Franchise Hockey Manager 5 Hits The Ice FHM5 delivers a franchise-changing set of new features

Franchise Hockey Manager 5 from Out of the Park Developments returns, challenging would-be GMs to successfully navigate the demands of running (or ruining) a hockey organization and having a successful career in the hockey industry.

FHM5 launch screen

Boasting an official license from the NHL and accurate 2018/19 rosters, improved tactics, an updated interface, an incredible amount of customization and a return to support for online leagues, FHM5 looks to offer players plenty of content in this year’s release. With a variety of game modes including challenge mode, historical mode, custom mode, and historical challenges there are many options to keep players coming back for more. Coming out of retirement like a modern-day Jaromír Jágr, online league support returns after being absent since FHM2. This review of FHM5 was done with the initial release and first patch of the game. With the pregame warm-up complete, let’s drop the puck on this review and take a closer look at FHM5.

League Setup

Once launched, FHM5 presents some options for creating a new game from one of the different modes of play, as well as loading a previously created league, game settings, achievements and rankings (although I didn’t see any rankings populated at the time of writing this review).

Historical games let you choose to start a season from 1917 through 2017, so you can relive the glory days of your parents’ favorite team and tell them about the time “The Rocket” Maurice Richard suffered a career ending injury five games into his rookie season.

Custom leagues allow you to start a fictional game from either a custom or preset league structure inside a whole range of countries. It also lets you choose the name of your league, choose cities and team names and edit the countries players come from, among many other settings. There is a vast amount of customization available in-game, especially in the custom leagues.

Historical challenge presents players with the opportunity to relive some memorable teams in specific years and accomplish specific goals with them. Starting a new standard game, you will enter a file name and choose the database you wish to use (there was only “Opening Night 2018” at this time when I started). There is also an option for online league; I will go into more detail later on this. There is a lot here to enable fans of hockey to explore their favorite teams and time periods in hockey history, or there is the opportunity to get creative with fictional leagues.

Playable leagues

FHM5 allows for a huge amount of leagues to be playable within the file you create. By making these playable it will help with player development and overall realism. Have you always dreamed of managing a pro team in France? If so, make sure to keep the league there turned on. This is one area where FHM5 really shines – the sheer amount of teams and players that are available for you to build a roster and organization.  Full marks to the FHM5 team as a whole for really making this immersive for people who want to replicate rosters not only for today but years past too.

Challenge Mode

This mode presents players with the task of playing through with additional challenges and limitations in-game (not being able to edit players or run in commissioner mode) but also offering achievements, career ratings against other FHM5 players, and playing in a way that makes you adapt to the goals of the ownership of the team you take over. If you’re looking to start a game that lets you blitz through season after season and make major changes to settings or players you will not want to enable this mode. Challenge mode is a great way to feel more pressure in actually working towards goals that may or may not align with what you truly believe your team should pursue. Decisions in-game about player trades, signings and situations that affect morale have more meaning when you have an owner to keep happy. Playing through a Steam copy, there are currently 69 achievements including one for each NHL team other than Vegas (as far as I could see). Truly what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas in the FHM5 challenge mode!

Challenge mode

Creating your GM allows you to put specific info about yourself, or the alter ego, that you wish to play as. Important options here, beyond remembering your birthday, will be deciding if you wish to play as a GM only or also take on the thankless task of being a Head Coach. This is actually an important decision to make depending how you wish to play through.  Using GM only will mean lineup decisions are out of your control. If you choose to play through a game in season, being a GM will only allow you to watch the game play out, not make changes to tactics and lines on the fly. If you decide to handle both the GM and Head Coach duties, there are options to have some of the responsibilities handled by your assistants. For those who do not wish to be fired for channelling their inner Mike Milbury, a “cannot be fired” option can be enabled (this is not available in challenge mode).

Meet Joe Average

A great feature at this stage is the “start on July 1st” option. The rosters on teams are still the same, so if you are hoping to avoid Jim Benning signing 4th line grinders to four year deals, you won’t be able to avoid that. I was a little disappointed to find that out the first time I chose a July 1st start, however it does make sense as there has to be default rosters to start the game with. However, July 1st in an important date in-game as it allows you to edit your league and make changes to the salary cap as well as run through the expansion tool if you wish to add another team to the league. At this point you can choose to start unemployed if you want to build your career from humble beginnings, or jump right in with a team of your choice. Again, the sheer amount of teams and leagues that are playable is awesome for fans of all levels of hockey.

