APBA Pro Baseball Basic Game: Review

Posted by Paul on June 25, 2012 | Short Link

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.

SUMMARY:
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.

TL;DR:
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):

The Dodgers beat the Yankees in this replay of game 1 of the 1953 World Series

18 Comments

  • Ed M says:

    Congrats on finishing your first game! If you need a good scoresheet for future games, let me know – I can send you the one I have used for probably 1,000 games now.

    While understanding that the Basic game isn’t maybe the full-on baseball managing experience, I think Basic is a great tool for season replayers. The only catch is, you would need more than the season set itself to accomplish this. You would also need the XBs, and for some seasons, if you want to have “every” player who appeared for a season, you’d need XCs. I settle for the XBs, which give teams rosters of 25-30 players (depending on the season).

    A big key to APBA is that once you’ve played a few games, especially in situations with the bases empty, you’ll find that you will memorize many play results, which greatly speeds up game play. Having played nearly 2,700 games, I’ve rolled games in as quickly as 6 minutes, and rarely does a game last more than 20. This allows me to get blocks of games done, or a whole series, whatever, done fairly quickly.

    The thought of their being only 4 pitching grades is somewhat of a myth. By my count, without going into the Ks, Rs, and others that have been added in recent years, but just sticking with Xs, Ys, Ws, and Zs, there are 66 different grades from an A, who is probably better than an A&C W, but who is worse than an A&C XY, etc. A DW is far worse than DZ, and so on.

    It’s often been a bone of contention among APBA players whether you’d have a starter who is a CW or a DZ. The DZ can’t prevent any hits (PR 1-11), but the Ws are damaging given that often with runners on board, they turn outs (even double plays) into walks.

    But no need to worry about that before Game #2. :)

    Ed

    • Paul says:

      Great info, Ed! You’re right about all the “sub-grades” for pitchers (or whatever they would be called). As a novice with this game, the intricacies of the ratings are lost on me, but I’m sure that with more games under my belt I’ll have a much clearer picture of the Pitching Grade system. I agree with you about the Basic game being terrific for season replayers – though I can’t imagine getting a whole game done in 6 minutes! That really would speed up a season replay.

      Thank you for the comment, I appreciate the insight, and thank you for reading!

  • GG says:

    I feel lucky to have rolled a no-hitter with Blyleven and the ’79 Pirates in only the second game I played a few weeks ago!

    • Paul says:

      Your second game! That is lucky – I’m sure there are guys who have rolled the bones for years and never had one. I’ve never had one with Strat-O-Matic, and I’ve been playing it since 1997.

  • Good review, Paul. I hope you enjoyed your first foray into APBA Baseball!

    I also appreciated Ed’s comment. If anyone is thinking of doing any sort of serious replay, buying the XBs and/or XCs is a must. I consider the regular set a starter set only to see how the game is played.

    I don’t like preaching to those who have already made up their minds which game is right for them. Each game has its strengths and weaknesses. APBA Baseball is my opinion is easy to learn (takes a while to memorize maybe) and its rhythm of play is a big plus too.

    It was fun to see APBA Baseball through the eyes of a someone new to the game yet someone who could break the process down so well.

    Tom

  • oh and I agree with you about the included “tally” scoresheet. I prefer to make my own in MS Word anyway. I can customize it the way I like it.

  • Joseph says:

    Paul > I enjoyed reading your comments about APBA Baseball. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of APBA baseball while maligning many of the things you reference in your post. I’m not a fan of the 4 grade approach by APBA basic, and while I understand the subtle variations of the x/y/z, I find them to be incredibly overrated in preventing runs. What I do love about APBA though is the ability to modify the basic game to your tastes. Don’t like the 4 grades, take the master game and use the COXX system to modify it to your liking. Don’t like that Coco Crisp is rated a 3 in the OF because of his range even though his throws are about as rainbowed as the ball that was just hit to him? Use the DVAL Boards which incorporate the MG arm rating numbers to adjust for this. While I’ve never played SOM Baseball (I do have the hockey game) and I don’t have any comparison, I really enjoy the ability to modify the basic game to make it more or less accurate.

    The only thing I’ve yet to see a good mod for is the comment on base stealing. I’ve played APBA for going on 20 years now and I’ll never figure out how down by 3 runs, AJ Pierzynski can run me out of an inning by getting caught stealing with 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th because Ichrio has a Play Result Number 40 on his card.

