Baseball on the Table-top – Part III
Games of the 70’s
The annual rite of Baseball’s Spring Training is a period where hope springs eternal. Looking in the rear view mirror, we know how last season went for the home team. Is it time for the GM to tinker and make minor changes/improvements to the roster (trades, free agents, bringing players up from the minor leagues) or does he tear things down and start all over again?
If the games of the 50’s and 60’s (APBA, Strat-O-Matic & Big League Game Co.) are viewed as last year’s season of MLB, then the second wave of statistic-based baseball games can be viewed as the opportunity for game authors to add their own unique stamp to the game design of the previous two decades. Whether the changes made through their tweaks truly make a difference, creating a new dynasty (or not), is at the heart of this third installment of Baseball on the Table-top.
At first glance, all 4 games of the 70’s that I will be examining were seemingly on the receiving end of a death blow courtesy of MLB and MLBPA licensing/royalty fees…or were they?
Sports Illustrated/Superstar Baseball
In 1971 David S Neft authored Sports Illustrated Baseball for Time, Inc. SIBB included player ratings for the 1970 MLB season on colorful charts. The format of those charts changed from tri-fold to letter size with one team on each double-sidedSports Illustrated Baseball Game page through the 1972 season.
SIBB used three special d6 that yielded a 2-digit result from 10-39. Dice were first rolled for the pitcher’s chart. If there was a red box with an F for fly-ball or G for groundball, the play ended there with runner advancement looked up on charts that were on the game board. Strikeouts were in blue. If no result was found (a green blank space) on the chart for the pitcher, it was on to a second roll for the batter. For each batter, hits were in green, outs in red, strikeouts in blue and walks in yellow. Results (like HR, 1, 2, 3, BB, K, F, G, DP) were in the squares.
SIBB was the first table-top baseball game to utilize batters being rated separately for their ability against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. There was no such distinction for pitchers ratings other than whether they were righties or lefties. Pitchers could exert control only by denying the hitter the chance to connect. All pitchers had a green square with a ‘D’ (for defense) on result #’s 10-15.
All fielders received a fielding rating. The sum of the ratings for the team in the field were added together to produce “automatic out” result numbers that corresponded to the 10-15 chart results. An “automatic out” registered as a ground-out. If not, then on to the batter and a new die roll.
In 1973, the format of SIBB changed when the game rated each MLB franchise for their All-Time All-Stars (ATAS). The ATAS set on individual cards proved to be popular and was picked up by Avalon Hill as Superstar Baseball when Time, Inc. sold their sports games. AH reduced the number of All-Stars to 96, 48 each for the American and National Leagues. The AH Superstar Baseball game was effectively ended in the mid-80’s when MLBPA demanded royalty payments for using player names.
Used copies of SIBB and SuperStar Baseball are still selling for a premium on eBay. Fans started creating their own charts and/or cards, the two most notable being Randy Cox’s Ultimate All-Time All Star color charts (UATAS) that were used at the World Boardgame Championships and Phil Graham’s Superstar Baseball ATAS card set that was updated for careers through 2006. In Phil’s set (look up PAG and Superstar Baseball on eBay for his listings), the die numbers appear on the card making the need for a game-board superfluous.
SIBB/Superstar Baseball is a low complexity beginner game that shines for tournament play, as in determining which MLB franchise had the ‘best’ team. The game as originally published is flawed in many ways but is fun to play.
A devoted fan, Richard Dombrovski, programmed a computer version of SIBB called Dombrov Baseball. Dombrov utilized many of Randy Cox’s improvements from UATAS (better controls on walks and strikeouts, HRs allowed by pitchers, ballpark charts, pitcher endurance, error location). Dombrov Baseball is now a free download at http://www.dombrov.com/index.html and includes many seasons as well as ATAS sets.
In 1973 two APBA fans, Norm Roth and John Brodak, formed Replay Games using Brodak’s print shop in Carmichaels, PA. Norm Roth wanted more pitcher interaction than existed in APBA and came up with the novel concept of combining the pitcher’s and hitter’s rating to come up with a play result.
