Tournament Dreams College Basketball comes as a blast of much-needed fresh air to the somewhat predictable pro-sim scene.
Sports management simulations have become so prolific of late that lines are beginning to blur. Since everybody is working off the same stellar Championship Manager template, all sports are beginning to feel the same. If not for a few graphics and different stat categories, it would be hard to tell the difference between a football game and a hockey game, since you're fulfilling the same management tasks no matter if you're dealing with pigskin or pucks.
So Tournament Dreams College Basketball comes as a blast of much-needed fresh air to the somewhat predictable pro-sim scene. The .400 Software Studios title stands apart from most of its rivals by focusing on the college game. Instead of simply adding some routine recruiting and program-building options to an NBA sim, the developers have turned the design philosophy on its ear by building around the unique nature of college basketball. Basketball almost takes second chair to the yearly recruitment drives that are vital to developing a Division I powerhouse. This gives the game both an impressive (almost unparalleled) authenticity and a very different (somehow friendlier) atmosphere from the usual text-based sim dealing with professional leagues.
The basics of the game are about what you would expect. You take over the basketball program at one of 320 Division I colleges spread across the country and gain complete control over everything from calling up potential recruits to scheduling games to setting a starting five. You can play solo or go online to take on friends in multiplayer leagues. Game difficulty is dependent on the school you choose, since each program has different strengths and goals. So, for instance, running Syracuse--with its powerhouse freshman class, solid reputation, and big bucks--is a lot easier than running a traditionally weak sister school, like Maine. Of course, with bigger schools come bigger expectations. Where the powers-that-be at Stanford aren't happy with anything less than a conference championship and a subsequent strong showing in the national tournament, the folks running things at Baylor are a lot more tolerant of a losing season.
The best way to avoid offending your boss is, of course, to win a lot of games. And the best way to do that is to recruit top talent each year to make sure you're always able to send a contending club onto the hardwood. To reflect the importance of recruiting, .400 Software Studios has made it the heart of Tournament Dreams. For starters, it runs concurrently with the season, which means that you have to simultaneously keep an eye on playing games with the current squad while also recruiting players for next year's squad. This gives play an organic feel. You can go from offering a scholarship to a budding superstar in a local high school one moment to that big showdown with a divisional rival the next. Everything dovetails together in a way that you don't see in pro-sports sims, largely because you can make up for poor drafts in those games by signing free agents. Here, the draft and free agent markets are one and the same, so mistakes can cripple your program.
Another plus with the game's recruiting is its realism. While you do hire a scouting service to provide player ratings and numbers in a long list of categories, like offensive awareness and inside scoring, convincing a player to commit to your school involves hard selling. You typically start off with a phone call to gauge the interests of the players that your scouting service has identified as possibilities. Then you proceed to mount an aggressive, moderate, or light recruiting campaign. Finally, you offer campus visits and scholarships. Everything you do takes a chunk out of your weekly recruiting budget. In fact, even your phone calls are restricted to $300 a week--and remember that it costs more to call cross-country than it does to call within your home state--so economizing is a must.