Growing up in the 80s, I owned two games. Statis Pro and Strat-o-matic football. I took to Statis Pro immediately for reasons you can read through the in that review, while I completely dismissed Strat-o-matic. In the years pre-internet, I couldn’t get into a two player game as a single child without a regular opponent. My memory tells me I hated the game, but I’d like to think my gaming outlook has expanded in the last 30 years. I figure it’s time to give Strat-o-matic’s football game another look. For this review, I’ll be playing with the 2004 set.
Strat-o-matic comes with sets of team cards, a board, a chart, some dice, and a couple of pages of punch out pieces that represent players on the field as well to mark field position, time, and other data on the board. The general quality of the components are fairly good for a football game. Team and player cards are printed on oversized cards that are easy to read. The board is a bit nightmarish in terms of color schemes, but it is excellent at providing all you need to keep track of the game’s time and field position. The one weakness are the game’s markers, which are very thin and care should be taken removing them. There’s only one chart, which is nice that you aren’t rummaging through multiple charts to find what you need.
Skill position players have their own cards. Cards are divided into the different plays the player may have results for. The quarterback’s card will have sections divided for the different types of passes he could throw: flat, short, and long. Receivers will have the same corresponding passes on their cards. Anyone that can run will also have linebuck, off tackle, and end run options. The results are randomized stats, which can result in some repetitious results. I do like that each skill player’s real life stats are on the card, giving you a sense of their usage that year as well as who is effective. Every other player is listed on the team offensive and defensive card. Offensive lineman are giving pass and run block ratings, and defenders have pass rush and overall defensive capability ratings. For the non-skill players, it’s easy to tell who your star players are.
Play is surprisingly straight forward. Offense and defense selects a play. The offense rolls four dice: a white, two red, and one larger black die. The white die will determine whether you check the offensive skill player’s card or the team defensive card. The black die determines if a possible penalty or pass rush has occurred. If you check the offensive player’s card, the defense’s guess determines which column to read. On Peyton Manning’s card above, the red dice roll results in a five. If the defense had guessed pass, Manning’s pass would be incomplete, but a run guess by the defense would result in a 15 yard completion.
Modifications on checks to the defensive card are based on how the defense is aligned, and this is really where the game excels. Linebackers can stack the line to blitz or stuff the run. Defensive backs can flood certain passing lanes. Defensive movement matters in this game considering half of the results are checked by defensive cards. Constantly shifting your defensive to outguess your offense is the game’s premier feature.
If there is a game play gripe, it comes down to player ratings. They come up, but they don’t seem to come up nearly often enough. Luck is always part of a die roll game, but you can get stuck into ruts where some results rarely come up or come up all the time. The four yard gain on Manning’s flat pass seem to come up several times in my play through. There was hardly any pass rush in the game. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but this game seems more susceptible to ruts than others.
Additionally, only in pass rush situations do you see players engaged in a battle with one another. Otherwise, all ratings checks are done versus the white die. Yes, this still shows you how important top players are, but you never get to see that great left tackle battling against an All-Pro defensive end.
Manning ate up the poor Green Bay passing defense as you figured he would while his counterpart, Brett Favre, had equal success against the Colts. As defenses honed in on the pass, rushing lanes opened up for Edgerrin James and Ahman Green. The stats were gaudy for the game, but they weren’t outrageous considering the offenses on display. Each team generated over 400 yards in offense. If anything, this greatly emphasizes the need for a stout defense. Strat-o-matic definitely works out with some great stats. The minor quirk are those repeating values that can’t be modified. Makes for an odd stat sheet.
Sadly, soloing this game takes away from it’s greatest strength, the chess match between an offensive play and the defensive alignments. I found some decent solo charts out there, but it does make the game a vanilla affair.
Needless to say, if you know of a football fan willing to play this with you, you’d be in for a treat. Not unlike 4th Street Football, there’s a lot of fun to be had on figuring out how to slow your opponent. This is one of the better head-to-head football games out there.
The game isn’t quick by any means, and with various cards to refer to, it can become a bit tedious. Most plays can be completed with the single die roll, but once you have the system down, everything starts flowing a little easier. That said, the solitaire limitations make this a less than desireable replay option.
There’s good and bad here. On one hand, Strat-o-matic Football is alive and strong, producing new seasons every year. There’s even a computer version to speed up replays if you wish. Yet, you’ll have to go to the secondary market if you are a fan of vintage cards, and the oldest ones can be shockingly expensive. Some six team sets can be available through reprint, which would at least give you access to some of history’s better teams.
Final Score (not an average):
8 If age has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate a system even if it may not be the game for me. For my style of solo play, Strat-o-matic leaves me wanting for more. I prefer the adjustments you can make in 4th Street, the solo ability of Second Street, or the head to head engagements of Statis Pro, but I can see why this game has a tradition behind it.