Discussion No. 4 - Colin Webster
by J.S. Leatherbarrow
We live in a digital age. We can access, more or less, the entire universe from the palms of our hands. Tap-games are prevalent and we consume almost everything like junk-food.
So when somebody came to me with a story about a new football board game I was naturally curious.
Colin Webster and his partner, Rachel, have been slaving away at Counter Attack Game for quite some time and are now ready to unleash some analogue joy upon the world. Football Manager & FIFA dominate the football-game marketplace, so I asked Colin about how this idea came to fruition, about an extraordinarily successful crowd-funding campaign & his plans for world domination.
What is the backstory to Counter Attack game?
I could say that it goes all the way back to my primary school days when on wet breaktimes my mate and I would try and design a grid-based football game! But it's probably more appropriate to start the story five years ago. At the time, my kids were teeny so my nights were all spent at home. I have always loved football management games, and strategy games in general, so applying football to a board game seemed like a smart move. I guess I was surprised it hadn't been done before because strategic board games are all the rage, and football has a ridiculously large fanbase. There are other football strategy games, but they are either quite gimmicky ('land on this spot and you'll get a red card!') and/or far too simplified. So I decided I should get started on trying to make something that had a bit more depth and strategy to it.
Turns out there is probably a really good reason why a game like that didn't exist: it's damned hard to invent a rule for every possible scenario in a dynamic game like football. Some of the simple stuff is easy - passing, tackling, shooting, for example - but it's the other elements to the game that left me scratching my head. Do you allow chipped balls over a defence? How many defenders get to move while that ball is in the air? Who gets to challenge for a header, and when? Can you play a one-two? How do you determine whether a pass or shot is accurate or not? All these questions and a hundred more were in my thoughts as I beavered away making the game.
Within a couple of months, and after many hours of work, I pretty much scrapped the project.It all came about after I played it against a friend for the first time. Graeme and I realised quite quickly that the game was dull! Too many rules,too many grey areas, too many disappointing elements (like shooting wide of the goal after spending 10 minutes building an attack!). I pretty much lost all enthusiasm for the project at that point, relegating it to the lower leagues on my mind...
Then, after a conversation with a friend at work, the whole project was rekindled! Marco and I decided to trial the game again, but with just the real basics. We played for an hour or two and had a great time - the dream was back on! Problem was, we had played a really basic version: there wasn't even any shooting in that version (I still lost though), so that, and everything else, had to be added in. I did this slowly and I constantly play-tested the game with others. Many ideas were born and most of them were either scrapped or changed beyond all recognition.
Slowly, the game that's now called Counter Attack emerged. I started writing a blog about it and slowly grew an interested audience. Rachel - my girlfriend - and I were working on the artwork and general presentation of the game. People started to ask when they could play, so I drew up plans for a crowdfunding campaign and crossed my fingers it would work. That launched in mid-April, finished in mid-May, and it was a great success! We hit out funding goal quite quickly, but it was a heck of a lot of work...and it still is as we finish off all of the artwork so we can send it to the manufacturer.
With the world becoming increasingly digital, why did you want to make something so deeply-rooted in the analogue era?
Rachel and I love to play board games, whether together or with friends. Board games are a great way to socialise and spend time with people! I think it's fair to say that most of us - me included - spend too much time on a screen, but screens aren't particularly sociable. So we've worked hard to keep the focus on what happens at the table. There has been a remarkable growth in the board game market over the last decade, and that is anticipated to continue to grow. While some of that growth comes from classic games like Monopoly, you just need to take a look at the book shop on the high street to see a huge range of strategic games that cover pretty much any topic you can think of. Anyway, why make a digital football strategy game when there's Football Manager to compete with?!
You have more than doubled your pledge target, you must be over the moon with this?
Yes! The boys done good! Because we raised nearly £15,000 on Kickstarter we can buy more copies of the game than we had originally intended. This gives us a stock to sell on our website. As things stand, every penny we raised is accounted for. Any potential profit for Rachel and I is a long way off yet!
Apart from total world domination, what are your plans & hopes for the growth of the game over the next decade?
The football manager's answer to this question - "take one game at a time" - is appropriate here because we just want to concentrate on getting the copies from the manufacturer and posting them out to customers without any cock-ups. If we manage to achieve that, then we cross our fingers and hope that people like the game! After that, we can start thinking about what's next. In an ideal world, we'll translate the game into all the key languages and try to establish links with retailers and football websites so more people can find out about Counter Attack. Actually, the language work has begun - some people who bought the game have been in touch and told me they wanted to help with this!
Why do you love football?
Well, it's not because my favourite teams - Inverness and Scotland - are successful! I think there is a beauty in the way the game is played that other sports haven't got; there is the accessibility to the sport: we can all play it with almost no kit required; the reminder of my youth - football every day, for hours; the dreams of being scouted and getting the big call-up (my hopes are beginning to fade now, aged 43); and there is something special about the congregational aspect of the game - the awe of the big crowd, the songs, the collective emotions... I would have preferred if Ajax had won that semi-final, but who couldn't raise a smile at that last-minute goal by Lucas Moura? Football is, I guess, our equivalent of gladiatorial bouts. Just with not as much blood.
Words by J.S. Leatherbarrow. Photographs used by kind permission of Colin Webster. Artwork by FATC staff. All rights reserved.