Learning How To Play APBA Baseball

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.

1964 APBA Baseball 1963 Season - [Base] #DECR - Del Crandall [Poor to Fair] - Courtesy of COMC.com

1964 APBA Baseball 1963 Season – [Base] #DECR – Del Crandall [Poor to Fair] – Courtesy of COMC.com

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.

Learning To Play MLB Showdown

MLB Showdown cards – part of a Collectible Card Game produced between 2000 and 2005 – are not something I truly seek out, but as a lover of baseball cards and of baseball simulation games, MLB Showdown cards are among my favorite things to stumble across. If I find MLB Showdown cards for cheap – like in a dimebox – I will gleefully scarf them up, and won’t give any thought about what to do with them until afterwards.

Like many of you, I’ve wondered how the game is played. I’ve been meaning to learn for a number of years, but I never really get around to it.  A passing thought in a post over on Remember The Astrodome – “Did anyone ever actually try to play MLB Showdown?” – inspired me to get off of my butt and start figuring the game out.  Sometimes all I need is confirmation that someone else will find something of interest and make it worth my time.

I figured I probably had enough cards laying around to form a couple of lineups, so I went looking for instructions online. I found a video that wasn’t as helpful as I thought it would be, but it became clear that 20-sided gaming dice are involved.

While I was pondering how much my preferred local comics/gaming store would charge for dice, a thought bubbled to the surface of my brain, in the same way that the answer provided by Magic 8 Balls just kind of rises up through the blue “whatever” inside.

“Heyyyyyyyy…” I thought, “Didn’t I get a cheap Starter Set a number of years ago?”

I went to a largely disused closet where my tabletop baseball simulations are kept – Statis-Pro Baseball (which I wrote about in 2015), Cadaco All-Star Baseball (which I wrote about in 2013), Donruss Top Of The Order (which I’ll write about someday) – and sure as shootin’, there it was: A 2001 MLB Showdown Two-Player Starter Set.

I don’t remember when/where I got it… I’m pretty sure I found it at a show somewhere, and likely at a price I couldn’t walk away from.  At the time, I probably said “Now I can learn how to play this game”, and as is often the case, that went nowhere without the proper motivation.

So before I go any further, I want to make it clear that what follows is not a detailed tutorial on how to play.  Nobody’s going to be tournament-ready by the end.  I just figured there are plenty of people who own a few of these cards and would like to get a general idea of what it’s about.

Within the relatively small box there is the 20-sided gaming die, a game mat (which also lists the instructions for the “Beginner” version of the game), 15 American League player cards, 15 National League player cards, another pack of cards which come with a “Play a few games under the basic rules before opening” notice.  These cards are the Strategy cards, and I’ll come to those later.

So here’s the game mat (along with some assorted crap from Shlabotnik World Headquarters):

As it turns out, the mat is a helpful learning tool but is not necessary to play the game.  I’ll also mention that folding it back up again was just as frustrating as folding up a gas station road map.

So I played a couple of innings under the basic rules;  what follows is the top of the second inning of the first game I played.  Leading off is Vladimir Guerrero of the National League team – as you can see, his card is a “foil” which means the surface is somewhat shiny and a tiny bit refractor-y, plus the team logo is silver foil.  Vlad is the cleanup batter in the NL lineup, as the team went down in order in the first.  On the mound for the American League is Kevin Appier.

In the basic game, each at bat consists of two rolls of the dice;  the first, by the team in the field, is the “pitch”.  The second roll, by the team at bat, is the “swing”.

As you can see in the photo, the pitcher rolled a 5.  That roll is added to the “Control” Number at the top of Appier’s card to get a value of 7 (5 + 2 = 7).

That number is compared against the “On-Base” number on Vlad’s card, which is 9.

Since the die roll + Appier’s Control number is less than Guerrero’s On-Base number, that means that the batter has the advantage and we use Vlad’s card for what comes next.

…And what comes next is the player at bat rolls the die; this is the “swing”.  The number which comes up in the roll is looked up on the chart on the bottom of Vlad’s card.

As you can see, the higher the roll of the die, the better it is for the batter.  I’ll get into some of the less-obvious results in a little bit, but in this case the batter rolled a 7 and everything from 6 to 13 is a Single.

So we’ve got a runner on first, no outs, and Desi Relaford comes up to bat.

The pitcher rolls a 7;  7 + Appier’s Control # of 2 = 9, and that’s higher than the On-Base number on Relaford’s card (8).  The advantage goes to the pitcher this time.

