(Note: I updated the Introduction to this guide on 4/14/21, and again on 4/20/21; please read the updated intro if you haven’t already done so!
This portion of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl was edited on 4/20/21 for continuity and clarity.)
I’ve never met legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, and while I make it a point to assume as little as possible, I’m more than comfortable assuming I never will. Even having made the mistake of majoring in philosophy in college, and forever ruining my ability to be certain about anything as a consequence, I believe I can assert with total confidence that I will never meet someone who died 15 years before I was born.
But, supposing for a moment that linear time becomes undone at some point and Lombardi and I do meet as a consequence, I’d imagine our interaction would be painfully awkward for both parties, at absolute best. It’s been long apparent to me that anyone who has had any degree of success in professional sports is simply made of different stuff than I am. As such, I’m certain Lombardi have almost nothing in common. Lombardi is nothing less than an icon of the sport itself, and you could easily argue he remains the greatest coach in football history, 60 years after he established a dynasty with the Green Bay Packers. I am a lazy, degenerate blogger who hasn’t participated in organized football in any way since 8th grade. We would agree on almost nothing.
There is one exception, however. Ahead of the 1959 NFL season, Lombardi was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” On that much, we would agree.
You’re probably asking, “Rob, what in the actual hell does this have to do with anything? I thought this was a blog about Retro Bowl.” It is, and the point I am trying to illustrate here is quite germane, indeed. When you start a new game in Retro Bowl, you are given charge of a terrible team that is in terrible shape. As such, you may be tempted to ‘tank’ for your first season or two. For the unfamiliar, tanking in sports is the process of intentionally losing games in order to secure a top spot in the next season’s rookie draft. The appeal of tanking is simple; the theory is that you lose a lot of games now in order to win a lot of games (and championships) later.
However, should you choose to tank in Retro Bowl, you will set in motion a cascade of unfortunate events that will leave your team in a ruined heap of smoldering embers. Your team will have no fans, so you won’t have any coaching credits. If you don’t have any coaching credits, you won’t be able to upgrade your facilities or retain coaching staff. If you aren’t able to upgrade your facilities, your star players will struggle to stay healthy. If you aren’t able to retain coaching staff, any star players you plan to still have when you decide to turn the ship around will waste their promise and potential. You will have utterly wasted any and all seasons used in the service of tanking, and be left with nothing to show for your vain, futile, and empty sacrifice.
My point is that Vince Lombardi is right. Winning is the only thing. Winning solves every problem you will face as a player, coach, and general manager. And, when I say every problem, I mean each and every problem you can possibly think of, from low morale to roster holes to disappointing draft classes. In order to build a successful team in Retro Bowl, you must commit to winning every game you can possibly win from the very beginning of your coaching career. You must not tank, ever, for any reason, or under any circumstances. Every bit of knowledge and wisdom I have to impart for the remainder of this guide begins and ends with an absolute commitment to winning at all costs. In choosing to continue reading this article, you are also choosing to join me in this commitment. You will win every game in Retro Bowl that you possibly can, and while you may still lose a handful games every now and then, you will never choose to lose, ever.
Got it? Good! With that out of the way, it’s time to take a look at building a front office that will help you win.
In Retro Bowl, you are not only responsible for playing the games on the field, you also serve as de facto general manager. To that end, you are responsible for upgrading and maintaining your team’s facilities. You are further responsible for managing your offensive and defensive coordinators, and deciding whether to retain, dismiss, or replace them each season.
As stated in the Introduction to this series, this installment of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl is going to be about how to manage your front office responsibilities in a way that will set you and your team up for immediate success. In your first full season, you should aim to obtain a winning record at bare minimum, and ideally obtain a playoff berth to go with it, whether by winning your division or by obtaining a Wild Card. In your second full season, you should aim to win your division at bare minimum, and ideally advance to the Conference Championship game, if not further. In your third season, your goal should be absolutely nothing less than to win a Retro Bowl Championship, regardless of whether or not you have already done so.
These goals may seem ambitious, but if you follow the counsel of this guide, all of them will prove more than obtainable. So pay attention!
The Home Page
At the start of each career file in Retro Bowl, you will be asked to provide a name for your coach (if you leave this field blank, the game will assign one to you), as well as designate your favorite team. If you have the Unlimited Version, you may start your career with your favorite team, however, the game will give you a polite but firm lecture discouraging you from doing so. While I must give some side-eye to the developers for griefing players who select an option they programmed into the game, I will say that I have always found it most rewarding to play the game the intended way. That means starting with whatever god-forsaken bottom-feeder the game randomly assigns, and then jumping ship when the time is right.
That said, you do you. If you want to start with your favorite team, go right ahead. But, be aware that even if you do start with your designated favorite team, your first team will be a terrible, and its infrastructure will be in terrible condition. Therefore, you will need to build a winner from scratch, no matter what.
