Sports Simulation Board Games

FEATURE: "Faux" Sports Table Games!

The November 2015 newsletter touched on the topic of tabletop sports simulations for what some have classified as "fake sports." Ouch! I think the term "fake sports" might be a little too harsh, I prefer "faux sports" or perhaps "sports nouveaux!" Specifically, we're taking about sports games that "re-create" sports that don't actually exist.

Why would anyone want to play a board game for a "faux sport," much less invest the time and energy to create one? Well, there are a couple of key things that motivate people to do it. For one thing, a "faux" sport sim can be constructed to fit one's favorite game mechanics, whether its dice, cards or even a spinner. With a faux sport, statistical precision isn't an issue: the simulation itself defines the statistical parameters. For many folks, it's a very liberating thing to be able to enjoy the drama that sports simulations can provide without the constraints—conscious or unconscious—of "what happened in real life."

There are two "sports nouveaux" that come to mind in what I think is a very interesting sub-category of our hobby. Chris Rohan's "Rollerball" and Gary Brown's "Grid Zone." Additionally, I've created a couple of my own "faux sports" sims, one of which I've included in this discussion as well.


Chris Rohan created this sports simulation board game, based on the 1975 movie starring James Caan. "Rollerball" is set in the year 2018, where corporate conglomerations control the world rather than political entities. War has been "outlawed," replaced by a violent "sport" called Rollerball. At first glance, rollerball appears to be similar to roller derby because it's played on a circular track with athletes on skates, but in reality the two games are very different. Rollerball features motorized vehicles, cannon, and an iron-spiked "ball" that is tossed into a goal.

The board game version of rollerball is pretty well-known around the hobby, created by Chris Rohan back in the 1990s. I downloaded it back then and enjoyed playing around with it.

Rollerball has an edge on other "faux" sports because the movie depicts how it's supposed to "look," which helps visualize the action when playing the board game. Indeed, it would probably be worthwhile to watch the film before playing the game. The cards look cool, sort of "Strat-O-Matic"-ish in appearance. The game itself is low-scoring, like soccer.

Here's the link to download Rollerball. It's been updated in recent years, and there have been some new cards created.


GridZone has been around for about a three years now, created by gamer Gary Brown as a quicker-playing alternative to pro football. Gary was an early devotee of SECOND SEASON football, and played out an entire season with the 2000 Football America teams. Gary wanted to be able to create a volume of sports history, with multiple seasons, and team and individual player "story" development, but the time investment required to play out full-blown football sims with games like SECOND SEASON was challenging for a guy with a family and a career. So he set out to create his own football-like hybrid. The result was GridZone(originally called GridBall)—a "faux sport" similar to arena football in some ways, a seven-on-seven game where field position translates into points. Like arena football, there is plenty of scoring packed into a fast-playing, possession-based time frame. Games can be high-scoring or low-scoring, with individual player abilities that run the gamut of "star" to "scrub."

In recent years, GridZone has developed almost a cult-like following in our hobby, with competing leagues (American and National GridZone Leagues) and its own forum on Brien Martin's Wide World of Sports. The streamlined do-it-yourself approach of GridZone has enabled some really unique leagues to take flight, such as the Philly Suburbs GridZone League (on Delphi Forums, Table Top Sports) and a few other leagues based on colleges and high schools. Gary's AGL just finished its fifth season, with the Los Angeles Sierras defeating the Memphis Monarchs 35-30 in the title game.

Torch Sport

Unlike Rollerball, which is set in the future, and GridZone, which is set in the present, Torch Sport is a "faux sport" that is set in the distant past. Imagine an ancient sport from Roman times, "squads" of five men, placed facing each other in a battling zone six feet deep, with a boundary line at either end and a center line down the middle. Lined up on the center line, the object of the contest is to push, move, dislodge opponents beyond the boundary line, by any means possible. There's no ball—just brute physical force and athletic cunning. (Oh, and maybe a few smuggled-in weapons and helps!) The sport is played in increments roughly equivalent to 60 seconds, the end of which is indicated by a trumpet blast. When the trumpet blast is sounded, any dislodged contestants are removed from the battle zone, the remaining contestants reposition themselves, and at the sound of the trumpet, another increment begins. This continues until all of one squad's members have been dislodged from the "zone." The process is then repeated, and, if necessary, a third time. The squad which wins two skirmishes is declared the winner of the match.

That, in a nutshell, is Torch Sport! I created it about ten years ago as something my son and I could play around with. For some reason, my kids have never gotten into real sports, and I guess I thought this might be enough like Pokemon or Super Smash Bros. to have some appeal!

You can download the game rules and sample contestant cards for Torch Sport here. In preparing the game materials for this issue of the newsletter, I've been experimenting with alternate methods of scoring matches, detailed in the rules. One of the ideas was to giving the surviving members of the winning skirmish the opportunity to score points through a "feat of athletic prowess." You may have your own ideas about how to score matches--let me know what you think!

Do you have a "faux sport" of your own that you've developed a sports sim game for? Want to share it with the community? Let us know about it!