The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Strat-o-matic

Now that the second season of the San Antonio Board Gamers Strat-o-matic league is underway, I figured I’d explain the game a bit.

Strat-o-matic tries to simulate the prior season. So the ‘2007’ regular season players and teams were just released about six weeks ago.

The core mechanism of Strat-o-matic is a simple 3d6. You have two colored dice, which are read as a pair. The single die determines the column. Three columns on the batter’s card, three on the pitcher’s. You roll the dice and look up the result.

Some results will direct you to make further rolls. Partially that’s just to fine tune the cards, but some results send the ball towards a position player. For example, on each pitcher’s card there are a two chances (out of 108 possible outcomes) for rolling a “Left Fielder” defensive check (an “X” chance). There are also 7 short stop checks. All told, about a quarter of the results on the pitchers card lead to defensive checks.

The players are mainly differentiated by how many good (and bad) results they have on their cards, and where they are located. A Homerun on a ‘7’ is better than on a ‘2’ or ’12’ obviously. But players also have ratings for bunting, hit and run, stealing, speed. Defensively, players have a range and an error rating (how many errors they would on pace to commit if they played a full season). Outfielders (and catchers) also have an arm rating for how hard they throw.

The offensive manager gets to decide when to bunt, steal, hit & run, stretch for an extra base (sometimes) or sub a player (pinch hit or pinch run). The defensive manager can hold a player on base (to decrease the chances of a steal), play the infield in (to stop the bunt) and sub pitchers. Really, that’s it.

Strat comes has several levels of rules complexity. The basic game handles basic situations and teaches the rules. The advanced game adds more. The most important addition is that pitchers and batters have different charts depending on the handiness of the other side. These charts are usually identical, but one side is usually slightly better than another. The charts to handle defensive plays have a bit more variety. Pitcher fatigue is formalized a bit more,
batters are given power ratings (weak batters some homeruns converted into deep singles).

The ‘super-advanced’ rules toss even more into the game. Park effects, wild pitches, playing just the corners in, bringing in the outfield to prevent a shallow sac fly, plays at the plate, robbing home runs (think ESPN highlight reels), ‘clutch’ hitting, good vs. bad leadoffs (for steals). But the biggest real change is that the defensive charts (The “X” chances mentioned above) have many more potential results, including rare plays.

In the opening series of the season, with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out, the home team sent a near-home run into left field. The runner on third tagged up and scored easily … but the manager comes out on the field and argues, and the 3rd base umpire agrees that the runner left early! He’s out!

Despite all of this, the rules aren’t terribly complicated (although it helps to play some games before adding all the bells and whistles).

There are two downsides to strat. It is, as my wife calls it, Bunco for Boys. At the start of an inning there really isn’t anything to do except roll the dice. Maybe someone will get on base, maybe not. The decisions start to come once there are baserunners (apart from pulling people). This leads to the second problem (for some people). Much like in real baseball, you’ll likely lose 1/3rd of the games without ever really having a chance. You’ll roll poorly, or your opponent will roll well, and that’s that. On the other hand, you’ll probably win a 1/3rd of your games too. Still, even if you play a game in 30 minutes (easily achievable, especially if you don’t keep detailed statistics), that can be frustrating. After watching (Cy Young winning) C.C. Sabithia get chased before making his 10th out (after the exact same thing happened in the prior game), my opponent watched his potential comeback get smothered by the rare play described above.

The other frustration is that baseball is a game of percentages, and Strat-o-matic reflects that. If you are in a “hit and win, get an out and lose” situation and you have Nick Green (Batting .184 in 2006) at the plate and pull him for Barry Bonds (etc), that gives you a much better chance of getting a hit … but sometimes Green would have hit and Bonds will miss. Such is baseball. A better manager will improve their odds, but these improvements aren’t huge.

But, as an experience I find this amusing, and I’ve had good fun over the last two weeks preparing for the draft, drafting, hashing out potential trades (none of which have materialized) and playing the opening series. As I’ve said before, leagues can turn OK games into great fun. Now to take the Rock ‘Orioles to the world series…

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Written by taogaming

March 15, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Reviews

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