Basketball Bones: Game Review

Sometimes, I get the feeling that many game publishers just don’t get me. I play tabletop-sports games because I want the drama of an individual contest, the suspense of a season unfolding, the feelings of nostalgia and of getting to hang out with old friends when I rummage through a card set of ballplayers from years gone by – even if that year gone by was just last year – and I want to be the supreme being in charge of it all.

Most tabletop sports games these days, regardless of the sport, will generate statistics accurately enough to recreate a season, but only the best games will give the gamer the opportunity to step through the looking glass and create and inhabit a recreated world. To me, when a game publisher gets it right and releases a game that offers a fun individual game experience with the potential to go as deep into a replay as I’d like, with sturdy and well-designed game components, and that publisher goes on to stay in touch with their customers to further promote and nurture the new game, that’s something to be heralded.

PT Games, Inc. has done a fantastic job with their newest release, Basketball Bones.

BASKETBALL BONES GAME REVIEW:

WHAT IS IT?:
Basketball Bones is a cards & dice basketball simulation game designed for solitaire or two-player play. It is a “full-play game.” That is, every possession, shot, foul, etc. is accounted for through the course of gameplay. This game uses individual player ratings on individual player cards to resolve each action. From the introduction to the rulebook:

Basketball Bones is a tabletop simulation of pro basketball, using four dice, or “bones”. Almost every result can be retrieved from the player cards, with very little consultation of separate charts. Just about anything that can happen in a pro game can happen in Basketball Bones!

WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU BUY IT?:

There are several options available from the game company, from the introductory priced demo set in PDF format (a bargain at just $5.00), to the complete boxed game set with all 2011-12 NBA teams printed on high-quality glossy cards (currently as of 4/22/13 on sale at $55.00). For this review, I received the complete game demo box, with 4 teams, which is currently as of 4-22-13 being offered for $32.00 on the game company’s site.

The components in the printed set are very high-quality, as good as you’ll find anywhere. I was especially pleased to receive such a sturdy game box which had been packaged well in shipping. The game comes with all four of the dice you’ll need (3 different colored d6, 1 d8), the individual player cards, a slick game surface (unneccesary to play the game, but helpful), some well-designed scoresheets, plastic tokens to use as markers on the play surface, and the few charts that you’ll need.

The rulebook also looks to be professionally printed and designed. Though I haven’t played any other PT Games releases (Football Bones, Hockey Bones), it’s obvious that the game company does not cut corners on the quality of its game components, and the quality, care and thoughtful design of this game points to a game company that wants to be – and should be – taken seriously on the tabletop-sports market.

This is the cover of the Basketball Bones box.  The game components have a professional quality.

This is the cover of the Basketball Bones box. The game components have a professional quality.

The individual player cards (see LeBron, above) are simple and easy to read. Every player who played a minute in the NBA is carded, and the four teams included in the demo box are the final four from the 2011-12 NBA season.

I’m a sucker for a well-designed scoresheet, and the Basketball Bones scoresheet may be the best basketball scoresheet I’ve found. I might start using it even when I play tabletop basketball games from other game companies, as well.

HOW DO YOU PLAY?:
Click here for a PDF of Basketball Bones’ rulebook version 1.0.

The current version of the rulebook is available for download on PT Games, Inc.’s website, on the “Freebies” page.

Most possessions are resolved with one or two rolls of the dice. On the first roll, the red d6 tells you who has the ball, the blue d6 will tell you whether or not a shot was attempted (based on the player’s Shot Indicator number on his card). If a shot was attempted, the d8 will tell you if it was a 2 point or 3 point attempt (again, based on the player’s rating). You’ll then roll two d6 again to determine if the shot was good or not. The offensive player’s shot ability, as well as his defender’s defensive ability come into play here, though there is no math.

If no shot was attempted, the BH (ball-handling) column on the player card is referenced, based on the result of the d8. The best ball-handlers will be the best passers and will have the ability to make “great passes” that lead to higher percentage shots for their teammates.

The game has clever but simple mechanisms to determine rebounds, steals and turnovers, as well, and all of these results come directly from the player cards.

