The Trouble With Game Winning Drive

A couple of months ago I saw a YouTube video on Downey Games’ Game Winning Drive.

GWD is what you might call a quick simulation game.  In about 10 minutes, you can roll up an entire football game, ending up with a final score and certain basic team statistics (rushing touchdowns, passing touchdowns, field goals, interceptions and fumbles lost).

It doesn’t do individual statistics, although it’s not too difficult to rig something up if you want to know who, for example, scored a particular touchdown.

That’s not really the point of the game engine, of course.  The point is to allow you to roll up an entire week’s worth of NFL games in 3-4 hours and therefore make it plausible to simulate an entire season over the course of a few weeks or month.

I was taken with the idea and found it pretty interesting, so I went ahead and picked up a copy.  An e-book version of the game is only $10 for a season, which isn’t shabby.  For $15 you can get a printed copy delivered to your door front along with the four 6-sided dice required to play the game. I have enough dice lying around, so I didn’t really need that.

I got to rolling games from the season I purchased (1985) and about 8 games in started noticing something peculiar. My games were, in general, running pretty high in the scoring department.

The historical season averaged 21.5 points per team-game and I was just a hair over 24.

That’s not colossally larger, but it’s noticeable.

As I do with pretty much every card & dice game I’ve ever purchased, I started to reverse engineer the game and try to figure out what the hell might be going on.

At this point, I’ll need to offer a quick breakdown of the game.

A game is broken down into 20 possessions.  So, generally speaking, each team gets 10 per game.

For each possession, you roll four dice.  Two of the dice are used to determine whether a team records a Score or a Turnover.  The other two dice are then used to break down either that Score (Run TD, Pass TD or Field Goal) or Turnover (Fumble Lost, Interception, Punt or Missed Field Goal).

Pretty simple.

I started taking a guess at how they might come up with the range of rolls required for the Score rating for each team and went through things.

Example #1: Atlanta

In 1985, they scored 14 rushing touchdowns, 13 passing touchdowns and 24 field goals.  So my math figured the following: 16 games multiplied by 10 possessions per game equals 160 total possessions for the season.  14 rushing touchdowns plus 13 passing touchdowns plus 24 field goals equals 51 scores in those 160 possessions. 51 divided by 160 is 0.31875.  Multiply that by the 36 combinations you get from rolling a pair of 6-sided dice and you get 11.475, so you might guess that their range for Score is from 11 to 25. And, in fact, that’s what the official season book reads. Eureka!

Just guessing a little more, I’m looking at 14 rushing touchdowns divided by the 51 total scores for a total of (roughly) 0.2745, multiplying that again by 36 to get to 9.88 and guessing that the “TD Run” listing within score will list 11-24. What do you know? It does! And, similarly, 13 passing touchdowns divided by 51 total scores, multiplying by 36 to get to 9.18 and I’m guessing there will be 9 total “TD Pass” listings on their card. Again, there was.

I repeated this process with 3 other teams just to take a guess at how they were doing things and every time came up correct. So I think we’ve got that.

So why are game scores running high?  That seems correct.

Here’s the problem.  It’s something I haven’t pointed out about the rules yet.

If a team recovers a fumble or intercepts the opponent, they get a +6 bonus towards their Score range for the ensuing roll.  In other words, instead of Atlanta needing a roll of 11-25 to score, they instead need a roll of 11-35.

Atlanta’s defense had 34 turnovers in 1985 – more than 2 per game.

So, in an average game of GWD, Atlanta will have 8 possessions where they score on an 11-25 and 2 where they score on an 11-35.  Instead of averaging 11/36 on their chance to Score per possession (as they should), they instead average 12.2/36, an increase of 11%.

(Not coincidentally, I’m also running about 12% over right now…)

So while the game engine itself is pretty solid for what it’s trying to accomplish, there is a flaw in the way the charts are put together.  They don’t factor in the “+6” bonus when coming off of a turnover.

If, in Atlanta’s example, we change their Score range from 11-25 to 11-24, they now have 8 possessions per game with 10/36 chance of scoring and 2 with a 16/36 chance of scoring, that comes out to an average of 11.2/36, which is more what we want.

I went ahead and plugged everything into a spreadsheet and verified that my guess at the Score reading was correct in 100% of the cases.

For most teams, it turned out where you’d have to adjust their Score range down just 1 chance.  For example, instead of 11-25 they should be 11-24. Instead of 11-31 they should be 11-26.

