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Peter Upton's

Subbuteo Tribute Website.

The Photo-Real Years 2005-07

Marketed under Hasbro's MB Games arm, this was another attempt at a new mass-market Subbuteo for the 21st century. The fact that it has since disappeared seems proof that it failed. It was a radical redesign, but the launch was pretty low-key and I am not convinced that Hasbro ever had faith in it. Nevertheless, it did last for three seasons, and produced a couple of interesting spin-offs.

In the early 2000s, Subbuteo had two sets of adult supporters keeping the game alive - the players, and the collectors. It is fair to say that this edition was not aimed at either set of these enthusiasts, and their input does not seem to have been sought. Perhaps the new "flat" players were a nod to both groups, but the sets were not as playable as they should have been.

Here is what was produced during the photo-real years.

The New Dream Team Stadium 2005.

This was the main edition of the game, priced at 29.99. Hasbro held  the launch in early 2005 which, as I understand it, was to avoid it being lost in the Christmas rush of 2004. It was a Toys-r-us exclusive until July, and then other stores were allowed to stock it in time for Christmas 2005. Even then, sightings were not particularly widespread in my view. These included the Woolworths catalogue (although I only saw the set in larger stores), the Argos catalogue, JD Williams mail order, and Wilkinson stores. I only ever saw the training packs at Toys-r-us and Wilkinsons.

Essentially, the Dream Team Stadium was a standard "club edition" version of the game, with pitch, teams, goals, and balls. However, the design of the pitch and the players was unlike any that had gone before, and are worth looking at in detail.

The Pitch and the "Stadium".

The first thing you noticed about the pitch were the white plastic corner pieces. These were actually fixed to the pitch making it a bulky item. The little design touches on the corners were rather pleasing though. Each corner housed a ball socket, from which long plastic tubes rose up above the pitch. A further connector joined these tubes above the centre circle, and a scoreboard plugged into the bottom of this connector, completing the stadium look. 

The idea behind this contraption (beyond the aesthetics) was to hold the pitch in tension to provide the flat surface crucial to good play. This did work to an extent, but the pitch (the standard "one-sided" material in modern sets) was still prone to creasing, and the stadium did nothing to alleviate this. 

The most obvious question about the new design was "does it interfere with play?". The answer unsurprisingly was yes, but not as much as you might fear. When using it, I had to decide whether to play over or under the tubes when standing on the wing. I haven't tested it on the floor (too old for that!) or with kids, and it might be better for them. 

The players.

Here we reach the key change in this edition. This version of Subbuteo did not feature full teams as such, but individual players. These players were in their club strips, but you did not field a whole team from the same club (unless you wanted to and had collected enough extra players to do so). Instead, the bases (red or blue) determined which players were playing for which team. The box set contained 24 players, which was enough for both players to have a complete team (including a super sub). The rules did not explain how to stop fights between youngsters over which players to include. I suggest you line all the players up and pick one-by-one like its a game at school (oh, the horror of being picked last). 

This original set had players from nine top European teams. These were three from Italy (AC Milan, Juventus and Inter), four from England (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United), and  two from Spain (Barcelona and Valencia). The obvious "missing" team was Real Madrid. I think the licence fee required to include them was too high.

    

The players came on flat plastic cards, each the size of a credit card. A card contained three players from the same club side, and inserts for the bases giving names and squad numbers. These inserts were reversible, to match both the red and blue bases, and they also differentiated between "attacking" and "defending" players to cover an advanced rule. There were five cards per club, so each had a squad of 15 players. With eight clubs in the original set, there were 40 cards to collect (and therefore 120 players). The full boxed set has 8 cards (24 players), and each training pack has an additional 4 cards (12 players), so you needed to buy multiple packs to get the full collection. Fifteen players gave a good squad to chop and change, although all these teams have such big squads that somebody was going to miss out. For instance, a few of Liverpool's Champions League heroes were absent from their fifteen (scorer Smicer for one).

More detail on this set can be found on my original Focus On Photo-real Subbuteo review page.

The Training Packs 2005

The first year of the Photo-real range saw four additional skills packs produced costing 4.99 each. Each pack contained four player cards (twelve players), a different coloured ball (orange, silver or gold), four "pro-bases" and "specialist training equipment". 

Pro Bases.

The "pro-bases" were called Cobra and Sidewinder. The skills packs did not actually say which was which, although it was reasonably obvious in play, and the box set rule sheet explained all. Each pack contains one base of each in blue and red.

