CBS SPORTS FRANCHISE FOOTBALL MANAGER / CBS Interactive / Android
 
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Though it bills itself as a "franchise football manager", it's really more of a card game with a football theme. The game shows a lot of potential and can be entertaining (at least at the lower levels), but is seriously constrained by the typical mobile microtransactions-focused design.

CBS Sports Franchise Football Manager is noteworthy in that it's one of very few games to appear with the NFL / NFLPA licenses outside of Madden, which has had almost-exclusive access to those for over a decade now. Instead of managing an NFL franchise, however, you'll create your own franchise and build your roster from a mix of current NFL players and retired legends.

The basic flow of the game is to advance through a series of 50 levels, each of which has five challenges for you to complete. You can play as many seasons / playoffs as you like in each level as you pursue these challenges; your players don't age or retire, there's no contracts, no injuries, etc. As mentioned at the outset, it's more like managing a deck of cards than an actual team. Winning the Franchise Bowl is the only prerequisite to advance to the next level, but you're allowed to play new seasons before advancing if any of the optional challenges haven't yet been met (things like having a receiver with 1,000 yards or a defender with five sacks on the season).
 

There's also almost no interaction with the other human players. Each season you play creates an impromptu league of 16 teams, drawn randomly from other players who are currently at your level. These seasons are isolated incidences that only you see and have control over, however; the other players never see the results of your games nor do they impact them in any way. The teams that other players create are basically just used as filler for what is fundamentally a single-player experience. Head-to-head competition is limited to trying to rack up the most total wins on the weekly, monthly and all-time leaderboards.

The game starts your new team out on Level 1 with an assortment of the most scrubby players from the current NFL season. The lone exception is a pick of one "kinda legendary" player from your favorite team; for example, if you choose the Steelers, your options include Antwaan Randle El or Bubby Brister. Though many of these players were questionable "stars" in real life, they are light years better than the rest of your scrub squad as well as anyone else available for signing until you hit level 10.
 

The most direct path to replacing your scrub squad is to sign new players. That involves earning Reputation Points, which you spend to unlock randomized "packs" of new players. The available roster of players in these packs (and their baseline stats) increases roughly every ten levels or so. Unlocking players with Reputation Points just makes them available on the market, however, they're not on your team just yet. You have to spend cash (a one-time expense) to sign them to your roster. Both cash and Reputation Points come as a reward for playing games and completing seasons, and Rep Points can be converted to cash (but not the other way around).

You can also train your players up to improve their stats. Training sessions are another finite resource, doled out at a scanty two per day for free, but you can also get larger heaps of them as rewards for completing seasons and reaching certain achievement milestones. Players may also randomly gain some EXP at the end of any given game. The last means of improving your roster is "team tokens" - each player can equip up to three pieces of equipment that boost their stats by spending these.

Everything runs on a 24 hour cycle. Each day you can play through one season, one playoffs, 13 exhibition games, and 3 "legends" games (moving up a ladder of 150 all-time great teams). You'll make quick progress at first with basic preparation and attention to detail, but will find the going much slower (in terms of successfully completing season goals) the higher up you go.
 

And that's where the microtransactions come in. You can pay to play more seasons and exhibition games per day as well as stock up on resources and bonuses. Of course, this influences the leaderboard as well, as the rich kids will be able to sim more games per day and pad out their win totals much more quickly. So it's technically "pay to win" in that sense, though the structure is actually more "pay to be allowed to grind more."

As far as actual gameplay, that's limited to strategic management of your resources. All the games are simmed, resembling the live "game tracker" seen on sites like ESPN and NFL.com as they play out. The "pay to win" aspect totally removes any challenge the game has, though I'm sure there's plenty of people with addiction issues (or just a combination of lots of money and remarkably low self-esteem) who don't care, which is how the whole freemium industry survives. If you're not paying to skip days and get bonuses, you'll need to be careful in your signings and upgrades to put your team in the best position to hit all the season goals and get a Franchise Bowl victory so you can move on. Making poor decisions can put you in a hole that there's no way out of but a bunch of days burnt grinding.
 

As mentioned, it really plays more like a card battle game than actual football or a financially-based franchise management sim, and you don't need a huge amount of football knowledge to play as it's largely a matter of comparing numbers. You do need a basic understanding of the game to know what position does what so you can upgrade your team properly, however.

There's enough here to actually make this somewhat interesting, and it's yet another concept that I wish was developed as a traditional game you just pay a one-time fee for rather than as a freemium deal. More direct interaction between players would also be nice, but within this framework it's tough to do that without people making multiple accounts to game the system. As is it soon hits a wall where it gets too grindy to bother with; of course that's by design to tempt you to pay up to alleviate the tedium.
 
 
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