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Madden NFL 16 Impressions: When Fantasy Football and Card Strategy Collide

Madden NFL 16 will let fantasy football players indulge in a Draft Champions mode, designed for quick play using semi-customized team. In many ways, the game mode looks like a sort of strategy card game, except that the goal is to prep for a game of football. It takes a bit of foresight and strategy, along with a good amount of luck, to get ahead in this fantasy league.

Draft Champions mode is essentially a shortened version of Ultimate Team. Except, where Ultimate Team involves a process of slowly building your dream team together, Draft Champions offers a quick bite-sized experience. Players are given 15 rounds where they must select from one of three cards. Each card represents a player and his stats are shown on its face.

The first card you'll pick is the coach, who will determine your play style and playbook. Coaches will determine whether the team leans more toward defense or offense, and the variations of each. Then you start selecting players that help fit into that style. With 15 rounds, you won't be able to fill out an entire team, but you'll get enough key players to fit your team or shore up potential weaknesses. For instance, you can try for an unbreakable defense, but you'll have to make sacrifices in other areas. Or you can try for a balanced team, but run the risk of hitting an overwhelming force.

Along with stats and positions, player cards come color coded. A gold or blue ranking means that they fit your style, while grey means that they don't. Red gems denote elite players with really high stats. Although they might not necessarily fit into the positions you need, it's hard to pass them up. Much relies on luck and judgment. You could decide to pick a quarterback early on, but you risk losing out on a better quarterback later if one is available. Hold out for too long, and you'll end up with a default player who isn't as good as a draft pick.

Eventually, you'll reach the Legends round, which includes high profile players from the past. Every Draft Champions game will have a Legends round, and multiple legendary players will become available. At this point, strategy kind of goes out the window, because legendary player stats are so high that there's really no going wrong with picking any of them.

Once the selection process is done, the game goes into a relatively straightforward game of Madden, where fantasy teams go head-to-head. My game was set to a 3 win or 1 loss criteria. Meaning, that if I won three games or lost one, my team would be erased and the selection process would start all over again. However, there are rewards for simply playing, even if you end up losing. Those rewards just happen to be better if you win.

Draft Champion games can be played online against human opponents, offline, or against the computer AI. The first game against the computer will be against a low ranking team, and matches get harder with each win. The final game will be against a highly rated pro team to give you a real challenge. Unfortunately, I happen to be a very bad Madden player, so I'm in no position to tell the difference between what's realistic and what's not. Even the low ranking team handily kicked my butt, and I never managed to score a touchdown.

The computer will put up an even greater challenge with the revamped quarterback AI, which no longer takes sacks and will keep a closer eye on opportunities, giving gamers a far more competitive game than before. This is coupled with a more realistic penalty system that can be customized to the player's liking.

Players will be able to test their skill and their luck when Madden NFL 16 releases on August 25 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

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