After years of loyalty to Strat-o-Matic, it recently occurred to me that there might be something I’m missing by not playing the APBA game. I admit the thought of buying A Competitor’s Game made me feel a bit flushed; is wicked the word for it? Naughty, maybe, like stealing out for a smoke with a girl your wife wouldn’t approve of.
APBA has been known to me as “A Competitor’s Game” for as long as I’ve been playing baseball simulations not of my own creation. The game is usually brought up on forums sort of this way: “Strat lets the player choose when to steal a base, but steals are automatically called in A Competitor’s Game.”
Still, so many love this game. What might I be missing, I wondered?
APBA PRO BASEBALL BASIC GAME REVIEW:
WHAT IS IT?: APBA Pro Baseball is a Card & Dice baseball simulation board game. It is a “basic” game in that many of the more advanced aspects of baseball strategy (lefty/righty matchups, baserunning/outfielder throwing arms, to name two) are left out of the game. Each Major League Baseball player is represented with his own batting card. The results on the cards should be representative of the player’s real life statistics over the course of a season. If you’re on this site, you probably know what a baseball simulation game is. Consider this, however: APBA (which was designed around the game engine for a previously-forgotten game called “National Pastime”) was first released in 1951, pre-dating Strat-O-Matic’s first release by 9 years.
WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU BUY IT?: With the basic game, you get a basic setup. There’s the box, which wasn’t sturdy enough for my liking, the chart/rule book, a red die, a white die, a small yellow dice shaker, ONE scorecard, a small playing surface, five little plastic chips to use as markers on the bases, and two teams of cards (50 cards total). The teams that come with the basic game are the 1953 World Series participants, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.
HOW DO YOU PLAY?: Roll 2 dice, check for the result on the batter’s card. Take the resultant number from the card and read the result of the play from a chart. Which chart you use is dependent on three factors: The base situation (bases empty, man on first, first and second, etc.), the “Grade” of the pitcher (‘A’ being best, ‘D’ being worst), and the TEAM fielding rating (determined by adding up individual fielding rating of each of the players on the field at any given time).
For instance, on the Duke Snider card below (note: I didn’t scan it myself, I took it from this blog here - give them some love), if a runner is on second and the Yankees are a Fielding Two and Whitey Ford (Grade B) is on the mound and you roll a red 3, white 4, the result is a 31. Go then to the Runner on Second chart and look in the Fielding Two column (Pitcher grades only matter for results in the 1-11 range). For this roll, the play results in a: “Fly out; runner holds; PO-CF” (PO stands for Putout)
WHO WILL LIKE THIS GAME?: Anyone looking for a baseball board game with minimal managerial decisions, that plays quickly and offers realistic game situations, results, and reasonably accurate statistics will enjoy APBA Pro Baseball. I had a great time playing it and will be buying a full card set soon – probably the new Negro League reprint that APBA will be releasing in July.
The basic game would be a lot of fun for kids, too, I think. The box says “Ages 7 to adult” and I think that is accurate. Because the results are spelled out so well on the charts, gamers who have less experience and knowledge of baseball generally might enjoy this game more than some other equivalent basic games offered by competitors. The biggest downside to this basic game is that it only comes with two teams – two old time teams, at that – that may not hold your interest upon repeated gameplay.
WHAT IS THIS GAME MISSING?: What would make me most reticent about recommending the game would be the lack of cards that come in the box, or a reasonable price of entry for a full season set. At the company website, the basic game is currently going for $22 plus shipping, while the current season cards (the 2011 season, which comes with 1295 cards) is $44 plus shipping. That would be over $70 for the game plus the most recent season. It would be nice to have an option of purchasing team or league sets, as well.
Otherwise, I found the lack of scorecards to be kind of, well, silly, actually. How are you supposed to keep score? The box is packed with just one scorecard, really? You have to make copies before you play your first game, or find a different way to keep score. Also, the scorecard was kind of strange in that it was made to tally stats, but not to record the play-by-play. As you can see by my scorecard below, I used Strat-O-Matic’s Form B scorecard instead of the one that came in the APBA game.
Now for gameplay notes: some would say that the biggest thing that APBA lacks is a more individualized approach to pitching. I’ve heard that the Master Game attempts to resolve this by expanding the grading system, but in the Basic Game, it feels like all Grade B pitchers are the same, all Grade C pitchers are the same, etc. I am used to the 50/50 model, and the APBA engine does feel like it shortchanges pitchers – especially, if, like me, you love to experience great pitching matchups even more than you love to see the best hitters work.
I also noted it above, but it bears mentioning again: you don’t call your own steals in APBA’s basic game, all stolen bases (and caught stealings) come off the charts or off player cards. That seems weird to me, but maybe I’ll get used to it.
HOW STEEP IS THE LEARNING CURVE?: It’s a bunny hill slope. I read through the rules once, setup a game in 5 minutes or so, and within 30 minutes had finished my first game. It was very easy to learn. Flipping charts each time the base situation changed took a little getting used to, but I had it down by the 3rd inning of my first game. If the complicated rules of some other games have left you gun-shy about picking up a new baseball game, don’t worry about this one. This game is easy-peasy.
IS THERE AN ONLINE COMMUNITY OF ENTHUSIASTS?: The short answer to this question is “Yes.” Start by going to The APBA Blog, tell Tom I said hi.
Though because of my loyalty to another game I’d been reluctant to give APBA Pro Baseball a try, when I finally did I found the APBA game to be an incredibly fun, smooth-playing, easy to learn basic baseball simulation. I’d recommend it especially to those who don’t want or need all the complicated managerial decisions an advanced simulation might provide. If you think you’ll want to play more than just the 1953 World Series (Dodgers vs. Yankees), you’ll need to buy more cards, however, as those two teams are all that come in the box. Despite my marriage to a competitor’s game, I see a few trysts with APBA in my future.
APBA Pro Baseball is fun, easy to learn, quick to play basic baseball game that I think would be great, especially, for kids. I’m going to buy more cards and play it more.
Here is the scorecard from the very first game I ever played with APBA (click on it to see it at full-size):