Some teams that had an extraordinary number of turnovers, however, like that vaunted Bears’ defense, should be adjusted from an 11-35 to an 11-33.  They’re going to get over 3 scoring chances off of turnovers per game.

All told from the 1985 season, 20 teams were adjusted down 1 chance and 8 were adjusted down 2 chances.

If folks are interested in this kind of work, I’m more than happy to post the spreadsheet so you can do the same with re-calculating other seasons.

It’s a neat game engine and I rather like the game itself for what it is.

It just has a few things that it didn’t consider.

Time to zero out my scoreboard and standings and start all over again.


Play Testing: Payoff Pitch Baseball

Last week I wrote up my purchase of Payoff Pitch Baseball as well as made some comments on how everything looked.

This week I cover an actual game play.

I have to say… it’s hard to feel that you’ll ever replace your old stand-bys, but in this case I would have to say that Payoff Pitch is definitely worth consideration. At the very least I think you may find it a nice addition to your collection of baseball games.

The Contestants

For starters, I am just all about randomizing things. So I used dice rolls to decide which league I would play from and which teams.

The contest from my 1994 set of cards ended up being the Toronto Blue Jays visiting the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.

I was a bit of a Jays fan in the late 80s and early (pre-strike) 90s, and just based on nostalgia I wanted to go with Dave Stewart as their starting pitcher, but he was so awful that year that I just couldn’t justify it. I ended up going with head-case Todd Stottlemyre, figuring that having him up against Roger Clemens would make for an interesting match between two extremely aggressive personality types.

The Jays lineup went White-cf, Alomar-2b, Olerud-dh, Molitor-1b, Carter-rf, Delgado-lf, Schofield-ss, Borders-c, Sprague-3b.

For the BoSox I went Nixon-cf, Greenwell-lf, Valentin-ss, Vaughn-1b, Brunansky-rf, Cooper-3b, Naehring-2b, Dawson-dh, Berryhill-c.

The game ended up an easy 5-0 win for Clemens and the Red Sox.

The Rocket tossed a 4-hit shutout, striking out 8 and walking 2 as I rolled up that TOUGH reading on Clemens’ card pretty frequently.

In fact, it wasn’t until the game was all tidied up that I actually took the time to count the chances on his card. 1 WHEELHOUSE, 2 DEFENSE, 3 BALLPARK, 9 PATIENT and 21 TOUGH. That’s a lot of potential strikeouts, and indeed Clemens struck out nearly 9 men per 9 innings in 1994, so that should come as no surprise.

The flow of the game was solid. I started a stopwatch right before the game’s first roll and paused it only when my younger daughter interrupted me in the bottom of the 3rd inning to ask me to put her to bed.

I had to do a few chart look-ups, but they amounted to things that appeared on just 3 pages. The range of things that could result from some of those charts are so finite that they could be easily memorized – in particular I’m speaking of the charts that govern base runner advancement.

Speaking of, that was one thing in the rules that I wasn’t completely clear on. I think, but am not certain, that base runners automatically take an extra base if the hit comes from the WHEELHOUSE section, only the minimum number of bases on the TOUGH and IN-PLAY sections, and have the possibility of taking an extra base if it comes from the PATIENT section. That’s how I played anyhow.

I also had to do a look-up in the rules to make sure I was doing things right when checking whether or not a double play occurred. Only after the 3rd time I checked to make sure I was doing it right did I realize it was spelled out in the charts, so there was no need to open up my rule book. I could’ve stuck with just my chart print-outs. But now that’s something I’ll know for next time.

All told, things went very smoothly. I could get a good feel for the game fairly quickly. In fact, a 4th inning that had 3 up, 3 down for both sides probably played out in less than a minute as I really got into the swing of things.

The final playing time for my first game ever? 25 minutes and 14 seconds. That included one pitcher change and also me taking about a minute to go through the BoSox roster and see if there was cause for any defensive substitutes.

By comparison, that same night I had a 10-7 slugfest in Strat-O-Matic which took 14 minutes and 52 seconds. That game included 4 pitching changes and 3 pinch hitters. The problem, I suppose, is the number of places your eyes need to look while playing. In Strat-O-Matic, a good 80% of the time you roll the dice, look in one location on a card and instantly know the play result. But in Payoff Pitch, even the simplest play requires a minimum of looking in two locations. (And it’s usually 3 or more.)

An APBA game the next morning that was a 6-1 final score took 16 minutes and 41 seconds. It included no pitching changes but did have 3 injuries. This may be an unfair comparison as I have most of the readings memorized with APBA – particular with the bases empty. I’m sure a first-time player of APBA would take much longer as they get used to what each Play Result Number stands for.

