While we never played Subbuteo growing up, reading about it made us think about the tabletop games we played in the dark ages before video games took over.
First up was All-Star Baseball, where historic players were represented by circular discs. Each disc was divided into a pie chart, with each slice numbered to represent a particular outcome. If you were a homerun hitter, the slice corresponding to homeruns was large; and the rest of a player’s abilities was parceled out on the disc accordingly.
When the player batted, his disc was placed in a spinner, which the manager spun. When the spinner stopped, it pointed to a numerically coded play result. To find the result, the manager looked the number up on a chart that indicated the play (e.g. single, walk, or strikeout).
That was fun for a while, but the game was limited to the player discs that came with the game and there was no pitching option. So we eventually moved to Strat-O-Matic baseball, simply the greatest tabletop baseball game ever invented. How great was it? Pete Franklin used to advertise it on his SportsLine show, so you know it was good.
Strat-O-Matic offered all the major league teams, was much more statistically accurate than All-Star Baseball and, like the Madden video games, put out new rosters each spring for the Major League teams. We can still remember when the new cards would arrive every spring having to pull the perforated cards apart before we could start playing.
In addition to hitters, there were pitching cards as well, which could impact the outcome of a particular at bat (like J.R. Richards’ 313 strikeouts in 1979).
We played countless four-team, 50-game seasons during out childhood, with the Indians always being one of the A.L. And no, the Indians never won a World Series, no matter how hard we tried.
A side benefit was our math skills improved dramatically from calculating batting average and ERA for each player.
We also branched out into Strat-O-Matic’s football and basketball games, but they never really lent themselves to solitary play and we never really got into them as much.
Mattell’s Electronic Football caught out attention when it was released in the late ’70s and that turned into our gateway into video games. Starting with Tecmo Bowl, we ran the gamut of sports video games, from Punch Out to Blades of Steel to the various EA Sports franchises.
And while we still enjoy a good game of Madden or FIFA Soccer, we’ll always be glad we had the opportunity to experience the fun of tabletop sports games.