Lastly there are some GM and/or Head Coach ratings to put some thought into. GMs will have some choices for offensive and physical preferences, as well as four core ratings to allocate points to. Do you want to negotiate contracts and trades better at the expense of job security or keeping players in line? If you mouse over each rating it will show a pop-up window with more information on each rating to help you make decisions. There are also templates included to choose from for both GM and Head Coach roles if you don’t want to spend the whole evening taking, for instance, self-preservation to 11. Head Coaches have quite a few more traits to make decisions on, as well as thinking long-term how you want to build a coaching staff around the weaknesses in your personal makeup. Playing long-term, it will be interesting to see how these decisions affect the game as the seasons progress.

GM & Head Coach Traits

In-Game Interface

We now arrive at the core part of playing FHM5 as a GM. When you load your game you arrive at the manager home screen. You are presented with some information on upcoming games, opponents, results around the league, open offers to players, available players on the waiver wire, and any other tasks at hand. FHM5 has had a lot of work go into the interface in this version. Fans of the long running OOTP series will be right at home. FHM5 has a very similar look to its menus and tabs. I think the menus should be somewhat larger as in a lot of places there is a lot of empty screen space to work with.

Manager Home Screen

Players new to this type of game may feel a little overwhelmed at first but there is a certain amount of standardization of the interface to help you navigate through it at every turn. I definitely think this game could use a guided tutorial to help new players get off on the right foot when playing for the first time. There are going to be people new to the game and new to hockey that would benefit from a helping hand in getting used to not only the interface, but the way hockey works as a business. If you’re not into reading the manual (RTFM kids!), I highly recommend taking some time to go through all the different menus before really jumping into the action. Learning where all the information is will benefit you long-term in getting the most out of playing FHM5.

If you only want to sim, you just need to press the continue button and let the game proceed to the next day (or you can choose different time jumps from the pull-down menu). Everything you need to see is accessed through one of the five pull down menus near the top of the screen or via the right hand sidebar. There are expanded menus for “File”, “World”, “Manager”, “NHL” (or the league you are in), and your team, that let you access more information or important screens. There are also smaller menu bars at the top and right with icons that let you jump to the same areas. At first I really didn’t care for the sidebar or even really notice it. I felt it was a waste of time and a minor distraction on-screen. However, in wanting to really research the game, I found myself using it more and more often to quickly jump to other sections of the game. After a few hours I found myself actually wishing that the bar was somewhat larger.

I have seen online that some people are asking for larger text size. I didn’t find anything to change this in the settings, just the actual screen resolution, and either window or full screen mode. It would be nice for some people to get larger text for relief on their eyes if possible. Although I did not play FHM4, looking at the screenshots the updated interface is a great upgrade. Having both FHM2 and FHM5 running at the same time it was a clear improvement on how the user interface has evolved and has been refined over time.

FHM5 menus

With so much information and tasks to take care of as the GM there are a lot of sub menus to access once you get to the initial section you are looking for. News reports will arrive in your inbox that will update you on the status of players on your team, around the league as well as events that occur in season. Some of them will require decisions to be made to advance. You can edit which news subscriptions you wish to receive in the manager options screen. A lot of these stories help build the narrative of what is happening in the league, who is hurt, who is on a point streak, what players or personnel are in trouble. It helps create a living world that I hope continues to be developed. I also found job offers came in for international jobs in addition to my duties with the Canucks.

Choosing your team will provide a drop down menu to view your minor league teams and other teams in your league. It would be handy to have these drop down options for other major sections like the roster, lines and tactics tabs that have further child tabs so that you could quickly jump into them since you are already navigating there. That being said, once you get to these sections you will find the tabs for these along the top easily enough.

Throughout many parts of the game you will be able to hover your mouse over game buttons and players to see further tool-tip information or player previews. This is very handy to quickly get some basic statistical data or game information. From looking at your team’s depth chart to its financials there is a vast amount to work through, but take your time to help you make informed decisions.

Rosters

The roster section provides many options for viewing the status of the active roster, including seeing contracts that the organization currently has, a protected list to view all players that your team currently holds the right to, as well as waivers and trading block areas. You can also view players on a short list that you are wanting to keep track of. When viewing any of these menus there are a couple of interactive menus to keep in mind on the right hand side. You can also right-click (or CTRL+click for Mac users) on players to bring up a contextual menu that shows various options such as selecting team captains and assistants, extending contracts or buyouts and promoting or demoting a player. You can also shortlist players when right-clicking on them. I found this to be the only easy way to do this.  It would be nice to also have this as an option when looking at a player profile. I’d like it to be a little more obvious when looking through swarms of players to see someone I have previously shortlisted. Having their name enlarged or in bold would by a handy visual clue.

