Retro Rated: Premier Picks

Developed by:Tim Blacklock
Format played:Amiga 500

What Is It?

One of the great joys of gaming on the Amiga is the broad spectrum of choice that it offers. From flawless arcade conversions to global-spanning strategy titles, sports simulations to arcade adventures, full price releases to budget titles and compilation packs. Truly this was a machine that offered an unrivalled level of choice.

But beyond the commercial releases there was also a thriving homebrew scene in the form of Public Domain and Shareware. Before the days of the internet brought immediacy of global reach, gamers were reliant on word of mouth, illicit disk swapping on the playground and magazine advertisements. PD allowed budding programmers to use the powerful tools offered by the Amiga to create their own games and share these with a like minded community. Like what you played? Bung a couple of quid the way of the developer to support them in making more.

Premier Picks, coded by Tim Blacklock, was a Shareware title released in 1993 and featured on the coverdisk of issue 27 of Amiga Power. A gloriously simple concept, it replicates the Premier League as it was in 1993 and allows you to manage a team of your choice to glory. But this is not a management sim. There are no players, no staff, no scouting and no tactics. Instead, matches are played out in a game of chance.

As the whistle goes to kick things off, you are presented with a grid of 18 cards. Taking it in turns with either the CPU or another human player, each manager clicks on a card to turn it over and reveal their fate. Hit the target and you might turn over a goal card, slotting one in the onion bag. Or perhaps you land on a penalty card, which gives you a short time to hunt down a goal card, otherwise it’s a missed opportunity. But watch out! Not all cards are favourable. A shot that strays just past the post sees you come agonisingly close to goal, accompanied by a snippet of commentary. A substitution card swaps your selection out for another card, a yellow card lets you have another pick but a foul sees you cede control to the opposition, granting them two picks. And finally half and full time cards bring the action to a close. And to pep things up, pre-match you have the chance to identify up to 6 card values by whacking a buzzer at the right moment, giving you a sneak peak and an opportunity to grab an early advantage.

And that’s about it. You can control multiple teams if you like to have more involvement, or rope in some buddies to play against. You can change the number of games in the season and the points for a win, draw or loss too, which made it jolly confusing when I assigned 5 points regardless of the result and played just a single round of fixtures. Part of the fun is in reminiscing over the teams that comprised the Premier League back in 1993. Oldham Athletic anybody?

The game’s very simplicity works to its favour as a quick-hit time sink, however with the benefit of hindsight it is a shame there isn’t a touch more sophistication. As this is essentially just a game of chance with a side order of memory test it doesn’t really matter who the opposition is. Playing Manchester United offers no greater or lesser challenge than, say, QPR. Perhaps goal cards could be more restricted against better opposition, or a set of infrequent wildcards could have been used to spice up big matches or local rivalries. As it was, after 5 games and 4 defeats I found myself second from bottom of the league with no semblance of control or influence over results. The CPU could be quicker at making it’s selection, the pointer crawling across the screen, only speeding up when your opponent is on the hunt for a penalty clinching goal. It’s a little annoying having to click through each result individually too. Playing as a single team, I don’t care what the individual match scores are, just show me a summary at the end of that week’s round of fixtures.

But criticising such a deliberately simple game feels a little churlish. This ain’t Football Manager, it’s an old fashioned card game given a fun football theme. With a couple of gameplay tweaks and an updated team list, this could be tailor made for mobile and tablet touchscreen gaming, one of those go-to games when you’ve got five minutes to kill at the bus stop or have forgotten to take your book into the bog.

Worth Playing?

A fine example of the simple, accessible games that typified the Amiga PD scene. There’s no depth, no variety and little in the way of long term challenge. Truth be told, you’ll be bored of it after 20 minutes. But that’s kind of missing the point. A fun little diversion that is screaming out for a touchscreen update.

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