Once you’ve chosen your name and favorite team, you will have the option of viewing the tutorial. If you are playing Retro Bowl for the very first time, it is imperative that you view and participate in the the tutorial. While I will be explaining the basics of Retro Bowl in this guide, my explanations are meant to supplement the tutorial, not replace it.
The Home Page serves as your hub off the field. Up top is the schedule, which is in the form of a bar. Swipe left along the bar to check your upcoming schedule, and swipe right along the bar to check your previous schedule. Each week of the regular season, including your team’s bye week, is expressed with a white oval. After a win, this oval is filled in with green, and after a loss, it is filled in with red.
Your fan support meter is directly underneath the schedule bar. Fan support is expressed as a percentage, and the fan support meter is divided into thirds. For each third of this bar that is filled either in full or in part, you will receive one coaching credit at the end of each game. Coaching credits are the game’s universal currency; it is impossible to overstate their importance. Your fan support increases after a win and decreases after a loss, and you will receive credits according to your fan support after this increase or decrease is applied. The upshot of this should be obvious, but just in case it isn’t, allow me to hammer it home, yet again: Never tank. Always win.
Below the fan support meter, you will find total team morale (also expressed as a percentage), and the ratings for your offensive and defensive units. These ratings are expressed on a five-star scale, with half-star increments. The minimum rating for a unit is 0.5, while the maximum rating is, naturally, 5.0. Throughout this guide, I will be referring to total team rating as the sum of the ratings of both units, as this is the best way to determine overall team quality. Retro Bowl does not have a fixed definition of a contending team, but I consider any team with a total rating of 8.5 or higher to be a championship contender.
The current standings for your division are displayed in a table to the left of the fan support, morale, and team ratings. When you touch the division standings table, you will see the standings for each division in the conference. Touching the box of any division will display the ratings for each unit of each team in the conference, and touching it again will display each team’s win percentage and point differential. Using the button at the bottom of the screen for the other conference will allow you to check all of this information for the teams in the other conference. I strongly recommend that you check these tables periodically to determine the difficulty of your upcoming schedule. The other two buttons on the bottom of this screen will display the week’s league schedule and the current playoff standings, respectively.
Finally, the Home Page also contains the Options menu, which is that little box with a wrench at the very bottom left of the screen. Most of these options are a matter of your own preferences. If you have the Unlimited Version, you may select a 10 or 12-man roster in this menu; you may also adjust difficulty.
The default difficulty is Retro Bowl is called Dynamic Difficulty. On this setting, the difficulty increases when you win games, and decreases when you lose. The specific settings of Dynamic Difficulty are expressed on a 16-point scale, with Dynamic 1 being the lowest difficulty setting, and Dynamic 16 being the highest. The top end of this scale must be unlocked; before you win your first Retro Bowl Championship, the Dynamic difficulty rating will not increase past Dynamic 9. After you win your first championship, the maximum will permanently increase to Dynamic 16.
If Dynamic Difficulty doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you may also choose between Easy, Medium, Hard, and Extreme settings. All of these are self-explanatory, except for Extreme. Extreme is the highest difficulty setting in the game, beyond even Dynamic 16. On Extreme, all opposing teams will have a total rating of 10.0, regardless of their listed ratings on the standings table. In addition, opposing teams will be faster and meaner than even the best teams on Dynamic 16. I recommend that you set the difficulty to Extreme if and only if you no longer consider Dynamic 16 a proper challenge.
Building the Front Office
The Front Office is your command center in your capacity as the team’s general manager. For the purposes of this guide, I am dividing the Front Office screen into three main sections.
The first section is the Team Facilities section. The condition of these facilities represents the condition of your team’s infrastructure, making this the most important section of the Front Office page. The condition of each facility is displayed in a bar, and this bar is divided into 10 increments. A full bar indicates a maxed-out, state-of-the-art facility. The lowest a facility bar may go is 1, which indicates the facility is in dire condition. There are three team facilities for you to manage: the Stadium, the Training Facilities, and the Rehab Facilities.
The condition of the Stadium determines the amount of fan support you receive after each win, and lose after each loss. With a better stadium, you will gain greater fan support with each win, and lose less fan support with each loss. The Training Facilities contribute to the amount of experience points (hereafter referred to as XP) your players receive after each game. In addition, improving the Training Facilities will often boost team morale. The condition of your Rehab Facilities will determine how well your players recover after each game, and also is the single largest factor in determining the frequency and length of player injuries.
