Gridiron Fun Hits Your Table: A Review of Hand-Off

Hand-Off

Ah, football — the hard-hitting, adrenaline-pumping, injury-inducing American sport. Some of the biggest rivalries have been fought out on the football field. But what if the game were instead a board game played out on your table? Would the competition be just as fierce? CSE Games, the publisher of Hand-Off The Card Football Board Game, certainly thinks so, and we recently were given the opportunity to try it out.

Game components

Game Play

Hand-Off consists of a football field game board, a 54-card playing deck, team cards, referree and football markers, and a 12-sided die. The object of the game is — you guessed it — to score the most points. Points are scored by earning touchdowns, field goals, extra points, and 2-point conversions. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a team and a kickoff puts the ball in play. The receiving team is then on offense, trying to gain yardage and make it to the end zone. The opposing team is on defense, trying to stop the offense at all costs.

As in the real game of football, there are 4 downs to try to reach the first down marker or the end zone before the ball is turned over to the other team. On each down, both players choose a card to lay down simultaneously. The cards contain all of the ranks and suits of a standard playing card deck, with lots of additional information on each card, including the outcomes of offensive, defensive, and special teams plays. The higher card wins the down, and the corresponding offensive gain or defensive stop is carried out (such as a first down pass, 4 yard run, or a quarterback sack). A player can also put down additional cards to form higher ranks of a pair, two pair, three of a kind, or even more rare "power hands", which are similar to more powerful poker hands. Power hands not only can win the down, but can also score a huge gain or even an automatic touchdown. If a player plays a card that shows his own team, that card automatically trumps the other player's card(s).

The referree and football markers are placed on the field to mark the current line of scrimmage and first-down line. As the offense makes gains or losses, the football marker is moved accordingly. A player can punt at any time or attempt a field goal if he is within range. Actions such as a flag on the play or a big hit (causing a potential fumble) also occur during the game and are shown on the players' cards. When these occur, or a field goal is attempted, the12-sided die is rolled to determine the outcome (i.e., a fumble, a successful field goal, which penalty occurred and by whom).

In addition to the core gameplay, the game rules also simulate time and clock management, overtime, special plays (long bomb, onside kick, etc.), touchbacks, interceptions, blocked kicks, and more.

Review

This is not your grandma's game (unless your grandma happens to be a hardcore football fan). It is an action-packed, hard-hitting competition that aims to simulate as much of the sport of football as possible. In order to accomplish this, however, there are a lot of rules — it takes plenty of commitment and rule studying to get a good grasp of everything this game has to offer. Fortunately, the publisher has also included quick-start instructions, which serve as a good introduction or refresher.

Despite the initial learning curve and rule complexity, however, this is the type of game that you realize isn't all that difficult once you start playing it. It is fast-paced and intuitive if you are already somewhat familiar with football — if you're not, this is clearly not the game for you. For me, I am casually interested in football and had fun with this game. It's a bit like a themed and more strategic version of War, with similar game mechanics to NHL Ice Breaker (also by the same publisher). It's not something I would play every day, but with the right opponent it delivers a fun and competitive experience.

Hand-Off is optimized for two players, but includes variants for 1 or 4 players. Right now, an LSU Tigers and Florida Gators edition are the only versions available, which is great for LSU and Florida fans. However, I would like to see an all-inclusive NCAA edition with all or many of the popular teams available. Personally, I would much prefer a match-up of Arizona vs. UCLA than the 1987 Tigers vs. the 1961 Tigers (though it appears that an NCAA version was started and subsequently abandonded). But in the end, if you're a football fan and you like what you see, give this game a try.

Pros: Effectively simulates football, fun and competitive

Cons: High learning curve, currently only two teams are available

Full disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.