Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Memories and Eyestrain: APBA Basketball Revisited

Maybe I was looking for something new in something old. Maybe I was trying to recapture my youth in a way. Maybe I was seeking understanding of a game that fascinated me as a youngster and might have kept me from the pratfalls some at that early age stumble into.

Whatever the reason, I pulled out my 1978-79 APBA basketball game late last night and, after more than 30 years of dormancy, the cards came to life while the rest of the world slept. I only played one quarter of a game. I didn't have all night. Those who are familiar with the sports replay game know that had I opted to play a full basketball contest, it would have taken more than a night to complete.

Alas, the game is plodding and part of the wonderment I experienced while playing it again yesterday was trying to figure how I rolled so many games without losing my mind.

The APBA games, for the uninitiated, are sports replays that use dice and player cards. Gamers roll the dice and correspond the results with numbers on the players' cards. Those numbers are then compared with game boards to determine action. I have replay sets in the four major sports, and I love them all.

But the basketball game is a bit of a struggle to play. There's two versions. The first includes passing and dribbling and it takes hours to play a single contest. The game I favor is a quicker one. It's a solitaire type and it eliminates some of the “action,” instead resorting merely to players shooting from different areas of the court. They either make it or miss it. If a shot fails, the gamer rolls the dice to determine who rebounds it and that person then shoots. It's repetitive. There's much math involved. And there's charts galore to follow.

Here's an example of the way I play. I roll the dice for the opening tipoff to determine possession. Then I roll to find where the first shot is taken. Then I roll the dice to see who shoots the ball. I cross reference that dice roll with numbers on a Column Index to give me the player shooting. Then I roll the dice and check that player's card to see how the shot turned out. If he makes it, I roll the dice and match the result with the Column Index to see who got the assist. If he misses, another roll and another check on the Index for the rebound.

Tired yet? That was one possession. See what I mean? And there's a lot of eyestrain involved when lining up the index numbers and matching them with the players' numbers. Eyestrain? I'd never say that when I was a younger. Now, at my age, I'm worrying about getting headaches because of vision. Sheesh.

But back when I was a kid, I played that game fervently. It was my friend, a consistency in a life of teenaged angst. Trouble with my girlfriend at the time? I'd roll a game and escape from the insanity of hormones and stupid high school drama. Fearing college looming ahead? The APBA game was the security blanket to which I clung.

I chose Boston and Philadelphia for the contest last night. It took a moment to familiarize myself with the game's rules. (I had played other basketball seasons up until 1993 when I became obsessed with the hockey game and then in 1998 when I primarily played the APBA baseball). But soon I was rolling the game. And oddly, I began remembering what certain numbers meant, especially on possession rolls and fouls, without having to pore over the game boards.

Thirty-four years later from the last time I played this game, Julius Erving was hitting a shot from the “D” section of the field, and Bob McAdoo was fouling. Darryl Dawkins had two rebounds in the first quarter for the 76ers and Dave Cowens was invisible for the Celtics. After the first quarter, Philadelphia led, 25-22. Erving led everyone with 10 points. Nate “Tiny” Archibald had seven points for Boston.

Just saying that, just mentioning those names from that era, brings back those days.

Today, I am 50 games from finishing my 1942 baseball replay. I'm undecided upon which next season replay I'll embark upon. I'm leaning toward 1950, 1919 or 1991 in baseball. But the 1979-80 basketball season beckons as well. That's the rookie years for Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. I've never gone this far into a replay without knowing what my next project will be.

More than likely, it'll be a baseball season. Although there are more than 1,200 games in any baseball replay (2,430 in a current replay), those games go much quicker than a basketball game. There are 902 games to play in the 1979-80 NBA season and each one takes forever.

The dice will keep rolling in my home. It always does. And it'll probably be for the baseball games. But whenever I want to recapture that youthful feeling I had, that time when things were a bit more easy and I wasn't old enough to be tainted by the Fear that we learn to deal with through life's experiences, I'll pull out that basketball game.

But I can't play it too long. Eyestrain, you know.


  1. If I had the time, I would get my basketball game out and roll a game. About a dozen years ago I rolled a half and decided that was a full game. Don't remember who played, but remember it took most of a morning. Still, love reading this blog, especially for the memories it rekindles.

  2. Are you playing the long version of the shortened one? I gave up on the long version but played a lot shorter version. I must have been 10-12 when I last played the basketball game. There was one rule I never understood very well... and that had to do with where the team that gets a defensive rebound takes their next shot from or something like that. Funny all these years later I can still remember that.

  3. I play the shorter version of the original basketball game. APBA put a new version out in the early 1990s that doesn't involve all the addition and it plays a bit faster. If the shooting team rebounds, it automatically puts up the shot in the A section of the floor in the solo short game.

  4. I've spent quite a bit of time with this game over the past few years. I decided to played an tournament with all of the playoff teams from 1976-77 season. After playing a few of the long version games I quickly retreated to the short version and then began making tweaks to the short version to enhance the game play. The problem I have always had with the long version is that while it does add game play (to a fault), it does not provide any game flow or accuracy. Turnover numbers, assist numbers etc. are not even close to realistic. Plus converting the dice rolls to time is always tricky. I'm sorry they didn't continue developing this game. Someone needs to put in the TLC to this game like someone did with hockey. Here's hoping...

    1. I have put the TLC into the original long version of APBA basketball as you suggested. Excel spreadsheets and some finetuning have made my APBA basketball the most realistic and exciting, I'm convinced. I've been playing it for 30+ years. It takes 1 to 1.5 hrs to play a game. I've eliminated all the defensive play cards and most of the charts. In the middle of my 16 team - 20 game 1982 regular season right now.

    2. I would love to know more about how you've addressed the problem with the length of play. Did you create charts for all sorts of different possible lineups? Any other tweaks? It was a beautiful looking game.

  5. My dad made his own version of the basketball game back in the early '70's and it was fantastic. Used the APBA cards and dice, of course, but had his own charts and rules that kept the game realistic but made it play faster. I had a league then with neighborhood friends. I could see if he still has anything left of that - he is a gaming genius and I believe you would be interested.

  6. I started with APBA Football in 1980, added Basketball in 1982 and Baseball in 1985. I still replay some baseball. I played Portland's schedule in the 80s (Jim Paxson, Calvin Natt, Mychael Thompson, etc.) and I played the short version. I loved the game, but I remember the shooting percentages were inaccurately high and the foul totals inaccurately low. Why did APBA stop producing the board game? Are there plans to revive it? Does anyone know of a competing board game that replays either pro or college basketball?