Reviewed: February 27, 2003
Released: December 23, 2002
My head hurts and Iíll tell you why. I have just had the pleasure of reviewing Tournament Dreams College Basketball (TDCB) from .400 Software. The reason that my head hurts is because I am still trying to process the information that was fed into my brain by this game. TDCB is a college hoops fanís dream game. In this game you take on the role of a college basketball coach. Forget everything you thought you knew about the intricacies of coaching a major college athletics program because Iím here to tell you that you donít know a thing.
TDCB is the most statistically deep and, what I can only assume, most realistic college basketball simulation ever made. I say that I can only assume because I am not now nor have I ever been a basketball coach at a Division I college. You wonít find any slick animations or stunning graphical content in this title but if you ever wanted to prove that you could coach your favorite team better than the real coach you can get your shot with this game. Unfortunately the schools and player names have not been licensed so you will have to coach your favorite school with imaginary players.
Although the players and coaches are fictitious and there are no licensed logos used in the game it does not take away from the overall enjoyment of the game. TDCB harkens back to the days of old, before everyone had a computer, when people like me actually got enjoyment out of statistically based simulations like the classic Strat-O-Matic baseball game. It is a good thing to play a game where intelligence is rewarded and reflexes are not a factor. Any college basketball fanatic will enjoy this simulation of the daily grind of coaching.
Now that the setup is complete letís get on to the meat of the game.
TDCBís gameplay is experienced through a fairly complex interface. Everything is accessed with the mouse and menus. No need for a joystick with this title. When you start the game you can pick which college you will guide through the season and you begin in the off-season. Which team you decide to play with is probably the most important decision you will make. Just like in the real world, if you donít pick one of the premier schools then donít think you are going to take your team to the big dance right away. You just canít lure the finest athletes to the smaller schools. It is the off-season that offers you the most challenges in TDCB.
During the off-season you have many tasks to handle in order to prepare for the upcoming season. When you first start you need to hire a scouting agency that will help you chase the player of your dreams. Just like in real life, the more money your school has the better the agency it can hire and this results in better information. You need to watch your budget when selecting your scouting service so that your school has enough operating capital for the upcoming season. After selecting the scouting service you begin the tasks of recruiting and scheduling.
The recruiting procedure in TDCB is complex. Your scouting service sends you email about prospective players and information about their abilities and weaknesses. The reliability of this information is only as good as the scouting service that you hired. After gathering all of your information you attempt to get players signed all while balancing a massive amount of other factors. These factors include things like how many scholarships you have available, can you send a coach on a recruiting trip with the money you have available and even if you sign the player you need will he make it in the classroom, stay injury-free or stay for the full four years. These are problems that any coach has to deal with and attempt to overcome on a daily basis.
The recruiting process in TDCB is very intense but it is what can make or break your entire season and ultimately your enjoyment of the game. If you have a bad recruiting class then you will experience a very long season. Nothing helps your enjoyment of a game like winning and the only way to win this game is to shine during the recruiting process. It is because of this that you must spend a good amount of time mastering the recruiting techniques.
Another task you must master is the art of scheduling. Unfortunately there is no way to truly master this until you have mastered the recruiting and winning aspects of the games. When you play with a better team you will find it much easier to get teams to put you on their schedules. When you play with an awful team you will find it much easier to get teams to put you on their schedules. When you play with a middle of the pack team you will find it hard for anyone but the weaker schools to put you on their schedules. This is typically the way things are in the real world. Schools try to schedule cupcakes for their non-league games to make sure they pad their win column. Teams do not want an opponent scheduled that has a chance of beating them. The scheduling process can be very discouraging but by playing better and adding better non-league opponents you can help your rankings and future status.
With the recruiting and scheduling done you can then enter the season. Here you have the option to either simulate games or coach them. Of course, coaching a team rather than allowing the computer to do it will yield you the best experience. During a game you can guide your team by calling a multitude of plays and formations and determining which players to have on the court for certain situations. I must admit that my knowledge of basketball strategies is not up to the standards of a Division I coach and I felt a little overwhelmed here. A gamer with an eerily vast knowledge of the intricacies of defenses and strategies would probably feel more at home here than I did. I guided my team very poorly during games as I felt like a spectator for most of the game. I could see my team letting games slip out of their grasp but I was powerless to make it stop. I always seemed to call a timeout too late to stop the bleeding or left players on the court for too long. It is amazing that this game focuses on nearly every aspect of a game simultaneously. It is also too bad that I dropped the ball, so to speak, with my coaching duties because I cost my team some wins with my poor strategizing.