Improving a facility costs coaching credits. The cost of each improvement to a facility is equal to the value of the next increment on the facility bar. For example, to improve your training facilities from 3 to 4, you must spend 4 credits. To improve your stadium from 7 to 8, you must spend 8 credits. As mentioned above, your facilities will be in terrible condition to start out, and you will be given a small allowance of just credits. You can only get a maximum of 3 credits from fans after each game (with the exception of the Retro Bowl, where winning gives you 10 bonus credits in addition to the normal fan support credits), and you’ll probably only receive 2 credits per game to start, since your Stadium and fan support levels are guaranteed to be atrocious. On top of that, you may only improve each facility once per week, regardless of how many improvements you can actually afford. This means that it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of credits to get all three facilities maxed out, no matter what.
The second section is the Coaching Staff section. Here you will see both your Offensive and Defensive Coordinator, as well as each coordinator’s rating and morale. The morale conditions, from worst to best, are: Toxic, Bad, Poor, OK, Good, Great, and Exceptional. Coordinators are also rated according to the same 5-star with half-star increments scale as your team’s offensive and defensive units. A higher coordinator rating means a higher rating for that coordinator’s unit, and more XP for your star players on that unit per game.
Tapping each coordinator’s profile will provide more detailed information on their morale, as well as their age, any traits they possesses, and the length of their current contract. These are the three key features to monitor with each coordinator. When you start a new career, your coordinators will have a rating of 0.5, possess no traits, and have a contract length of two years. Their ages will vary, but will typically be somewhere between 40 and 60. It’s vital to note your coordinators’ ages, as coordinators automatically retire after their age-65 season. Coordinators also receive XP after each game, and their rating will increase by 0.5 stars per level up. However, a coordinator will never gain (or lose) traits from leveling up. They either have a trait, or they don’t.
It is vital to note that your coordinator’s don’t really have a two-year contract. The first game of your career is always the final game of Season 1, which the game counts as a full ‘year’. Your coordinators are only under contract through your first full season. Coordinators whose contracts expire are automatically dismissed after the post-season and replaced with a coordinator with an 0.5 rating and no traits. In order to retain your coordinators after your first full season, you will need to extend them. The cost of coordinator contract extensions scales according to that coordinator’s rating. Extensions cost 1 credit for every half-star in their rating for coordinators with ratings between 0.5 and 2.0 stars. From 2.5-3.5 stars, this rate increases to 1(0.5R) + 1. and from 4.0 stars and up, it increases to 1(0.5R) + 2. So, for example, a coordinator with a rating of 1.0 costs 2 credits to extend, a coordinator with a rating of 2.5 costs 6 credits to extend, and a coordinator with a rating of 4.0 costs 10 credits to extend. Retaining an experienced coaching staff means more XP and better performance from your players, which in turn means more XP for that coaching staff. However, the more experienced your staff, the more they cost to retain.
On the coordinator screen, you may also set the Training Regime for each unit. A Light Regime sacrifices player XP gains for better player condition, while a Hard Regime sacrifices player condition for better XP gains. A Medium Regime splits the difference, and is also the default. I have seen neither direct nor indirect evidence of any compelling reason to change a Coordinator’s regime, ever. Leave both regimes at Medium, and never think about them again.
The third main section of the Front Office page is the Free Agent and Staff Hiring markets. As their names imply, this is where you can shop for open-market free agents, as well as offensive and defensive coordinators. By all means, take this opportunity to check out both markets and see what’s going on; you will immediately notice that signing a free agent or hiring a highly-rated coordinator are prohibitively expensive, and will remain so for some time. You may also notice that hiring a the Staff Hires market is the only place you can find a coordinator with traits. When rebuilding your starting team, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. Window shop all you like, but otherwise, ignore these buttons.
(You’ll also see a button to increase the salary cap. This costs 100 coaching credits(!!!), and is nowhere near the top of your priority list when you start your career, and it won’t be for a very, very long time, if it ever is. For now, pretend this button doesn’t exist.)
The basic problem of building a winning Front Office is that you must not only earn lots and lots and lots of coaching credits, you must also spend those credits wisely once you’ve earned them. Once again, the paramount importance of winning is clear. More wins means more credits earned. However, if there’s one problem winning games can’t solve directly, it’s the problem of where to spend those credits.
In order to maximize your credits and build your front office as efficiently as possible, I recommend spending them as follows. You receive 3 credits when you start your career; put those credits towards improving your worst facility. Do this before you even play your first game, at the end of the lost first season. This will probably leave with 1 credit; hold on to this, for now. Depending on whether you win or lose the first game (and again, try your very hardest to win, even if this is your first time playing Retro Bowl), you will have between 1 and 3 credits. Again, hold onto these. Kick back, relax, and simulate the playoffs.
