Football Outsiders Takes on the Tabletop

With the tagline “Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis” Football Outsiders (FO) would probably agree if one were to compare the site to the seminal site for baseball intelligentsia, Baseball Prospectus. Topics covered in the “Football Outsiders Basics” page include:

  • You run when you win, not win when you run.
  • Standard team rankings based on total yardage are inherently flawed
  • Field-goal percentage is almost entirely random from season to season, while kickoff distance is one of the most consistent statistics in football.
  • Recovery of a fumble, despite being the product of hard work, is almost entirely random.
  • For the statistically (some may say “Sabermetrically”) inclined, this type of counterintuitive analysis is the stuff that provides countless hours of bar-stool banter and debate that is the food of their life.

    In research for the upcoming Issue Two of Print Edition (which will be focused on tabletop football games), I was diving through some of Football Outsiders’ archived stuff when I came across an article by Mike Tanier published July 23, 2009, called “Walkthrough – Openly Gamer.”

    A quote:

    Long ago, when computer power was measured in kilobytes and John Madden was just another color commentator, football gaming didn’t require a console, computer, or controller. It required a sturdy tabletop and dice.

    The football games of that era had odd, retro-techie names: Strat-o-Matic, APBA, Statis Pro. They were highly complex, though they were oversimplifications of the sport, and though they had childlike elements they attracted an adult following. Each game had its own elaborate rules, quirky codes, arcane charts. Gamers called plays, rolled dice, referred to cards and charts, sometimes rolled again, interpreted play results, then moved cardboard football and down markers across a gridiron-shaped field. Football teams were bundled into rubber-banded piles or small manila pouches. Gaming sessions lasted for hours around the dining room table, opponents cross-checking each other’s cards and arguing rules while being careful not to spill soda, Eric Dickerson’s 1984 card still brown-stained and blurry from someone’s clumsiness.

    There was no Madden video game back then, no high-def graphics, no fantasy football Web sites with up-to-the-second information. Those games were all we had. They were immersive. They were awesome.

    And they are still with us.

    The piece goes on to describe the evolution of tabletop-sports, starting with Dick Seitz and APBA Baseball. In the end, the author offers a “Gamers Guide” that describes Strat-O-Matic, APBA, and Statis Pro.

    Though not comprehensive by any means, it’s interesting to get the “outsider’s” perspective on our hobby, especially if you scroll down and read the comments of some who have played these games but are, by no means, the aficionados that typically visit

    It got me thinking…how do you describe tabletop-sports to those who ask you about your hobby? What if you were at a party and someone asked you to explain “those dice football games you play”? What do you say?

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