IT’S the secret vice of many a man and the scourge of countless girlfriends, but Football Manager is back, more addictive than ever and threatening to invade Yuletide quality time like never before.
For those who need reminding (congratulations on kicking the habit), it’s the godfather of all management simulators and allows gamers to take charge of virtually all aspects of their chosen club, from 50 countries.
Pull the strings on transfers, tactics, training, media relations, scouting, boardroom discussions and more before watching your meticulously schooled team romp to title after title, or get you the sack, in glorious 3D.
Hardened FM campaigners will know all that, of course, and be eager to discover what makes this latest incarnation, which includes squads updated following the summer transfer window, worth signing up.
On paper, there are improvements to the match engine, negotiations, a tutorial setting to make sense of the vast game landscape, a tweaked interface and the option to add or delete playable leagues season by season.
But the real differences lie in the feel and how FM12 plays, which make the fun bits (buying players, analysing your team’s matches) richer and the more frustrating elements (tactics, training, scouting) less of a chore.
Thrashing out a potential signing’s contract is speedier and more realistic thanks to more detailed interaction with player agents, who each have their own personalities and bargaining styles.
Conducting team talks is no longer a blunt instrument now you can choose what tone to adopt as well as what to say, while tactics feel more intuitive and the 3D match engine is more revealing of where they are going right or wrong.
Assistants are more proactive in offering feedback, especially on training (previously a bore), and overall there is greater nuance where needed and less where it sometimes threatened to overwhelm.
That’s not to say it’s simple. It can still take hour upon hour to get through pre-season and endless media duties can become tiresome (yes, I am acutely aware of the irony).
At first, the sheer scope for tinkering with every minute detail – to play your centre forward as a trequartista or a poacher? – can bamboozle, making it exasperating beyond belief when you ship six at home to Bolton.
And yet, twas ever thus. FM’s beauty is in its realism and baffling complexity, which only makes it all the more satisfying when your big-money new striker clicks in your modified 4-2-4 and you hoover up trophy upon trophy.
Mercifully, that prospect feels slightly more attainable and less random in FM12, yet no less hard-earned and more habit-forming than Pringles dipped in crack. And marginally more acceptable in the home.
Football Manager 2012 is available from store.steampowered.com
priced at £29.99 for PC/MAC