Gaming and Computing Since 1985

Why Strat-O-Matic?

Growing up I loved watching baseball. I have played many, many baseball games for the NES and Super NES. However, I have never played through a 100+ game season. I have always been fine with playing single games or a tournament/eliminator style season such as Tecmo's Bad News Baseball for the NES. My biggest gripes with baseball video games were:
a) I never had the patience to pitch the ball well. I usually threw fastballs all the way and let the batters hit them.
b) The AI for many of those games left a bit to be desired. So as long as I don't give up home runs, I usually won my games.

I had been hearing good things about Strat-O-Matic Baseball and I liked that the company was based in Long Island, where I grew up. Having purchased and played it for several years now, what I like best about SOM is that the game takes care of batter-pitcher matchups with one dice roll. That way I don't have to worry about locating pitches, what kind to use, and so on. I can just roll the dices and hope it lands on a K in my pitcher's card, or at least one of the "out" results. I also enjoy games where I manage rather than actually control the athletes on the field, and do not need to worry about outplaying the AI or the AI doing dumb things while I manage. So, SOM addresses my concerns in (a) and (b).

Of course, a big plus is that SOM has updated rosters every year and they have rosters from most of the years in American baseball history. So that way I can purchase one of the seasons my Yankees had a championship near-miss and try to do one better than the real life managers did.

A computer game that SOM frequently gets compared with is Out of the Park Baseball. I have heard good things about it (official licenses, lots of depth) and bad things (random results, unsquashed bugs). For a computer season, SOM is still my choice because it is a card and dice based game. While I do not play it C&D, I like playing C&D games. If the opportunity ever comes up I wouldn't mind playing a few C&D games of SOM. You can't do that with OOTP.

I actually played a similar physical game to SOM. It was Cadaco's All-Star Baseball. I got the 1989 edition as a gift and have played it solitaire and with a childhood friend. However, for my game at least, we could only play as recent All-Star players and Babe Ruth, and while there were pitchers' "cards," they just had the pitchers' names and photos on them, and no results on the edges unlike the batters' cards. So pitchers' cards did not affect results in any way. They were just there for show. Even so, even now, I still applaud the idea of All-Star Baseball and I understand why people are still enthusiastic about the game even today, as seen in fan page/business.

Well, there are dozens of C&D baseball games. Why SOM? My Long Island bias aside, I narrowed my criteria to:

So there seems to be a handful of other games. Why did I pick SOM over them?

APBA Baseball

Apparently this is SOM's closest competitor. The photo directly below is from this blog post, but today's APBA cards are pretty much the same.

I don't like how the cards look so plain, how the card makers try to be cute by giving each player their full name plus their nicknames, and how the batters have only one card each (no left/right split). Even worse, at first glance, the readings on the card give no indication of how strong or weak the card is. Apparently higher dice rolls mean better results, but you need to look up charts for each result. That isn't a big deal for computer players but if I ever play a C&D game that would be too much for me compared to some obvious results that can be seen on a SOM card at first glance.

See the difference? One thing I didn't realize as a beginner, but know better now, is that the middle of the cards are the most likely result based on dice rolls (the number 7). So at first glance I can tell without looking up anything that J.P. Arencibia is a bit stronger against left handed pitchers and I can tell that Randy Choate has a tougher time getting right-handed batters out compared to left-handed batters. Even if you are an APBA player thinking of making the switch to SOM, but prefer to have only batter card for some reason, that is an option for SOM too for those who prefer ease of play over realism. See the black and white cards behind the colored cards in the photo. :-)

Replay Baseball

This one, if memory serves me correct, has been said to be a bit more accurate than SOM. They also use columns specific to pitching, defense, and so on. So their cards look less random than APBA. See the excerpt from their website directly below:

However, for C&D purposes, you need to look up different charts for every single dice roll. SOM still comes out ahead in being able to tell from a glance what the likely results for a batter-pitcher match are.

Dynasty League Baseball

This is the last of the four C&D games that I know that also have a computer version. It is also the most intriguing competitor to SOM, in my opinion. Its online game can be played on any computer web browser, making the game more universally accessible to fans compared to the Windows-only SOM game. The cards look colorful and it uses three 10-sided dices rather than SOM's three 6-sided dices.

I like how a single card is used for lefty-righty matchups. The results in the middle are the same for lefty-righty, but the numbers on the left and right have different ranges. So out of 499 possible dice results for Molitor, batting against Martinez, he is most likely to be a strikeout victim over all the other results. However, SOM cards have 7 as the most common result and if you go up to 1, or down to 12, you are less likely to get those results. That is not the case for DL as you are more likely to roll a 41-100 than you are to roll a 0-17 in the same right-handed results column for Molitor. DL did very well to make the cards visually appealing understandable, but SOM's cards require less calculating and guesswork. In addition, I like how each dice result in SOM is important because a 4-8 result will be a walk and a 4-9 result will be a strikeout for a particular card. For DL there is zero difference between rolling a 706 and a 707. Some people might like that making the game less random, but I like how SOM, especially when the computer game pauses briefly after the first dice roll, makes it more exciting. DL certainly gives a great effort to match the C&D playability of SOM.

So, keeping in mind that I have only played SOM and based my experience with it with first impressions of other games, my ranking of the C&D baseball games with computer versions are as follows:

  1. Strat-O-Matic Baseball
  2. Dynasty League Baseball
  3. Replay Baseball
  4. American Professional Baseball Association (APBA)

The above games all have their fans and upon closer examination, their own pros and cons. I did not really start researching those games until a few years after I had started playing Strat-O-Matic. In the end, I am happy that SOM has been my first and only choice all those years. If you are in the market for any of the games above, I hope you find my perspective useful.

December 9, 2018 update

I have been reading Jim Bouton books (Ball Four and currently I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally) to get myself more immersed in my ongoing 1969 Seattle Pilots replay. In the latter book Bouton had a chapter dedicated to fan mail (well, mostly from fans). I thought I would share especially since the book apparently is not published online like the first book was.

"We are two high school seniors who are avid baseball fans. . . . Both of us agree with your feelings about Fred Talbot [TextRich's note - a starter who didn't get along with Bouton in the Pilots before the former was traded to the Oakland A's.], and we feel we should inform you of a game that we invented two years ago. It was a baseball-dice game where hitters and pitchers were rated according to their talents. We designed it so that the better hitters would have a better opportunity to get a hit. (For you to get a hit, we had to throw 3 "6's" with the three dice provided.)
The pitchers were also rated acording to ability. In order to keep each game close we had a "FRED TALBOT" card. Any time one of us was leading by 10 or more runs, we were forced to bring in Talbot for 1 inning. Talbot's card had only one way to retire a batter; triple snake-eyes!"
Wes Wenk
John Marx
Highland Park, Ill.

3 dices... it sounds a lot like those two boys were simply playing SOM with modified rules and without cards, or they couldn't wait for the 1969 set to come out after Ball Four was released in 1970. :-) Bouton's second book came out in 1971 and SOM was first released in 1961.

Go back to my Strat-O-Matic Baseball page.

©opyright 2019 by Richard Knopf
Updated December 9, 2018