Searching the internet whilst trying to find out if there are any decent NFL games anymore for PC (there aren't), I came across a review of the time-vacuum more affectionately known as Football Manager 2012.
To my surprise, one of the comments following the review debated the games more than worthy 9.5 out of 10 rating for longevity, arguing that all the game involved was signing the best players available at any given time that fit a chosen tactic and then winning until you've won everything, and that even if you started at a really low level, the method was still the same, it just took longer.
This glib deconstruction of the Football Manager myth actually has some truth to it. It is quite possible to approach the game this way. Anyone who has played through a few iterations has likely developed their favoured way of playing; once they have achieved success with this method more than a couple of times, they might also find the experience hollow.
Here then, are a handful of suggestions to keep things fresh. Think of them as self-imposed restrictions, scenarios to provide a new challenge. Some of them might take a few seasons to implement properly, others are a little more immediate, and most border on the ridiculous:
Challenge 1 : Logan's Run
No players 30 or older. As soon as a player turns 30 you must sell him or buy him out. Time to see if you really can win with kids.
Challenge 2 : Itchy Feet
You must accept any new managerial job you are offered, regardless of which team approaches you or how well things are going with your current team. See how much success you can achieve with each side before getting headhunted.
Challenge 3 : Non-League or Bust! - The Confidence Trickster
Starting with a Premier League team, get relegated all the way to non-league without losing your job.
Challenge 4 : Let's Go Dutch
Play the game as normal with one exception : you can only ever sign and select Dutch players. Oh, and you're not allowed to be a Dutch team, either.
Challenge 5 : Hey Big Spender
Each new season, when the board have set your new transfer budget, you must blow the whole lot on one single player. See if you can win with a horribly unbalanced team of relative superstars.
Challenge 6 : Bargain Hunter
Each new season, when the board have set your new transfer budget, spend it all on as many players as you can. Aim for at least 10. See if you can win with an enormously deep squad with next to no star power.
Challenge 7 : Grow Your Own (Wenger's Revenge)
You can't sign any players over 21, but you can sign as many prospects as you like. See if you can achieve success with a purely home-grown side. Unlike the 'Logan's Run' scenario, you can keep your home grown players until any age.
Challenge 8 : Wheeler Dealer
Make at least 15 transfers every window, no exceptions. Buying and selling both count.
Challenge 9 : Haircut 100
Your team must only include players with extravagant hairstyles (Fellaini, Gervinho, etc). For NewGens, this means the big bushy styles or extreme blonde/ginger colours. Preferably a combination of both. Conversely, assemble a team of baldies.
Challenge 10 : Who Ate all the Pies?
Your team must only include players of at least 13 stone in weight or 6'4" in height.
Challenge 11 : Charge of the Slight Brigade
Your team must only include players less than 10 stone in weight or 5'8" in height.
Challenge 12 : Trouble in Paradise
Mutually terminate the contracts of your entire backroom staff, and employ the worst possible candidates you can find in their place. Try to find physios with less than 5 in physiotherapy, scouts with low scores in judging ability & potential, and so on. Assign coaches to their least suitable roles. See if you can succeed whilst being undermined by an awful backroom staff.
Challenge 13 : X's and Oh No's
Either deliberately or randomly pick a formation you haven't used before or you know you don't like. Force yourself to use this formation exclusively from now on. See how well you can adapt.
Challenge 14 : X's and Who Knows?
Use a different random tactic every game. You must at the very least exhaust all the pre-set formations before you can re-use them. Bonus points for using the tactics creator to manufacture unique formations to prolong the cycle.
Challenge 15 : Runs in the Family
Assemble a team where all the players have one high attribute (or group of attributes) in common; for example, only sign players with at least 16 in Determination, Decisions and/or Aggression. Or do it the hard way and only sign players with low attributes in common (less than 5).
Challenge 16 : Puppet on a String
Play the game as normal, but implement and follow your backroom staff's advice as much as possible. This means auto-assigning coaches and training schedules, taking coaches advice on training Preferred Moves, signing players and staff who are recommended to you, offering/withdrawing players for transfer and loan as advised, letting your assistant manager handle all conferences, allowing one of your staff pick the team, and so on. See if you can succeed whilst being a front for your suddenly highly influential staff.
Challenge 17 : Kick it Old Skool
Set your teams three formations to 2-3-5 (Pyramid), 2-3-2-3 (Metodo) and the W-M (3-2-2-3). Try and win with these classic pre-war formations, and no others.
Challenge 18 : Hairdryer Jam
Always use the 'aggressive' tone whenever communicating with anyone about anything. Under no circumstances change.
Challenge 19 : Bridge of Sighs
As Challenge 18, but you must only ever use the 'reluctant' tone, or the nearest to it when not available.
Challenge 20 : The Dice Man (Rhinehart Rides Again)
Get yourself a dice and use it to decide every move you make in the game. You must obey the dice. (You can also substitute a coin, but a dice allows for more possibilities.)
Challenge 21 : Pin the Tail on the Teamsheet
Each match, select your first eleven and subs completely at random. Extra points for not even paying attention to positions.
Challenge 22 : Locals Only
Assemble a squad comprised solely of players born in the city the team is based in.
Challenge 23 : United Colours of Benetton
Every player in your squad must have a different nationality.
Challenge 24 : Managerial Merry-Go-Round
Start with a team in a relatively small division, such as the Australian or Croatia firsts. Try to work your way through management stints with all the teams in the league, applying for vacancies when they come up and so on. As relegation will change the composition of the league one year to the next, you 'win' when you have managed all of the teams presently in the division at any one time.
Challenge 25 : Onions in the Ointment
Before you start a new game, use the editor to create a bunch of new players. Make them all young, with 200 potential, and either leave them as free agents, or assign them to really low league teams. This way, the players will gradually 'rise to the top' and proliferate throughout your Football Manager world. You might even sign one or two of them yourself. You can have fun with how you choose to create each player; randomizing attributes say, or designing players to be overtly aggressive or highly skilful, or making freakishly tall players, and so on. Obviously, it's more fun if you make players who are unusual in some way. You could invent players based on all-time greats (what if Maradonna was an 18 year old again in today's leagues?) or, better yet, create yourself and your friends. See how you all develop. N.B. It's important to give the players really high potential (200 is maximum), because factors such as poor training facilities at lower league clubs, lack of playing time at big, star-studded clubs and injuries will negatively impact the player's development. Maximising their potential increases the chance the player will develop into an impact player you will notice, and not just an anonymous squad player.
See? Hours of fun. Occasionally stupid or pointless fun, but fun nonetheless. Better round that 9.5 up to the full 10. If anyone actually tries any of these suggestions, or has a few of their own, do let us know how you got on.