I have to admit that I’m a nut for sports tabletop games. An absolute, card-carrying nut. Football, baseball, hockey are the ones I go for. You can obtain the games complete with cards, boards, dice, and booklets. Or you can get the computer versions. Some of you may have seen the sports magazine ads over the years for a couple of the biggies, APBA and Strato-O-Matic. APBA is the oldest of all these board games, having been around since 1951. Their original sets from the 1950s are collector items now and worth some dough. PLAAY.com games has entered the field in the last ten years with some fabulous games. So has Skeetersoft, Inc. with their APBA-style cards and boards with their own excellent modifications and refinements. Out of these mentioned, the baseball games were and are the biggest sellers, although football makes its presence known, too.
What are sports simulation tabletop games, you ask? Well…they are games based on the real-life performances of players in any given year. A different card set for each sport comes out after the end of a season, based on how well (or bad) the player and his team had performed. There’s also past seasons--great seasons of the past-- like the 1950s and the 1960s, the heyday of sports.
What you actually do is play a game in your favorite sport with the names and performances of ball or hockey players, using their stats. And it’s so cool. Over the course of a few games, just as in life, a great player can tear up the league on a hot streak or he can go into a horrible slump. You can play complete seasons of a certain team. For instance, you can get a 1961 baseball season set and replay all of the 162 games for the New York Yankees and see if Roger Maris hits 61 homers for you, too. All this with cards, dice, and boards or the computer versions. And you can do it at home. You pick the lineups, make the substitutions, and so forth, including cheering and swearing at the outcomes. You can play with someone across the table or go solo, which I do. Once you know what you’re doing, the games don’t take that long. A normal 9-inning baseball game can take under 30 minutes and a hockey game about an hour. Then you record the individual stats and you keep going to the next set of games.
My favorites are APBA, which you can find at www.apbagames.com. I like their hockey and baseball products. I also use a lot of Skeetersoft, Inc. baseball cards. Note the photo of Skeetersoft Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris cards from the 1961 reprint set. I love their master cards. You can try them at www.skeetersoft.com. I can’t leave out www.PLAAY.com for their Canadian Football League game, which they call COLD SNAP, but their others look great, too, including their hockey, baseball, and NFL games. And get this…they also have board games for lacrosse, wrestling, bowling, demolition derby and roller derby. You name it, they got it.
In 1962, when only 10 years old, I obtained my first sports simulation game. My cousin, Bob Petrie, a fellow sports enthusiast like myself, gave me his original 1957 APBA baseball game for a whole $3. I had to borrow the amount from my parents. How many kids that age had $3 in their pockets? What an investment on my part. I still have the original cards, although I had to throw out the team folders when they just plain wore out. I gave the original boards to my son, Barrie, when he was 8, and he still has them. He’s 37 now and an avid sports simulation player. Since 1962, I have played well over 8,000 APBA baseball games and nearly 900 APBA hockey games. OK, you might think I have a lot of time on my hands. Well…no. I’m just always finding things to do, writing articles, books and screenplays included. And I’ve kept the records of all my season replays. With my original 1957 set, I replayed the entire American and National Leagues schedules in the late 1970s (yes, every team). Thankfully, there were only 8 teams in each league then who played 154 games, not the 162 of today. It took me almost 3 years, but I did it. And the stats were dead-on with how the teams finished in the standings. Every team! The individual stats were very close, too. And APBA had been on the market only 6 years at that point.
They were just babies then. Their game is much more sophisticated today. I loved playing the Yankees in the original set, especially Mickey Mantle, who hit a real .365 that year. My replay, he was down a bit at .356.
The replays I enjoyed the most over the years were Mickey Mantle’s pennant-winning years with the Bronx Bombers, which were 12 in total between 1951-1964. I played them all, some seasons more than once. All on cards, two on computer, with some card sets more than once when the cards were updated. In all, Mantle hit a whopping 640 homers in 17 New York Yankees season replays. I don’t just live in the past, although Mantle is still my favorite ball player of all time. I have played some recent seasons. For instance, the 2009 Yankees and the 2006 Detroit Tigers. I also enjoyed several Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers sets, 1951-1956, inclusive. By the way, the 1950s had a real good mix of outstanding hitters and excellent pitchers.
