Madden NFL 10: Hands-On With Ultimate Team

Check out our visual guide to the upcoming free playing card feature for Madden NFL 10.

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Brett Favre is once again playing in Giants Stadium, but this time, he's playing in a Buffalo Bills uniform. When the team is on the road, however, the team wears Kansas City Chiefs jerseys. They use the Jets defensive playbook and run a vanilla West Coast offensive scheme. Oh, and the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton, is running the show (though Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio might be getting a chance to call the shots in the near future).

That's the Jackballs, my fictional team in the upcoming Ultimate Team fantasy playing card feature due for release for Madden NFL 10 in January. We first learned about the Ultimate Team feature in early November and, over the past few days, have had a chance to check out a playable build of the feature, which will be a free add-on to Madden NFL 10 upon its release. Here, then, is a visual tour of Madden Ultimate Team. First things first: You name your team. A good name, as demonstrated below, is a key to success:

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Your next step is to open your starter pack of cards. Don't get too excited, however, as the talent level of your team will most likely leave a lot to be desired. For example, in my starter pack, San Diego Chargers right guard Louis Vasquez, below, was one of four players tied with the highest overall rating (68 overall):

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A starter pack will give you enough player cards to field a team, as well as randomly chosen home and away uniforms, a stadium to call home, offensive and defensive playbooks, and a coach:

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The only way to get new cards to replace a player like Louis Vasquez in your deck is to earn coins. While there's a couple of ways to earn coins, the easiest way is to simply play a game with your fictional team. With my team skill so low (a 64 overall), I chose to go up against the lowly Cleveland Browns. After trouncing them, I earned a handful of coins:

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Two hundred and thirty five coins might sound like a lot, but considering a bronze pack runs you 500 coins, it was clear that it would take a while to earn enough coins to get some new packs. Incidentally, simming Ultimate Team games will net you fewer coins than playing the games out in full. Naturally, EA Sports has a solution for you: spending real-world money on virtual coins:

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With some coins in your pocket, you can buy bronze (500 coins), silver (1,500 coins), gold (3,000 coins), or platinum (9,000 coins) packs. The platinum packs include legendary player cards, with ratings based on that player's highlight year. After purchasing a platinum pack, I added the likes of Marvin Harrison, Warrick Dunn, Ahman Green, and Lorenzo Neal to my team:

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That's a lot of players to manage, but luckily, the game will easily organize your lineups for you so your highest rated players are front and center. Just watch out for those contract numbers because once a player's contract has expired, you won't be able to use him anymore. Contracts also apply to coach cards:

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After buying a few packs, you'll quickly run into the problem of having more cards than you're allowed (a maximum of 55 player cards, 100 total cards). You have a couple of options here: You can choose to discard a card (and earn some coins as a result), or you can put the card on the auction block to let other Ultimate Team players bid on it. Naturally, better players will earn you more coins:

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In addition to player cards, you'll find stadium, uniform, coaching, and special cards that will let you extend the contract of a player or shorten the recovery time of an injured player. With contract extensions, the length of the extension depends on the caliber of the player--one card might extend a bronze-level player's contract by nine games, while a platinum-level player might only get a three-game extension:

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We didn't get much of a chance to play with online features like the auction block or head-to-head games against other UT players, but assuming they are similar to the FIFA Ultimate Team, they should be relatively self-explanatory. In all, Ultimate Team seems like a lot of fun, provided you can put up with the disconnect of seeing your favorite team playing home games in an unfamiliar stadium, playing with players you don't recognize, and using a playbook you haven't memorized. As a natural extension of the fantasy football craze, however, it seems like it could be a successful addition--especially at the low, low cost of absolutely free.

Madden NFL 10's Ultimate Team feature is due for release in January.

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