Could individual collectable Subbuteo players reinvent the game?

The owners of Subbuteo have tried a few things to get people interested in the game again. Subbuteo Starz was an unpopular card game released in the late 1990s, while five-a-side versions, the much-maligned Dream Team Stadium and even a computer game.

However, as Panini reaches one billion Euros in sales in 2018, helped by the World Cup album, it has become clear Hasbro has not tried one thing; a Subbuteo set for collectors at a time when nostalgia is a popular choice for many football fans. You only have to see the success of the likes of Classic Football Shirts to see football fans love a look back at the game’s perceived golden ages.

How can Subbuteo take advantage of this and still get younger children put down the Playstation controller and engage in the game? It may be impossible. But if money was no object and the desire to grow the game was there there is one idea Subbuteo’s owners could try.

Playing Subbuteo is a lot of fun. Whether it is old Subbuteo with traditional formations and original curved bases or the new game, with flat bases capable of chipping the ball and the single line formation, thousands still enjoy flicking to kick.

For those who play there is no real reason to collect teams apart from liking a particular kit or buying them for a Subbuteo display (we’ve got lost of great examples of this on the site).

But what if buying and collecting certain Subbuteo teams and players actually affected what happens on the pitch? What if collecting Subbuteo was like a card game, where the players you have at your disposal actually influence your chances of success once you go up against another player?

An entirely new Subbuteo game could feature every type of Subbuteo base and other, newly designed bases. Players could then buy packs or individual players to collect and swap based on current and past players.

The new aspect would be that the players would have different shaped bases depending on the player. Leo Messi would have an older curved base capable of curling and jinking through the opposition, while a Gareth Bale may be more about power, with a flatter, heavier base capable of hammering shots at goal.

Defenders such as Sergio Ramos could have bigger, heavier bases capable of knocking other players off the ball and wingers could be flatter and able to chip and loft balls around the pitch and score spectacular goals.

To do this Subbuteo would need to design a few ‘hero’ players with their own distinct look. Most players could stick to a certain template with a series of star players coming with a more unique and detailed face, hair and body and with a tweaked base to give them a ‘special ability’.

This would give people a reason to collect, buy and trade players to complete their five-a-side and full strength teams. The rules could be created that allow a certain number of different base combinations on the pitch at any time so players would have to think tactically – do they play players with lighter, curved bases to negotiate a defence packed with heavy bruisers? Does a team employ full backs with flatter bases and lump the ball forward and play route one? Do they use modern bases and play tiki-taka? The options should be limitless and set up some intriguing tactical battles.

Those who have no interest in playing will still be able to collect the stars players of the era. Team packs can still be bought using the standard Subbuteo template but there are also collectable stars that you can add to the standard sets.

The stars would do two things – the first is be a collectable set of players that people could buy and swap to complete their squad. There could even be a special display case for them – sort of a sticker album for Subbuteo.

The second would be part of the game. Like Fantasy Football you could attach a value to each star player. Each team in a tournament could only include a certain amount spent on each team, meaning you will have to choose your squad to match your preferred tactic, playing surfaces and the opponent. It could lead to some interesting match ups.

Of course, to make this work Subbuteo would need to get licenses for all of the top players and teams, design new base and player templates and do a huge marketing push to make it work. That would cost millions and is never going to happen.

In a dream world Panini would buy the rights to Subbuteo and give it a go – but as a sticker company it probably isn’t practical either.

At the end of the day it’s probably not a great idea. But it would be a nice experiment to see if Subbuteo could branch out and do something new and interesting while still sticking to its heritage.

Stephen Hurrell
Stephen Hurrell
Stephen is the founder and editor of The Hobby Online and The Hobby by Subbuteo.Online print magazine. He is a giant nerd and specialises in Subbuteo, retro football kits and consumer stories. A journalist and editor of 15 years, he has written about football for some of the UK's biggest publications.

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