. Monte Landry is already making his case to be the first HOF caliber Head Coach in the CEL. Of course Norman Green i=has now been thrust into the spotlight as a top-tier head coach too, so their annual meetings will be VERY interesting! Anaheim is poised to build a dynasty to last a LONG time, but Muncie should have a good off-season if the rolls go their way. Good stuff!!!
#3 - The Inaugural Draft
As I wrote in the previous post, the creation of Offense and Defense Profiles unlocked the effectiveness of the draft module. I won't bore you with the details, but after researching the past 50 years of the NFL, I found a stable pattern of certain qualities for the top teams and the bottom teams in the league. In Fast Drive Football terms, this pattern applies to the scoring qualities (PROLIFIC/DULL/STAUNCH/PROLIFIC), ball control qualities (DYNAMIC/ERRATIC/STIFF/SOFT), and sack/o-Line qualities (SOLID/POROUS/PUNISHING/MILD).
The draft begins with another series of blind draws. Yep, you'll need those printed cards again! (Folks that want to build a boring spreadsheet to automatically determine the draws are free to do so!) Following a couple more procedural rules, you will determine the teams that are at the top and bottom of your league in terms of offensive and defensive power. There are special charts that these teams will roll against in order to determine the "profile" that applies to them. Influence points earned when the Front Office and Head Coach were established can also be spent during this phase to influence the results. It's fun!
Once the top and bottom league powers are established, the draft continues to assign all of the other qualities including special teams. I'm estimating the time to create your league from scratch, assign Front Office Grades and Head Coaches, and run the inaugural draft will take about an hour - give or take depending on much drama you create for yourself when drawing the team cards for good or bad outcomes. :)
The process to create the league is fun and working really well. Here is how the draft played out for my league. The rest of the long weekend will be spent focusing on testing the off-season progress process.
#2 - The CEL is Established!
The first part of the expansion to come together was the process to create a whole new league from scratch. The biggest problem that needed to be solved was that the distribution of qualities could not be random. There are some qualities on both side of the ball that naturally accompany each other. The light-bulb eventually went off and "Profiles" were born. It distributes the primary points-for/against qualities properly, and it speeds up the inaugural draft considerably. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
The first step in creating a new league in the CE is awarding franchises to locations. I decided to go with a 12 team league with two divisions to start. There is no way that the book I am creating could cover all the interesting locations that you are all going to want to bring your teams to, so I have started with a simple 100 location chart filled with cities/regions that have had pro football teams in real life. There is a similar table for franchise mascots/nicknames. It was fun to roll up the league, and I might add a few more "starter" tables before release.
The next step was to randomly assign grades to the Front Office of each franchise. This step includes a "blind-draw" mechanism (because I enjoy shuffling the cards and picking them at random like History Maker Golf!) so I printed cards for each team. I then selected 3 of the teams (25%) to be my premier front offices and receive either an A- or A grade (rolling a decider die for the result). I then selected 3 more teams (25%) to be my poor front offices following the same procedure. For the rest of the teams, there is a table provided to resolve their grade. (From C- to B+). This could all be done with a spreadsheet of course, but the rules will ask that the gamer actually print and shuffle cards.
Next I needed for the Front Offices to hire their Head Coaches. This was particularly fun since I built first name and last name tables for the coaches too. I used a mix of authentic pro football coach names, as well as some FDF community members. Once I had the names, I rolled on a table to determine their grades. The table takes into account the grade of the Front Office, so it is more likely for a better front office to get themselves a good Head Coach.
The final step in the process was to assign Influence Points (IP) to the teams based on their Front Office and Head Coach grades. These Influence Points will be used in the Inaugural Draft. Here is the league, just before the start of the draft....
#1 - The Beginning
During the acceleration of game development in 2020, my friends would often comment about how good of an engine FDF would make for a fictional football league. I agreed with them, but my focus was squarely on the goal of making FDF as fun as possible for the solitaire historical-replay gamer. The idea for a fictional mode was always in the back of my head, but I forced myself to keep from working on it until I released version 1.0 of the game to the public.
When version 1.0 was released on 7/23/21, the acceptance of the game into the mainstream tabletop sports simulation hobby was way beyond my expectations. I had originally expected to work on seasons for a while and then eventually get around to the fictional mode at some point when all the seasons were done. But those plans changed pretty quickly. With all of the data and questions I was receiving, I realized that the engine needed some fine tuning in a couple areas. So, version 1.1 became a priority. Around the same time, enthusiastic gamers were also trying to home-brew their own teams (including fictional teams), and they began talking about systems for season-to-season progression. Their passion became somewhat of a boost to the ideas I had percolating, so I committed to begin working on the fictional mode once version 1.1 was complete.
Version 1.1 of FDF was released 8/25/21, one month after the initial release of the game. In my opinion, the game book is as good as it can be with the amount of wiggle-room that was intentionally baked in. Unless there is a typo that was missed, or some bad grammar, Fast Drive Football is "done." (Famous last words right?). Since that time, I have been sketching out the framework for a fictional mode. I brainstormed a number of ideas at the recent PLAAY-dot-CON with friends, some of which made it into the design and others that would take the design way deeper than I would like.
To be clear, this is not the "kitchen sink" expansion. Once again, I am developing the game and system that I want to play. For those of you that know me and my gaming preferences, you know I hate games that feel like "playing a spreadsheet", and that I shy away from any game that is merely chart look ups with no soul. I also despise book-keeping; I just want to sit down and play. I don't want to have to access a spreadsheet and keep copious stats to have fun. That is why I made the decision months ago that my design for any sort of season-to-season progression system would require no excessive book-keeping. The only thing you will need to track in the Commissioner Expansion is wins & losses, standings, and playoff results.
The change from calling the expansion Franchise Mode, to the Commissioner Expansion comes from the ultimate focus of the expansion - which is giving the gamer the ability to be the commissioner of their own league (or leagues!). Rather than speak about the different features and nuances of the game in rule-book detail, I thought it would be more interesting to maintain a blog where I can share stories from the league I started as part of testing, as well as provide insight into how the mode works. The next post will document the outcome of the inaugural draft of my first league using the Commissioner Expansion.