Help me Grok a Hockey Management Sim, as someone who DOesn't Know Hockey
December 21, 2020 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Hi, AskMe. :) This is probably a weird question, but here goes… As a totally blind gamer one of the things I like to do is support companies which are producing accessible games, however inadvertently. Someone happened to mention that Franchise Hockey Manager, a game/series I know very little about, was rather accessible, and so I decided to purchase version 6, even though this kind of sports sim is fairly alien to me. I enjoy the challenge of learning about new game genres but know very little about hockey beyond the fact it's played on ice. I'd like to learn something about it, or at least enough to enjoy the game if I can.

It seems to me that I have two big challenges, not being familiar with the sport the game is simulating, and not really being familiar with the kind of decisions I'd be expected to make as a manager/coach. I know that the game accessibility is a third challenge, but I can probably get by with the manual and patience, in that case.

I'd love anyone's ideas on where to start with this. I'm going to look into the rules of hockey and see if I can find some info on a local-fish team to get enthused about, but beyond that I don't really know what i don't know. I'm sure there's a lot of interesting history for people who've followed the game for a while, but I don't know where to begin looking for that.

I'd love any input y'all might have to offer. :)
posted by Alensin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I’m pretty big on hockey historiography, so I’ll start with that. IMO the big historical thing is the divide between North America and Europe. North American hockey tends to be much more physical and defense-first; European hockey tends to be more skill-based and creative. That’s an oversimplification of course, but it’s mostly true. As an American, you’re probably most familiar with this from the 1980 Miracle on Ice, which is the worst possible way to think about it. Look up the 1974 Summit Series or the 1980s Canada Cups instead. Anatoly Tarasov is the godfather of Soviet hockey; reading about him will help you understand the game. There have been some documentaries as well. Probably the most accessible entrance is an article by Igor Larionov (sometimes called the Soviet Gretzky) in the Players’ Tribune. I’m on my phone so I can’t link, but google “larionov players tribune” and you’ll find it. It’s interesting, and it’s a fun doorway to more stuff.

Another fun and interesting short article is in the Atlantic, called “The Oracle of Ice Hockey”, about goaltending.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:57 PM on December 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

That game is really obscure, and text based but ok. I know a game developer/columnist from that I worked with for about 5 years. Memail me and I can ask him about tips. Anyways, I did Braille typing back in the 60s (I'm old, not blind). And back in the early 80s, in a pickup game, a recently retired LA Kings player was impressed about what I was doing. Anyways, if I was a GM in the NHL right now, my roster would be:

a great goalie
an enforcer
a great center
and at least one good defenceman

and the rules are somewhat like soccer, with off-sides and stuff.

Hockey is a fun sport :) and I know what grok means :)
posted by baegucb at 6:55 PM on December 21, 2020

I guess it depends how much time and energy you want to put into this, but one of the awesome things about hockey is you don't actually need to ever see a game to get into it. As a good canadian growing up, I learned all I need to know to hold my own and have strong opinions about any hockey-based conversation by listening to the games on the radio. Most (all?) NHL teams today still broadcast their games on the radio, so pick a team and listen in! The play-by-play and color commentator pairs do such an amazing job with such enthusiasm even today (well, pre-covid) you can often see people listening to them on the radio while watching a game from the stands. If i had to pick, I'd much prefer to listen to a game than watch any day. Hockey rinks are big and the players appear little from any sort of distance; you cant always see all the action but you can definitely hear it! And it sounds like the new covid-influenced NHL season will start next month, although most years they start in October.
posted by cgg at 7:12 PM on December 21, 2020 [7 favorites]

With respect to becoming familiar with the sport, the USABA has a hockey group that could help? Hockey for the blind is a somewhat different sport, obviously, but it seems like they'd be well-situated to explain the sport itself, setting aside the specific adaptations they've made for blind play. I mean, they're probably not going to spend a huge amount of time, but they may know of specific resources they can point you to.

Alternatively, as a sighted very non-sports kid growing up in Edmonton, the single greatest addition to my personal understanding of hockey was seeing a game shot entirely from above; being able to understand how the players were moving across the playing surface made a huge difference (I have issues understanding visual 3D space). Perhaps a motivated person could be able to render a set of plays in a form you can mull over (perhaps, for example, a 3D printed set of curves showing the movement of players over a set span of time?). I dunno, the game never made sense to me until I could come to grips with where everyone was going in relation to the puck, and standard broadcast just somehow didn't gel with how I process information.
posted by aramaic at 7:59 PM on December 21, 2020

Best answer: I've heard excellent things about the book Take Your Eye Off The Puck, by Greg Wyshynski; he's a good writer on the sport with an irreverent tone, but the intent of the book is specifically to inform new fans about the rules and nuances of the sport; there is an audio book. I can concur that hockey does work well on the radio.

The primary decisions you'd make as a manager and coach are around constructing and deploying a roster of players. In an odd way, the most similar genre to sports management is actually deck-building card games, like Magic The Gathering. A typical NHL roster is something like twelve forwards, six defencemen and two goaltenders. The twelve forwards consist of left wing, centre and right wing players, and the defencemen are pairs of left and right defencemen. That's twenty; the maximum is 23 players.

A manager's job is to get the best set of players for the team. It's not easy, because the other teams won't just give you a good player for nothing, obviously. You can get players by trading them with other teams, by signing free agents (players who have reached the end of their contract and can sign to whatever team offers them the best deal), and by drafting players -- at the end of each season, every team gets to pick new young players; the worst teams get first pick. These young players can be developed, by playing them on minor league teams, and hopefully they will become better players. The other sticking factor in all of this is a salary cap; that is, even if every team sent you their best player because you're charming or there's a cheat code, you can't take them all because there's a limit on how much money your team can spend and good players get paid well.