Still, there is some promise that I could eventually learn to play a game in about 20 minutes. Maybe that’s unrealistic. I don’t know… After all, I used only one reliever in the game, there were no injuries to handle, the game wasn’t particularly close so I wasn’t dealing with trying to get pinch-hitters and dealing with lefty/right match-ups, etc.

So that’s hard to know for sure. I will say with some confidence that I will revisit this game. The scope of the project I take on is sort of “to be determined”, but I want to play with this a bit more and see where it takes me once I get more familiar with the rules.

Game Summary

Top of the 1st – John Olerud walks and Paul Molitor singles with two out, but Roger Clemens strikes out Joe Carter to end the inning and pick up his first punch out.

Bottom of the 1st – Otis Nixon leads with a single, steals (of course!) and gets to third when Pat Borders’ throw sails into center field for an error. John Valentin’s ground out to second with one out brings Nixon home. Red Sox lead, 1-0.

Bottom of the 3rd – Andre Dawson walks, Damon Berryhill reaches on an error at third by Ed Sprague. With one out, Mike Greenwell doubles in a run. Valentin walks to load the bases and Mo Vaughn doubles in a pair. Todd Stottlemyre retires the next two on fly outs. Red Sox lead, 4-0.

Bottom of the 5th – Greenwell rolls a BALLPARK reading off of Stottlemyre’s card, gets the WHEELHOUSE and takes it deep into right field at Fenway Park for a solo homer. Red Sox lead, 5-0.

Top of the 7th – Clemens strikes out two men and has not allowed a hit since the 3rd. He has whiffed 5 men in the last 3 innings.

Bottom of the 7th – Dawson leads off with a WHEELHOUSE reading off of Stottlemyre’s card and crushes it. Not bad for a 40-year old. Red Sox lead, 6-0. (Technically I see in the rules I should have probably pulled Stott after that leadoff homer as it forced him into “Fatigued” territory, but I mistakenly thought the score was 5-0 at this point, not 6-0.)

Bottom of the 8th – Woody Williams relieves Stottlemyre and throws a 1-2-3 inning, striking out a pair.

Top of the 9th – Clemens goes for the shutout. Carter flies out to left. A young Carlos Delgado whiffs. Mike Huff pinch hits for Schofield and grounds out to Scott Cooper at third. Game over.


Toronto Blue Jays

Stottlemyre (L): 7 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO
Olerud: 1-for-3, BB

Boston Red Sox

Clemens (W): 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO
Greenwell: 2-for-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI
Vaughn: 1-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI
Dawson: 1-for-2, HR, BB

Review: Payoff Pitch Baseball

I’m not sure if it’s a problem yet, but I am starting to really enjoy collecting different games.

The problem, of course, is that the more you collect, the less likely you are to actually get any real gaming in.

In fact, as much as I’m starting to really enjoy collecting different games, I’m also assessing my current collection and wondering if it isn’t time to sell some seasons off.

For example, I probably have over 20 different sets of Strat-O-Matic Football now.

I’m developing more and more of a total distaste for the NFL (another story for another day) and have been wondering if it wouldn’t be better off for me to sell, say, all but 2 or 3 of those seasons and just focus on replays of those with whatever time I have left on Earth.

This is a preamble, of course. What I really want to do is review a new game I just picked up: Payoff Pitch Baseball.

I had seen some reviews of the game online and thought it looked interesting. So I went ahead and picked up a copy this past week. Let’s dive into it.


I got onto the Payoff Pitch website and placed an order for the game rules as well as the 1994 set of cards.

There were about a dozen seasons to pick from, all but two of which I already owned for other game companies and I wanted to grab something I didn’t own yet.

If you just want a feel for the game, there’s no need to feel pressured to buy a season yet. The order of the game includes a sample of 8 teams that you can play around with:

  • 2013 Boston Red Sox
  • 2013 Detroit Tigers
  • 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers
  • 2013 St. Louis Cardinals
  • 1991 Atlanta Braves
  • 1991 Minnesota Twins
  • 1954 New York Giants
  • 1954 Cleveland Indians

Within a minute, the PDF containing the rules and sample teams had arrived in my Inbox and I was able to peruse things.


Maybe 3 days later, a box arrived on my doorstep from USPS.

Inside were these two boxes, with cards from the 1994 season divided between them.

This part was a little confusing, as first I wasn’t sure why some cards were in the smaller box. Were they special cards, like “fringe” players or something?

