In the 1980s, formative football fans had Tecmo Bowl. Baseballers had RBI Baseball. Basketball groups had NBA Jam. Human Tetris players had Tetris.
Curling was never fortunate enough to get a world-class video game. (You could argue the broomstacking game is also a classic.) It’s shown up on various titles, such as the Mario and Sonic Winter Olympic series. They did a good job of designing the characters to make impeccable tuck deliveries, but the strategy and realism was largely lost.
There’s been one website that seems to have figured it out, and while it doesn’t have all the trappings of the curling club, it at least has the realistic game play down. It’s called ... well, we’re not quite sure what it’s called. It may just be called “Curling.” Or perhaps it’s Play Curling, which is the name of its website. Sometimes it’s called Fly or Die Curling after the company that made it and a couple dozen other online games, with chess and checkers being the most popular.
Several clubs have employed this no-name game for virtual bonspiels, and even professional curlers and their friends were seen in various organized e-spiels when in-person events were first cancelled in the spring (photo).
And there’s a reason for that: no other game plays more like the real thing. Just pick a line, click and hold to add weight, and release. The ice is always perfect, the accuracy is always 100%, and rocks bounce off each other like they should. You can practice alone (play against yourself) or find a human opponent. There is no AI opponent, and perhaps that has been the most difficult nut to crack for curling video games, so this one simply doesn’t do it.
It’s wild that most video games with a curling component have picked up on some of the essential basics of the game (there are rocks, there is a broom, and closest to the center scores) while overlooking other basic mechanics, such as: the ability to throw a straight rock (we wish, but it’s right there in the name); overpowering the brooms (though that was a whole thing one year); the number of rocks per end (sometimes it’s just four); and, no, more rotation does not equal more curl (it’s usually the opposite).
The funny thing is, this online game has been on the internet for well over a decade and little has been done (on the surface) to improve or expand the concept. For example, they could have done team mode, where each player is in charge of certain throws. I wondered if it was always going to have the four-rock Free Guard Zone rule in perpetuity, but to my shock, they updated it to five right on cue. So somebody’s there behind the scenes, paying attention to it.
There have been some PC games that have done it even better, but they’re out of print and quite difficult to install on a modern computer. This is our default flagship video game version of its accessibility and price (free, though you can pay to remove ads). Perhaps a day will arrive when we are blessed with something like EA Curling, with franchise mode, create-a-curler and create-a-club features. Until then, we have no choice but to worship our minimalist web app overlord.