The batter rolls a 9, we look at the chart on Kevin Appier’s card:

Anything between 9 and 13 is “Out (GB)”, which is a ground-ball out.  One out, and Vlad moves to second.  Under the Expert rules, the player in the field can try to double-up Vlad, I’ll mention that (briefly) towards the end.

Next up, Bubba Trammell.

As you can see, Trammell has an on-base number of 7, so Bubba is less likely to get a “batter’s advantage” than Vlad (9) or Desi (8).

While we’re comparing cards, I’ll show this comparison between the charts on the cards of Vladimir Guerrero, Desi Relaford, Bubba Trammell and Kevin Appier.

Hopefully those of you reading on your phones can see these charts, but you can see how the same die roll can have different results based on who’s batting or if the advantage goes to the pitcher.  For example, a “swing” roll of 16 is a triple for Vlad, a single for Desi, a double for Bubba and a fly-ball out for anyone batting against Kevin.

On an individual level, you can see that you’ll never strike out when the result is off of Vlad’s card, and you’ll never homer when the result is off of Appier’s card.  Similarly, Relaford might get on base a lot, but it’ll mostly be walks and singles with no chance at a double or triple and only a 1-in-20 chance at a homer.

Getting back to our at-bat, the batter rolls an 18.  Bubba Trammel walks, Vladimir Guerrero stays on second, one out and Doug Glanville coming to bat.

The pitcher rolls a 20, and at this point you don’t need to compare any numbers to know that the advantage goes to the pitcher… but just for the sake of this post, 20 + 2 > 7 (Glanville’s On-Base number).

The batter rolls an 8, that’s a Strikeout – Out(SO) – on Appier’s card.

First and second, two outs and the #8 batter, Warren Morris, coming to bat.

The pitcher rolls a 16, so that again is clearly on Appier’s card, but the batter rolls a 20, which is clearly good for the batter.  Appier’s chart shows that 20 = Double, so Vlad Guerrero scores, Bubba Trammell goes to third and Morris is standing on second.  (Quick side note:  It’s interesting that the result would’ve been the same had Morris’ card been used.)

It was at this point in the half-inning that I realized I’d made a mistake in picking out the lineups.

When I set the batting order, I went with 8 batters and the pitcher… but that’s because I had just breezed through the rules printed on the mat, and hadn’t given it any thought.  With the #9 slot coming up in the batting order, what happens when the pitcher bats?  As it turns out, if you play by the NL rules, there is no “pitch” as the result always comes off of the pitcher’s card (Appier).  How boring is that?  At the last minute, I went to my “bench” and picked out the best player, Richard Hidalgo, to be the DH.  The numbers are similar to Vlad’s because 2000 had been a monster year for Hidalgo:  42 doubles, 44 homers, 122 RBI and a .314 average.

The pitcher rolls an 8… 8 + 2 = 10, which is higher than Hidalgo’s On-Base of 9.  The batter rolls a 14, which is a fly-out on Appier’s card, and the inning is over.  One run on 2 hits and a walk, 2 men left on, the National League is leading 1-0.

…So that’s playing by the BASIC rules.

Under the “Advanced” or “Expert” rules, a pitcher is not endlessly effective, but wears down after a certain point.  Let’s take a look at the top of Appier’s card again.

You’ll see he’s listed as a Starter, and as you’d guess, only Starters can start games.  He’s a righty, and that comes into play when you start to work with the strategy cards – I’ll get to that in a minute.  I’ll also come back to the “310 pt.” part.

Right now, let’s look at the “IP 6” part.  This means that Appier is 100% effective through 6 innings pitched.  After he hits 6 innings, he starts to tire out and when rolling for the “pitch”, you subtract 1 point from the dice roll for each inning past the 6th.  For example, if Appier were pitching the ninth, he’d have 3 subtracted from each dice roll, one for the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Let’s quickly replay the 2nd inning as if it were the 9th;  we’ll keep the same rolls of the dice, but the outcome will be significantly different.  Vlad’s at bat was on his card to start with, so we still have him getting a single.  For Desi Relaford, the pitcher rolled a 7, which now becomes a 4, and added to Appier’s control number we only have a 6, which is lower than Relaford’s On-Base number of 8, so we have “Batter’s Advantage” and the result comes off the batter’s card.  The batter rolled a 9, so instead of a ground out, we have a walk and runners on first and second.  Trammell’s at-bat is still on Appier’s card and still a walk, so now we’ve got bases loaded. Glanville still strikes out, and Morris still rolls a 20 using the chart on Appier’s card, so he still doubles but now he drives in two runs instead of one.  For Hidalgo’s at bat, 8 – 3 + 2 = 7, which is less than Hidalgo’s 9, so we’re working off of Hidalgo’s card.  The batter’s roll of 14 becomes a single instead of a fly out, Bubba Trammell scores and now instead of one run scored and the inning over, we’ve got three runs in and the leadoff batter coming up with two outs.