They weren’t.

It just appeared that the cards were spread out a little funny and they didn’t all fit in the long box. In fact, you’ll get a lot more than the standard 27 men you get per team with Strat-O-Matic or 25 with APBA.

Instead, you’ll get about 35 cards per team, which means you’re even getting guys who may have only made two appearances, which is great if you’re the kind of person who’s into “as-played” replays.

The cards are on nice stock – not quite as stiff as an APBA card but more so than a Strat-O card. (Forgive me for the comparisons to those two games, but I think they’re probably the two most popular still, so I figure they are a good reference point.)

wpid-20150830_224203.jpgOne odd thing was the way the cards were distributed. It’s not like APBA, where you get the box and all the cards are arranged alphabetically by league, then alphabetically by team and then alphabetically by player. (This makes it pretty easy to pick up the cards and immediately put them into the Baltimore-A folder, then the Boston-A folder, etc.) And it’s not like Strat where you get three sheets (9 players per sheet) for each team so you can quickly tell “Yes, I got the Baltimore cards. Yes, I got the Boston cards.”

Instead, these are totally scattered and pretty randomly distributed.

So I spent a good 90 minutes arranging piles on a dining room table to make sure I could rubber-band together Baltimore, Boston, and so forth.

The Cards

Looking over the cards I found three basic types of cards – pitcher, batter and stadium cards.

Stadiums are essentially rated for how frequently they allow home runs against lefty and righty batters as well as variances among fielders in terms of getting to balls (range) and committing errors. In other words, a rangy fielder may be more likely to get to a ball in one stadium than another.

wpid-20150830_224214.jpgPitcher cards include basic stats along the bottom, as well as their “Per 9 IP” rates. They receive ratings to denote which Pitcher Batting Cards they use (Strat players will be used to this), how far they can get into a game before being susceptible to fatigue, how well they hold base runners, how good they are at inducing double plays, and their propensity for serving up wild pitches. Pitchers who strike out an absurd number of batters (think Aroldis Chapman, I imagine…) also have a special modifier to accommodate that.

Batter cards include basic stats as well, divided up into separate lines for numbers versus lefties and righties. This may annoy some gamers who want to see what a player’s overall batting average was, for example, instead of knowing what it was versus just a LHP or RHP. The game mechanics are pretty lefty/righty driven, but it still would be nice to see a “total” line in there. With so much data crammed onto the card, however, the game designer would have been forced to build a taller card. Cards are rated for how often they ground into double plays, how frequently (and how well) they steal bases, and base running.

wpid-20150830_224242.jpgIn addition, all cards are rated for fielding ability at whatever positions they played that year. Players receive a letter grade to denote their range (A is best, F is worst) and a number to denote how well they avoid errors (5 is best, 1 is worst). Outfielders and catchers also have special Arm ratings that can come into play.

Both player types are also have Injury ratings, with all players divided into one of three different buckets. I will say this bothered me a bit, as I looked at the Injury Charts and saw that there was basically no way to account for players who should never get injured. I was thinking, of course, of Cal Ripken, who played in all 112 games of the strike-shortened season for the Baltimore Orioles that year. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw his card had an Injury rating of “Normal”. Not even the best-possible “Durable” rating? I have a bad feeling that the game designer based things on a 162-game season, not pro-rating for the strike-shortened season. Maybe that “Normal” rating was appropriate if somebody played 112 games in a full 162-game season, but 112 out of 112 should sure warrant the best rating possible, right?

I digress.

wpid-20150830_224316.jpgAs you can see in this comparison shot, Payoff Pitch cards run a bit shorter than a Strat-O-Matic card. (I didn’t contain an APBA card here, but they are also shorter than those.) Cards are basic black on white and font size is plenty large and extremely readable. Using a white background with black font also really helps out with contrast. In short, you will have no trouble reading the results on these cards. (Ahem.) In addition, the PDF version has different colors on the pitcher cards to distinguish the various readings.

The Game Mechanics

If you’re into this hobby, you are probably familiar with two basic difference in how baseball games tend to be put together.

One, exemplified in games like Strat-O-Matic, is commonly referred to as a 50/50 system. You roll dice and based on that roll you either read a result off of the pitcher’s card or off of the batter’s card. It’s simple and it works fine. The drawback is that you feel no “interaction” between the cards. For example, if I bring in a relief pitcher to face a batter in a key situation and my roll comes up to be read off of the batter’s card, then I’m left feeling like “Well, what was the point of bringing that pitcher in? The play result would have been the same no matter who was pitching!” The obvious rebuttal is that the opposite is also true; had I rolled off the pitcher card, it would have been 100% dependent on who was throwing.

