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Franchise Hockey Manager 2 Review

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Back for a second season, is FHM2 ready to fill the GM-sized hole in your heart?

Franchise Hockey Manager 2 is, as the name implies, the second annual edition of OOTP Developments' simulation of running an NHL team.

To answer your first question: no, you can't challenge other GMs to fight in a barn.  To answer your second question: no, you can't set the status of your tie during press conferences (you can't even call press conferences).  To answer your third question: I haven't played much of East Side Hockey Manager, so I'm not the best person to provide a comparison.

What I can tell you is whether FHM2 stands on its own merits.

If you're not familiar with sports management simulations, FHM2 is a game where you take control of a hockey franchise like the Toronto Maple Leafs and run the team from behind the scenes.  Unlike Electronic Arts' hockey games, which are primarily about taking control of individual players on the ice, a management simulation gives you minimal control over what happens during games in exchange for giving you greater control over areas such as contract negotiations and tactics.

You're given so much control over the non-playing aspects of hockey that the game can seem daunting to get into.  There's a fairly in-depth manual for the game that you can access from the main menu, but there's no getting around the fact that there's a lot to do, and you're going to have to dive in.  While most video games slowly ease you into the controls and concepts, building in complexity over time, a management simulation by its very nature asks you to do more the first few times you play than any other time.

For example, you're obviously going to want to go set your line combos off the bat.  But you also have to assign your roughly two dozen scouts to various regions and player profiles, set up tactics for each individual line and game situation, and place players on the trade block.

You're also likely going to want to spend a fair bit of time figuring out how the interface works and what the various ratings all mean.  While many of these tasks can be delegated to assistants (and you can hire a head coach if you'd rather focus on GMing duties), it could easily be an hour or two before you even play your first pre-season game.

fhm2_tactics

But how does FHM2 actually play?  You can simulate all your games, but there's also a mode that lets you "watch" the game as well.  It looks like the main image at the top of this article.  You can set the notifications anywhere from a full play-by-play to just a summary of goals, with a few options in between.  You can also modify tactics or lines while in this mode.  There isn't a lot to do during games unless you're a micro-managing coach, and the interface isn't pretty, but it's functional.

The general stability of Franchise Hockey Manager 2 is quite good.  I've heard of many people having issues with the technical performance of FHM1, but I never experienced any crashes or freezes in my time with the new game.  It runs smoothly and predictably, and the simulation times are pretty reasonable.

The statistical engine is mostly solid but is certainly stingy. League-wide goals per game were just 5.25 in the season I played, a decent chunk below the roughly 5.5 that recent real NHL seasons have had.  The overall points leader was reasonable (Stamkos with 101), there were two 50 goal scorers, and the league-leading SV% was .925.  The issue seems to be that depth players simply don't score enough, primarily because they don't generate many shots.  I didn't see anything especially unusual in the statistics the game generated while I played, but it would be nice if there was a bit more goal scoring.

Maybe FHM2 needs a "bigger nets" option.

FHM2 also includes a limited variety of more modern statistics, particularly Corsi and PDO.  It's nice to have those stats, but, strangely, they're only available for individual players and not at the team level.  Finding statistics for the players on specific teams is also a bit strange.  There's a screen where you can view the full leaderboards for the whole league, and you can filter that screen by a bunch of criteria, but you can't filter by team.  To view just the players on a specific team, you have to go to that team's home page, then their roster, then change a drop-down from "Info" to "Stats".

fhm2_profile

For me, the most appealing part of a management simulation is building a team.  In particular, I like negotiating trades and contracts.  Unfortunately, that's where the game's most obvious short-comings become apparent.

The problems start with the trade block.  An unfortunate bug causes the cap hit of every player on the trade block to appear as $0, though you can find their real salary by loading their profile page.  No player under 25 is ever placed on the trade block, and players who look worth acquiring are rare.

The biggest problem with trades is that there's basically no info provided about why other teams accept or reject a trade.  Teams can put players they no longer want on the trade block, but there's no indication anywhere of what a team wants in trades.  If you send a trade offer and it's rejected, you don't get any feedback on what might make it work.  Rival GMs never make counter-offers and never tell you what they want.  The whole system is too opaque.  I understand not wanting to have an EA-esque system with value bars telling you how much each individual player is worth, but providing no feedback on trade offers makes it impossible to learn how to improve your offers.

The trades the AI makes don't help shed light on matters.  In my game, the Canadiens traded Brendan Gallagher for Jonathan Quick, despite having Carey Price under contract.  They then turned around and put Quick on the trade block.  I traded Tyler Bozak to the Devils for Jordin Tootoo's expiring contract, but then they immediately put Bozak on the trade block.  There were other weird trades too, like Niklas Hjalmarsson and a 5th round pick for Derrick Pouliot.  Also strange is that nearly every trade is a 1-for-1 player-for-player swap, despite those being so rare in the real NHL.

fhm2_trade

A big part of the problem with the trade engine is that the AI doesn't seem to properly value youth or potential.  This problem also surfaces with restricted free agents.  I was able to lure Matthew Dumba away from the Minnesota Wild with a 5-year deal worth just $3.5M per season.  Young players under-value themselves as much as GMs do.  I was able to sign Morgan Rielly to a 5-year extension that pays him only $2.5M per year.

Another problem with how contract negotiations are handled is that they rarely feel like negotiations.  Before making an offer to a player, you have to "Ask for a response" to the contract structure you've designed.   If a player has a negative reaction, you're not allowed to formally offer the contract.  It felt like no player would ever accept less money than their initial ask, meaning the only decision in most cases is to just give a player what they want or get rid of them.  What good is it to have the powers of an NHL general manager if you can't lowball RFAs?

The game also seems to under-value high end UFAs.  The top two free agents available in my time playing were Anze Kopitar and Brent Seabrook.  Kopitar signed with BUF at just $6.68M for 6 seasons, while Seabrook got $4.24M x 3.

One of the coolest-sounding features of the game is the ability to add expansion teams to the NHL, which lets you build a franchise from the ground up.  Plus it lets you participate in an expansion draft, and who doesn't love expansion drafts?  Unfortunately, the game makes it pretty difficult to actually pull this off.

You can only add expansion teams on July 1.  But a new game starts on August 15th, meaning you have to simulate an entire season just to have the ability to add expansion squads.  I assume the reason this was done is so that the game only has to include one set of starting rosters rather than two, but it's still disappointing for a feature that sounds like it could be a selling point.

Despite the issues I've raised, I can't say that I haven't had fun with Franchise Hockey Manager 2.  It has some quirks and its fair share of flaws, but the allure of being able to run an NHL team is strong, and the feeling of swinging that big trade or watching a draft pick move up through the system can't be beat.  But it still feels like the Franchise Hockey Manager series has a ways to go before it turns into a dynasty.  Right now, it's a promising AHL-affiliate waiting for some of its key prospects to develop.

Franchise Hockey Manager 2 can be purchased as a stand-alone download or on Steam.  It's available for Windows or Mac, and costs $43.99 CDN ($39.99 US).

[Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of the game to review by the publisher, Out of the Park Developments.  I completed one full season, including the off-season, playing as the Toronto Maple Leafs.]