Shaun Derrick’s The World Cup Game, published in 2006 by Games for the World. The giant referee and penalty flags on the cover symbolize how much bad officiating has influenced the “history of the greatest football tournament.”
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is underway in Brazil and for fans of the Beautiful Game worldwide—which cuts across all economic classes, religious divisions and club loyalties—there is no more exciting time in the world of sport.
“Soccer,” as we call it in America, has never had much of a foothold (pun intended), but that doesn’t mean that we Yanks can’t thrill to the drama and emotion of the tournament. As of this writing, I just watched the hometown boys kindly score a “hospitality” own-goal for Croatia in the opener, so we’re off to a start. Maybe not a great start, but a start nonetheless.
But this is a board games collecting article, not a football results wrap-up. So, are there any tabletop board games out there that will give you and your family or friends an opportunity to capture some of the pageantry of the World Cup? You can bet your vuvezela there is.
None are better to highlight this World Cup year than the game that I called “the best sports game I’ve ever played” when I reviewed it for my weekly board gaming column back in 2007. It’s aptly titled The World Cup Game, and it was published by a tiny U.K. imprint called Games for the World, which is really just designer Shaun Derrick. Unlike most soccer games that attempt to capture the action on the pitch by simulating a single match, The World Cup Game aims to represent the entire World Cup tournament from the group stage to the Round of 16 all the way to the one-on-one final. Each player represents one or more national teams vying for glory. It uses multiple boards, each representing a different real World Cup: Italy in 1934; Chile in 1962; Mexico in 1986; South Africa the last time around in 2010.
A close-up of The World Cup Game action. No, it’s not 11-on-11, on-the-pitch action, but it captures all of the drama and excitement of the World Cup tournament. This is a brilliant sports game that could serve as a great model for games representing other championships.
It is essentially a card game with a board representing the tournament brackets and the highlight events of each match, and all matches in each stage are played simultaneously. Cardplay puts markers into a set of boxes for each match-up—goals, defenses, fouls and so forth. You might spend your goal cards trying to get your better teams to aggressively score and move forward in the tournament, but your opponents might have defense cards and thwart your attacks. Or you might try to power your lower-ranked teams to and upset and to spoil the Cup for the stronger teams. And, of course, the whole thing might wind up a draw.
The genius of this game is that it uses historical World Cup results to model each team’s performance. Die rolls play a part in the matches, and bonuses are given based on the color of the team. The colors are coordinated to their average performance during the year of the cup you are playing and the colors correspond to colored pips on the dice that impart bonuses. So Spain in 2010 would have been one of the killer black teams, the U.S. would have been a lower-ranked green or blue team. Some teams will naturally be favored, but even the less successful teams might pull off a longshot upset. And there were multiple expansions released, each representing different World Cups and even different tournament formats as it has changed over the years. As many as 16 people can play this game at once and as a party game it provides lots of thrills. Even with just a couple of players, it’s tons of fun until the last “GOAAAAAL!” is scored.
I rarely allow myself to be photographed, but in looking online for pictures of The World Cup Game, I found this one of me setting up The World Cup Game at a board gaming event (left). On the right is a fan-made expansion representing the South Africa 2010 Cup tournament with a complete tourney board and custom national flag chits. The game is rare, but still commands the attention of tabletop sports fans.
Now, here’s the collector’s corner: this game is exceptionally rare. There was a period during 2008-10 where it was available in the U.S. through a couple of distributors, but it was quite expensive at $60. The expansions made the game seem even more expensive. Games of the World released a scaled-down card game version of The World Cup Game in 2010. I never see these games for sale or trade anymore, and I foolishly sold my copy—albeit for quite a premium—a few years ago. It comes up so rarely for sale that it’s hard to really pinpoint a value. If I were called on to appraise a new, in shrink-wrapped copy of the game, I would value it around $200 easily, primarily because of the subject matter and its small print run. With multiple expansions, I would value it at $250 and up. The card game seems to be slightly more common, but I would still estimate that its value would be somewhere around $50.
Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.
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