The Cobra (blue base above) was designed to "give your star strikers even greater shooting power". It was a slightly bigger base than the norm, with a noticeably larger flat bottom. I'd suggest it was heavier too. The most obvious addition was the vertical ridges on the sides of the base. This was a strange idea, but I guess somebody play-tested this feature.... The base did feel steadier, and I am assuming that this made it less likely to swerve off course during a longer flick, and so more likely to hit the ball in the correct spot, and direct it where you wanted it to go. I remain unconvinced.

The Sidewinder (red base above) was designed to "provide your players with unparalleled swerve action". This base was slightly smaller than the norm, with the flat bottom reduced. The most noticeable feature was the rubbery feel to the sides and small bubbles designed to grip the pitch. This base was better at swerving than the standard one, so I suppose it was a successful design. 

The "specialist training equipment" is where these packs differed from each other. These were as follows.

The fact that these were called "training packs" put the emphasis on the training equipment. However, in truth these were small, cheap, gimmicky items, and not really where the value of the packs lay. I suspect the packs were bought chiefly for the extra players, and of course extra balls are always useful. 

The Dream Team Stadium (2nd edition) 2006

   

A quick re-release for the Stadium edition, this only had small changes from the previous edition. You can easily recognise this version by the lack of the word "new" on the box. A closer look at the lid revealed that two extra teams had been added to the range - Roma and Benfica. You might also notice that a couple of the pictures are from a Spanish language version.

In fact, Hasbro took the opportunity to update all the teams for this new version, with new players and kits. For most teams, the kit changes are minimal. The Italian sides basically changed their stripe sizes, and Juventus also changed sponsor. Chelsea changed collar and sponsor, whilst Liverpool and Manchester United were unchanged. Barcelona switched to thin stripes and red shorts (it doesn't look as good as the previous kit), and Valencia lost the attractive black sleeves, but gained black shorts. The big winners were Arsenal, who featured in their lovely "Highbury farewell" kit.

The Dream Team Stadium (3rd Edition) 2007

Here's a surprise. After writing this page at what I thought was the conclusion of this era of Subbuteo, I was made aware of a third version of the Dream Team stadium, with another set of updated cards. This version is recognisable by the bigger team badges, which curl around the box top. Many thanks to Nicolas Papadopoulos for sending in the photo of this set, and to Paul Woozley, who also advised me about it.

The Booster Packs (2005-06 season)

Instead of the relatively expensive training packs, this seasons extra players could be purchased in simple booster packs. These small, sealed plastic packs contained four cards at the back, with two bases and a ball on the front. So you could not pick which players you were getting, but you could choose the ball colour. You received twelve players (on four cards) for 2.99.

The Urban Arena

This was a cute five-a-side version of the photo-real game, and was perhaps the pick of the bunch. Certainly the designers were enjoying themselves. Based on the dubious Street Football game, the five-a-side pitch was produced in a grey colour, with basketball trimmings. Whilst poor kids the world over have always played football in the street, or in small urban venues, the whole skate park look always seems a bit contrived when applied to football games (electronic or otherwise). There was a Street football event at the World Cup, but that didn't look convincing either. Perhaps it is all a bit too American, when football is really anything but American.

The pitch had a clip-together fence surround, which also clipped into the pitch, giving a nice solid feel. The fence had a rubber bumper, which in theory helped the ball get back into play. In practise, the ball gets stuck on the fence and corners as it does with every other five-a-side Subbuteo arena. The goals have no nets, and I suppose they are designed to look makeshift. The goalkeeper rods were new, with a big grip at the back with a wheel underneath. Moving the grip caused the goalkeeper to dive, almost in the style of Super Striker.

The designers had the most fun with the accessories. Clipping onto the fence were a variety of advertisement hoardings, street signs, and a basketball hoop. Within the arena were optional skate-board jumps (for chipping the ball), a barrel, and a dumped washing machine. These allowed tricks to be performed. The tricks (opening the washing machine, knocking down a sign etc) reveal a symbol, which allowed a "powerplay" to be carried out. This might be removing an opposition player, extra flicks, or adding another five minutes to the half. The rules were written in a jaunty manner - the aim was to have fun.