The other design approach is sometimes called a matrix system. In APBA, for example, you roll off of the batter’s card. After cross-referencing the result from the card in a rule book, you are occasionally instructed that a play result, for example, could be a ground out unless the pitcher has a particular code on his card, in which case it’s a strikeout.

This is just one example, but Replay Sports works similarly. Dice are tossed and, based on the roll, you check a number on both the pitcher and batter cards. Add them together, reference the sum total on a chart, and you get your result there. It takes a bit longer to play this way, but the advantage is that you really feel a true level of constant interaction between the pitcher and batter cards.

And you get the same feel from Payoff Pitch, though perhaps it plays a bit quicker than Replay.

The gamer tosses four dice – a pair of 6-sided dice and a pair of percentile (i.e. 10-sided) dice.

The 6-sided dice are added together, yielding a result between 2 and 12. This result is checked against the pitcher card, where you will see codes such as “WHEELHOUSE”, “PATIENT”, “TOUGH”, “IN-PLAY”, “BALLPARK” or “DEFENSE”.

This should give you a fairly intuitive feel for what is happening next. “Wheelhouse” means the ball was left in the batter’s wheel-house and he has a decent chance of picking up a hit, and possibly a homer. “Patient” means there’s a good chance the batter draws a walk. “Tough” means there’s a strong chance of a strikeout. “In-Play” means the ball is definitely put into play. It seems the game designed may have had some sense of “Three True Outcomes” here and is building the game engine around just that – homers, strikeouts and walks; if none of the above, the ball is in-play and pretty much anything can happen. “Ballpark” means it’s either going to be a “Wheelhouse” or “In-Play” result, based on the park you’re in. “Defense” means a fielder’s range or ability to avoid errors is going to be tested.

For some examples, out of the 36 combinations possible on the pitcher card, here were some totals for sample pitchers.

  • Andy Benes (SDP) – led NL in SO/9 – had 22 TOUGH chances
  • Zane Smith (PIT) – bottom of NL in SO/9 – had 8 TOUGH chances
  • Bret Saberhagen (NYM) – led NL in BB/9 – had 2 PATIENT chances
  • Darryl Kile (HOU) – bottom of NL in BB/9 – had 12 PATIENT chances
  • Greg Maddux (ATL) – led NL in HR/9 – had 1 WHEELHOUSE chances
  • Pete Smith (NYM) – bottom of NL in HR/9 – had 3 WHEELHOUSE chances

(Please don’t correct me on using “Per 9” stats here. They’re just quick to look up on and I realize the more appropriate method is to use “Per Batter Faced” rates. This is just the quick and dirty method.)

The percentile dice are used when checking the batter or stadium card. For example, if you get a WHEELHOUSE reading on the pitcher card, you check the batter card’s “WHEEL” section. Find the column appropriate for which hand the pitcher is throwing from, and see which range your percentile dice fall into. A roll of 00 means a Rare Play occurs. Anything else will yield a hit or out of some sort. Note that a batter can also hit a homer from the “WHEEL” section, can only walk from the “PATIENT” section, and can only whiff from the “TOUGH” section.

It is a bit peculiar to me that the game design only has it mattering whether the pitcher is LHP or RHP when reading from the batter card, but not the other way around. Seems that maybe the pitcher card should have also had separate columns for LHB and RHB – some pitchers, for example, are more likely to strike out batters from the same side as them or serve up more homers to opposite-handed batters. But they didn’t go that way here.

The Rule Book

The rule book reads very straight-forward. I didn’t find any typos or questionable grammar. The game flow is explained very neatly and also contains examples of how to read rolls and which charts should be consulted when appropriate.

The charts themselves were also simple to follow and made sense.

The only thing left to do was to dive into this thing and play test it. It looked simple enough, but what I am looking for in a baseball sim is something that plays in roughly 30 minutes. Accuracy of a game is something I almost blindly trust in; it’s not hard to build an accurate game. But what I really want is something where I can easily memorize things and get through a game fairly quickly. In my experience, I can get an APBA or Strat-O game down in well under 30 minutes, sometimes as few as 15-20 depending on how the rolls are going.

I wasn’t expecting 30 minutes my first time with the game. I knew there would be plenty of “Now, wait, where was that chart again?” moments while I learned the system. But I was hoping to come out of it with some hope.