Once your first full season begins, your first financial priority is extending both of your coordinators for one year. You are doing this now, before they gain any levels, so that you are spending as little as possible on their extensions. Each coordinator will still only have a rating of 0.5, so these extensions will only cost 1 credit each. If you have two or more credits, extend both coordinators now. If you only have 1 credit, extend your offensive coordinator first, then extend your defensive coordinator after you’ve earned another credit. Offense is always more important than defense in Retro Bowl.
Extending your existing, default coaching staff is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most cost-effective means of building a good, experienced coaching staff. Extending your coordinators at the start of each year, before they level up, will be your first financial priority every single season, unless they’re retiring at the end of the year, or you’re considering changing teams. You may be tempted to save credits for a coordinator with a trait, and while some traits can be tempting indeed, none are worth paying a premium for, especially when you have facilities to upgrade. There is also no way in hell you should even sort of consider changing teams until you’ve complete five full seasons, at absolute bare minimum. Don’t worry about this at all now, when you’re starting out.
The only compelling reason to think about letting a coordinator walk at this point in your career is age. If a coordinator is already pushing 60 when you start out, you may be tempted to let them walk after that first year and start fresh with a new coordinator in the second full season. However, even if you have a 60-year old coordinator to start, that coordinator will be around for six full seasons, and the levels they will gain over that time will be worth every credit you spend on them. After those six seasons, you should have plenty of credits saved up to hire a decent replacement from the Staff Hires market. And again, that’s six whole seasons from now! Do not wortry about this when you’re starting out.
Once your coordinators are extended, it’s time to turn your eye towards improving your facilities. Every single credit you earn in your first few seasons that is not spent on coaching staff extensions should go towards facility improvements, until all three facilities are maxed out at 10. (There is one and only one possible exception to this; it’s extremely rare and pertains to roster building, and I will discuss it in later installment of this guide.)
While all three facilities are extremely important, they are not equally important to each other. Deciding which facility to improve when can be a bit tricky, and requires a degree of nuance. That said, your Rehab Facilities are, by far, the most important facilities in the game. It is imperative that you keep you players in the best condition possible at all times, in order to prevent injuries and minimize fumbles. However, this does not mean you should improve your Rehab Facilities exclusively until they are maxed out. Generally speaking, it is best to distribute your facility improvements as evenly as possible.
Facilities are prone to periodic decline, and while I can only provide anecdotal evidence of this, it has been my experience that improving facilities unevenly – pumping more improvements into one or two facilities while largely ignoring the other(s) – tends to increase the rate at which facilities decline. While occasional facility decline is inevitable, distributing improvements evenly seems to mitigate the rate at which it occurs.
So, you want to prioritize improving your Rehab Facilities a little bit, but not too much. Spend your credits on improvements as follows. First, it’s possible that you started with two facilities with only one point, and it simply won’t do to have any facility stay that cruddy for any length of time. Therefore, start by ensuring that all facilities have a minimum of two points. Once that is done, first improve the rehab facilities, then improve the stadium, then improve the training facilities, keeping all three facilities within a point of each other. Once you have enough fan support that you are earning 3 credits per game, start prioritizing the training facilities ahead of the stadium.
By prioritizing the stadium to start, your goal is to reach the 3 credit/game threshold as soon as possible. Once you’ve acquired enough fan support that you can still earn 3 credits a game, even after a loss or two, congratulations! You’ve received the most important benefit of stadium improvements. From here on out, you’ll get more noticeable and more important benefits from improving the training facilities, meaning it’s time to rearrange the priority of the two facilities. Also, once you’ve improved your rehab facilities to 7/10, you will start to see more dramatic improvements in player condition after each game, and each improvement above that threshold becomes less critical. If you have another facility lagging once you’ve reached this threshold, it’s OK to let your rehab facilities sit tight while you get any lagging facilities caught up.
Be patient! This method takes a tons of credits, and it also takes tons of time. Typically, I don’t get all three facilities maxed out until my third full season. Usually, I only suffer one (or maybe two) facility declines in that time. Having a facility decline before it’s maxed out stinks, and it’s understandable to be frustrated when this happens. But I can guarantee you it’ll be OK. How can I guarantee this? Because you’ll be winning games! Winning games fixes everything! Since you’ve already committed to winning every game you possibly can, I can assure you you’ll have the credits to make up for declines in no time.
To summarize this installment of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl, first, you must commit to winning! Win as many games as you can as soon as you can, so you can accumulate coaching credits. Spend those credits on extending your coaches for another year, and once that’s done, start improving your facilities. Give slight priority to improving your rehab facilities, but do your best to improve all three facilities as evenly as possible.
The next part of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl is all about player evaluation. This portion takes a detailed look at each position in the game by discussing what to look for in a prospect at each position, and what positions are most valuable.
Remember, always win!
Links to Rob’s Complete Guide to Retro Bowl
Roster Basics and Player Evaluation
Drafting and Managing Players
Winning Football Games
Maintaining a Winning Team