I have only played this game solitaire and am writing this review from that perspective.
This dice and chart game allows you to play NHL games on your tabletop with teams from the current season as well as from many past seasons.
The game can be played in three levels of complexity: Basic, Advanced or Super-Advanced.
(I have found a mix of the Basic and Advanced levels works really well and provides all of the action, detail and statistics I am looking for in a hockey game.)
Strat-O-Matic offers a full, latest-season version that includes all the NHL teams from the latest completed NHL season. Strat-O-Matic also offers a Selector Set version of the game that allows you to choose five teams from the latest completed NHL season. Each version of the game comes with all the pieces, charts, card decks and dice needed to play.
Each NHL team card set is composed of 16 skater player cards and 2 goalie cards.
Additional Extra Player cards for every team can also be ordered.
Each skater has a rating for Tendency, Intimidation Ability, Skating, Face-off, Offense, Defense, Penalty and Breakaway/Penetration. Each skater card is primarily constructed of a grid of 5 categories (Outside Shot, Inside Shot, Rebound Shot/Breakaway Shot, Passing, Defense) and 11 results for each category (the results of a 2D6 roll).
The Action Card Deck (Basic or Advanced) drives the gameplay.
Each Action Deck consists of 30 cards.
When the Action Deck is depleted, one period of hockey has been played.
In the Basic Game, the Action Deck determines the main result of the action for the current team in possession of the puck.
In the Advanced and Super-Advanced game, the Advanced Action Deck provides the main result of the action for the current team in possession of the puck based on the Offensive Setting and Defensive Setting currently in use by each team.
In all Game Levels, after finding the result from the Action Deck, if necessary, the proper Player Card is then considered.
The Split Deck is used for a few things:
-Determines random numbers between 1 and 20 (that are needed in a myriad of situations)
-Rebound Results on shots when the goalie fails to control the puck
-Icing: In Super-Advanced Power Play games
-Loose Puck: In Super-Advanced Power Play games
-Passing: Inside Passing results in Advanced and Super-Advanced situations
-Assists: Determines which players earned assists on goals scored
-Injury: Determines which player is injured and the length of injury
Forward Line changes and Defensive Line changes are marked within the action deck using provided cards inserted into the deck at determined intervals. The game instructions recommend one Forward Line change 10 cards from the top of the deck, followed by a Defensive Line change 5 cards later and then finished with another Forward Line Change 5 cards after that. (These intervals work fine for me and my 3-line/2-pairing setup, but a lot of Strat-O-Matic Hockey players adjust these line-change intervals to suit their play styles.)
Power Plays are abstracted, but are effective and efficient. When a Penalty occurs (usually as a result from a Player Card or the Action Deck), one Split Card is drawn. The random number on the Split Card is used against the Power Play chart to determine which players will shoot on goal for the duration of the penalty (Power Play players and Penalty Kill players each can get shots). Each shot is then resolved as either a Goal or a Not-Goal. (This is why I recommended writing down each teams 2 Power Play and 2 Penalty Kill lines as not each member of each line is needed on every Power Play/Penalty Kill.)
OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE SETTINGS (Advanced, Super-Advanced Only)
Offensive Settings range 1 to 3, conservative to aggressive.
Defensive Settings (Forecheckers) range 0 to 3, conservative to aggressive.
The Offensive Setting Determines how aggressive the Defensive Settings (Forecheckers) can be. An Offensive Setting of 1 can only have 0-1 forecheckers while an Offensive Setting of 3 can have 2 or 3 forcheckers.
Changes to Offensive and Defensive Settings can only be made at the start of periods, during forward line changes and at face-offs. (Playing solitaire, I roll dice to determine the Offense and Defense for each team.)
Set out the Home team and visiting player positions in this sequence, left to right:
Visitor: RW RD C LD LW G
Home: G LW LD C RD RW
During gameplay, most of the player interaction will occur between players directly opposite from each other. Setting out the player cards in this manner greatly helps playing the game. If you choose to use the game board, this layout will be used. (I find the game board not necessary for the way I play the game.)
The game is built for each team to play with 3 Forward Lines and 2 Defensive Lines. (The extra players available will allow the game to played with 4 Forward Lines and 3 Defensive Lines.)
Determine these line combinations/parings for each team and set the cards aside in any manner that works for you (I stack my lines/combinations by position). Determine the Power Play and Penalty Kill lines/combinations for each team and write them down along with their individual Defense Ratings.
A roster sheet and line combinations for every team is provided. These lines can always be adjusted to your liking.
Keep the charts within easy reach. Give yourself a spot to roll the dice. You are ready to play!
Split Card Drawn = 1
Chart Result = Home Left Wing
The Home Left Wing has the puck.
Offense Strategy = 1 Defensive Strategy = 1
Action Card Result = Opponent Defense 3
The opponent of the Home Left Wing is the Visitor Right Wing. The Visitor Right Wing defense column needs to be referenced in the 3 box. The result is: Inside Shot for Right Wing. This means the Home Left Wing has made a pass to the Home Right Wing and set him up for an Inside shot on goal.
The Home Right Wing is shooting the puck.
2D6 are rolled = 12 (no kidding, I just rolled them).
Reading from the Home Right Wing's player card we see his Inside Shot column and his 12 box results in: Goal 1-8. A Split Card needs to be drawn – if the number on the card is 1-8, a goal is scored, if not, the goalie will freeze the puck. A Split Card is drawn and the random number is 19. The shot is saved by the goalie and he freezes the puck.
A face-off in the visitor offensive zone would happen next.
Stat keeping is simple with this game. Once you write down the Power Play/Penalty Kill lines all that is needed to keep track of is the score and who scored the goals and which player earned the assists. Penalty tracking could be done if you wanted. Time keeping is done through the Action Decks.
The learning curve is not that steep. Like Strat-O-Matic Baseball, the instructions were written well, but it required actually playing the game for about 30 minutes before I understood the gameplay flow. I played the Basic game twice and then moved to the Advanced/Super Advanced combination after that. I still find myself looking into the small rule book every now and then, but my last game was fairly quick.
As far as realism goes, I will need to wait until I get a few more games played before I can form an opinion. Each game has a lot of shots on goal, probably fairly accurately. Power Plays can be a blast as the team with the advantage fires away – but I think that's how it should be. I have noticed the defenders that are rated well do defend rather stoutly, as well.
My first game saw Colorado bury Winnipeg at home, 7-1.Colorado won again at home, 3-1. I then moved the next game to Winnipeg and Colorado won again, 1-0 with a goal late in the Third Period.
Those two teams were not good last year and Colorado was better than Winnipeg, so I guess that worked out.
Still, as far as scoring goes I will need to wait a while to make statement on that.
Gameplay is fun. The action is always moving as is the puck. The puck will move around the ice and from player to player to player and sometimes get bogged down between two players who seem to be banging around in the corner fighting for possession. Shot results are simple to determine as the goalie cards are easy to read. There are opportunities for the human player to try and pass the puck to a preferred player or to choose a player who gets the shot or the rebound, and that is always fun. A good passer could find an open shot for a teammate...so get him the puck if you can.
If I could mention anything that may give you a good idea of how this game plays I would say this reminds me a lot of Replay Basketball (which is one of my Top 10 favorite tabletop sports games).
I have played three other tabletop hockey games and they did not quite fill the void in my sports gaming library. I am glad Strat-O-Matic hockey has impressed me. It plays smoothly, makes sense, is easy to learn, is deep enough without bogging down in too many rules and leaves me wanting to play again – and that is always good.
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