Up Next: Play Testing

Review: Platinum Series Baseball

If you can you read this, you’ll probably enjoy Platinum Series Baseball!

wpid-20150803_193007.jpgThis past Monday I came home and was greeted by this box in front of the door, which was a sight for sore eyes.

I had first kicked in some dollars via Indiegogo for a new game start-up, Platinum Series Baseball, to meet some fundraising goals and get out the door.

I’m a sport simulation enthusiast, particularly for games that use cards & dice, and especially baseball.

I’m trying to think of which game companies I have baseball games from, and this is the quick list that comes to mind.

  • APBA
  • Strat-O-Matic
  • Dynasty League
  • Replay
  • KSP
  • Pennant Chase
  • Ethan Allen

I’m willing to bet there are a few others. But I’m always interested in trying something new out, and I follow various blogs and vlogs so I am being presented with new ideas for games on a fairly regular basis.

This year alone I’ve seen probably 10 new baseball games using cards & dice. Most, I’ve thought, I could do without. But a few others made me think “Hey, I’d like to check that out.”

Platinum Series Baseball (PSB) was one of them.

I had received notice from Indiegogo stating that shipping was starting on July 27th and I would receive a tracking number for my shipment.

Three days passed and I received no shipment so I posted a notice on PSB’s Facebook page.

That post was deleted.

I messaged them instead and, to their credit, they responded in about 30 seconds letting me know that there were some “first week hiccups” that prevented tracking numbers from going out as promised.

wpid-20150803_195230.jpgI popped open the box and was created by your usual packing peanuts, and then underneath – ta-da!

As part of my fundraising pledge, I received a game box as well as one supplemental pack of cards.

The game comes with 30 cards – enough to get going with a game.

In addition, you can buy a “full” set of cards, although that includes 600 players, so we’re looking at 20 cards per team.

That should tell you right away that PSB is not intended for the typical replayer.  Only having access to 20 cards per team hearkens back to APBA’s earlier days.  At least, when I was playing that game in the early-to-mid 80s, that was how many cards were provided per team, although you had the option to buy 5 extra cards per team.

At $125, the price point for the set of 600 cards seems a little steep, although the card stock is very sturdy. I can only imagine that this is part of the elevated price.

wpid-20150803_195310.jpgThe individual packs, I thought, were a nice idea. For $3 you receive a pack of 12 cards. PSB says that each pack will contain enough cards to field a team – one player at each position plus four pitchers. This does limit things a bit, of course, as it pretty much forces you to field a certain player at each position, and also means you can’t play games with a designated hitter. So if you want to go with this route, you may want to actually plan on buying two packs for each team.

In fact, I had planned to invite a few other gamers to get together for a blind test-play of the game, where each person who attends would get two unopened packs of cards and those 24 cards would represent their team.

Anyhow, let’s dive into the box.

wpid-20150803_222249.jpgThe first thing you’ll be greeted with when opening the box is this instruction booklet.

It’s small and easily digested in just a couple of minutes. It provides you with the quick version of the game with very limited rules and a brief explanation of how the game works.

You might look at this booklet, in fact, and think “Wait. I see all these other symbols and numbers on my game cards, but they’re not explained anywhere in the instructions.”

Well, if you look hard enough, you’ll find text that refers you to their web site for downloading the advanced version of their instructions. Although, to be honest, I had to look pretty hard in this booklet to find that information.

What bothered me about this was that the advanced version of play takes you to 93 pages of rules. I can see how maybe they didn’t want to include that in the package, as it would weigh things down and also require a larger box. But at the same time, asking somebody to print out 93 pages is pretty drastic. Sure, you could leave the PDF on your computer and just open it up whenever you need to reference something, but this is supposed to be a card and dice game. If you need to open up your computer, you may as well play a PC-based game.

Also, it made me wonder if the advanced instructions just weren’t ready for shipment yet and, in a hurry to get the product out the door, they just decided to ask people to go download it themselves.

After reading over the advanced instructions and seeing numerous errors and typos, I was even more convinced that this was the case.

The positive thing, of course, is that an online version of the rules can be quickly modified if there are any issues.

wpid-20150803_222313.jpgUnderneath the instructions was a pad of paper for keeping score.

My initial thought was that I didn’t think the people who printed this out had ever kept score before. These boxes are way too small to write anything down on, unless they expect you to only write things like a check mark if the batter reached base and an O if they were out.

They’re certainly not big enough for more than one character, so don’t expect to be writing “643” or draw lines to track base runner movement. Not going to happen.

