As much as I love the sport of hockey, the only experience I have with a video game adaptation of my favorite sport is the NHL series. I always really enjoyed the GM mode in those games, so it stands to reason that Eastside Hockey Manager would be right up my alley. Currently in Steam’s early access, the franchise has been dormant since 2007, with just a small group of enthusiasts keeping the 2007 version alive with updated rosters until March of this year when the series came back to life.
I’ll start with saying that if you’re a fan of the NHL or any other major hockey league across the world, there’s really only one way to play this game and that’s with the real rosters, logos, player faces, etc. Sports Interactive opted not to pay for the official licenses, but they can easily be imported into the game via files created by the very loyal following of fans that have stuck with the series during all the dark days of no new entries.
If you’ve played Football Manager, you likely know what to expect here. If not, imagine the GM mode from the NHL series but with about 100 extra layers of depth and customization. You play the role of a GM for a hockey franchise, and you can choose to either start with default rosters, or wipe the slate clean via a fantasy draft. From there, the amount of things you can control is absolutely unprecedented, or at least it is to someone who isn’t too familiar with these games.
You control everything, starting with personnel. Of course you have control over your coaching staff but you can also hire an Assistant GM. You have complete control over not just who your scouts are, but you can request scouting reports from over a dozen other leagues to keep an eye on not just young players that are about to enter the draft, but also your competitors. Don’t like your coach’s strategy? Take over for him and coach the team yourself, or just fire him and hire someone else.
The player control is where things really get interesting. Of course you can see things like individual stats and player conditioning, but you can also see how happy a player is with his current situation, discipline them for taking too many penalties, put them on waivers, trade them, get a fresh scouting report from your coaches, and many other things. You can also keep a close eye on opposing players, by seeing almost all the same information about them, which is great if you’re looking to scout for an upcoming game, or make a trade.
As each season progresses, you’re kept in constant contact with what’s going on the league via the messages screen, which gives you media reports, roster moves, and even rumored trade talks that allow you to swoop in and steal a player from another trade partner. It’s in this way the game can get to be a little overwhelming. It’s almost hard to know exactly what to do with all the information the game gives you, or what you should focus on next. It takes a good memory and a lot of discipline to really succeed at a game like this, but the payoff is worth it when a plan unfolds the way you intend.
There’s a lot of day-to-day and game-to-game strategy that takes place, too. Is your penalty kill not getting it done? Go adjust it manually and box out the opposing team’s powerplay. Have a really good defensive line that you want to always play against the superstars on the opposing team? You can set that up, along with a plethora of other strategies before each and every game.
That said, maybe the best thing about Eastside Hockey Manager is you don’t really have to get involved in the everyday happenings of your franchise. You can delegate and let the coaches take care of a lot of it, which makes progressing through seasons quickly a little easier, and let’s you really focus on scouting and contracts. Sure, the trade logic is a little flawed right now, and other teams are way too fire-happy with their coaches, but for an incomplete game, it sure looks like a promising return to hockey for Sports Interactive.