For such a straightforward game with such a simple game engine, it’s worth noting that the game does allow for a decent amount of coaching decisions. If you play with the “fatigue” rules in place, coaches will have to work to distribute playing time in an economical and strategic fashion. Also, fastbreaks, full-court press, playing “loose” while in foul trouble, taking forced 3-pointers, fouling on purpose at the end of the game, and timeouts are all a part of the game, just as they are in real basketball.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS GAME?:

Basketball Bones should have a broad appeal, appealing to casual and hard-core fans alike. Some casual fans may find the game time (typically between 1.5 and 2 hours in my testing, and from anecdotal reports on the forums) to be a little long, but the rhythm of the game can be almost addictive. The nature of basketball games can lead to tedious gameplay in many instances, but I never found this to be the case with Basketball Bones. In fact, one thing this game does particularly well is heighten 4th quarter drama, which is a necessity in my mind for any basketball game. The last two minutes of a tightly-fought basketball game can be some of the most exciting and compelling contests in all of sports, and Basketball Bones captures that drama.

It seems to me that hardcore NBA fans will appreciate that the game mechanics encourage good use of your bench, and that man-to-man matchups are an important part of the gameplay as well. Stat junkies will be pleased to know that a full array of stats, including assists, blocks, steals and turnovers can be kept during gameplay.

The rulebook also offers a few tips on creating a draft league with the cards, and it seems to me that this game could be well-adapted for such a league.

WHAT IS THIS GAME MISSING?:
The obvious answer is the inventory of available seasons. Currently, PT Games offers:

  • 70-71 ABA
  • 77-78 NBA
  • 78-79 NBA
  • 07-08 NBA
  • 11-12 NBA
  • There was a recent announcement of a soon-to-be released 20 team set of all 1970’s champions and runners up, as well.

    A couple of other observations:

    In the handful of games I played, scoring was low. In a typical low scoring affair, for instance, the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 79-73. That seemed like a really low score for two of the top teams in the NBA, so I did some research and found that in real life, on April 24, 2012 the Celtics beat the Heat by a final score of 78-66. I bring this up as reminder that my small sample size, though worth noting, is too small to be statistically predictive of the game’s tendencies in that regard.

    My scorecard from a low-scoring Heat vs. Celtics game

    My scorecard from a low-scoring Heat vs. Celtics game

    That said, assist tallies were down in my testing, too, and I do think that the rules as written will produce significantly fewer assists than were seen in real-life play. In my case, I found myself simply missing opportunities to score assists, too. I don’t know if that’s a criticism of the game or not, I just know that in that 79-73 game, for example, there were only 7 assists on the books. Total.

    HOW STEEP IS THE LEARNING CURVE?:
    To get started, the basic rules that resolve any given possession are very simple. I was playing the game straight out of the box within minutes of setup. Some of the more “advanced” rules like fastbreaks and pressing on defense take a little more work to get to learn. The first few quarters I played took about an hour each, but after a couple of games playtime was down to about an hour and a half for a full game, two hours at the longest.

    IS THERE AN ONLINE COMMUNITY OF ENTHUSIASTS?:
    The PT Games forum is a good one. “House Rules” have been popping up and many players are posting results of replays of various series and seasons. The creator of the game, Greg Eno, makes an effort to comment in nearly every thread and respond to various questions and concerns personally. Basketball Bones has a strong online community for such a young game, which really isn’t surprising given the overall quality of the game and the earnest support of its publisher and designer.

    SUMMARY:
    Basketball Bones is an enjoyable full-play basketball simulation game that offers some of the advanced gameplay that basketball aficionados will crave, while not sacrificing playability, so that it should appeal the more casual basketball fan, as well. The game components are very well designed and the printed game box, cards, and other parts are all published with an obvious appreciation for quality. Though some statistics – most notably, assists and points – seemed to be a touch low in my limited game testing, I am satisfied that the design of the game is solid and that over a significant sample size, statistical accuracy will be achieved. PT Games, Inc. has done very well with this release, creating a game that was designed and published with considerable care for playability and an attention to detail.

    TL;DR:
    Basketball Bones is a simple but fun basketball simulation game that is playable for the casual NBA fan, but has enough depth to satisfy the hard-core hoop fan, too. The game parts are pro-quality, and the game publisher obviously cares about making this game the best it can be. And that’s a great thing.

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    One Comment

    1. Thank you SO much for the kind review!! Really appreciate it!

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