I play a lot of tabletop sports games.
I am also a baseball fan.
This time of year I become even a bigger baseball fan.
In keeping with all of this, I wanted to play some tabletop baseball.
I own and enjoy playing Downey Games' Time Travel Baseball – but this game comes with a limited number of season sets. I own one of those sets (the 1915 Federal League) and have begun a season replay of the Chicago Whales season. I wanted to play a tabletop baseball game that allowed me to play a more recent season and provide a little deeper experience.
I then remembered I had a copy of Strat-O-Matic Baseball in my game cabinet.
Strat-O-Matic Baseball had been in my collection for probably over ten years. When I located it inside my game cabinet the game was stacked low in one of the stacks (near the bottom) – this is not a good sign as I usually try and keep my more favorite games and games that are played more often near the top of the stacks.
I figured, “This is Strat-O-Matic Baseball. I probably have it way down there in the stack because all the cards inside the box make it heavy and sturdy and I was using it as support for the other games on top of it.” That, and I probably found Out Of the Park Baseball that I could play on my computer around the time I last played Strat-O-Matic Baseball and began playing that game instead (fickle gamer that I am).
Upon rescuing the game box from the stack and opening it, I found the game in all its completeness with all of the charts and roster sheets and even brochures. I also found I had a complete set of season team cards still inside shrink wrap. Further investigation revealed the team set was the 2002 edition. This was good but not great – being a Cubs fan the Cubs were lousy that year. 2002 in the MLB did not move me and I had to lookup who won the World Series that year (I have since forgotten even that).
I thought I certainly owed this game a play, probably more than one. I had to un-punch all of the team cards, but wanted to minimize the effort, time and damage to the cards if I for some reason was not happy with the game and wanted to part with it. I decided to play the first Cubs series of the 2002 season. This happened to be a 3-game series at Cincinnati. This was good for a few reasons – the Reds were decent that year and the Cubs and Reds team cards were right next to each other in the sheet stack of team cards. Off to un-punching I went.
There is something fun when doing the un-punching task. It's like bringing to life all of the players on the cards. The process begins the rekindling of memories of seeing the players play, watching their highlights on television or even holding their baseball cards while trying to soften up the bubble gum that came in the same wax sealed pack.
Sadly, the Cub players did nothing for me.
Sammy Sosa, okay. Mark Prior, oh boy. Kerry Wood, was this a good year or a bad year? I did not remember their shortstop from that year nor did I remember most of the other players on that team. I could get past this all. I could play though this series with them, learn who they all were, set my pitching rotation, get the lineups worked out a begin improving on their 65-97 (I think) actual 2002 record.
It takes a good bit of time to get the cards all out and sorted. I have use the internet to find out actual lineups for the game (baseball-reference.com) and determine the starting pitchers. I hope both starters can go deep because I have no idea what each relief staff is like. I am also crossing my fingers for no injuries because I have little idea of what the depth charts are. Finally, I have Game One set up – Lieber is starting for the Cubs while Hamilton is starting for the Reds (just like Opening Day 2002).
I am excited.
The game is set up.
I start rolling those classic 3 dice.
The First Inning for Chicago has a bit of drama in it when Sosa cracks a single to left field and makes it to second base on an error by Adam Dunn. Sosa is then stranded there. Cincinnati's First Inning also holds some drama when Todd Walker leads off with a double, gets over to third base and is stranded there on a Ken Griffey Jr. strikeout and a line out by Sean Casey. Casey is hurt on the play (say he tweaked a muscle and is out of the game and the next four games). I have to search the Reds roster and find Russell Branyan to replace Casey.
Chicago scores once in the Third Inning on a Delino DeShields walk, subsequent steal and run home via Sosa's second single of the game.
Sosa leads off the Fifth Inning with a home run. The Cubs then add a another run when Fred McGriff walks and Aaron Boone proceeds to commit back-to-back errors at third base that allows McGriff to score.
Sosa returns the favor in the bottom of the Seventh Inning when he muffed a fly ball. Gonzalez, the Chicago shortstop then booted a grounder before Branyan and Boone singled to drive in 2 runs. At the end of seven innings, the Cubs led, 3-2.