During games, the coach interacts by selecting menus at the bottom of the screen. The game plays out in scrolling text and a full scoreboard is shown at the right. Any information that you require is available to you and can be accessed at any time. The abundance of information and options is staggering. You need to be the ultimate multi-tasker in order to be successful both on and off of the court in this game.
While playing games you must keep in the back of your mind the ultimate goal. The Championship. Throughout the season the teams are ranked with the ultimate goal being the big dance. As your team progresses through a season the rankings are updated and will determine your fate. Although the rankings are important nothing is more important than the Conference Tournaments that take place after the regular season ends. Because most Conference Tournament winners get an automatic invite to the big dance they are very important. If your team struggles early in the year but shows improvement towards the end you might need to win the Conference Tournament to get that coveted invite to the big tournament. Appearances in the big dance will help your recruiting in the next off-season and therefore are extremely important for you as a coach. After all, what young player wants to sign on with a school that doesnít have a shot at the ultimate prize in college basketball?
After a grueling season and hopefully a good showing in the tournament you can start this whole process over again. Your previous seasons accomplishments or failures will either help you or haunt you as you once again begin the preparations for another season. Most people think that when the season ends that the coach gets a well-deserved five-month long vacation but that is just not true. The coachís job is a full-time one that never ends and thankfully for that yours never will either unless of course you are like me and are an awful coach.
The graphics in TDCB are almost a non-issue. This game, you must remember, is not an action title and therefore concentrates on content rather than window dressing. The games graphics are very clean and do the job for which they were intended. The interfaces and backgrounds look sharp and offer up a nice presentation for the game. The logos are very basic, not because of capabilities but because there was no official licensing. The only other graphical aspects of the game are the playerís photos. They are not actual photos but rather drawings of the players. It is much easier to refer to them as photos.
Each player has a photo and this is a very helpful graphical aspect of the game. It is helpful for two reasons. The first reason is that it adds a face to a name. In order in keeping with the immersion into coaching it helps a coach easily recognize his players when their photo shows up. Secondly, the addition of individual player photos shows the amazing attention to detail put into this game. It adds another layer of reality to an already deep game.
The sound in TDCB, like the graphics, is another non-issue. While they are adequate, they are not what make this game great. The sounds consist mainly of expected college band music, ambient crowd noise, squeaking sneakers and referee whistles. Like I said, they are helpful but neither add nor detract from the game. I personally found the sound effects distracting as I had plenty to concentrate on and seemed to tune them out most of the time.
I cannot put into word the value that TDCB holds for the avid college hoops fan. This game allows a player to obtain total immersion into the rarely seen side of coaching. The adjustability, depth and the immense amount of tasks to be mastered translate into a game that can be played for a long time. The only factor in how long you play this game is you. Your interest in this game will directly determine your enjoyment and value for your buck. Please be forewarned though, this game is intense and not for the casual fan of the college basketball experience. At times you expect to get a paycheck for all of the work you have been doing.
The replay value of the title is nonexistent because you never actually stop playing the game. It is very hard to build a dynasty and it may even take you many ďvirtualĒ seasons to accomplish anything of note. The longer you play, the more you hone your coaching and recruiting skills. There is absolutely no limit to the amount of time you can spend on this game. Even if you build the ultimate team you can always decide to leave and start over again with a weaker team. That will be the ultimate test of your abilities.
If you are looking for fancy graphics and lightning fast gameplay then TDCB is not for you. If you are looking for an experience like none other then get this game. By purchasing TDCB you will be immersed in the total experience of coaching a college basketball team. You will take on the roles of Athletics Director, Coach and Recruiter all in one easy to navigate title. The amount of statistics and coaching strategies alone make this a great basketball sim. The scheduling, recruiting and other aspects are icing on the cake.