Why I Love Strat-o-Matic – Because Liking Isn’t Good Enough….. (Guest Post from Da
I first started playing Strat-o-Matic during the fall of 1986. I was still having my fling with the Other Sox after being angry that the purest of all Sox, the White Sox, had decided to move their slow lumbering catcher to left field in place of my favorite player. During the previous summer, I had made my own dice baseball game; that fall, I met my future college roommate who eventually, probably after a lot of snickering about the inferiority of my homemade game, introduced me to Strat-o-Matic . We eventually drafted favorite Yankees and Other Sox and played countless games using the 1981 cards. 1981??? Before the turn of the century? Yes, youngsters, yet another old guy who had heard the siren call of dice and cards. I’m so old the dice only went up to 5; the 6th side said “TBD”.
But to the subject at hand, why do I love Strat-o-Matic ?
Strat-o-Matic is as easy or as complicated as you want it to be – it’s scalable. On these cards – and imagine that, they make individual cards for every player – they include several versions of the game. On the back (or is it the front – I guess it depends on your perspective) is the basic game. No need to worry about lefty or righty pitchers – just roll a 1 through 3 to concentrate on the batter’s card; 4 through 6 for the pitcher’s card. Then roll another pair of dice and refer to the correct column on the cards to see the result. My invented game went pitch by pitch and took a good hour or two to play. Strat-o-Matic cuts to the chase and gives you the result of the at bat without having to worry about the balls, strikes, spitting, or scratching.
The basic game is a great way to teach a newcomer about the game – or if you want to play quick games without referring to a lot of side charts. If you want to complicate it and get into lefty vs. righty match-ups (I do, I do!), you flip the cards to the front (or is it the back) and play the advanced rules. With this, they’ve added in the lefty-righty abilities and you’ll refer to the side charts for things like fielding errors a bit more.
If that’s not complicated enough, on the same card (the same card??? Yes, Virginia, the very same card), you can play the super -advanced rules which adds in ballpark effects and other situations. In other words, with the same set of cards, you have several versions of the game, each adding a slight level of complexity. The game is as simple or as complicated – but not too complicated – as you want it to be.
I referred to it before, but every player has a card – well, at least the top 27 players who played on each team. This gets into scalability again, or freedom or, dare I say it, imagination! With each player having their own card, you can play as a purist with players playing on the teams they were assigned… or you can have a draft of the cards and mix it up a little. Kind of like a rotisserie or fantasy league except you’re using the cards in your hand vs. checking the boxscore the next morning. If I want to see how next year’s team will do with it’s signing of prime free agents (or, in the case of the White Sox, lesser known relatives of prime free agents who sign elsewhere anyway) you can do that with a mere shuffling of the cards. With the minor leagues becoming more and more an extension of the majors, you can easily extend those 27 players to 30- 35 just by collecting a few consecutive seasons.
This goes hand-in-hand with my second reason – the cards from each year are compatible with each other. If I want to use a 1972 card with cards from a current roster, I can do that. Which opens up even more possibilities for leagues and teams. I know many people who put aside their last year’s cards when the new ones come out. Just as many combine the cards for more possibilities. The important thing to take away from this is the choice is yours and yours alone.
Strat-o-Matic has produced cards from nearly every era of the sport. Each year, they also produce a past season as well as the current season. One addition that I really like are the Gem sets which are a collection of the best teams from an era. It’s a good way to collect past teams and learn about players from long ago, or, in my case, the 70’s teams which were just before I developed an interest in baseball. Along with this, they also have the Hall of Fame set with all of the HOF players, the Negro Leagues, and even the Japanese league.
And get this – over a season, the cards perform as the players would in real life. I’m not sure why, but a physicist or possibly even a narcissist could probably explain it, but the cards perform in hot and cold streaks, just like a real player would. You’ll find yourself benching star players for a game or two as your imagination ignites (was that alliteration? I think that’s half a grade point right there). If you play a whole season, somehow, magically, their statistics reflect the reality you simulated.
For such a scalable game, it’s easy to learn and the game plays fast and involves little setup. How many people do you know who avoid playing certain board games because the setup is too exasperating (I know of one board game in particular that I like but never play because I can’t get it back into the box correctly. I got it into the box right once after playing, just once, and there it stays, never to be played again) or because you’re investing half your day into playing. With Strat-o-Matic, unless if you have an extra inning game (if you’re Bud Selig, no worries because a tie game is a-ok, we’ll score it like hockey; hey, it’s your game – you could do that!), you’re going to have an easy setup with the board plus a handful of charts plus the cards and you’re going to be done in twenty to thirty minutes (five minutes if you play as the White Sox and allow the mercy rule after being down 20 to nil).
You can play Strat-o-Matic by yourself or against a friend (or an enemy, as my future essay will expound on – that’s foreshadowing!) I usually play solitaire-style, but have introduced the game to a few friends by playing head to head against them. Playing against someone is always fun because it opens up new doors of sharing stories about players, announcer imitations (I do a great Vin Scully), and other social situations found with other board games (i.e. snacks).
Another reason to love Strat-o-Matic is my fellow Strat-o-Matic players. Well, you’re just saying that, you say. No, no, it’s true. With all of these possibilities with the game (basic, advanced, super-advanced, current roster, all time roster… I’m out of breath just trying to list the choices), people play the game all different ways. And when they gather together at a convention or tournament or, my favorite, Opening Day (which I’ll get into shortly, well, jeez, in the next paragraph – that’s as “shortly” as it gets), you trade stories and ideas. I had never heard of a dice tower until meeting two guys from Maine – they turned me onto the idea of making and using one – a godsend for my annoying arthritis which results in way too many wild pitches (i.e. when the dice go flying. Where have you gone, oh twenty-sided dice). The stories that people share about their cards as if they were the actual players – and it’s easy to let your imagination run off with you – are tales that you’ll experience yourself once you’ve played long enough.
So to take that to the next level, let’s talk about Opening Day. That day is when the good people at Strat-o-Matic at the headquarters in Glen Head New York release the cards from the previous season and for the current year. Some fans go to that location to be first, second, or even fiftieth in line and brave the February cold and receive their new season’s order – some to fold these new cards into the tribe of old ones they’ve collected lovingly through the years; others to place into suitcases for transport to their own League Headquarters. The best part of that day? Receiving your cards? While that is a nice capper to the day, the best part is, again, meeting your fellow players and hearing the tales they share of braving the elements to get to this still small shop that produces a game played by people worldwide. As an aside, a lesson could be taught every corporate executive in the world as Hal Richman, the creator of the game, makes his way from the beginning of the line to the end and drinks in the adulation for the game he created so many summers ago. He does it to get personal feedback for how he can make his game better. His journey through the line illustrates his commitment to keeping his game at the top of its game.
I haven’t even mentioned that there’s a PC version as well as the board game. I’ve never played the PC version, so can’t comment on it, but I’ve heard good things about it. As I sit here doing nothing but aging, I find I am regressing to the Old Days of vinyl records and actual books; I have no interest in playing an electronic game other than with my twelve year old daughter (Why is my screen so dark? You fell in the mineshaft again, Dad), but I appreciate that the option is there. My college roomie and I don’t live so far apart that we couldn’t travel and play head-to-head as we did in the late eighties, but it is nice to know that we could do the same electronically after my daughter takes my car keys away.