Editor’s note: If you liked this list, check out my more recent “5 More “Retro Bowl” Tips.
I’ve previously written reviews for two very different versions of the Free Version of Retro Bowl, a retro-inspired NFL football coach simulator in which you draft, sign and cut players, and later play as them on the offensive side of the ball, and they were wildly popular (or unpopular, if you loved the game). At this current moment, I will not do a third review on the game, unless it’s drastically different from my last review (to the developer’s credit, a lot of the issues I pointed out in review #1 did get fixed).
But I’ve been playing the game here and there, and thought I’d make a list of five tips that might help you with the game, without spending any money on the game.
1. Nothing matters until the playoffs
Your first full season in the game will most likely be your hardest, as while you might have plenty of salary cap space, you’ll lack enough of the game’s in-game currency — Coaching Credits — to make any major personnel moves. Unless you want to drop real money on this game (and you really don’t have to), accept your first season for what it is, and just do your best to get a winning record and make the playoffs.
A recent update of the game has it adopt the new 7-team playoff format the NFL recently adopted, meaning unless you become the No. 1 seed in either the AFC or NFC, you’re not going to get a first round bye, meaning your path to the Super Bowl (or Retro Bowl, as the game calls it) will be exactly the same whether you’re 14-2 and seeded at No. 2 or 9-7 seeded at No. 7.
Don’t sweat it if you have a lousy couple of games in the regular season, especially during your first season. Your No. 1 goal during your full Year 1 will be stacking up Coaching Credits, which will eventually let you draft and sign the players you need, as well as get the right coaching staff.
2. Draft for potential, but also realize rookie contracts in this game can be very short, and balance is key
Especially when you’re starting out, you’re going to want to make full utilization of the draft, and that might involve trading some of the dead-end players you inherited in your full first season that you were stuck with, in exchange for players who have potential.
Drafting players in this game is a delicate art with many factors at play. First of all, you need to scout wisely, because your ideal player in the draft is someone who doesn’t cost too much, fills your team’s needs, and has potential to grow — the last of which you can only know if you use one of your finite scouting reports on them.
Be wary of loading up on Round One draft picks, as some of them can be just as expensive as signing a free agent, and not everyone will be a superstar. Also keep in mind that some rookie contracts are brief — 2 year rookie contracts are not uncommon — and at the end of that contract, their values will spike. So, you might have a small window to develop them, and you will have players you get for a steal but only for a year or two.
Knowing how to draft effectively is key to the free version of this game, as you only have 10 roster spots, and most years you won’t be able to get everything you want. You might get lucky — I’ve had a few dream teams where I’ve lucked out in the draft — but they only last for a year or two, before eventual salary increases cause you to go over your cap, forcing you to make tough choices.
I tend to stack up my offensive with high-value playmakers at WR and TE, spending the most on a QB with a good arm and accuracy, filling my defense year after year with high-potential but affordable players at defense. My roster usually is made up of: a QB who can do the job, two WRs, a RB a TE, and then four of the best defensive players I can find. I tried fitting in a backup QB in there, because when your QB gets injured, it can massively impact what plays you can make, and I’ve tried making room for an OL, and have tried running five defensive players, but I’ve found that my QB, RB, TE, 2WR, K, 4 Defensive players combo gives me the greatest potential to make plays on offense — the part of the game where you have the most agency because you get to play it yourself — while keeping my defense mostly competent.
3. Turnovers are how you lose — so throw the ball over their heads
Football is often a game in which the person who makes the least amount of mistakes wins, and that is especially true with Retro Bowl.
You do have games where the other team starts out with the ball, scores, then scores again before you get the ball once, but if you have a decent defense, those games will be rare, and if you limit your turnovers, even tough games should be within a score or two, but the most likely thing that will bury you are turnovers.
I’ve written about my displeasure with the catching algorithm that often gives an unfair advantage to the opponent’s defense over your offense, and that’s still a factor in the current version of the game, though it’s gotten a little better. Still, I’ve found that your best bet is to limit turnovers if you throw the ball far over the defender’s heads, and make sure you have fast WRs. The worst thing that’ll happen is you get an incomplete pass. It’s better than giving the other team an extra possession.
In the event your star QB goes down, you don’t have a backup, and you’re left with a nameless, default sprite at the position, just don’t try to throw long. Their arm strength and accuracy is not good, so your best bet is to go with a series of fast and short, quick passes. And be aware that you still might not be able to avoid interceptions in this scenario — the position of QB is very important in this game.
4. Spend money on that Kicker
The most important position for close games — other than QB — is your kicker. Don’t be stingy with this position — buy one with the highest star rating you can.
If your kicker has a star rating of 3 1/2 and above, you can reliably make 40-50 yard field goals, once you got the kicking minigame down. But once you get into the 4 star and above range, you’ll be able to make ridiculous kicks that exceed 50 and 60 yards.
This is crucial, because it means no matter what, once you cross midfield, you’ll be able to put points on the board, which can give you an edge.
5. 2 point conversions are pretty easy in this game, and they can give you a huge advantage
What wins me the most close games are 2 point conversions after touchdowns, which, if you have a top RB, are ridiculously easy to make — just throw them a short pass and you’re done (I don’t recommend running the ball).
Even a mediocre RB can make these reliably if they’re in position — so long as you give them a short pass in the endzone, don’t run it. I do recommend maxing out their catching stat for best results.
In a live game in which you make 2 pointers after every touchdown, it can mean you can get up by two scores faster, and it can also neutralize what field goals can do to you — let’s say you score two 2 pointers in a game, it means nothing short of a touchdown will even tie you.
If you become fast and efficient at 2 pointers, it means the only way you can lose is if you turn the ball over a lot, and/or your opponent blows you out by scoring a lot of touchdowns, which can drastically increase your win percentage in this game.
Bonus: Don’t hand the ball off to your RB. Throw him a short pass. You’ll get better results — even a RB that reliably breaks a few tackles usually gets stopped shorter when you hand them the ball. This is because it lets them run right past the other side’s first defender, who’d they’d otherwise run right into.