Active roster

The action menu is an area where you can have the AI take certain actions if you don’t want to make decisions yourself within the game. Below that there is an Info menu. Here you can change the type of information you are currently looking at to various other options, whether they are statistical or informative, such as player biographies, contractual data, current team roles and player ratings based on the scouting that has been conducted by your staff.  This is important information to consider when evaluating your active roster, whether it is on your pro team or a farm team.

Statistical information can be further refined based on different stages of the year including the regular season, playoffs and pre-season. Stats include the traditional goals, assists, penalty minutes (PIMs) and ice time usage. Fans of analytical statistics will also be pleased to find Corsi, PDO and Fenwick among a few. The tool tips for these stats are pretty basic. While it isn’t the game’s duty to teach people these analytical stats and tracking information, it would be useful to see something down the road or in a further patch that explains these concepts. People new to hockey will want to take a little time to research such statistics to get the most out of the advanced stats.

The active roster is also used to choose who is dressed for games. At the left of the player name there is a “DRE” column where left-clicking will put a small jersey next to players to indicate they are playing in the next game. You will then go to the lines tab to set your various lines based on who is dressed. Personally, I found this a bit awkward, especially for calling up players from the minors. I found myself at times wanting to call up multiple players, especially in the pre-season. Having to right-click on each player and promote them one at a time was a little frustrating. FHM5 could take a cue from OOTP here and have this area as a place to select multiple players and then interact with them all using the context menu. The lines tab could then be used to dress players in addition to setting lines.

Lineups

If you have enabled control of lineups to yourself or the Head Coach you will be able to set up all four lines and special teams deployment as well as goalies, shootout shooter order and extra attackers. Once the lineups are set, either by dropping or right-clicking players into their assigned slots, you can also specify player roles on the lines and their tactical tendencies. There are a whole bunch of individual tactical roles such as goalscorer, two way forward and grinder for forwards, as well as offensive defenceman and defensive defenceman for your blue liners. All roles have further specialization that players will be better suited towards depending on their ratings. A few roles like enforcer or agitator will also have an effect on the ratings of teammates and opponent players.

Lineups

I would like to see a bit of flexibility in the tactical roles for players as the lineup is being set. You cannot change the tactical role a player may have on a specific line versus that on a special teams unit – they have one specific role throughout the lineup. One thing of note is that players have tactical roles that are defined in the tactics section, but also have major and secondary player roles which relate to the expectation that the team has for the player. These may look seem similar but are defined in separate areas of the game. (These roles are defined in the roster section when right-clicking on a player or during contract negotiations).

The tactics section is also used to determine how you want your team to play as a whole. There is a lot to go through in the tactical section if you want to tailor how every line plays. I wish there was a tool-tip for the various choices that you have to make when determining your team’s tactical schemes. I ended up jumping into the online manual to see more of a write-up on various tactical approaches.  I found there is a lot of jumping between lines and tactics as you naturally build and set both as you construct your lineup. A handy section I found, as in the lines section, was setting some preferences for goalie management if you are not going to control every game.

When dealing with your minor league team, currently in the manager options screen, you can “control” your farm team however you cannot directly choose who is playing. For those of us who are micro-managers, I would like to see a return of direct control of the farm team as an option. There will most likely be a lot of testing of how your team plays throughout the year, and over a number of seasons, and making sure you put the best roles and tactics in place for the roster you have. Overall the new tactical system is a great step forward if you have the time to explore it.

Team Chemistry

Important to building a successful team will be managing a salary cap; managing the personalities of players and owner expectations; and drafting. FHM5 simulates all of these challenges. Personalities and relationships is another major new feature added this year. Decisions you make on things like player numbers, promotions and demotions, or player roles will all have an impact on the morale of the player.

Team chemistry

I found the jersey number selection to be a little bit shallow having to continually set numbers for players when calling them up from the minors. It would be nice to just assign them a number once in the season and have that number stick while playing on that specific team. Certain players also have player classes that affect the chemistry of the team. Leaders, ‘sparkplugs’ and disruptive or outspoken personalities will develop in players. You will have to decide whether it is beneficial to keep these personalities on your roster. I found myself wishing you could see these type of classes easily when going through player profiles, but I had to look at each team’s chemistry page to get this information.

You will also receive news reports at times about off-ice events affecting players which helps build the living, breathing sports world that you are working in. Players also develop chemistry on their lines as you play out a season. Depending on your game mode you may keep track of owner confidence in your job performance.  You will really just have a singular job objective to focus on, such as winning now or rebuilding. I would like to see some more objectives evolve that have you trying to accomplish short and long-term goals. If you are playing where you can be fired then be warned, you can have what you feel is a successful season for various reasons of your own and still be let go. Adding the relationships and chemistry is a really interesting feature and for the most part adds another layer to the decisions you must make.