I just started playing COLD SNAP in the last few years. PLAAY.com is unique because they are the only sports simulation game company that has a CFL game. Being a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan, I’ve replayed that team mostly, but some other teams as well to show that I’m not too biased. Complete team seasons, too, of course. Note the 2009 PLAAY.COM Roughrider offense card and the COLD SNAP box attached in this article. For the Riders, I’ve played 2 of the Ron Lancaster years, 2 of the current Darian Durant years, plus the 1960 Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 1960 Toronto Argonauts. I’ve yet to purchase PLAAY.COM’s NFL game, but if it’s done the same way as the CFL game, then they have a hit on their hands. Their baseball game is brand spanking new, and looks intriguing, to say the least.
So, it must be obvious to my readers that I’m not only a sports fan, but I’m also a stats guy. I’m a history buff, as my bio states, so I how could I not be a stats guy? If you’re into both sports and stats, then I highly recommend sports simulation games for you. But I do urge you to “play the era,” as I call it. For instance, in modern baseball there’s hardly any complete games thrown by pitchers. The starters go 5 or 6 innings, then it’s to the pen…long man, set-up man, then closer in the last inning. Play the modern seasons that way, if you expect the true realism and the stats to be close. But if you get a season from the 1950s or 1960s, you have to consider that starting pitchers threw more innings and more complete games. Closers usually went the last 2 innings in tight ball games. Some teams even had 4-man starting rotations.
The internet is a great help because there’s sites that give you the individual stats you need, plus every box score in major league baseball going back to 1900. I don’t necessarily do the exact same boxscore starting lineups on each scheduled day, but I do check the games for the starting pitchers. Also, if a player, let’s say, played in 120 games at third base, then do that. As far as hockey goes, I go by the same factors. Nowadays, there’s 4 forward lines and 3 defense pairs per team. In the Original Six, there were 3 forward lines, 2 defense pairs, and 3 spares…usually 2 forwards and one defenseman. See what I mean?
So…here’s how the games work. The example is the attached photo of my original 1957 Mickey Mantle APBA Card, and the back of another card to show you what all the backs looks like. Cool, right? The 3 black columns represent dice rolls. With the game comes a large red dice and a small white dice. If you shake the two and it comes out, say, 1 and 1, that’s 11. Across from the black 11 is a red 5. Let’s imagine the bases are empty when the Mick comes up. Remember, there are 8 possible situations from bases empty to bases loaded. You look up the number 5 on the bases empty board and it reads a double. In half of the other base situations it may be a homer. If you shake a red 5 and a white 1, then that’s 51. Across from 51 is a red 8. Which is a single, in most cases, but it depends on the pitcher Mantle is facing. The hit may be taken away by some of the better pitchers and turned into an out. Everything is on the boards. If a guy plays an entire season in your reply, each one of the black dice rolls will come up approximately 20 times. Times that by 36 possible black rolls and you have about 700 plate appearances, depending on the team he plays for etc. But, of course, very few players last a complete season, plus there’s walks and sacrifice flies and such that don’t count as time at-bats.
Anyway, I hope I’m making sense. By the way, across from Mantle’s black 66 there’s a red 1. That’s a homerun! A tater! A solo shot! Mantle’s card represents a hitter who had close to 40 homers. Actually, he had 34 that year, because he missed a dozen games. Also, a red 13 on his card is a strikeout…a 14 is a walk…an 11 is a single followed by a stolen base. He had a lot of walks and strikeouts, for sure. Then again, he was a power hitter. Anyway, there’s a lot more to the game than the above explanations. My Mickey Mantle example here is only the basics. There’s also good defensive plays by the better fielders, pitchers who strikeout more batters than the average pitcher…slow, medium, and fast base runners…good and bad outfield throwing arms…on and on…
So, what season replays do I have on the go now? Two, actually. For baseball, I have played 40 APBA games of the 1956 Cincinnati Reds, who were an interesting team. With a real life 91-63 record, they were involved in a heated National League pennant race that went down to the wire. Milwaukee won 92 games, but Brooklyn took the flag with 93 wins. The Reds led the league with 221 homers, 775 runs scored, and a .441 slugging average. Frank Robinson hit a then-record 38 homers for a rookie. They had an excellent defense, but their pitching was only so-so and frustrating to deal with at times. My other replay is APBA hockey, the 1959-60 Montreal Canadiens. Only 10 games played so far. That team was significant in that it was the last season of 5 Stanley Cups in a row, and the last year Rocket Richard played. Once the 2013 CFL season ends and the PLAAY.com cards are made available, I’ll reply the Saskatchewan Roughriders, naturally.
If you purchase one of these games…BEWARE…it may become addictive. I know, believe me. It’s a curse. For those married men, I hope you have a good relationship with your wife… Just kidding.
Above all else, do have fun!