Before we move on, I’ll also point out that in the Advanced game the pitcher also loses effectiveness when he gives up too many runs.

Let’s get into the strategy cards now.  For non-gaming collectors they’re an even odder oddball because they have smaller photos and don’t identify the players on the card.  A Randy Johnson collector, if they even knew about this card, might not fully understand what it means:

Players start the game with three Strategy cards and add one at the beginning of each half-inning.  Each card says when to play the card – often “Play before the pitch” – and gives a result.  Since we now know how the game works, the result of “Add +1 to every pitch this inning until a batter reaches base on a hit or a walk” makes sense to us now.

There are also strategy cards which are played after a result.  For example, after Warren Morris’ double and if “the pitcher is tired” – meaning that he’s past his “IP” listing on his card – the player at bat could’ve played this card:

Playing this card will change that double into a homer.

Many of the cards I’ve seen are along the lines of “Add +2 to the swing with runners in scoring position” or “If your starter would be tired next inning and he’s given up 3 or fewer runs, he gets a +1 IP” (and Wizards Of The Coast gets a thumbs-up for properly using “fewer” to refer to something which can be counted.  “Fewer cookies, less punch”.  End of grammar lecture).

Brief mentions of other things on the player cards

I don’t want to get into a full description of all aspects of this game – I’ve gone on long enough as it is – but I figured I’d run through some of the other bits of info on the player cards.

Let’s go back to the top of Vladimir Guerrero’s card:

I’ll start with the position.  If Vlad was listed as “OF”, he could play left, right or center field, but he’s clearly listed as a corner outfielder and can only play in left or right.

The “+1” after the position works with Strategy cards which tell you to make a “Fielding Check”.  You roll the die, add on the fielding of the players involved (i.e. the outfielders) and if the roll + fielding is high enough you can, for example, turn a hit into a fly-out.  Fielders can have different ratings for different positions.  The Doug Glanville card I inserted above has a +2 for center field and a +1 for left or right field.

Catchers have a similar number which is used for catching a runner trying to steal, and is used with the Speed rating on the baserunner’s card and a dice roll to determine if the runner is safe or out.

“470 pt.”… I thought this is one of the more unexpectedly interesting bits of info on the card.  On the surface, it’s easy to understand:  Good players have more points than bad players.  However, the points don’t come up during the game itself, but are used in managing the teams.  The Basic rules tell you to set the batting order from most points to least points, which is a good way to go about it if you don’t feel the need to get into leadoff batters, cleanup hitters and the like.

However, these also factor in to putting your roster together.  The rules say that a 20-player roster should not total up to more than 5000 points (averaging out to 250 points per player). This is only fair, as you have to have some reason to include some true bench players on the roster, and not just fill it with Frank Thomas and Randy Johnson cards.

As for some of the categories on the results charts…

Runners can tag up on a fly ball – Out(FB) – or take an extra base on a hit.  This is another one that uses the combined fielding rating of the outfielders, speed and dice roll to determine “safe” or “out.

Ground-ball outs – Out(GB) – can be converted to double-plays, again, based on combined fielding rating of the infielders, the speed rating of the runner and dice roll.

The batters cards have entries for “Single” and “Single+”.  On a “Single+” result, the batter “steals” second if second base is empty.  In the Expert game, a runners can take an extra base on a Single+ result.

Assorted random bits of info and opinions for anyone who’s interested enough to have gotten this far:

If I were to play the game on an ongoing basis, I’d probably go to my local comic/gaming store and get a pair of different-colored 20-sided dice to replace the one white one which comes with the game. It’s a small die and a little ‘unsatisfying’ for adult hands.  If I were playing the game solo I’d roll two different-colored dice at the same time, with one color being for the “pitch” and one for the “swing”.

…But this doesn’t strike me as a great game to play solo.  Too many of the finer points of the game, like lefty/righty matchups, only factor in when a strategy card is played, and if you’re playing against yourself for funsies you would often have to play a card against your opponent who is, of course, yourself.  I mean, it can be done, but I prefer for these situations to be built into the game play instead of having to be invoked.

