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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sixty-Seven masochists

May describe the group gathered for this.

Stan Suderman and 66 of his friends and acquaintances gathered in Las Vegas last night, eager to jump-start three days and nights of intense fun.

These men did not come for a long weekend of casino-roaming or nightclub-hopping. Instead, they will spend 16 hours or more a day shut inside a conference room at the Desert Rose Resort playing a board game.

Members of the mostly professional group of players, which includes doctors, lawyers, and teachers, have ponied up $200 apiece for the privilege of entering the world championships of Strat-O-Matic baseball, a game that has resonated for 45 years with sports-crazy kids and the adults they grow up to become.

I took part in this annual ritual from 1997 to 2002 also know as the Star Tournaments World Championships. 3 days of 16 hours(0r more) a day of the Strat-o-matic baseball board game if you are skilled enough to make the finals.

In the January 2002 Worlds I was skilled or lucky enough to win my division at the Worlds. No small feat considering all the best players in the country were there. We started at 7 a.m. on Friday. I was lucky having the last bye of the night. My day ended around 8:30-9 p.m. Then play began again Saturday at 8 a.m. My day didn't end till shortly after 1 a.m. I tied for first in my division with Bill Nervig, our tiebreaks were the same and a shoot-out(Sudden death game) was needed. I won in spite of being 0-5 in those things lifetime till that night.

On Sunday Morning I played my quarter-final, I lost. I lost in the consolation round and play was over for me around 4 p.m. Sunday. Then I returned to my room and crashed. I was asleep by 7 p.m. and didn't wake till 7 a.m. the following morning.

In other words, 33.5 hours of competition in 57 hours. Very grueling and exhausting. I'm a masochist aren't I?

I retired from Star play shortly after that worlds. The tournaments are too draining considering my health problems. I miss playing and am thinking of returning this year but on a very limited basis.

2001 was a great year for me.(The year play for the Jan. 2002 Worlds) In addition to making the World's Quarterfinals, I won one tournament, lost two more in the finals, finished third another time and at year's end I finished 4th in the National pts standings.

To be truthful 2001 was an annomaly. I was one of the worst regular Star Tour players. From 1996-99 I played in 20-30 events and my best finish was 4th. In 1998 I didn't have one tournament with a winning record.

In 2000 I won one time, came third another. 2001 was my big year, but see the sets change every year. I had the 2001 set down pat. For 2002 it was a whole new affair as it is every year. I went 3-12 in my last event before retiring.

The tournaments are fun if exhausting. I've missed them but its not possible for me any more to play like I did. I used to wrap tournaments around my visits to California and other vacation trips. Through this I knew almost all the tour's regulars. There a great group even if they whipped my butt on a regular basis.

Strat-o-matic is definitely a throwback. Not many people or kids play board games any more. Other board game companies like SPI in the 80's and Avalon Hill in the 90's went defunct. I'm afraid SOM could meet a similiar fate in not too many years. It would be a shame.

Open Post- Basil's Blog, Bright&Early, Right Wing Nation, TMH Bacon Bits,

Somehow, in a video-game age in which the landscape is ruled by John Madden, an old-fashioned sports board game stubbornly hangs on. Hundreds of thousands of people still roll the dice and check the cards of their chosen players as they re-create whole seasons or series, pit storied teams against one another, or draft leagues of their own.

The game's realism accounts for much of its longevity. But the competition and camaraderie it breeds, the social lubricant and taunting opportunities it provides, may be just as important.

"Guys just don't call up other guys and say, 'I'm lonely, let's chat,' " said Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts, the pre-eminent sports video-game maker, who still regularly plays Strat-O-Matic with friends. "It's really helpful to have something to talk about."

The godfather of this male-bonding tradition is 69-year-old Hal Richman. Growing up in Great Neck, N.Y., he found refuge from a bullying father in the imaginary world of board games. But even at the age of 11, he recognized that existing games - like All-Star Baseball, with its spinner determining the outcome of each at-bat - were lacking in verisimilitude.

Knowing nothing about statistics, he still deduced that dice would result in a more accurate game. After years of using his friends as guinea pigs while he fine-tuned the game, Richman dipped into his bar mitzvah savings and finally unveiled the first version of Strat-O-Matic in 1961.

Today's game is essentially the same as the original. Each major league player is represented by a card, on which his statistics from the previous season are crunched into various rankings and outcomes. A roll of the dice and a check of the batter's or pitcher's card then determines the result of each play.

The name for the game came to Richman while shoveling snow in his driveway after riffing on variants of the word "strategy" he had come across while leafing through a dictionary.

The early years were not particularly encouraging. According to Glenn Guzzo in his book "Strat-O-Matic Fanatics: The Unlikely Success Story of a Game That Became an American Passion" (ACTA Sports, 2005), Richman sold 350 games that first year but officially lost $2,500. He was left with an additional $500 worth of unsold boxes and game parts.