Handling Personnel and Injuries

Making personnel decisions will be among the most critical decisions that you make in-game. Making trades, signing free agents and drafting well will ultimately decide how good a team you will build year after year. FHM5 lets you shop players around three times a day to other teams as long as they do not have a no trade or no movement clause. I wouldn’t mind seeing the ability to still shop players that have these clauses and let them determine in-game whether they want to move to another team as you can put these players on the trade block and get offers for them.

Player profile

When looking at players there is a lot of valuable data to interpret. Making sure you look over various things like age, health, contract, or contractual demands is all part of making decisions. FHM5 has an injury model when looking at an individual player. A graphic will indicate the health of different zones of the body. As shown above, Markus Granlund is nursing a particularly sensitive injury. I wish the color choice was more varied – too much orange and red. Using green or blue to indicate durability would perhaps make it stand out more. You can also spend a great deal of time looking through the ratings tab and comparing players in a side-by-side breakdown. You can choose to rush players back once they reach a certain level of health, or let them continue to progress to full health. Players will also develop over time and there are various factors that will cause progression or regression. Making sure they train correctly and at the right level of play can be crucial in bringing a prospect along, or cutting ties with an ageing vet before you overpay them.

Trading

When making a deal in an offline game you will be presented with the screen shown below. When negotiating a deal there are some pull-down menus located in different portions of the screen. You can change the team you are currently dealing with and get a scouting assessment from your head scout regarding what the other team needs most. You can switch between contracted player, rights, and draft picks for either team when putting a deal together.  Finally, a third pull-down menu lets you offer the trade or potentially finalize the deal. The interface has a lot of different menus, which are all over the place, while there is empty space not being utilized. If all that empty space was utilized effectively it would not be necessary to jump around the screen.

Wheeling and dealing

Player trades tend to be a source of strife in most games when dealing with the AI and FHM5 is probably no exception. Everyone will have their own thoughts on what is an over payment or not. I personally found goalies overrated by the AI. It’s something that will always need to be considered in any sports game, and continually developed. Overall, making trades in an offline league you will try to get the most that you can get from the opposing GM (you did pump up the negotiating rating when you made your GM, right?) I think that it would be useful to be able to set guidelines for the AI in what they can offer you when shopping a player. It would be nice for the AI to know you want offers slanted towards draft picks, or younger players, or veterans. This would help filter what you need to look through. I found that every team I tried to trade with for players rights, I was getting a scouting level of E (not scouted) which seems a bit crazy with my scouts out in full force. I really don’t think my scouts have never seen any other team’s prospects.

A final note for online leagues: commissioners will have to actually process trades through this screen by using the force trade option from the action menu. Human GMs are unable to finalize the trade in-game and will need to agree upon deals outside the game. An area that could be expanded in-game is the trade deadline and NHL draft. This is where much trading action typically takes place for GMs of NHL teams in-game. It would be great for this to become a live event in-game, with offers coming in or going out on the fly.

NHL Draft

The NHL draft in my play though is an important part of building a successful team. All the hard work of your amateur scouts will come into play here. Do you trust the people you have in place to be giving you accurate information, or do you lean towards statistical performance?

NHL draft

You have the option to make each pick as the draft progresses. During the draft you can move one pick at a time or have it sim through various options, via the action menu. Players can be filtered based on a options such as position, age, ratings, and nationality. I found it a bit troublesome to look at individual players and then return to the draft class to find that the game had reset the way I had organized the players. Your scouts will sometimes tell you if they believe a player might be much better or worse than their perceived rating. Keep this in mind as you try to catch a sleeper or avoid drafting the next Nail Yakupov.

The draft, while being a fun time to build for the future, feels empty. In the first draft I went through no trades happened at all other than one I made myself. Making it a live in-game event with trade offers coming in and happening around you could be something to really heighten the in-game experience in a unique way.

Free Agency

Free agency is another time to build your team, more so for the present. In the lead up to free agency you will have wanted to qualify or re-sign players that you want to hang onto. I found that players I had qualified before July 1st (I believe I qualified them all June 22nd and 23rd) were still saying not qualified in the contracts section. When July 1st came around they all became unrestricted free agents. Shades of Dale Tallon running the Blackhawks in 2009! That is most likely some kind of bug (and I am sure there will be many cleaned up over time). Once July 1st rolls around you will be able view all the free agents in the league and offer contracts to them.