From what I understand from poking around different forums and websites, the MLB Showdown rules were tweaked from season to season, and new gameplay elements had been implemented from year to year.

I read somewhere that the formulas used to create the cards were also tweaked as they went along, so if you were playing against anyone who’s a serious player, they wouldn’t allow you to mix player cards from all six years of the game;  you’d have to agree to all use 2001 cards, for example.

One last thought from a collector viewpoint…I wonder how much variation there is in these starter sets, if there’s any variation at all.  Did all of the Starter Sets come with the same 30 players?  I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer for that, but if true it would mean that those cards would be significantly more common than cards which came from booster packs.

So that wraps up my little experiment with playing MLB Showdown.

Now that I’ve learned how the game works, these cards will remain fun oddball cards and I won’t likely use them as gaming cards.  There are too many aspects that I find unrealistic, like how the fielding seems to be handled by the outfield or infield as a whole rather than by individual players, or the whole lefty/righty strategy thing.  I don’t doubt that this could be a fun game to play against someone, but I don’t have any gaming friends so I won’t know for sure.  For my solo game playing I’ll stick with Statis-Pro or Cadaco.

Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll answer them as best I can.  Again, I’m no expert, I’m just a guy who casually enjoys baseball tabletop games and happens to have a copy of the 2001 Starter Set.

A Quick Overview of Statis Pro, My Favorite Baseball Simulation

I’m sure a lot of you have played baseball simulation games, whether on a computer, gaming console, website or board game.  For those of you who have gone the board game route, I’m sure most of you have played either Strat-O-Matic (the “industry leader”) or APBA (beloved by many).

Me, I can’t go mainstream on anything.  I grew up playing this:
Statis Pro Box Front
…The full title being the unwieldy “Statis Pro Major League Game Of Professional Baseball”, which everybody shortens to “Statis Pro”.

Here’s a view of the gameboard set up (more or less) for gameplay.
Statis-Pro Game board and charts
Don’t be intimidated by all of the charts… The game is intended to be a detailed simulation of Major League baseball, going as far as having rainouts, injuries and ejections, but gameplay can easily be simplified if you’re just looking to have a bit of tabletop fun.

I was 13 when I got my copy (with cards simulating the 1978 season).  The reason I got this particular game was because at the time I was fascinated by the war simulation games put out by a company called Avalon Hill.  I loved strategy games like Risk and Stratego, and Avalon Hill was a big time provider of games for the serious tabletop gamer.  Even the packaging was serious;  they called them “Bookshelf Games” and they came in a box that would stand upright on a shelf, for you to proudly display next to your copies of Gray’s Anatomy and the complete works of Ernest Hemingway.

Here’s the side and back of the Statis Pro box.
Statis Pro box side and back

I turned out to be wrong about the war simulations being appealing to me, but from many hours of poring over the Avalon Hill catalog, I became intrigued by Avalon Hill’s sports games.

Besides, Statis Pro made me a promise that Strat & APBA couldn’t make:  the game came with instructions and formulas for making your own player cards.

“Make your own player cards”?!?

Oh, the mind reeled.  I could create cards for any player, for any team, from any point in history!  I could create a card for myself, and I could play against Major Leaguers!  How exciting!

The process of creating the cards turned out to be more labor-intensive than I’d realized, especially given that I got the game a good 12 years before I owned my first computer.  However, the ability to create cards has had one interesting and long-lasting side effect – even though Statis-Pro has officially been gone for over 20 years, it still has a following and people still generate card sets that they sell on eBay or make available for downloading.

Just for fun, I did make a couple of player cards, but I’ll come back to that after I give you a rough idea of how the game works.

Like most games of this sort, there’s a sort of “random number generator” aspect behind it… but rather than using dice, there’s a deck of “Fast Action Cards” with numbers on them.

Statis-Pro Fast Action Deck

These cards generally simulate the roll of two dice through the “PB” factor in the upper left.  What makes it different from using dice is that there are cards that have other “PB” factors, and those can lead to errors, clutch batting or clutch defense, along with the odd occurrences I’d mentioned before.

One of the more interesting features of the game is that each pitcher has a rating that corresponds to the “PB” number on the Fast Action Cards.  If the starting pitcher’s rating is equal to or higher than the random number, the result of the at bat comes off of that pitcher’s card;  Otherwise we work off the batter’s card.  So, for example, Dwight Gooden from 1989 has a PB rating of 2-7.
Statis Pro - Dwight Gooden - 1989 Mets
If the number off the Fast Action Card runs from 2 to 7, it means we’re working off of Doc’s card (which, of course, has a better chance of being an out).  Better pitchers might have a rating of 2-8 or 2-9, worse pitchers would have 2-6, 2-5 or less.