On the ice at any one time normally are one of each of the six positions. The coach's job revolves around organizing players within the positions and sending the right six out on the ice. If the manager is building a good deck with the best cards, the coach is making hands with those cards to match up against the opposition. The forwards will be organized in four lines (each consisting of a left wing or LW, a centre or C and a right wing or RW); the defence will be organized in three pairs of left and right defence LD and RD, with one goalie G. The forwards are primarily concerned with moving the puck down the ice to the opponent's end, and shooting it at and hopefully into the net. The defence's job is to take the puck away from the forwards so they can't score and get play moving in the other direction. The goalie is the last line of defence; he stands in the net and tries to stop the puck as it's shot.

Generally, there are top lines which have the better players and spend more time on the ice, and depth lines with players who aren't so good. In addition, in hockey there are penalties; generally, the penalized player spends two minutes in the penalty box and their team is down to four people. This is obviously a huge disadvantage, so there are special lines for this purpose; the team at full strength will send out a power play unit; three forwards and two defence (sometimes four and one in recent years) who are optimized at scoring goals, while the team that is down will send out a penalty kill unit, two forwards and two defence who are the best at controlling the puck and taking it away. The same players are used for regular play and penalty situations, but the lines often change. Just like the salary cap is the one monkey wrench in the manager's plans, the monkey wrench for the coach is fatigue. Hockey is played in a very intense manner; it's an hour of sprints, not a marathon, and players are constantly rotating off the ice. An all-star player who has been out there for a minute and a half can get beaten by a mediocre player who is fresh; which is why the coach can't just send out the best six all night.

As far as teams go, if your location is correct, there's no better place in the world to be a new hockey fan than in Seattle. The Seattle Kraken are going to be the next NHL team, and they will choose their initial squad in six months, so you can get in on the ground floor. As far as playing the game goes, I'd consider the Tampa Bay Lightning who won the most recent Stanley Cup -- not every champion is actually the best team, but the Lightning have one of the best rosters in the league right now, and it's probably good to start with a stronger team. (Other strong teams right now include Vegas and Colorado in the West, and Boston in the East.)
posted by Superilla at 11:25 PM on December 21, 2020 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Fantastic summary by Superilla!

The only thing I might add is that unlike straight up deck-building card games is that there are the components of 1) chemistry between the lines that you build, and 2) streaks, both good and bad.

In a (good) game environment, chemistry and streaks (hot and cold) that give bonuses and maluses are a random variable that arise from a combination of totally random variables and in-game performance.

If you're interested in the theoretical "fantasy pool" games (taking turns picking players before the season starts; totals in multiple categories are considered in the final score at the end of the season) have a lot of write ups. These kinds of games sometimes allows for trading players between participants throughout the season with limitations (to avoid collusion, when real money is involved).
posted by porpoise at 11:59 PM on December 21, 2020

Best answer: If you're coaching, there are several archetypal player types between Forward and Defense. The best players combine at least a couple of types.

Playmaker - controls the puck, passes for others to score
Sniper - good shooter, goes to places where the playmaker can deliver to
Power - bulls to the net for greasy goals, takes attention from playmaker/ sniper

Mixing and matching secondary characteristics is key. Pure offensive lines without defensive acumen are a liability IRL But in a game, superior offense can work.

Depending on how complex the model is, you'll want to consider "shut down" line combinations as a low-offense/ high-defense counter against the other team's best, and deciding whether to go with a defensively liable but young 4th line with upside or a "safe" 4th line with reliable but ineffective players.

Most times, you won't have the luxury of having standard composition.

Depends on how complicated the simulation is, but play defense men on their assigned "side" (L or D) when convenient.

Typical usage is pairing an offensive and defensive Dman together, shot-congruent. Not necessarily the best combo to be the default, though.
posted by porpoise at 12:15 AM on December 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Superilla and Porpoise, thank you both. This kind of detail is super helpful in helping me get a feel for the way the game works. I was wondering what the practical mechanics looked like, and those summaries are great.
posted by Alensin at 2:07 AM on December 22, 2020

Maybe slightly tangential to the question, but if you haven't read Brian Phillips's Pro Vercelli Football Manager saga it might help get you in the mood for sports manager simulation. There's also an end of run wrap up, if you can't bring yourself to read 95 blog posts about an imaginary football team.
posted by clockwork at 4:44 AM on December 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Those were really good intros. One thing I want to clarify that I see get mixed up by people who learned about the game online instead of by playing is the difference between the various positions, specifically the two wings and two defensemen. In North America, it’s typical for a player to play the same side as their dominant hand, i.e., left-handers play left wing or left D. In Europe, it’s the opposite, so lefties would play right wing. This is generally how positions will be listed for a player. However, don’t let yourself take this too seriously. Anyone with skills to play right wing also has the skills to play left wing, and vice versa. There’s no real difference. If you find yourself with a roster that has five RWs and three LWs, one of your RWs can play on the left. It’s just a comfort issue. It’s a little trickier with defensemen because their role is less tolerant of mistakes due to discomfort, but it’s generally the case that right D should be able to play on the left and vice versa. Finally, anyone who plays center can play either wing as well. If you’re familiar with the defensive spectrum in baseball, wings are like first basemen (minimal defensive responsibilities), while centers are like center fielders (both offensive and defensive responsibilities). As in baseball, it’s pretty common to move guys who have the offensive capability but can’t handle D to a less defensively demanding position (in hockey, that means the wings). But my general point is that your forward lines don’t have to be a center, a right wing, and a left wing. They can be two centers and a left wing, or a center and two right wings, or, heck, three centers.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:56 AM on December 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

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