The two familiar red and white d6 were read on a 6×6 grid ‘Replay style’ as column (red) and row (white) on the batters. The pitcher’s card was about a half inch taller than the batter’s card and had ratings from 1-5 for columns 1, 2, 3, 5 & 6. Pitchers cards had ‘A’ regular ratings that flipped (printed upside down) to their ‘B’ ratings when tired. The ‘4’ column was reserved for infielders and added together the fielding rating for the infielder and the batter for a result in a chart book. Each column served a different purpose and had its own set of chart-book results. Columns ‘1’ and ‘2’ were mostly for strike-outs and outfield fielding plays. Column ‘3’ was for singles, doubles and triples. Column ‘5’ was for walks and column ‘6’ was for power.
The beauty of combining pitcher and batter ratings for a result was to make it difficult or in some cases impossible for a contact hitter with no power to hit a homerun (unless the opposing pitcher had a ‘5’ rating in column ‘6’. If the opposing pitcher had a rating of 1-4, the same die roll resulted in a single rather than a HR). Infielder’s fielding made the difference between a hit or an out or a force at 2B vs. a DP.
The results in the Replay chart-book are easy to memorize and the game plays quickly. The seasons from 1946 to 1955 were issued as were several older seasons. New MLB sets were issued through 1990. The original Replay game (now referred to as “Classic Replay”) met its demise at the hands of MLB royalty issues in 1991. Over the years, Replay revised and improved their chart books and ratings several times. Fielding was later broken down into separate ratings for range and error propensity. Throwing ratings were added to outfielders and catchers.
Pete Ventura came to the rescue in 1999 and re-issued Replay Baseball and has published a new set every year since. Pete has also published several past seasons and, with British programmer Richard Hanna, has faithfully adapted Replay Baseball as a superb computer game.
The Ventura card sets still use the familiar 6×6 grids on the batters but now utilize 6×6 grids for the pitchers cards as well. This makes for finer grades of pitching and more accurate results than the original design. The additions of ballpark effects, more detailed platoon ratings, pitcher endurance and groundball/fly-ball ratings for pitchers has made Replay a richer but more complex game that now requires three d6 (red shared by batter and pitcher for column, white for batter row and blue for pitcher row) and occasional re-rolls. For those who prefer the old 1×6 ‘tall’ pitcher cards they are still available. In the earlier Ventura sets, the cards were monochrome and perforated. Today’s sets are pre-cut and include color. Pete re-issued the box, chart book and playing field in 2010 and did himself proud, using the finest components in the table-top sports industry. Decks of dice-less fast action cards are also available.
Pete Ventura’s customer service is legendary. Games are usually shipped within a day or two of order and Replay prices include shipping. Replay is of medium complexity and allows the table-top gamer to add as much optional detail as desired. For a more detailed guide on how to play Replay Baseball go to: http://www.replaybb.com/BBPages/BBHowTo.htm .
Statis Pro Baseball
Statis Pro Baseball was designed by Jim Barnes and was first published by Mid-West Research of Iowa in 1970 along with Statis Pro Football, Basketball and Hockey. Barnes’ most notable contribution to sports game simulations was the use of Fast Action Cards (FAC) in all four of his Statis-Pro games. FACs eliminated the need for dice and many external charts by combining ratings checks for varied results on decks of 90-100 double-sided cards. For Statis-Pro Baseball, one would flip a FAC for pitcher-batter control, the next FAC for a random number (Jim loved Base-8 for some unfathomable reason) to obtain a result from either the pitcher or hitter’s card, a third card for an out chart determination and/or fielding play, and a fourth for base running.
Although I very much like the use of FACs in basketball and ice hockey simulation games, as they capture the flow of the game and simultaneously time the action. FACs feel downright strange to me in a baseball game where I much prefer dice rolling for my randomization.
