Judging by how many soccer games are currently available for the Xbox 360, you'd think that soccer was by far the most popular sport in North America. EA alone has already released two FIFA games and one World Cup game, and now there's one more to add to the list: UEFA Champions League 2006-2007. The core game isn't vastly different from any of EA's other soccer games, and the Champions League license will do little to excite most North American players, but the game does introduce the concept of collecting and trading player cards. This unique feature is so addictive that it alone is a good reason to check out UEFA Champions League, even if you do own other 360 soccer games.
Virtual bubble gum not included.
There aren't many different game modes in UEFA, but what's here is fun and offers a good bit of depth. There's no traditional season or franchise mode, but you can pick a squad and try to qualify for and win the Champions League. You can also jump into the challenge mode and relive classic Champions League matches. You'll get more out of this if you're familiar with the league's history, but even if you think of Newcastle as a beer and not a soccer team, the mode is fun. The lounge mode from the FIFA series is included here, as well. In the lounge, you and seven friends can play each other and keep track of your history and statistics. Based on how well you play, you can unlock power-ups to swing the odds in your favor.
But all of these game modes are secondary to UEFA's best new feature, the ultimate team mode. Your goal is to put together the best possible squad and earn a "golden ticket," which lets your team compete in the Champions League. The catch is that you'll do all of your team building and management with virtual trading cards. After finishing nearly any kind of match, you're awarded credits based on your performance on the pitch. You get credits for winning, as well as scoring goals and doing other positive plays, and you lose points for losing the match, giving up goals, and committing fouls. These credits are used in ultimate team mode to buy packs of cards. There are three different types of packs: bronze, silver, and gold. You won't get the best cards in a bronze pack, but they're relatively cheap, and they're the only packs you'll have access to initially. Silver and gold packs are unlocked as your team levels up by winning games. In addition to players, packs contain cards for managers, trainers, coaches, stadiums, kits, boots, balls, attribute boosts, and more. You can even unlock cards that can be played midmatch to improve your team's performance or hinder the performance of the opposing team.
Putting together a squad is surprisingly easy, though it's quite difficult to put together a great team. You'll need to do more than just use the highest-rated players; you'll actually have to take player's nationalities, favorite formations, and natural position into account. Managers, trainers, and other staff will raise your players' attributes and even increase the effectiveness of other cards. For example, you might have a player with a low fitness level and use a +11 fitness card on him, which will raise his fitness level by 11. You can raise that number by at least 50 percent more if you've got a trainer on your staff. Since you lose them forever if their deals expire, it's important to keep a close eye on contracts for your players and staff and extend expiring deals with contract cards.
On the pitch, UEFA is quite a bit like FIFA.
It might seem a bit confusing at first, and the instruction manual and in-game tutorial do nothing to alleviate the confusion, but it's generally quite easy to manage your cards. When you open a pack of cards, the game automatically keeps the cards you've got room for, and then you decide what cards to discard, keep, add to your collector's album, or trade online. Any card in the game can be put up for sale online with just a few button presses. You can have up to 10 cards for sale at once, and you determine a card's asking price (within certain parameters). When the card sells, you get credit. It's that easy. In addition to selling individual cards online, you'll spend a good amount of time purchasing them, especially when you need specific types of players or desperately need a contract extension card and don't want to buy multiple packs in an effort to find one.