Also, why do we have 12 columns of boxes (one for each inning) for pitchers? That doesn’t really serve any purpose, does it? It’s not like any scorecard I’ve seen before and I’ve seen thousands of them.

When I read over the Advanced instruction booklet, however, I saw some recommended ways of keeping score. They were not anything I was used to seeing, but at least they helped explain how the game designed envisioned the scorepad being used.

wpid-20150803_222339.jpgUnderneath the score pad is this baseball diamond. The diamond unfolds and you can use it to place tokens that represent your base runners.

This might just be me, but I’ve always found playing surfaces in card & dice games to be a waste of table space. Strat includes it in their box, as does APBA. At least when I bought Dynasty in the late 90s, they did not. I bought Replay about two years ago and, again, I’m pretty sure they don’t include a playing field.

PSB recommends placing your cards inside of card-holders and then moving those cards around the field to show where they are on the diamond.

I’d prefer to just use my scoresheet to indicate where the base runners are or, for that matter, just laying the cards down flat on the playing surface and moving them around that way rather than standing them upright.

Also, putting cards in and out of the card-holders is going to fray the ends of those cards. I like to keep my cards in tip-top shape.

The diamond also includes some quick descriptions of various play results that come off the cards, so you can use that for reference, although I would think once you get one game under your belt, you no longer need that reference. You’ll just know.

wpid-20150803_222403.jpgUnderneath the playing field is a shrink-wrapped set of 30 starter cards.

Sweet! This is what I came here for!

I unwrapped the deck and found cards that can be used when a pitcher is at bat, numbered Pitcher Batting Card #1 through 11. 11 seems strange. Why not 10? Or 12? The odd number bothers me, but maybe that’s my own hang-up.

There is also a card that can be used if you need a position player to pitch. It’s labeled the “Emergency Pitcher Card”.

Finally, you get to your 30 cards. I’m not sure if everybody gets the same set of 30 starter cards, but I hope not. Because I had some issues with mine.

I got 3 first basemen, 3 catchers, 3 right fielders, 3 left fielders, 2 third basemen, 2 shortstops, 2 second basemen, 2 center fielders. That’s fine. 20 position players in total with 2 or 3 players from each position.

I had the following in my deck:

  • C – Conger (HOU), Jaso (OAK), Chirinos (TEX)
  • 1B – Butler (OAK), Martinez (DET), Morneau (COL)
  • 2B – Weeks (SEA), Murphy (NYM)
  • 3B – Sandoval (BOS), Seager (SEA)
  • SS – Flores (NYM), Lowrie (HOU)
  • LF – Choo (TEX), Shuck (CWS), Gordon (KC)
  • CF – Alcantara (CHC), Jones (BAL)
  • RF – Blackmon (COL), Stanton (MIA), Kemp (SD)

Then I looked into the pitchers.

Quintana (CWS). Bailey (CIN). Chapman (CIN). Cueto(CIN). Latos (MIA). Parra (CIN). Allen (CLE). Latos (MIA). Cueto (CIN). Chapman (CIN).

That’s right. Of my 10 pitchers, I had 3 duplicates. Chapman, Cueto and Latos were each doubled up.

So instead of a starter set of 30 players, I really had a starter set of 27.

wpid-20150803_224249.jpgThe cards themselves are attractive, with an action shot of the player on the front of their card, along with some ratings and data.

One thing you’ll notice is the lack of any identification of which team the player appeared on. Sure, you have the word “Miami” here for Giancarlo Stanton. But you’ll also see “Baseball Club” listed for the team name on each card rather than “Marlins”, for example.

Also, you’ll see each player card image has had all team logos airbrushed out of them. No rainbow “M” on Stanton’s helmet or “Marlins” across his chest.

Let’s take a look at the back of the card.

wpid-20150803_224239.jpgHere’s where things get a little crazy for me.

For those who are Strat-O-Matic players, you’ll be used to the idea of the 50/50 game system – half the rolls come from the pitcher card and half from the batter card. And if you play Dynasty League (or played Pursue the Pennant) then you’ll really be used to this, as those are also 50/50 game engines but ones that use 10-sided dice instead of 6-sided.

Red, white and blue 10-sided dice are rolled and read in that order, yielding a number between 000 and 999. Rolls from 000 to 499 come off of the batter card and 500 to 999 from the pitcher card.

Looking at Stanton’s card, for example, if he was at bat and you rolled a 204 while he is facing a left-handed pitcher, he would hit a home run. The same roll while facing a right-handed pitcher is a strikeout.

