Full Frontal Nerdity : faceoffhockeygame.com – a shameless plug for a computer simulation game

You may think you’re a stats nerd.

You may think you’re a fantasy nerd.

Hold my slide rule.

A Brief History

Faceoff  (FoH) was originally a card and dice game made in 1974, created by Bob Frost.   In the flavor of Strat-O-Matic baseball, it tries to recreate a players seasonal stats; the ultimate goal is/was if one simulates the entire NHL schedule the standings and goals scored would be reasonably close.

Of course, nearly everyone who bought a copy thought replaying the league was boring, so instead made All Star teams!

Ownership changed hands several times over the last 44 years; in the 90s a computer simulation based on the dice engine was created.  In 2015, the card and dice game was split off and relaunched as Hockey Bones while the computer simulation kept the Faceoff Hockey brand.  Local software developer Brian van Wyk runs the show now (https://www.faceoffhockeygame.com/); a new version is released every year in October.

FoH was completely ahead of its time.  The game engine in 1974 relied on the shots on goal statistic and save percentage (sample size!), and needed a solution on how to quantify how good at defense a skater was.  I first heard the phrase ‘puck possession’ with statistical context in 1998 on Faceoff’s Yahoo mailing list.  Take that Bloggers!

Why is this fun?

FoH uses lots of traditional fantasy sports elements.  You build a roster, you follow your players and you talk trade.  The ongoing season’s stats apply to next year’s game.  This is why every FoH league I know is a dynasty league.

But it also goes beyond traditional fantasy sports.  You build an entire roster, 25 to 30 players deep.  Players that would never be considered in a traditional league are valuable.

Defense matters.  A lot.  For the last 5 years or so Andy Greene has been lightyears ahead of Nick Leddy in FoH.  Because defense matters.  A lot.

The yearly delay means if you enjoy researching young players, you can mine prospects in a league’s annual draft, fun house mirroring what real NHL teams do.

Sounds great!  Why might this not be fun?

Oh how I love this game, but honestly, it’s not for everyone.

  • You ever try to organize a road trip with your friends?  FoH is like this but, like, all the time.  Every league needs leadership or everything bogs down and everyone quits.  In FoH this job falls to the commissioner, aka chief Cat Herder.  I launched a league 5 years ago, (shout out to the Rogue Squadron Hockey League, you guys make being a commissioner pretty easy) and the commissioner job does take up some time.  Know this going in.
  • The GUI is…adequate?  Brian concentrates on the simulation code.  Maintaining your roster and creating game assignments requires some practice.
  • To have a successful team, you’ll need to be able to translate thisBlues Ratings

(source a screen capture from https://www.faceoffhockeygame.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/RatingsSummary.txt)

  • Seriously, that bank of numbers is the game.  D/C is a skaters defense and clearing rating (forwards are always 0 clearing), N-P-S are their quality shot % chance, SH-pp-sh are a skater’s likelihood of attempting a shot broken down into even strength, power play, and short-handed situations.  Confused yet?    Because we haven’t even started talking about ‘symbols’ which list in the ‘Extra’ column.  FC is a good forechecker, S is a good screener, and so on.
  • The game engine is imperfect.  Forwards who lead the NHL in shots are going to underperform.  Alexander Ovechkin is unlikely to get enough touches in the game simulation to shoot at his NHL rate.  Passing forwards also underperform to such a degree it’s almost criminal; the game does not simulate what Joe Thornton or Nicklas Backstrom do well.


 Should I buy this game anyways?

Well of course yes 🙂

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