Like chefs mixing and matching familiar ingredients to see what new culinary hotness they can stumble upon, game developers are fond of mashing genres together in the hope of crafting something fun and unexpected. Certainly, Epic Manager's biggest draw is the way it fuses two somewhat disparate game types -- turn-based RPG and sports management sim -- into a hybrid that, on the whole, works pretty well.
The basic premise of Epic Manager is that those heroic squads of tanks, mages and healers we're so familiar with from just about every RPG are salaried employees of competing adventuring agencies. Sure, you've still got to protect the realm from various monsters and enemies, but your larger goal is to assemble a team of MVPs and move your agency to the top of the heap. There are twelve agencies and the game takes place over the course of a trimester season; land near the bottom of the ladder and the game is over. Instead of recruiting a young and talented middle linebacker or a seasoned power forward, you'll be scouting out rogues adept with ranged weapons or wizards that can cast effective fireballs.
In essence, the better your adventuring team does on the battlefield, the more fame and money you earn, which allows you to hire better-paid team members and outfit and upgrade them appropriately. As you uncover the map through quests and encounters you can place portals and scout new heroes, play some games of cat and mouse espionage and engage in some cutthroat corporate inter-agency warfare. In other words, there are a lot of moving parts and different layers of game play to track, not the least of which is your roster of heroes, their equipment and spells and potions. Epic Manager looks at first blush like a simple game, but it isn't.
While Epic Manager includes a relatively substantial tutorial, it only begins to explain some of the game's more hidden loops and systems, and unfortunately the colorful -- and cluttered -- UI doesn't help the game's transparency or clarity, filled as it is with similar-looking buttons and icons. All the info is available somewhere, but it was often not easy to know where to look, where to go or what to do next. Learning Epic Manager takes patience, curiosity, and tolerance for confusion.
While RPG-style combat is not the game's only focus, it is at the center of it, since battles and their outcome drive so many other systems. It's a shame, then, that the Epic Manager's combat is so static, two dimensional (literally) and quickly becomes repetitive. On the other hand, the game's colorful overland map and its plethora of choices for movement and strategy is well done. I think Epic Manager would have been a stronger game if it had simply played out combat entirely behind-the-scenes.
Epic Manager's conceit is refreshingly unexpected and, for the most part, its two genres manage to coexist pretty well. The game seems to own its absurd premise and leavens the experience with humor, bad puns and wordplay. There is a lot to do, although it's often not clear what to do, and I wish its core RPG elements were a bit more appealing. There are many games where dissimilar genres feel at odds, but Epic Manager manages to make a pretty convincing case for itself.