I’ve played quite a few games of Dynasty in my day and I’m fine with all this. The problem is…

Well here, let’s do some quick comparisons.

wpid-20150804_061820.jpgI’ve been playing some 1901 APBA lately, so here’s a card from that set.

This is Christy Mathewson’s card from 1901. Instead of the four colors (red, blue, grey, black) present on the PSB card, it uses just three (red, green, black).

But what should really stand out to you is the font size.

For every 2 rows of readings on the APBA card, you have 3 rows of readings on the PSB card. The PSB card uses a font size that is 67% that of the APBA card.

This might be fine if you have the eyes of an eagle, but most folks who are into the card & dice sims are older. I attend quite a few events with other gamers and, at age 41, I tend to be one of the younger guys there. Most are in their 50s and 60s.

Furthermore, read forums at some of the other game companies and you’ll see fairly regular requests for them to print cards with larger fonts.

PSB goes the other way and actually prints them even smaller.

wpid-20150804_062140.jpgHere’s a comparison to a Strat-O-Matic card, as well. This being the 1984 Mike Schmidt card.

I’ve even put my finger on the card so you get a little bit of a reference point there on font size.

Again, for every 6 rows on the Strat-O-Matic card, you have 8 rows on the PSB card. So the PSB card uses a font size that is 75% that of the Strat-O-Matic card.

Reading these play results with any regularity is going to give a player like me a massive headache.

Also note some other weird thing on the card. For example, Stanton’s batting average is expressed as “0.288”. Zero point two eight eight? Why not just “.288”, like you’d see anywhere else on the planet? I later found a card for a player who had batted .270 and his card read “0.27”, which leads me to believe that a .300 hitter is going to appear as “0.3” – awful.

That came across as very amateurish. I’m not sure if the fault is on the game company or the printers, but it’s something that needs to be corrected in a future edition.

Furthermore, as microscopic as the play result readings are, check out the font on those stats. It’s even more minuscule. There’s really no point to those stats appearing anywhere on the card, they’re so impossible to read.

Perhaps in a 2nd edition PSB could shuffle things around. For example, take the area above the fielding ratings and lay them out with rows labeled “vs LH” and “vs RH” and columns labeled “H”, “OB” and “TB”.

That would open up two extra rows, so your stats could have more room so you could use a larger font? Also, stats could be divided up into two columns (AVG, G, AB, R and H in one column and 2B, 3B, HR, RBI and SB in the other), so the overall font could be roughly twice as large.

Another nit-picky thing, team abbreviations appear on the cards, but there is no distinction between franchises from cities who have multiple teams. So you’ll see “CH” whether the player appeared for the Cubs or White Sox; and with team logos scrubbed off of player images, there’s really no way to tell unless you happen to know which team they appeared on. Ditto for “NY” being used for the Yankees and Mets. They used traditional team codes elsewhere (MIA, COL, HOU, etc.) so why not CHN, CHA, NYN and NYA? Or CHC, CWS, NYM and NYY?

It’s a little thing, but it all adds up to a product that doesn’t quite live up to my expectations.

I opened up my individual pack and there were no duplicates in there. (Hooray!) My card set went:

  • C – Molina (STL)
  • 1B – Teixeira (NYY)
  • 2B – Tolleson (TOR)
  • 3B – Harrison (PIT)
  • SS – Ramirez (CWS)
  • LF – Cespedes (DET)
  • CF – Lagares (NYM)
  • RF – Kiermaier (TB)
  • SP – Lynn (STL)
  • RP/SP – Martinez (STL)
  • RP – Ziegler (ARI), Carpenter (NYY)

Of course, game play is important, so I want to dive into a review of that as well.

But first I have to send my PDFs off to a FedEx for printing.

UPDATE: I was unable to play a game. I tried to start a game and got one batter in before deciding it was going to be impossible to play. I used my wife as a test subject, by the way, bringing her a card of Yadier Molina, one of her favorite Cardinals. I held up the card for her and asked “Can you do me a favor?” “Sure.” “Read this,” I said, holding up a card for her. She looked at it for about 2 seconds and then grabbed the sides of her head and looked away, yelling “OH MY GOD. How can you look at that? That’s horrible!” “What do you mean?” “The print. I can’t read anything and… white on red? Are you kidding me?” In short, look for my copy on eBay soon. If somebody tells me this is being addressed in the 2nd edition, I’ll give it a shot then.

Very disappointing.