My favorite element in Statis Pro Baseball is the way the pitcher/batter control rating (PB) on a pitcher makes a dominant pitcher feel dominant, as more of the action stays on the pitcher’s card and away from the batter. In Statis Pro, fielders have a clutch rating that can turn an out into a hit or vice versa. There is also a clutch hitting rating that kicks in with runners on base. The game has no platoon ratings, no ballpark effects and no distinction between base running and stolen base ability. The game handles the basics well and is both quick and fun to play.
Mid-West Research sold the Statis Pro line to Avalon Hill in the late 70’s. AH assigned the Sports Illustrated banner to ALL their sports games. In the early 90’s the MLB, NBA and NFL licensing issued forced AH out of the sports game business. Fortunately, Jim Barnes gave permission to fans to create their own card sets. The sets being produced for Statis Pro Baseball are from James Yonushonis with compatible cards to the present season and most notably Derrick Beckner producing his Advanced Statis Pro Baseball card sets and charts.
Advanced Statis Pro (ASP) can be purchased on eBay as either pre-printed color cards or PDF files that print nicely onto perforated business card stock. ASP brings Jim Barnes’ original creation up to date including Lefty/Righty ratings for both pitchers and hitters, more finely tuned PB control ratings, ballpark effects, over-rides for outlier statistics (see Part 2 of this series for examples), and updated FACs with an optional dice system. There is a decent selection of past seasons as well as a career card set (the only one with no L/R ratings)
Statis Pro Baseball was a basic baseball game with few bells and whistles. The pitcher-batter confrontation that Jim Barnes envisioned has been expanded by Derrick Beckner in ASP to become a full-fledged modern simulation of MLB. Check out the Advanced Statis Pro store at: http://stores.ebay.com/Statis-Pro-Baseball-Shop/_i.html?_nkw=statis+pro+baseball&_trksid=p3286.c0.m57
Time Travel Baseball
In 1979, designer Stanley Frohlich released Time Travel Baseball. Unlike games that strived to replay entire seasons, his goal in Time Travel was to draft a team (with salary cap) of ballplayers from the entire history of baseball and then play a short series or limited schedule. Time Travel, as the name implies, has rules that allow relatively realistic cross era play.
Time Travel uses two different colored d6, one for the pitcher and one for the batter. Whoever rolls the higher number adds the 2 dice together for a result from 3-11 on their ‘flash-card’. Tie rolls are broken by flipping the top card from the Talent-Error deck. If the silhouette is a batter, go to the batter’s flash card and if a pitcher, do likewise on pitcher’s flash card.
The flash cards are quite unique as players have a variety of attributes from Ace, Fiery and Hard Luck on pitchers and dangerous, daring, star fielders and other attributes that make hitters unique.
Fielding is generic as one team is alert, the other careless based on their fielding rating totals (home team breaks ties on defense). There are ballpark cards as well as cards for managers, each with their own style, as well as players that they can obtain without counting toward the salary cap. So why bring up a 1979 game that is long since out of print? Certainly not to tease GA Report readers.
In 2009, Downey Games re-released Time Travel Baseball. Jeff Downey has already released the base game with three expansions consisting of more flash cards, ballparks and managers. Jeff has also released a set of classic teams from the 60’s to 80’s, the entire 1926 season, Negro League teams and some specialty sets including the gang from the Peanuts comics. For detailed examples of play go to : http://www.downeygames.com/catalog/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_58_110&products_id=1660.
Time Travel Baseball is not for the serious statistical baseball game junkie…but it IS a lot of fun to draft a team using players from different eras within a salary cap constraint and play a series in an evening. – – – – K-ban
Want to go into extra innings with Part #4 in the GA Report Table-top Baseball series? K-ban will continue with games from the 80’s to present, including Pursue the Pennant/Dynasty League Baseball, Ball Park Baseball, ASG Baseball. Dice Baseball and Clubhouse Baseball next issue!
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Spring 2011 GA Report Articles