Once we know which card is determining the outcome of the play, we pull another Fast Action card and get a different number, one that determines the outcome of the play when you reference either the batter or pitcher’s card.
Statis-Pro Cal Ripken - 1989 Orioles
So, for example, if we were working off of Gooden’s player card and the Fast Action Card had a random number of 33, it would be a strikeout;  but, if the 33 were against Cal Ripken’s card, it would be a homer.

That’s the basic structure of the game, but there are other factors involved.
Pitchers also have another rating that basically determines how long they stick around, and it differs based on whether they’re used as a starter or a reliever.  That way, Mariano Rivera cannot start a game and be lights-out for 9 innings.  Certain events (hits, walks, errors, runs) eat away at the effectiveness rating, and when it gets to zero, the pitcher’s “done” and every result then goes off of the batter’s card until you put another pitcher in.

Gameplay can be as complex or simple as you want to make it.  There are a whole bunch of charts that can be consulted in different situations, but you can ignore them if you want to assume, for example, that all runners advance one base on a single, two bases on a double, and so on.

There’s one last twist in the game…  The “Z” Code.  Some of the cards which determine “pitcher vs. hitter” have a Z code which refers you to the “Unusual play” chart.  More often than not, nothing comes of it and you continue with game play, but the Z code is what leads to players getting injured or ejected, games getting rained out, and so on.

Just for fun, I used the formulas provided by the game to create two player cards… One for Mike Trout, arguably the best position player in the Majors, and one for “Joe Shlabotnik”, which was an attempt to make a utility infielder who would be the worst player in the Majors (but one who still managed to get in over 100 games).
2014 Statis Pro - Shlabotnik and Trout
I played a 9-inning game between a lineup made up of nine Mike Trouts and a lineup made up of nine Shlabotniks, and I skipped the pitcher so that every outcome came off of the batter’s card.  The final score:  Trouts – 15, Shlabotniks – 1

…So that’s the basics regarding Statis Pro. The game has a cult-like following, and if you want evidence of this, check out the “Statis Pro 1984” blog, where the entire 1984 season for every team is being played, and the author has been going at it since 2012.

Playing A Half-Inning Of Cadaco All-Star Baseball!

Good afternoon, and welcome to Cadaco All-Star Baseball Field for today’s game between the Springfield Isotopes and the Shelbyville Shelbyvillians!

Cadaco Field View

There’s not a cloud in the room and the 60W sun is shining brightly… A perfect day for baseball!

Before we get started, an apology:

All of the images on this post are right-side up on my computer, but for some reason WordPress wants to rotate some of them 90 degrees when I upload them.

How CADACO all-star baseball works

Cadaco All-Star Baseball is a tabletop simulation based on each player’s likelihood of getting different outcomes from an at bat. Pitching doesn’t factor into it, fielding doesn’t factor into it. It all comes down to what the player at bat is likely to do.  Given the limitations, it’s actually a pretty good simulation.

Each Major Leaguer in the game is represented by a disk which has different numbered spaces around the outside edge.  You put the disks into a clear plastic holder with a spinner on top. The players spin the spinner and the space that the spinner lands on determines what the batter does. Each type of outcome gets a different number… Home Runs are 1, Strikeouts are 10, Triples are 13, and so on. It’s all on this “Batting Key” on the gameboard:
Cadaco Batting Key

Here are two examples of how it works… Rod Carew is known as a singles hitter, and his disk reflects that.  Big areas for singles (7 & 13), some doubles (11), a small number of triples (5) and homers (1).  Relatively few strikeouts (10).
Cadaco Rod Carew Disk
His disk also reflects that a ballpoint pen must’ve leaked out on it years ago.

Nolan Ryan may be a Hall-Of-Fame pitcher, but as a hitter, well…
Cadaco Nolan Ryan Disk
Look at those 10’s.  As a hitter, Nolan Ryan strikes out. He strikes out a LOT. Also notice that there’s no space on the disk for Homers (1) or Triples (5), and a very small spot for Doubles (11). One shouldn’t count on getting extra base hits out of Nolan Ryan.

Incidentally, you might have noticed that the center of Nolan Ryan’s disk is white, Rod Carew’s is grey, and some of the other disks are red. The color-coding is by position… White for pitchers and catchers, grey for infielders and red for outfielders.

OK, now that we’ve got all that out of the way…

play ball!

