Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 30, 2014


And what a fine way to spend £2.9 million it was, too.

And what a fine way to spend £2.9 million it was, too.

Quiz games are a strange thing: seemingly a natural evolution of the traditional family board game or TV spin-off, they rather fell out of fashion at some point and are now considered something of a rarity. In one way, it’s a surprise that they kind of died out, with gaming more popular than ever, and families increasingly likely to gather together and play than in the days when older generations viewed this strange new technology with suspicion. On the other hand, it could be that the more discerning tastes of the modern gamer mean that sneaking a half-hearted TV knock-off past them for easy money is no longer possible.

The last time I can remember a number of quiz games being released with any great fanfare was in the early 00s, when Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (the TV show) was incredibly popular, to the extent that people were prepared to pay for a home version of the game, even though it (obviously) gave you no opportunity to win the big jackpot that was the basis of the show’s tension and appeal. There was also a virtual version of The Weakest Link, which afforded you the dubious pleasure of getting bollocked by a polygonal Anne Robinson.

It was around this time that Sky Sports Football Quiz was released and even as it was announced, in a climate of fake millionaires and virtual Anne Robinsons, it seemed a little odd to me, especially as it had a rival, Championship Manager Quiz, which indicated that someone somewhere thought there was a market for not only one but two sports trivia quizzes. As for SSFQ (developed by those responsible for the Millionaire game, HotHouse Creations), I was reminded of its existence during my recent trawl through some Atari ST quiz games, at which point I acknowledged that my own copy had been bought for me as a joke, after I repeatedly made remarks to my friends regarding the prominence of Kirsty Gallacher on the box and publicity and how this was a cynical move designed to persuade more pathetic men to buy a copy.

Ok, so obviously that's Paul Merson. But it's one of those blocky/blurry picture questions where it becomes clearer the more time you take...

Ok, so obviously that’s Paul Merson. But it’s one of those blocky/blurry picture questions where it becomes clearer the more time you take…

Upon reflection, though, I’m not sure that this was terribly fair of me, and I began to question where such an argument might have come from, and, if extended logically, the dangerous places it might lead. Intellectually ill-equipped to pick through the nuances of a potentially complex topic unaided, I said to my wife, “Is it obviously the case that that the female journalists employed by Sky Sports News are chosen, in part, for their looks, in order to appeal to the predominantly meat-headed football fan? Or is that thought, itself, sexist – while a telegenic presence is of course part of the job description for presenters of both genders, anyone employed to do that job would obviously be qualified to do so, and football – and all sport – is for everyone, so of course you’d expect to see some female faces: if anything, there should be more of them.” She replied, “I really don’t want to talk about this now.”

Ok, well, let’s just try and deal with the matter at hand. While she wouldn’t necessarily be the first name you’d associate with Sky Sports, Kirsty Gallacher was a journalist and presenter employed by Sky at the time, and, as it turns out, has proved to be a better choice of brand ambassador than the more high-profile, but since discredited, pairing of Richard ‘Gorilla Hands’ Keys and Andy ‘Groper’ Gray. Her picture is on the back of the box, but then so can Chris Tarrant’s grinning mug be found on the back of the Millionaire packaging. So maybe the joke was actually that I really wanted the game because I was a pathetic man who fancied Kirsty Gallacher (ah, finally he gets it – Rik’s friends from 13 years ago).

Anyway, after a flame-filled intro sequence (a recurring theme in sports games, and one which I don’t understand, seeing as a fire at a sports stadium would actually be terrifying), I selected a one-player game. “So, you’re going to play by yourself?” said the voice of Kirsty. Yes, Kirsty I am, and long after you, or anyone else, including the developers, thought anyone would be doing so.

Here's a better example. This poor fella probably wished no-one could recognise him in 2001.

Here’s a better example. This poor fella probably wished no-one could recognise him in 2001.

As a single player, albeit a married one, two of the game’s four modes are immediately ruled out, although I did of course still check them out for the purposes of research. Penalty Shoot-Out recreates the inevitable final moments of an England tournament campaign, but with multiple-choice trivia instead of trying to kick a ball into a goal. Players take it in turns to answer, with each question representing a penalty kick: answer correctly and a goal is scored, answer incorrectly and you miss (there’s a short time limit too, to stop you from Googling the answer). After five each, the winner is declared, or if the scores are even, it goes to sudden death (just like in a real-life shoot-out).