Free agency

There are many ways to filter players, depending on ratings, contract status, and so on. As with most areas of the game, when looking at many players you can also sort through their statistical, or various other, ratings. Expanding the name column didn’t let me see players’ first names. I’d like to see that happen to give a greater sense of immersion. I found that when viewing player profiles and then going back to the free agency screen, my view order remained the same (for once) so they at least got this right in this section of the game, if not in others.

The player scaling system has changed somewhat, especially from FHM2. A one star player is now more of the fringe player you will see in the league, with three to five star players being much more special. If you’re running a team outside the NHL, a lot of these players will, all of a sudden, look like five star players as it adjusts to the level of competition. As you decide to put out offers you will be right-clicking on the players and entering a negotiating screen, just as you would to re-sign players or draft picks. Some players will be quite firm with their demands while others will allow for some variance in pay and years. You can either ask them for a response in negotiations or just submit an offer and pray! You can track signings in the free agent center and view all offers you have currently given out.

Pre-game

If you decide to either watch a game live, or you have taken control of the Head Coach, you will head into a pre-game similar to the image below. Crank the volume to 11 and load up your 90s Jock Jams kids. I usually don’t view the games, due to a lack of time, but I really enjoyed most aspects of running through a live game. The presentation is great right from the get go. You will be presented with a pre-game preview that outlines various statistical information on the starting goalies and star players, as well as team rankings. Game night scratches, upcoming career milestones and even players visiting their hometown are shown. It gives a great broadcast feel build up to the drop of the puck.

Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!

Viewing a Game

Once you start a game you will have a running play-by-play and highlight tracker giving you a sense of what is happening on the ice. Frequently a mini-window will pop up showing the action on an ice surface. You will also be able to track the statistics of each side on the right half of the window. I felt the layout was a bit clumsy during the game as the mini-window pops up right over information on goal-tending. Once again, there is a lot of free space available that could potentially be utilized for the mini-window to run continually or pop up in. Highlights could also be used more. Making them a clickable replay would be a good idea. During the game there will be frequent breaks for goals or penalties. You have to close this window and then click the play button to resume action. It could be more efficient to have a resume play button right in the window to cut down on clicking.

Head in the game

If you are the Head Coach you can change your tactics and lines on the fly. You can also control the speed of the play-by-play, clock speed, and frequency of highlights, as well as the types of events that the game has breaks for. I wouldn’t mind an option to quickly sim periods of the game, rather than the whole game, for people who want to see specific periods of action. Finally, it would be nice to have a full replay after a game happens that launches into this mode. For online players especially, some of them will want to watch through a game to get a better sense of how players are actually performing in-game.

FHM5 also brings online play back for the first time since FHM2. Online play will require you to set up the league initially for online play and then add human GMs to the game and assign them to teams. You will need to export files, ideally through a website that your league members can download from. Looking long-term, the game will probably bring an internal system into place to update, rather than manually having to update the files on your computer, which should help simplify things for some.

At simsportsgaming.com we are really excited for this mode to be brought back with an updated version of the game. From experience of helping to run an FHM2 league that has run for three years, you will want to make sure you develop a good set of rules to deal with various things like trades and staff signings. Online is a great way to truly test the decisions you make and also be part of a community of sports fans. I’m really excited that online has come back and give big thanks to the FHM5 development team for doing this.

Recap

As you can see from the image below, it didn’t go so well in my first year running the team. I think there could be some flexibility in how the scoring is done, as it was a rebuilding year, but hey I didn’t get fired (yet!) That being said, there is so much more that I could go into detail about with FHM5 and probably a lot more that I will need to discover as I keep playing through the seasons. When building a team you want to see the results of your decisions down the road, whether it be two years or twenty. I didn’t have the time to play through a couple of decades of the game yet, so my hope more than anything is that it provides a stable experience for players as they progress.

Season summary

How the game performs and the decisions the AI makes will be important as the game is updated moving forward. FHM has come a long way since I started playing and the new interface and tactical system are great updates for the game. I think there are some changes that could make things more efficient, but overall you can find all the information you need with relative ease. Overall I found the game to be fairly stable for offline play, encountering a couple of crashes with both the initial release build and first patch (both times trying to click into the transactions option from the pull-down menu).

With a variety of game modes and the ability to start an online league with a group of friends or a new sports community the game should provide a lot of replay-ability. Ideally, I would like to see a realistic training camp come into the game as well as a more interactive trade deadline and draft that really hype up these events, much like in real life. Overall this is the best edition of FHM I have played and I would highly recommend it if you are a fan of hockey in general, or of sports management games.

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