This post is the latest in a very occasional series that give a broad overview of how different tabletop baseball games work.
This particular post has been in the works for months, and the idea was sparked when some mention about playing APBA was phrased in just the right way that it allowed a forgotten fact to bubble to the surface of my brain: “Wait a minute… don’t I have a copy of APBA in the closet?”
So I went into The Shlabotnik Report’s World Headquarters (aka the spare room my wife allows me to occupy) and I looked into the recesses the closet where I keep a few games. All the way in the back, on the top shelf, under Cadaco All-Star Baseball and next to Donruss Top Of The Order, there was the out-of-sight-out-of-mind box containing a mid-1990’s edition of APBA.
Pulling it out I remembered why it got shoved in a closet… This mid-1990’s edition, which I suspect was made to be sold relatively cheaply in retail outlets, came unappealingly packaged, had an instruction book that wasn’t particularly well written, and came with teams that didn’t inspire excitement: Team sets for the 1994 Astros (66-49 in a strike-shortened season, 2nd place), 1994 Tigers (53-62, 5th place) and another envelope which contained “20 of Baseball’s All-Time Greats!”… one of whom was in “witness relocation” – more on that in a bit.
A quick note to people who already play APBA: If I make any mistakes or misrepresent something about the game, please let me know in the comments so I can correct it. These tabletop game posts tend to have a long shelf life and I want to minimize the number of people who say “You got it wrong, ya big dummy!”
Here’s the the primary bits for game play…
…through sheer carelessness my photo includes the plastic bag that the dice and dice cup came in (in case you were wondering what that was on the right on top of the chart).
FYI, if you use a scoresheet to track the game, then the board isn’t needed. I didn’t use the board when I played.
Oh, another thing… the dice cup seems to be a standard APBA thing, but after the dice got jammed in there for the 5th time, the cup got jettisoned. I also found out that some players will use a smartphone/tablet app to replace the dice. I can understand the convenience of virtual dice, but there’s something satisfying about rolling real dice… just not with that friggin’ dice cup.
One last aside then I promise I’ll get to the contents of the game… The cover of the Instructions booklet gave me a laugh…
This image was a widely-used (and, I’m guessing, royalty-free) image back in the 1990’s; This image showed up *everywhere* at the time… If you have any baseball magazines, yearbooks or scorecards from the 1990’s… especially minor league publications… there’s a good chance that this guy is in there somewhere, often in an advertisement — “CATCH A DEAL at Kuhlschrank Pontiac/Oldsmobile!”
OK, I’m rambling too much. So once you pick out your team’s starting lineup, you have to make note of a few things.
First, you make note of your starting pitcher’s “grade”. You can see just below his name that Doug Drabek is a “Grade B” pitcher.
Second, each player has a certain number of Fielding Points assigned to him for any positions he’s allowed to play at. As an example I have this Chris Donnels card…
The more points, the better the player fields that position. In this case, Donnels would get 6 points if he’s playing at 2nd or Short, but fewer points at other positions. You take the total number of Fielding Points for your defensive lineup and make note of it. For this example, the total is 38.
OK, now we get to the first batter, Al Kaline (one of the “All-Time Greats”) and he’s facing Doug Drabek.
So the most basic element of gameplay is the two dice, one red and larger, the other white and smaller. When you roll these dice, rather than add them together (i.e. 4+3 = 7), you combine the results into a two-digit number, with the bigger red dice as the first digit. For example, if you had rolled this…
You’d take the three from the big die and four from the small die and combine them to make 34.
Next, you’d look at the batter’s card for the black number 34 and then get the corresponding red number. On this card of Al Kaline, the black 34 matches up with a red 31.
To find out what 31 means, you’d check with a set of charts which cover each type of ‘man on base’ situation: bases empty, man on first, man on second, man on first and second, etc.
Since we’re starting off the game, Kaline is batting with the bases empty. Here’s the part of the Bases Empty chart that would fit on my scanner…
You probably can’t read that, especially if you’re reading this on a phone, but there are multiple columns based on Pitcher Grade and Fielding Points… The results are color-coded by how good it is for the batter (green = good, yellow = kinda good, reddish orange = bad). As you go from left to right, the pitching/fielding is better and the batting results get worse.
OK, if the result was between 1 and 11 we’d chose the result based on the Pitcher Grade, but since the result is 31 it’s based on the Fielding Points. The team in the field has 38 points, so we’d look at the second column (36 – 40 points) and the row corresponding to 31…
…and Kaline flies out to Center Field (F8).
Now if we had rolled a 33 instead, Kaline’s card shows that as a 6.
Since this, obviously, falls between 1 and 11, then we use the top part of the chart which is based on the Pitcher’s Grade. As it turns out, 6 with the bases empty is always a double, regardless of what the Pitcher’s Grade is, but other numbers have different results corresponding to how good the pitcher is.
