Willysoft UK
Ian Williams
1987
Sport: Management
£2.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

82,83
Philippa Irving
Chris Bourne

Boxing is being knocked into disrepute, even in the establishment which has traditionally supported it: only a few months ago, it was formally ousted from the timetable of one distinguished public school. And medical experts are forever producing reports which describe the effects of being repeatedly hit on the head.

Though this game is exactly what its name implies - a straightforward management game in the classic pattern of Football Manager - author Ian Williams espouses anti-boxing views. He decided to write it after seeing Barry McGuigan knocked senseless defending his title at Caesar's Palace, to make the point that boxing is a barbaric 'sport' that 'leaves grown men with the vocabulary of a four-year-old'.

But what Williams has produced -as he himself ruefully admits- is a fiercely addictive game which entirely fails to put its moral across. And whatever one 's view on boxing, this is probably just as well; a game which is balanced on a soap box is rarely much fun to play.

Boxing Manager puts the player in charge of a single boxer (whom you can name). He has five characteristics: strength, stamina, skill, image and 1Q.

Strength determines how much damage he does to an opponent when he hits him. Stamina corresponds roughly to ' hit points' and is temporarily drained in a fight; therefore it affects how long he can keep going. A high skill rating increases the probability of your boxer hitting his opponent in the first place.

Image is an abstract indication of how well-known and respected your boxer is-and it is the statistic that, ultimately, you are aiming to increase. IQ goes down every time the boxer is hit on the head, though its decrease seems arbitrary.

The player, as manager, has a bank balance which-as always in games of the type-dominates the gameplay. Several things cost money: unless you own your own gymnasium you have to rent one, a trainer demands a fixed fee per fight, and if the boxer has been injured the player is expected to shell out for private medical treatment. The only way to increase money is to win fights, and as the boxer's image uses he is offered more lucrative engagements.

The game is played in series of rounds, each starting with a menu which gives the player the opportunity to sack his current trainer and hire another one. The trainers ' abilities are well-known in advance - trainer 1 can increase the boxer's scores by 1 point and trainer 6 by 6 - though their fees per fight vary alarmingly.

The player can hire and fire trainers without compunction, for it seems to raise no bad feeling. If having graduated to an expensive trainer and then lost a lot of money the player would like to return to a cheaper one, the less able trainer displays no unworthy sense of pride and is happy to be reemployed. The player can also buy a gymnasium as a long-term investment from the round-opening menu; it's fantastically expensive, but it generates income by opening to the public, and at least with a gymnasium you don't have to pay regular fees to use somebody else's.

The round continues as two opponents are offered for the player's boxer. They are each given a name and a number, which seems to correspond roughly to a rating. The player can't see an opponent's statistics till he's chosen him, but the boxer with the higher rating is always more formidable - sometimes considerably so - than the other. Fighting him means more prize money and greater prestige.

Before the fight, the trainer gets the chance to improve the boxer's ratings. The trainer has a fixed number of points to distribute, according to his fee; the player chooses exactly where to spend these. You can improve any one of the boxer's statistics except IQ and Image.

So the points will really start to pile up after you've made a lot of money and can afford to hire a trainer with plenty to give away. Now I would have thought that if one were to train for any physical activity the most dramatic increase in strength, stamina and skill would come at the beginning: then a plateau would be reached and improvement would come more slowly (lots of role-playing systems simulate this tapering-off in their character advancement schemes).

But in Boxing Manager whatever happens to your boxer, unless you go bankrupt by losing a large number of successive fights, you're bound to end up with a pretty good fighting force eventually.

The quality of opponents increases as the game advances, in rough parallel with the boxer's own progress, and the length of each fight goes from three rounds to what seemed to me an indefinite number. The player is told before the fight gets under way whether there is going to be any bonus publicity: a fight can be covered in the local paper, broadcast on local radio, or featured in the national press, and the dizzy height of popular achievement is to be broadcast on national N.

If you win after such a media circus, your image increase is much higher. But if you lose, your humiliation and Image decrease are proportionally greater.

The fight is dramatised onscreen, where the graphics are - well - minimalist. Two tiny stick insects stand on a boxing 'ring' (it looks more like a platform), dancing and stabbing at each other. But the blows, when they land, really are registered by the program. Though the very brief instructions don't mention the factor, it seems to me that blows to specific parts of the body have definite values.

If an injury like a broken nose occurs during the round the player is notified, but the afflicted boxer soldiers on. A round lasts its time limit, and at its conclusion the player is put back to the boxer's statistic screen for the few seconds allowed for rest. During that time, the boxer's stamina, drained during the bout, climbs back; but it almost never returns to full capacity, instead decreasing every time.

Quite often, one boxer is knocked to the ground. Sometimes he manages to clamber up before the countdown from ten reaches zero, but if he doesn't victory automatically goes to his opponent. The victorious boxer does a dance while the program plays the sort of silly and gratuitous tune traditionally associated with games like these.

The fight, far from being a horrific condemnation of a senselessly violent sport, is great fun to watch. Despite its primitive BASIC animation it's involving, and has the element of spectator drama that can only really be generated by exactly this (rare) type of game.

You've already made all the decisions - nothing you can now do will affect the outcome. You can only watch, and quietly scream encouragement at your stick insect.

Once you've built up your boxer's reputation and he's getting into contests lasting as long as eight rounds, the fight can be slightly too drawn-out. But this is not a major criticism: the main trouble is that it's almost impossible to drag yourself away from the game.

If the boxer wins, he is awarded prize money and his prestige grows. The turn ends with a breakdown of the past month's accounts, and unless you're really unlucky it's easy to make a steady profit on the easiest level. If the boxer loses, his Image goes down and he has no prize money to plug the hole in his account left by the trainer's fees and other expenses.

It's not too difficult to see why the moral behind the game has no impact: the decrease of the boxer's IQ is supposed to affect his decision-making in the ring but has no perceptible effect on the play at all - except. I assume that if it reaches zero then the game is terminated.

So the IQ factor merely imposes a ' time limit' against which to pit oneself, increasing the soundness of the game design.

Boxing Manager is written in BASIC; it's very much a home-grown product, in crudely-photocopied packaging with the minimum of documentation. But it's a wonderfully compelling strategy game with an addictive pull to make up for the lack of depth and complexity. There's certainly as much to it as to Just Imagine and Football Manager, similar games, and at this low price it's thoroughly recommended.

CRITICISM

74%
The game runs smoothly, and the amateurish language and poor packaging don't affect it.
46%
There aren't really any...
90%
Don't start Boxing Manager if you've an important appointment, meal or sleep pending!
60%
Mostly text, tidily presented; the boxing scenes are adequate.
86%
Boxing Manager is enjoyable and good value, though it fails to make its moral point.

Screenshot Text

In the ring with BASIC: as manager you just sit back and tear your hair.

Morals are on the menu in Boxing Manager.