Late last year, the Franchise Hockey Manager series of hockey simulation games came out with its four iteration. While I prefer watching hockey over baseball by a large margin, I have never really gotten into the simulated versions of the sport the same way as I have with baseball simulation games. For whatever reason, hockey simulators just don’t have the same appeal that baseball ones do, at least to me anyway. This is probably due to the fact that basically everything in baseball can be quantified (especially with the advanced stats that have gained popularity over the last decade or so), while other sports like hockey and football are way more subjective. For example, it is much easier to recognize that a .290 hitter on your bench should be getting a lot more plate appearances than it is to see if a fourth-liner on your hockey team needs more ice time. There are some advanced metrics you can judge hockey players on but they are much more advanced and require a lot more knowledge to make the correct moves. Also, one of the biggest reasons I prefer baseball simulations (despite the fact that it is only my fourth favorite sport to watch) is that baseball has by far the most transactions of any sport, giving you a lot more control over your roster. You need to make decisions on minor league promotions and demotions, you’ll get a trade offer probably at least once a week, it is much easier to move players up and down the lineup as they struggle or start to hit the cover off the baseball, and so on. Due to the easy-to-understand stats and transactions, Out of the Park Baseball just appeals to me a lot more than Franchise Hockey Manager.
However, is Franchise Hockey Manager still a good game and is it worth a purchase? My feelings on that matter are pretty mixed. First of all, if you already own Franchise Hockey Manager 2 or 3, I don’t really think the new features (which you can see below) are worth the upgrade. Many of them are nice additions but I don’t think any of them are worth the $39.99 price tag (maybe if it is on sale though). If you don’t already own a game in the series and you are a big fan of hockey, the series is certainly good enough to recommend. However, just make sure you know what you are getting into. This isn’t a hockey game like EA Sports’ NHL series where you control your players, in Franchise Hockey Manager 4 you just set up your lines, promote players from the AHL, make trades and sign players, and stuff like that. Basically, you just have indirect control over your players and the team you are running. Obviously sports simulation games like this have a very niche audience but if you fit into that niche, Franchise Hockey Manager is perfectly fine. It does a pretty good job of simulating the sport of hockey, it just isn’t as accessible as a game like Out of the Park Baseball (due to the simplicity of baseball compared to the complexity of hockey).
The following is the list of new features in Franchise Hockey Manager 4:
- 2017-18 team rosters
- Vegas Golden Knights-The new NHL expansion team makes its first appearance in Franchise Hockey Manager 4. You can run the Golden Knights with the roster they actually drafted (which currently has them in first place in the Western Conference) or remake the team to fit the strategy you prefer.
- New ways to set up leagues-You can now choose the number of conferences and divisions in your league, the length of the schedule, and the number of teams.
- More historical rosters-Including the early major leagues in western Canada.
- 30 new historical challenges-The game offers one challenge per team to see if you can repeat or build upon a team’s successes.
- Challenge Mode-A new take on the Path to Glory Mode in previous iterations of the game, now available in every aspect of Franchise Hockey Manager 4.
- Commissioner Mode
- Worldwide playable leagues-New country leagues include Austria, Belarus, Denmark, Slovakia, and Poland. Also included is a European Champions League and more new international competitions.
- New Hall of Fame system
- New achievements
- Line chemistry
- Player uniform number retirements
- New postseason awards
- Expanded statistical tracking, including single game records
- In-game audio and visual enhancements
- Player comparison screen
In addition to these new features, Out of the Park Developments has released seven updates since the game’s release with bug fixes, optimizations, and some small additions.
While I’m just not as interested in hockey simulation games as I am baseball (due to the reasons I outlined above), I do think that Franchise Hockey Manager 4 does a pretty good job of filling the niche. The game still requires a lot of loading (especially for a mainly text-based game) but it does seem to have gotten a bit better in this version. The simulation aspects feel realistic and well-done. Most of the problems with the game just come from the fact that hockey isn’t as easy to simulate (or as fun to play) as baseball sims. The new features are nice as usual but if you already own a previous version of the game, I don’t really think it is necessary to upgrade, especially at the $39.99 price tag. Overall, I would recommend the game but probably only to those who don’t own a previous version of the game, love hockey, and are interested in the management portion of the sport.
Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Out of the Park Developments for the review copy of Franchise Hockey Manager 4 that was used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.