Sosa singled again in the Ninth Inning and scored on Gonzalez' home run. The Reds failed to threaten again. The Cubs win the opening game by a score of 5-2.
My thoughts on this game are as follows:
4 total errors – I'm okay with that. First game jitters and Sosa was never a stalwart out there in right field.
Pitcher usage (especially starting pitchers) is always a tricky situation with these tabletop games. It's usually left to the player him/herself to regulate how much usage to work a pitcher for both starters and relievers. I did bring a reliever in for Hamilton in the Seventh Inning. I let Leiber go the whole 9 innings.
The write-up I just wrote of this game was more fun and sounded more exciting than the game was itself to play. I didn't have a fun time. It was a baseball game. Good results were had. Good statistics were had. I had an injury and a few errors, home runs and strikeouts. I didn't have much fun, though.
I decide not give up and at least play the entire 3-game series before making any determinations.
Chicago starter: Kerry Wood
Cincinnati Starter: Elmer Dessens
Branyan homers for the Reds in the Second Inning.
Stynes homers for the Cubs in the Third Inning.
Griffey blasts a 3-run home run in the Third Inning.
Wood strikes out the side in that same Third Inning.
Kearns homers in the Fourth Inning.
Boone homers in the Sixth Inning.
Final: Reds 5 Cubs 1
I left Wood in for the full 9 innings.
He gives up 8 hits, 4 home runs, 5 runs, 2 walks and has 12 strikeouts
Dessens goes the full 9 innings.
He gives up 3 hits, 1 home run, 1 run, 3 walks and has 5 strikeouts.
Again, even that short, succinct write-up has more drama in it than the actual game did for me.
I should find it neat that Wood had 12 K's – but he gave up 4 HR's. Dessens pitched far better, but I never got the feel for either of them. Going through the lineup gave me no anticipation, no worry and no excitement.
I have some other thoughts about playing these two games:
The pitcher/batter split results bother me. I can't figure out why that bothers me, but it does. The other tabletop baseball games I have played have some implementation of this, but Strat-O-Matic's version somehow uneases me.
There were too many chart look-ups – and I was using the Basic cards. I was not using the Left/Right batter split side of the player cards. I was not using the Advanced Charts or the Ballpark Effects charts.
The X result is a good idea and I think a good mechanic - but I didn't like having to play the game with it. I mean, did Corey Patterson catch the ball or not? And he once or twice made a play based on the extra X result roll – but I didn't like having to take that extra step.
Ditto the above for the Split result rolls for a hit/out.
The components are nice. They are solid components. The cards are well made, tear out very well and are printed very clearly and can be read just fine. I don't like the red/pink and blue Left/Right Split side of the cards.
Most of all, the cards did not come alive for me.
On top of that, the game did not come alive for me.
I felt like I was going through the motions generating results. I did not feel like I was managing a game, watching the players play or even cheering them on.
It didn't even feel like I was playing a game.
It felt to clinical for that.
When I play a game, I want to have fun. When I play a tabletop sports game I want to have enjoying the sports contest going on in front of me. I want to experience the ebb and flow of the game, the threat of an over-powering pitcher or a dangerous hitter or a reliable glove. These two games left me empty and hollow from lack of all that.
I can see where some tabletop gamers would totally love this game and it's system. It seems massively numbers driven and if you are a gamer who enjoys that part of tabletop sports gaming where matching numbers and figuring percentages against situations is your thing, Strat-O-Matic could be your go-to game.
Me – when Sammy Sosa is up to bat or Kerry Wood is on the mound, I want the sensation Sosa is up there wiggling his bat head waiting for the pitch and that Wood could be un-hittable this time out. I am not concerned with numbers. I want to play a game of baseball.
So, I packed up my Strat-O-Matic set.
I quit two games in to a three game series.
It was my wife who said it best when I had completed the second inning of my second game. She asked me how the game was going and I told her it was all right, it just wasn't much fun. She then asked me, “Well, why are you playing it then?”
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