The players in the Urban set were the same people as the 2005-06 season boosters, but they were produced in "street gear". Some teams get lucky with their gear, and some look a bit silly. As shown here, Inter Milan were hiding under very high collars, Roma have amusing short trousers, and Manchester United have a badge stuck unconvincingly on a blue T-Shirt.

The Urban players were not available separately, so the only way to get more of these was to buy more sets. However, as the game was a five-a-side, each set only contained four cards. To make matters worse, two of the cards had to have goalkeepers on them. With eleven teams, you had eleven cards with goalkeepers on them to collect, but there were another forty-four outfield cards. At two cards a set, that's an awful lot of sets to track down.

Trivia Shoot Out Edition

This was a quirky little set from a range of spin-offs - the box also advertised Monopoly Casino and Connect Four Downtime.

The aim was to score three goals (or more if you are a lover of this kind of thing) with a combination of football trivia, and Subbuteo skills. Like all football trivia games, the questions will date very quickly.

The skill challenges were:-

  1. Chipping. Using the chipping ramp, and catcher originally seen in the Training packs. If it had just had the target, you would have been here all day/week/year (delete as appropriate)

  2. Dribbling. Dribble around three of the rubbish training pack cones without hitting them or the walls.

  3. Penalty shoot-out. You don't need me to describe this one.

A Subbuteo branded "stop-watch" was also included in the set, for use with the Advanced version of play. Here, each question had to be answered, and every task managed within a time limit. In theory, a Subbuteo stop-watch should have been worth having. Sadly, it is really a standard cheap digital watch housed in a stop-watch frame, and it only counts up, and not down. You cannot get it to time a ten-minute half of Subbuteo for you. The battery in the watch cannot be changed, but okay these things usually last about seven or eight years, and the game would be consigned to a boot sale before then.

Fake Players! The other odd thing about the set is that the players were provided on the standard photoreal plastic card, featuring the a red and blue player, a goalkeeper and the base inserts. However, the design of the box had the two players shown above their bases on the front (so you could see what you were getting). To overcome this, MB games placed two fake card players in the front of the box. These players are only printed on the front, and are not used in the game.

Put Yourself in the Game!

    

Prior to the photo-real launch, there were various rumours and titbits of information floating around the Subbuteo community. One of these was that you would be able to place a picture of your head onto a Subbuteo player, and play yourself in the dream team. When the sets were launched, there was no mention of this facility, and it was assumed that the idea had been dropped.

Obviously this was not so, as personalised players made an appearance in an MB games set called "Put Yourself in the Game!" launched in October 2005. This set provided stickers and computer templates to add family members and details to various games such as Monopoly, Cluedo, Subbuteo, Guess Who, Twister and Operation.

Whilst the concept was sound, this was a strange little set, and I have to say that I have picked up several unused sets at car boot sales. The main problem was that it was not complete in itself. You were supplied with the templates to produce the items advertised, but not the software to do it. Instead, you had to download the software from Hasbro (or write for a CD version if, like me, you did not have Broadband).

When you did get the software, it was sadly very basic. You could not choose the style of kits at all, only the colour of shirt, shorts and socks respectively (and there were only six colours). So no stripes, or different colour sleeves, or any other standard kit variation. The software for reducing a head onto the card seems to work, but there is no preview and no magnifier. It is a disappointing program. One for the kids I think.

The Yorkie Easter Egg Editions 2005-07

     

These were a common site at boot sales for several years, and I assume that they are the way most people became aware of the new style of Subbuteo. That, of course, would have been their main purpose.

They were sold over three years, and although the Easter Egg box differed every year, there were only two different game sets.

The original "penalty shoot-out" edition was produced for the first two years. The inner boxed game was identical, but the 2006 edition also had a World Cup poster included within the main box. The final 2007 edition was a free-kick version, containing a novel wall device - three players in a shared base, and a ball raising chute from the Urban Edition.

Both versions featured a similar sized box, containing a "mini-pitch", a goal, a goalkeeper rod, a ball, and a photo-real card containing the players. The pitch was was essentially a penalty area cut from a standard pitch. In the original set this was properly finished off, with a neatly sewn edge. By the time of the free-kick edition, the pitch did appear to have been simply cut out, and was of a poor quality cloth. The penalty edition had a red player and a blue player, but both bases were red. The free-kick version had just the red striker, and the three-man wall.

Still found frequently, and usually cheaply at car boot sales, this would have been a great way to obtain spare table soccer balls and goals, if only the quality of these items were better.

    


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