A recent edition of Ellis Simpson's The Letter has a piece on designing a new baseball game system that is set up fairly and squarely to hook me. It did, but with reservations. The idea, and it works for most sports so don't doze off, is that you take a step back from deterministic stats (such as player cards) and assign instead a rating based on both what the players have achieved (a trend) and what they are likely to achieve in the season in question (a forecast or prediction).
I was toying with this idea some years ago and Ellis and I spent several hours talking it over but only now has it emerged in a potentially useable format. The beauty of it is that it gets round the problem of players unable to hit a home run ever under the rules and if you do it right, you can use the cards for the season in play rather than being a season behind all the time. The drawbacks, and one is major, are that players are hardly ever predictable (witness the traditional post Cy Young slumps) and that the system is going to be a pig to get 'right'.
Basically, I have nothing against putting in the effort to get the idea off the ground, and would even publish it if I felt there was the interest from sportsgamers, but that is my worry. My concern is that I have no real idea what is going on out there and I am about as active as you can be. Aside from the general trends such as taking the various magazines, buying almost everything Lambourne and other sports companies put out and being possessed of a general sportsgaming view of things, I don't see much happening. Okay, Ted Kelly's excellent fastplay games popped up to a good reaction, March Madness appeared and has been accepted by most and the cottage industries like Lionel Games and Ellis are forever threatening to release a whizzo new system to capture, what, a couple of hundred sales. But overall I feel this section of the hobby is moribund.
My question, really, is what do the sports gamers want these days? It strikes me that there is a fascination, even an obsession, with stat (or pseudo-stat) based games almost to the exclusion of anything else and a move to computers has taken away the drudgery (and, hands-on feels aside, little of the appeal as far as I am concerned) of playing a season and compiling stats. Is there any point in delivering new treatments of already covered sports (though after seeing Final Score I still await a decent soccer game - review next time) or systems on the ever more obscure fringe topics? Would you buy a game on Sumo, for instance? Or on Motorcycle Grands Prix? The success of The Tour was in part surprising, but also understandable when you consider no game (with replay overtones) had ever appeared on the subject. However, with well established systems and the prevalence of computers, do people want another baseball system? Would they buy it? Would it need to offer fast play, 10 minute or one hour games? Should the emphasis shift to trading and management? Where is the niche? I'd be interested to know, not just because of this system but to see where the trend is moving.
What then is happening to the sports game hobby? It was never very large but seems ever more fragmented and specialised. It also doesn't appear to be going anywhere - major systems (PtP, Statis Pro, Strat, Lambourne etc) have it sown up and, tell me if I'm wrong, stagnation has set in. I am therefore not sure there is the demand, beyond Ellis, myself and perhaps a few others, for anything new. I may be mistaken, but I suspect that the market is fairly well supplied or even saturated. With computer systems, Lambourne's output, update cards and the odd Avalon Hill design, is there room for anything else? I'd really like to know.
On to Better Be Silent than Speak Ill or back to an Incomplete Survey of Election Games.
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