But Richman persevered. The popularity of the Yankees in the early 1960's helped because the Northeast has always been a Strat-O-Matic bastion. The company branched out into other sports, like pro football, basketball and hockey, and people across the country - from the film director Spike Lee, to the broadcasters Bryant Gumbel and Dan Patrick, to the writer Buzz Bissinger - avidly played the games, some as children, some as adults, and some as both. The company produces computer versions of all its board games, but the old-fashioned version of the baseball game is still its biggest seller.

Much like Richman, today's board-game enthusiasts started young, often in junior high school. They spent hours replaying full seasons by themselves. In the leagues they created, they named their teams, adopted theme music, even created life-size wood cutouts of their favorite players to lean next to the board. They've even held onto cards that have suffered certain indignities. In the office of Steve Wulf, an executive editor of ESPN The Magazine, one can find cards that met the urinary wrath of a former girlfriend's cat. Gerald W. DeShong, a 57-year-old semiretired salesman, has been playing nearly continuously since 1965, when he was in junior high school in Dearborn, Mich. He and his friends, baseball fans all, got a chance to be their heroes, if only for a short period of time.

DeShong, who now lives in Garden City, Mich., has formed a league with his eldest son, Dale, and two of his friends. They conduct a tournament each year that stretches from the first part of November through February. The winner gets a trophy, which they have dubbed the Silver Cup.

DeShong's team, the Fence Busters, has captured the cup twice. But, he said, "The bragging rights are a lot more fun than the cup itself."

The repartee, sophisticated or otherwise, that comes during face-to-face play is just one element that contributes to Strat-O-Matic's endurance, said Guzzo, a 54-year-old former newspaper editor who started playing at age 12 and still spends 5 to 10 hours a week playing various Strat-O-Matic computer and board games. Richman's single-mindedness kept Strat-O-Matic alive during troubled times. And the company remained true to its essence, refusing to go head-to-head with companies like Electronic Arts.

Sports video games accounted for more than $1.2 billion nationally in sales in 2004, according to the NPD Group, a research firm, and Electronic Arts, which is the maker of the Madden games, accounted for about 63 percent of that total. Madden's football game alone has sold more than 43 million copies since its debut in 1989.

Richman declined to divulge his company's revenues. But weathering baseball strikes and the computer age, a profitable Strat-O-Matic has surpassed the rival APBA Games and beat back other competitors, including Sports Illustrated. Richman put the total number of Strat-O-Matic games sold over the years in the low millions.

The bare bones of Strat-O-Matic's nine-person operation in Glen Head, N.Y., reveals itself in various ways. The graphic design of the board game's packaging - nondescript players looking vaguely as if they're in high school - has barely changed over the years.

"The products are not glossy at all," Richman acknowledged.

But the realism trumps all.

"Our customers are not into what the game looks like, but the things we can do," he said.

Strat-O-Matic enthusiasts echo one another in raving about its simulation of reality. Over the course of a season, a player's performance will hew closely to his actual statistics. And the game plays quickly and easily. "It just has a natural flow and rhythm to it," Suderman said.

Underlying Richman's creation is a somewhat arbitrary system. Deep analysis of statistics may be all the rage among baseball cognoscenti today, but Richman and his colleagues range beyond numbers in crafting the player ratings. While the numerical nitty-gritty of baseball - a batter's success against left-handed or right-handed pitching, for example - is crunched by the company's computers, certain subjective ingredients go into Strat-O-Matic.

Dispatches from beat reporters and magazine writers inform the opinions of Richman and his colleagues, as do personal insights gleaned from watching games on television and in person. After devoting a total of 1,500 hours or so to research, they gather to compare notes. Like a diving contest, the extremes are tossed out, and the remaining rankings are averaged.

When the new baseball cards are released each year on the last Friday in January - an event that hundreds of Strat-O-Matic players commemorate by showing up in the cold at the company's headquarters - controversy soon follows. Derek Jeter may pile up Gold Gloves at shortstop, for instance, but Richman is loath to award him the highest defensive ranking in his game.

The video-game revolution has aged the average Strat-O-Matic player. What used to be a game enjoyed mostly by boys from 11 to 15 is now the pastime of the middle-aged. Richman estimated the average player age at around 35. At this weekend's world championships, most players are between 30 and 40, said Suderman, who is 54. What most worries Strat-O-Matic players is the game's future; after all, Richman is already past the typical retirement age. Richman said he had given little thought to retirement, "unless someone gives me an offer I can't refuse."

Keeping the business in the family might be problematic. Richman's son doesn't share his father's love of sports and is pursuing a career as a Hollywood producer. "I'm hopeful my daughter marries the guy she's going with," Richman said. "He's a sports fan."

If no one comes forward, there is at least one Strat-O-Matic fan who would step into the breach.

"If I had to keep it going, I would," said Hawkins, the Electronic Arts founder who has moved on to start Digital Chocolate, a maker of games for mobile phones.

"I need it," he added.

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