  • Paul says:

    Thank you, Joseph, for the comments and the tips. I am going to look into some of the mods a little more when I get some more cards. I was going to wait for the Negro League set to come out in July, but I might pick something else up earlier. I haven’t decided yet. I do know that I will play this game more in the future, for sure.

  • Vinnie says:

    Good Review! I have played APBA Basic for a few years – good game. However, I made the switch to Replay Baseball which is an awesome game. You may want to give it a try, it plays somewhat like APAB Basic but has the refinements of Strat.

  • Flann says:

    Hey Paul- lifelong strat player (and always will be :-) . pretty much everything you said in this post is true for me (the guilt,etc.) but once i started playing APBA soccer, i kind of opened up to the thought of APBA baseball. for me, the purpose would be the deadball seasons that APBA does. i don’t need the right-lefty splits,etc. i just want to play more deadball seasons. i plan on purchasing the APBA baseball game and some deadball seaasons for myself for christmas. thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Allan says:

    I want too get peoples thoughts on the APBA Master game. I find the learning curve quite hard. I also play Replay baseball great game and Strat-O-Matic great game too. I find playing the Master game would take to long to play a game. I think if they put the master game symbols on the cards they would sell more games. Paying $6.00 for the master game symbols is bad marketing. What other game company would try to pull something like that. They lost a customer in me just because of that. Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

  • Don says:

    I just tried APBA for the first time. I love the speed of play but to me the pitchers don’t have any say or effect the game to any degree. With SOM the pitchers have loads to say especially when the opponent is rolling 4, 5 and 6″s.

    I am comtemplating purchasing a complete season and will give it a worthwhile try, but right now I still love SOM. Could be I’ve been playing since I was a junior in high school 1963.

  • jack says:

    Your experience somewhat mirrors mine. I am a long time SOM player (1968 or so) but in recent years I have been converting to REPLAY. Last summer I decided to give APBA a shot. As far as the gameplay goes I cannnot really add anything to what you have already said, my main beef being the lack of differentiation between pitchers in any particular set. For instance in my 1949 set well over half the regular starting pitchers have the same grade.
    However the current customer service at APBA is second to none (at least that has been my experience),the card readability and quality is excellent, and the season selection is phenomenal. Last summer I ordered several seasons inlcuding 1919.Whereelse but APBA can I get the 1915 Federal League if I wanted it (and I do).

  • Ken says:

    My, at the time, 20 year old son was given the APBA Basic game as a Christmas gift in 2011. We found it a little curious, because my son, unlike me, was not a big baseball fan. In fact he gave it up after T-Ball, oh so long ago. I played from the age of 5 into college, so baseball was not something we ever really shared. Well, two nights ago my son surprised us by coming home from college for the night.

    Over the past year or so, my son has started to take an interest in baseball, and has selected the Cubs as “his” team. I am a Red Sox lifer. Anyway, after dinner, he was asking where the game was. He went looking, my wife looked at me and said “uh oh, I hope I didn’t give it away!” She hadn’t. A few minutes later my, now 21 year old son, came downstairs with the game.

    He got it set up, and he and I played a game. It was really the first time he and I had shared baseball. We both had a great time. And it took us quite some time to play…we were in no rush. I’m looking forward to getting some new cards. He wants the 1908 Cubs. I was also thinking of going to our local sports shop and buying an official scorebook to keep score. This was a really nice night. I’m glad my wife didn’t give it away.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Ken – That is a terrific story. Thank you for sharing it here. What a transcendent bridge between generations baseball can be. At their best, these games can build bridges and bonds, too, and that is a fantastic thing.

      Thank you for reading the blog, and thank you for sharing that story!
      Paul

  • John Reeder says:

    I’ve been interested for some time in getting APBA, particularly the BAT2 set. But I’ve been gun shy since I learned about the no-control-of-steals situation. Is there no way around that?

    The one big thing I liked about Strat, as well as Sports Illustrated’s All Time All Star Baseball, was the ability to decide when to send the runner on certain basehits, when to sacrifice, when to pull the infield in, and when to try for a steal. I hate seeing that control taken away. Is APBA truly like that? No modifications ever conceived?

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