Sports Simulation Board Games

FEATURE: Creating Special, Unusual and RARE Results for PLAAY Games

By Keith Avallone

As the community knows, I have been working on getting HISTORY MAKER GOLF ready for everyone's tabletop and, similar to other PLAAY Games, this one will have a separate section of Special Results. Like everything else that goes into making a sports sim, the Unusual Results aspect requires special attention and a careful approach. Since it happened to be at the forefront of my design thoughts as press time for the newsletter rolled around, I thought I'd share some of the thinking that goes into the process. Of course, my way isn't the ONLY way, but hopefully you'll find it interesting how my mind works when it comes to making these things happen.

The first step—for me—is to think about how often I want an unusual result to happen. Experience has shown that having an unusual event occur once or twice per game is enough. With that level of frequency, every game has an opportunity to be memorable. That's the easy part. The hard part is making sure the specific individual results themselves occur in a realistic frequency. I could get the right proportion of special results per game, but if certain results—like a triple play in baseball or a goalie scoring a goal in hockey—happen too often, that's a problem. So, while the overall frequency of special results is largely fixed, aiming for one, perhaps two such results per game, the real work comes in making sure that the individual events happen at the right frequency.

The internet has really helped make this process a lot easier than it used to be. When I created the Rare Results charts for SECOND SEASON—in the years before the internet—it was largely done by drawing on memory from my own experiences watching football on TV and all the historical books I'd read about pro football. But today, you can get virtually all of this information online. So, in creating the Special Results charts for the golf game, I began the process by launching a large number of web searches, using key words like "weird things that happen in pro golf," "zany golf stories," "odd events, PGA tour," and similar, cutting and pasting lines into a Text Edit document. From this pool of info, I examined the duplicates and built an estimated time line, asking myself, "how often do these events happen? Couple times a season? Once every 25 years?" I made separate documents for each level of (estimated) frequency. Then I created the structure of the charts, to echo those different levels of frequency.

The way I've calibrated HMG, the game will generate a special result once every 72 holes. Now, suppose there's an event that we anticipate happening every four or five years. How do I structure the charts to make sure the "every four years" event doesn't happen every four tournaments? Yes, there's some math lurking there that needs to be properly analyzed. It can be tricky.

Even if I get the math right, there are issues and trade-offs. For example, the odds of an event happening in real-life have to be tempered with the fact that a typical table gamer is not going to be able to re-create the entire universe of chances. This has been a very real consideration for the golf game. To illustrate, let's examine the likelihood of getting a hole-in-one on a par 4. Most sources suggest that the odds of a pro golfer accomplishing the feat—a double eagle—at about half a million to one. Assuming the average course on the pro tour includes twelve par 4 holes, that's one double eagle every 42,000 rounds. Even with a fast game time—HMG averages about fifteen minutes to play a round of golf—that's still going to take an average of 10,000 hours of tabletop golf to experience one. That's eight hours of HMG a day, every day, for three and a half YEARS. Most likely, you're not going to play THAT much tabletop golf, even if you love, love, LOVE the game!

And yet, each year on the pro tour, a handful of double eagles are recorded. That's because of the massive amount of golf being played—50 events annually, 150-200 golfers each playing between 36 and 72 holes. So, I feel it's fair to balance the actual frequency of an event with the "condensed" context of the tabletop. I'm OK with a somewhat elevated chance of rare events like double eagles, or spectators being hit with errant shots, or a golf club head flying off the shaft mid-swing. That's not to say these things will happen frequently. But perhaps a million-to-one occurrence can happen, say, two or three times as frequently in a tabletop sim than in real-life? The fact is, the vast majority of gamers will never sense the distortion and more of them can experience the event.

Another consideration is, which events should be included? My first inclination when creating the golf special results was that EVERYTHING should be included. That resulted in five tiers of special results, some of which were—to say the least—exceedingly unlikely to be reached! But in play-testing, I discovered an annoying reality: some of the first and second-level results, while legitimately qualifying as "unusual," were nonetheless—well, "boring." I'd roll "triples" which, in this game, triggers the Special Results, and there'd be that sense of anticipation—"what's going to happen!?" And then I'd get a "ball hit to casual water" or "unplayable lie, relief drop" result with a mundane PAR result. It was a little deflating. Thus, while it seems obvious, it probably needs to be stated that special results need to be "special," and if they're not inherently "special" then probably something needs to be added to make them that way, or perhaps they should be inserted as features of the main game's structure, or simply not included at all.

With that in mind, I went back and culled out all the "boring" results, and added storyline context to the ones I felt needed to be left in but weren't memorably strong enough to stand on their own. As an example, there' s an "out of bounds tee shot" result on the first level of results. It's something I felt a gamer would want to potentially experience. But, in order to make it more meaningful and memorable, I changed it so that after hitting it out of bounds, the golfer is now STORMY the rest of the round (think DISSONANT in baseball game terms). Doing it this way, the event is expressed in a context that is meaningful and adds story. Later in the round, the same golfer might get a MOOD result and, because he is STORMY, sends a shot into the trees or blows a birdie putt. The gamer will know that it's because of the lingering "funk" from the out-of-bounds shot—and, that's the kind of thing that creates a great tabletop sports moment!

I also trimmed out some of the more outrageous rare results, which—after really thinking it over—I decided didn't really need to be there, for a couple reasons. One reason was, they were on the fifth level of results which, most likely, no one was ever going to get to anyway. The second reason was, if they DID get there, what would they DO with a result like "small plane makes emergency landing on fairway, event postponed." Would they then just put the game away? I confess, this is a bit of a change of course for me here. With the baseball and soccer games—my most recent creations—some of the deep-level Highlight Reels DO contain some eyebrow-raising stuff like that. If I'm remembering correctly, I read about one gamer having a riot force an ending of a soccer match before time had expired! Now, I'm not planning on extracting those things from existing games, but just so you know, the golf game's "VERY rare results" are a little less exotic!

Finally, as anyone who owns these games knows, FACE TO THE MAT and RED WHITE & BLUE RACIN' have a couple of deep-level highlight reel results which call for the death of a participant. Over the years, I've heard from folks who feel like death has no place in a sports sim game. I can certainly understand and appreciate this viewpoint. For me, it comes down to realism. When I was creating extended highlight reels for the wrestling game, the deaths of Owen Hart, Gary Albright and others were very much part of the pro wrestling conversation. So, while the intent of the game was to be light-hearted and over-the-top, it seemed to me at the time that in order to be true to the sport, the possibility of a fatal accident needed to be included for a wrestling game that billed itself as "realistic" to, in fact, BE realistic. I felt the same thing was true for NASCAR as I was creating RWBR. On the other hand, while there have been deaths in pro football and hockey, I didn't feel that it needed to be represented in the game. These are judgement calls on my part, and simply reflect my own personal philosophy. Anyway, if someone is ever uncomfortable with a result from one of my games, I strongly encourage them to modify the result, ignore it, or just roll again for another one. And, just so you know: nobody dies in HMG!