Saturday, February 25, 2017


     Normally, in a game of APBA Football, the offensive player has the usual complement of starting skill players (running backs and receivers) and a handful of back-up players. During play, you roll dice to determine who the intended receiver is to be on a pass play, while the player himself decides on a ball carrier for running plays. The dice roll for the receiver is intended to prevent a player from even subconsciously over-using his best receivers. This works well especially in solitaire play when there is no double coverage (at least there isn't the way I play it).

     This is all wonderful, but I take it one step further. Not only do I roll for the receiver, I also roll for the ball carrier in order to replicate a realistic distribution of carries. In the same way that the dice prevent you from unrealistically over-using your best receiver(s), my dice does the same thing for the runners.

Bertelsen after the Rams added color to their uniforms (1973)
      My method is certainly not complicated and only requires a minute or two of research. First, I go to Pro Football Reference and check out the rushing stats for my team. Then I simply calculate the percentage of times each player ran the ball over the course of the year. For example, in my recent game featuring the 1972 Los Angeles Rams, I found that Willie Ellison ran 170 times, Jim Bertlesen 123 times, Bob Thomas 77, and Larry Smith 60. All these guys are included in the APBA card set for the '72 season, so for each I calculate their running attempt percentages.
     Ellison: 39%
     Bertelsen: 28%
     Thomas: 18%
     Smith: 14%.
     Then I just translate these figures into a 2d10 dice roll range, thus:
     Ellison: 0-38
     Bertelsen: 39-66
     Thomas: 67-84
     Smith: 85-99

The Rams' stable of running backs.
      So for the Rams, whenever I decide they are going to run the ball, I roll 2x10-sided dice, a red and a blue. If the result falls within a runner's range, he's the ball carrier. For example, a roll of 1(red) and a 9(blue) equals 19, which means Ellison is the ball carrier. A roll of 7(r)5(b) would give the ball to Thomas because 75 falls within his range of 67-84. At the end of the day, each ball carrier will have a realistic percentage of the Rams' carries for the season.
     For this reason, I don't juggle players in and out of the game. In effect, all players are in the game at all times. Same with the receivers. I don't roll the dice only to find that the receiver I just rolled up is not currently in the game and then roll again, as the rules suggest you do. I just assume that whatever receiver I roll up is indeed currently in the game.
     From a realism standpoint, this doesn't bother me much because in the real football world players are constantly being juggled in and out -- due to fatigue, slight injury, equipment malfunction or what-have-you. As early as 1971 or so, Tom Landry of the Cowboys was using receivers (tight ends, I think) to shuttle plays in and out of the offensive huddle. So each play would have a different set of receivers on the field. Plus, it relieves me, the APBA player, from having to shuffle my receiver cards for no good real world reason. Short of some actual fatigue and coverage rules, I don't really want to have to do that.


     APBA Football is a wonderful game. There is something oddly rewarding about rolling dice and consulting charts. I enjoy that in wargames, too (God help me!). At the very least, you always know why something happens. (Well, I rolled a "66," that's why!) In the end that is what is so superior about manual games over computer games. With most computer games, you never really know why anything happens. It doesn't have to be that way, it just, for some reason, is. Action PC Football, for example, clearly has some sort of  built-in "mystery factor" involved in obtaining its results. Apart from driving me nuts, it is this "mystery factor" -- among other things --  that keeps me from playing this game as much as I otherwise would.

      One of the problems I've been having with APBA, on the other hand, is an overall lousy performance by my passing game. In my last game, Rams vs. Saints, for example, Gabriel went 10-of-18 for only 53 yards. Manning was little better: 11-24 for 82. What the hell? Part of the problem is that I might be throwing too many Medium passes.

      I analyzed Roman Gabriel's card, and here is what I found.
     For Medium passes, I've broken down the likely completions against good, average and poor competition.
     Vs. Good: Gabriel can expect to go 7-36 on medium passes.
     Vs. Average: 10-36.
     Vs. Poor: 13-36.
     As you can see, pretty much a losing proposition all the way around. I've been throwing all Medium passes when the receiver is a wideout, short or medium to TEs and short only to backs. I do this based on the tendencies of the time. QBs threw deeper passes in those days. Fewer completions, more yards. Unfortunately, barring extraordinarily good luck, the APBA cards don't bear this out. 10-for-18 is a pretty standard passing day for 1972 -- but not for just 53 yards. (And even Medium pass completions often go for less than 10 yards!) It should be more like 153. What to do about this? I don't know.
     But I analyzed Gabriel's card for short passes, too.
     Vs. Good: 14-36.
     Vs. Average: 16-36.
     Vs. Poor: 18-36.
     As you can see, it's going to take a little luck no matter what you do. For now, I'm going to try throwing more short passes, even to wide receivers. We'll see if this helps. If I can't get the YPC (yards-per-catch) up significantly, APBA may not be long for my table.
     In my playings so far, it's been feast-or-famine: roll a couple of "66s" and you can have a pretty reasonable day. This is why 1st downs are unrealistically low, too. Maybe my dice are loaded....We'll keep trying....

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