Sports Action Canadian Pro Football Review
As a war gamer player, I often like reading about the time period of a game I am playing, but this is the first time I have had to read up about a game before even playing it. Sports Action Canadian Pro Football (SACPF from here so my word count doesn’t approach 3000) has long been on my list of games to play, but my experiences with football north of the border were limited. I started watching CFL games a little this summer as gridiron withdrawal set in. I knew about the 12 players and larger field, but nothing about a rouge and motion of players. I found the game very exciting and actually have a game on in the background as I write this review. Anyway, watching the live game revived my hunt for its board game counterpart. Finally, a copy, with 1980 season teams, has arrived.
I know I have repeatedly said that components of football games are pale in comparison to other board games, but the 70s to 80s era is notoriously horrible. SACPF had some surprising differences. The player cards are large with easy to read numbers, unlike Statis Pro’s tiny font. The tokens are cheap, but the play selector board is spacious and sturdy, and you could easily replace the lackluster tokens with coins or plastic discs. The board is a bit reminiscent of Strat-o-Matic basketball, with spots on either side of the board for skill players. The coloring is hideous, and the first down and football markers are of the same porous quality of the tokens. The lone chart is manageable, though it would have been nice if solo charts were on the same page. Overall, considering the era, the production is better than average.
Skill players have their own card with a two-dice two to 12 results table for passing, rushing and receiving. Quarterback cards simply tell you in a pass is complete (C) or incomplete (blank), with the possibility of an interception (X) or rush (R) happening. Runners have a generic run table but modifiers can be added or subtracted for inside and outside rushes depending on the player’s skill. Receiver tables have results for short, medium, and long passes. All skill players have their season stats on the card, which is nice to identify who your top players are. Team cards have individual ratings for offensive lineman and all defensive players. Team defensive cards not only have team record and general scoring stats, but they also have a rating to show you how the team defended the run and the different depths of passes. Specialists are on their own card as well. I really liked the oversized player cards, roughly five by three inches.
The game comes with two modes of play: basic and advanced. In the basic mode, offense and defense call a play. The offense can call your standard fare of run and pass, with pass distance included. The defense sets their call based on a one to five number scale. The number you select represents how deep your linebackers are in formation. A call closer to one means they have crept up to slow the run, while closer to five means they have dropped back to help with the pass. Both sides roll two dice. The defense takes the added result and looks at their defensive team card under the play the offense had called. For example (see cards below), if Winnipeg picked a medium pass to Mike Holmes, and Hamilton’s defense rolled a combined five, we would look at the five result under the M column for the pass. The result is a “+1” and that gets added to the initial defensive call. If Hamilton had called a three, it now becomes a four to reflect Hamilton’s ability to defend the pass. Now, we look at the offense’s dice result for Dieter Brock under the four column in passing. A nine result has a “C” which means the pass was complete. Reroll the dice and refer to the receiver’s column for the pass thrown to find the yardage. If Winnipeg had called a run, the procedure would be the same, with the defense adjusting and then finding the run result on the player’s card based on the adjusted defensive call. For a basic game, it’s pretty good, but the only individual players that matter are the quarterback and runners. You’ll want to move on to the advanced game as soon as you are comfortable.
The advanced game is where individual players begin to matter on both sides. The defense is initially played the same way, with them picking an aggression number from one to five, but now they can key on the run or double team receivers. Defenses also pick a formation to run, and whether that formation will be a zone or man to man defense. On offense, your options really open up. To pass, you now pick who to throw to and where on the field you’ll be throwing it to. The offensive play selector is divided into zones, so you can attack medium passes to the right sideline, or focus on short screens to the middle. When you run, you now get to pick which hole along the line you want to attack, with plunges in the middle to off tackles and sweeps on the outside. There are so many possibilities for both sides to call, yet it really flows as well as the basic game.
Once plays are called, both sides roll their dice again. The defense now refers to the formation card to see whether you’ll be checking a defender or offensive player’s card to see how the defensive number call is adjusted. Sometimes you’ll refer to the team card for the defender’s rating against the play call. Other times, you’ll refer to the skill player’s card for rating adjustments. Mike Holmes, for example, has a “-4” on medium passes, showing you that’s his strong point. William Miller will be better at running inside rather than outside. Quarterbacks can influence the rating with their passing rating. The other running back or an offensive lineman might be checked for their blocking prowess. The advanced game really forces you to look at your team and play to its strengths while trying to attack the defense’s weaknesses. It’s an amazingly simple, yet deep, system.
Turnovers, sacks, and penalties happen from either the team or player cards as well. Interceptions can occur if both the quarterback and defensive dice result end up with the “X” rating, while the same goes for the pass rush with the “R” result. Any “P” result is a penalty. If it showed up on the defense’s card, it’s a defensive penalty and vice versa.
The game is full of options, but it never feels like a chore to resolve a play. Nearly everything is on the player and team cards. You only have one chart to refer to for rarer plays like penalties, turnover returns, injuries, or weather effects.
In my limited experience with CFL play, I know enough to know that passing is king, and the game reflects that. Running can give you some nice chunks of yardage here and there, but passing is where you’ll consistently move the ball. That is reflected here very well.
Charts are included that will generate a defensive call based on down and distance for both the basic and advanced game, along with a formation caller for the advanced game. The system works pretty well, but there is no way to call offense solitaire. Wouldn’t be hard to create one, but I haven’t found one online. The game would be a great solo experience though.
I am not sure the basic game would hold your interest long enough to be a good two player game, but the advanced game definitely would be. Formations add a lot to the defense’s ability to adjust to the offense’s play, while the offense has a myriad of ways to attack. Would be a fun head-to-head game.
Normally here, I talk about the ability to replay a season. Instead, I will just talk about the game’s replay ability, and it is high. The game is just fun to play. I collect football games because I love to explore the system and how it reflects the game. The system provides strategic options without becoming tedious. That equals high replay ability for me.
And now we’ve come to the game’s problem — finding it. I have looked for this game for a few years and finally tracked down a copy at a relatively steep price. However, don’t completely despair. I have read that print and play files are on the tabletop games website, but the downloads section is currently down. Files on BGG have modern seasons of the game available. Should you get lucky enough to find a copy, or tabletop’s issues get resolved, there would be plenty of retro and modern seasons to play. Still, that is a lot of ifs.
Final Grade (not an average)
10. I think I have found a sweet spot game. I love simple games like Second Season and Paydirt for different reasons than I like 4th Street or Pro Football Fantasm. This game is the marriage of the two extremes. It flows easily, and I felt like I had a good rhythm going before the end of the first quarter of my test game. Yet, I felt like I had considerable control of what my team was doing on the field. The game has so many interesting features, it makes me wonder why more NFL simulations never tried them. This really is an innovative game for its time, and I think it has aged extremely well. If you can find it, play it, and if you can’t, find me at Origins some year and I will introduce you to this fantastic little game.