Leading off for the Isotopes, the left fielder Lou Brock.

Cadaco 1 - Lou Brock Doubles

The manager spins the spinner, and as you can see on the Lou Brock disk, he gets a “11”.

As you can see from the Batting Key which sits between the two spinners, 4 means “Double”.

Cadaco Batting Key

Awesome!  The leadoff batter is in scoring position!

Next up is right fielder Dave Winfield.  The manager spins a “7”.

Cadaco 3 - Dave Winfield

…and “7” means that Winfield gets a single!

Cadaco Batting Key

When I was a kid – and don’t all kids do this? – we apparently didn’t finish reading the rules and we played a simplified version of the game where runners advanced one base on a single, two bases on a double, and so on.  Here’s what the game says you should do in these situations:  After the manager who’s “batting” spins a single, ground ball or fly ball, the other manager spins his spinner and looks at the blue and black ring around the outside of his spinner to get a letter.  In this case, the opposing manager (also me) spins gets an “N”…

Cadaco 7 - Bowa second spin
BTW, The Dave Concepcion disk is here because he’s the other team’s leadoff hitter, waiting for the bottom of the 1st.

…Back to the game, we spun an “N” and then we look at the chart on the “scoreboard” to see what “N” means for a single:

Cadaco - Single II

The batter, Dave Winfield, is safe and the runner, Lou Brock, advances two bases… and that means he scores!

So we turn the “Run” wheel on the scoreboard…

Cadaco 5 - 1 run in

…because it’s not as much fun if you don’t rotate the wheels on the scoreboard.

OK, so we’ve got Winfield on first and shortstop Larry Bowa steps up to the plate.

The manager spins a “13”…

Cadaco 6 - Larry Bowa

…which means Bowa gets a single.  The other manager spins the other spinner and gets an “N”.

Cadaco 7 - Bowa second spin

…and like before, “N” on a single means that the runner advances two bases.

So now we’ve got runners at the corners…

Cadaco 8 - Runners On the Corners

…and cleanup hitter George Brett steps up to the plate.  The manager spins a “14”…

Cadaco 9 - George Brett

…which is a fly ball…

Cadaco Batting Key

…The opposing manager spins an “L”…

Cadaco 10 - Brett second spin

…and it’s a sacrifice fly;  Winfield scores from third and Bowa holds at first.

Cadaco - Fly Ball I

Cadaco - 1 out

So we’ve got one out, and Thurman Munson is coming up to bat… But I want to implement some strategery.  I decide I want Bowa to attempt to steal second, so I get out the Strategy Disk, put it in the other team’s disk holder, spin the spinner and check the results in the blue/black outer ring.

Cadaco 18 - Pre-Fuentes Strategy

A single steal from first falls under the “A-E Strategy” range, and on that red ring we got an “A”.  We look at that list on the scoreboard…

…and incidentally, this does play faster in real life…

Cadaco Strategy A-E

…Munson takes the pitch, and Larry Bowa steals second.

Back to Munson’s at bat, we spin and get a “12”…

Cadaco 12 - Thurman Munson

Cadaco Batting Key

It’s a ground ball, we spin the other spinner, get an “L”…

Cadaco 13 - Munson Second Spin

Cadaco - Ground Ball III

Munson is out at first, Larry Bowa isn’t forced so he stays at second.

Runner at second, two outs, two runs in.

Willie McCovey steps up to bat… McCovey has apparently had a hard life because some sort of liquid, possibly Coke, has been spilled on him.

The manager spins…

Cadaco - McCovey strikes out

And it’s right on the line between 10 and 2…  But the decision is made that it’s a 10 – McCovey strikes out and strands Bowa at second.

So, after one half inning it’s Springfield 1, Shelbyville coming to bat…

About my copy of the game

Cadaco All-Star Baseball Box

Although the game I own is the right vintage for my childhood, it’s not the same game I played growing up.

When I was a kid, my best friend had this game, and we played it about as much as we played any board game.  I liked tabletop games (and still do), but he only played indoors if the weather was bad.

I got my copy of the game about 10-15 years ago at a yard sale.  I don’t know what year it was originally from, but I can guesstimate from the players included. Dave Parker is included, and although he played in 1973 and 1974, I don’t think they would’ve given him a card before his breakout season in 1975… So let’s say no earlier than 1976. Joe Torre is also included, and in 1977, his last season as a player, he only played 26 games… So I wouldn’t think they would give him a card in the 1978 set.   Combining those two minor deductions, I think we’re looking at 1976 or 1977.