Man Of The Match is fairly similar, although this time instead of penalties, players take it in turns to be ‘on the attack’ in a match situation: sharing a keyboard, both players are presented with a question: whoever answers correctly (or first, if you’re both right) ‘wins’ that on-pitch encounter, which will mean either scoring a goal, or a executing a successful piece of defending.

Although both these modes seem perfectly fine, it’s difficult to imagine two players hunched over a keyboard having any kind of fun with either of them, and they’re too short-lived to give you any real feeling of involvement. A more long lasting option, available in single or multiplayer, is the League Championship, which sees you pick a Premier League team and compete for the title over a full season. Each ‘match’ gives you two questions to answer – one for each half – and how you answer determines the score. Quick and correct means lots of goals for you, but a more delayed correct answer might only give a slender lead; conversely, quick wrong answers mean goals conceded, while more considered (but equally incorrect) guesses are less harshly punished.

Strictly mid-table, I'd say.

Strictly mid-table, I’d say.

It’s not a bad idea, but the main problem is that there’s rather too much time spent looking at fixtures, scores and menus without enough actual trivia. With only two questions per match, each one seems to be over too quickly, and the scoring system means that big wins and big defeats are more likely than draws. It might be better in multiplayer, which adds some spice by adding a ‘first to the answer’ element when two human players teams line up against each other (again, it might be rather cosy around the keyboard though).

Last, but not least, is Dream Team, in which you answer a set of questions from 11 different categories, each representing a playing position. The idea is that you answer correctly in order to earn transfer money to buy a player for each position. So, if you do well, you could buy Owen, Shearer, Henry or Van Nistelrooy to play up front, but answer less well and you’ll have to make do with Ade Akinbiyi (that’s a 00s football reference for you there). Instead of a time limit, each question has a starting pot of money that decreases as time elapses. There are also penalties for making a wild guess: while the figure is red, an incorrect answer will earn a red card, causing you to miss the next question; if it’s yellow, then, you guessed it, you get a yellow card. Two yellows over the course of the whole game equals a red, with the same punishment.

That's a trick question, surely.

That’s a trick question, surely.

As regards tactics in building your squad, you can carry over cash from question to question if, for example, you feel less confident about one of the categories and want to keep some money in reserve, although I’m not entirely sure it makes much difference to your overall team rating if you have two average players in two positions or a great one and a crap one. Still, this is definitely the most enjoyable part of the game, with plenty of questions, and an overarching aim that does actually provide some incentive.

In general, the questions are pretty well balanced, although they’re heavily Premier League oriented, which isn’t surprising seeing as Sky’s total grip over British sport didn’t extend to the Football League in those days. Multiple choice does obviously allow you to guess, but it doesn’t allow you to cheat by simply saying that you got the answer right, while the quick-fire nature and built-in punishments mitigate against, respectively, use of the internet and flukey stabs in the dark. SSFQ was released at a time when I was actually more interested in football than I am now, so the dated questions didn’t bother me, although some are very specific to the time, asking about yellow or red cards, or goalscorers, in fairly low-profile league matches that only the most stat-obsessed could possibly recall now.

The presentation is clean but not especially flashy. A good range of pictures accompany the questions, especially on Premier League topics, and occasionally you’ll also be given a sound clip from the Sky archives too. There are, however, no video segments, perhaps a sensible move given the space restrictions – I’d take more questions over video any day. Meanwhile, generic dance music plays in the background, and Kirsty is on voiceover duties, offering an overview of each game and gentle encouragement/mockery as you go along.

Leeds United, top of the league.

Leeds United, top of the league.

You do wonder, of course, whether there could be slightly more to it. But I guess such things are bound to have a limited lifespan, with only the most die-hard trivia nuts plugging away for hours on end. Still, I found myself coming back to Dream Team for a quick go of an evening, and after a good few hours’ play I had yet to experience a repeat question (a pool of 4000 doesn’t sound all that deep, but there you go). Repeat plays aren’t exactly encouraged: I found that the high score table reset itself on exiting and restarting.

This is one of those times when you wonder about the merits of having a numerical score, given the extremely niche area of interest an out of date sports trivia game falls into, and the rather straightforward nature of the format and content, but overall, I sort of enjoyed it. You could certainly do worse, as we shall see