I played a lot of sports board games and dice games when I was a kid and teenager, but none of them felt realistic to me. That is, until the summer of '87 when my parents got me Strat-O-Matic Baseball for my 15th birthday. Strat-O-Matic has been around since 1961 and continues to thrive, even in this day and age of Sony Playstation, Nintendo Wii, XBox and computer games.
The creator of Strat-O-Matic, Hal Richman, is a sports fan himself and he and his staff spend a lot of time doing research to come up with the most realistic probabilities in their games for statistic realism. Their baseball game is the most popular, but they also have a football, basketball and hockey board game. In addition, they have computerized versions of each of their board games, but the latter continues to be more popular with customers.
My favorite Strat-O-Matic or Strat game is the baseball one. It also has some real-life Major League ballplayers as fans, too, like Doug Glanville. Glanville has said, "I learned just about every single player who touched the field from the mid ‘70s to the late ‘80s. In my travels as a professional ballplayer, I have come across many coaches who had been players during that era. I did not see many of them play, but at some point I rolled the dice with their card in my hand and the game on the line. I could tell them that they were weak against lefties, or they weren’t very good bunters. They enjoyed those stories. In a way it gave me a tremendous respect for the players that paved the way for my era to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices. I knew Mike Squires was a great first baseman without ever seeing him play, I knew Cesar Geronimo had a great throwing arm without ESPN showing it to me. Strat-O-Matic introduced me to many players who were only known in the cities where they played. It greatly improved their exposure. I also learned about critical thinking at an early age. How to make a line-up or how to decide which pitcher to bring in at a crucial moment. It didn’t stop at baseball. I played Strat-O-Matic football, basketball, and a few years of hockey too."
Former baseball player and current Mets announcer Keith Hernandez is also a Strat-O-Matic fan and says that the game is so realistic that he uses Strat cards to help him during his work as a TV analyst. "It's remarkable how it works out," he says. "I like to see the ratings defensively, arm, speed. Are they good hit-and-run guys? Stolen base guys? It's always good for me to brush up on that. I've always enjoyed it. I don't come from the generation that needs a visual."
Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to everything that Glanville and Hernandez said. And also to say that whether the game was intended to or not, it teaches anyone, especially kids, about the game of baseball. It teaches you how to keep score, basic strategy and even helps you learn some mathematics with the compilation of statistics. I have played some baseball board game simulations that were packed with realism, but often difficult and not very fun to play. The great thing about Strat-O-Matic is that it is three games in one. You get a basic version for beginners, an advanced version for more skilled players and a super advanced version for experts of the game. So if you want to play the game with your kids or grandkids, it won't be difficult for anyone and a full game can be played in about 15-20 minutes using the basic version.
I currently have the board game edition with the 2010 season player cards. For Christmas I am thinking about getting the computer game because they have both the 1981 and 1994 season available. At this time, the board game does not have either version although sometimes you can find these older card sets on eBay. I like doing replays of past seasons and conducting "What if?" scenarios. I've always wanted to replay 1981 to see what would have happened during those games that got cancelled from mid-June to early August of that year. And 1994 is a season I'd love to replay to finish the regular season and see who would have made it to the World Series. If any of you have kids or grandkids or you are interested in board games like I am, I highly recommend that you give Strat-O-Matic a try. As far as I'm concerned, it's the greatest sports board game ever made.