Like a lot of tabletop games, this seems cumbersome when being described, but once you get the hang of it it’s not too bad.
Now some cards have two columns of red numbers, like with this Pepper Martin card I downloaded from the APBA website as part of a 1933 All-Star Game set of 18 cards in PDF form.
In this case, if we’d rolled a 33 then Martin’s card shows a zero in the first column and that means that we roll again and look at the second column of red numbers… so if we rolled a 33, saw the zero and the rolled again and got a 44, the result would be a 1 (Home run!)
Again, this gets easier as you play.
So I played a game between the “All-Time Greats” and the Astros; here’s how the first inning played out:
Gabby Hartnett leads off, the dice roll is 31, which corresponds to 9 on Hartnett’s card. Since the number is between 1 and 11 we look in the “Pitcher Grade B” column on the Bases Empty chart and #9 the result is a single off the shortstop’s glove. The next batter, Billy Herman, lines out to center and the runner holds.
Rogers Hornsby batted third and the result was a single to right-center which sent the runner, Hartnett, to third. Had Hornsby had a rating of “F” (Fast?), he would’ve advanced to 2nd base on the throw to third. Monte Irvin singles to right, Hartnett scores and again, if Hornsby had that F rating he would also have scored. Finally, shortstop Travis Jackson (inexplicably listed as “Jack”) grounds into a 4-6-3 double play and the inning is over.
Later in the game I had a situation where the pitcher’s rating came into play… The Astros’ Scott Servais would’ve popped out against a lesser pitcher, but against Catfish Hunter with his “Y” rating, he instead struck out. What “Y” stands for, I don’t know, but it seems to be a good thing.
In the 6th inning I found myself in need of a pinch hitter and scanned my reserves (which weren’t many because they only gave me 20 “Greats”). Several of the names weren’t familiar to me and there’s no easy way for an APBA novice to pick out better hitters (keeping in mind that everybody on this team is an “All-Time Great” so how bad could they be?). I was idly looking at a card of “Buck” Jackson, who I’d assumed to have been a Negro League player I hadn’t heard of…Here, let me share a copy of his card the way I saw it, without the specifically personal information:
After I decided to send ol’ “Buck” up to the plate, I I happened to notice some of the other information on “Buck”… born in 1946, full name Reginald Martinez Jack–
(insert drawn-out record scratch)
Wait a bleepin’ minute! Reggie Jackson? Reggie Freakin’ Jackson? Who in the wide, wide world of sports has EVER referred to him as “Buck Jackson”????
…other than APBA, anyway…
For any Reggie fans out there, he grounded out in his pinch-hitting appearance, stayed in the game and grounded out again in the 9th.
So anyway, the Astros beat the Greats 5 to 4. I also played a game with the downloaded 1933 All-Star lineups I’d mentioned before… The American League trounced the National League 9-1 (In the actual game, which I feel I should mention finished in just over 2 hours, the AL won 4-2).
I have to admit that I wasn’t sure about APBA at first, but once I got past the learning curve with the charts and fielding scores and such, I found it was a fun game to play and I began to understand the appeal of it.
One of the benefits of playing APBA is that it’s a popular game and cards are relatively available. You can even buy individual cards on COMC if you wish… although how one determines that a loose APBA card is for the 1963 season is for someone who has a lot more familiarity with the game than I have.Similarly, on the cards I have there’s nothing (other than the manila envelope the cards come in ) to indicate what team the player is from and there’s nothing at all to indicate the season. I figured out my two teams were from 1994, but that was through sheer deduction – James Mouton has a card, he debuted in 1994, while Servais’ last year with the Astros was 1994. Furthermore, the Astros set does not reflect the blockbuster December 1994 trade which sent Ken Caminiti, Andjuar Cendeno, Steve Finley, Brian Williams and Roberto Petagine to the Padres for Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Pedro (“the other one”) Martinez, Phil Plantier and Criag Shipley… so it seems pretty clear that the team in these envelopes reflects the 1994 season… but it would’ve been nice to know that without doing the detective work.
In general, the game play is a little too… opaque, for lack of a better word. Look at these 2014 Statis-Pro cards, for example:
If you only know that a number on the card corresponds to a result, you can tell from the number ranges that Trout hits more homers than Shlabotnik and generally gets on base more. You also don’t technically need to consult a chart to get the result (if you don’t care about things like “Faster runners taking extra bases” or the possibility of an error on the play).
Compare that to an APBA card…
I’m sure that if you play enough you can read a card without much difficulty, but it just puts me off a little bit… but it’s largely just picking nits.
To be fair, I don’t know how many of my minor issues with APBA come from this particular edition of the game, and how many apply to the game in general. I think that if I had a copy of the game that had a better-written instruction manual then my overall enjoyment would’ve been better.
All things considered, I enjoyed APBA I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try a baseball simulation. I don’t like it as well as Statis Pro, but you can’t buy Statis Pro anymore so it’s a moot point.