Just how linked are Ameritrash and Sports games?
This past week my brother and I were playing Pizza Box Football, and it struck me just how much I enjoy sports games. We've played a ton of them over the years, ranging from MLB Showdown, MLB Sportsclix, Card Football, and others and typically if a game has a sports theme I will at least give it a chance.
I've noticed to some degree there appears to be some crossover appeal at work. Not universal, of course, but there are obviously factors present in most sports games that make the 'leap' an easy one to make.
Yes, it's our whored-out crutch word, but it's true.
Most sports games are a composed of a series of discrete, seemingly unrelated events. In many of them, a few decisions are made and then dice are rolled to determine what the output of those decisions were. Taken in isolation, those events aren't terribly interesting.
But you combine them in the framework of a sporting event, and there is a natrual storytelling element. If I tell you I rolled a 20, you're probably like, "Cool", but that's as far as that goes. But if I tell you "It was the bottom of the ninth and I was down by two runs. The bases were loaded...and I rolled a 20." That's going to mean something else entirely.
Fact is, most sporting events tell a story. These compiled events become a piece of a whole, detailing a grueling contest, and one you have a direct stake in every roll, every outcome. It's the sort of thing true "Session Reports" are made of.
It's hard to tell a 'story' with even the best of Euros, such as Ra. But even the most basic sporting game will have a story to tell.
Case in point: our Pizza Box Football game. I managed to get ahead of my brother at the end of the 3rd quarter 28-10. Although it would seem the story would get boring from here, there was still something left to tell as I ground out the clock with a healthy dose of run, playing tough but preventive D. And when Jeremy settled for a field goal with about five minutes on the game clock, it told another part of the story, a tale of concession, and of a touch of pride in getting out of there with just a few more points.
Best of all--and this is awesome for anyone who's ever been in a league--the story doesn't have to stop with just the one game. We played Chicago versus New York for the NFC Championships in that game, next up will be the Patriots versus Colts for the AFC Championship, and from there the Super Bowl.
And we're doing what most folks who particpate in leagues do, we're tracking stats for our games. This is just another layer of storytelling. Again, a series of die rolls can be meaningless individually, but when I compile them and tell you that I went 16/23 Passing for 171 Yards and 2 TDs AND rushed 27 times for 215 Yards and 2 TDs, it tells you something else entirely.
Some of this is a cheat, of course. We're conditioned to know the story of a game based on watching them ourselves. Even so, only the worst of blowouts fail to provide a compelling narrative of some sort, and it's awesome to be part of that.
Due to the fact that sports games are designed to simulate the events they're based on, a degree of chrome is inevitable. Why are there rules for onside kicks in Pizza Box Football? Because you can do it in the "real" game. Why are there bunt rules in baseball boardgames? Again, because it's something seen in the real game.
There are degrees of chrome and levels of simulation based on what the designer is trying to achieve. Using Pizza Box Football as an example again, it doesn't bother to get down to individual player stats, keeping everything higher level...much like a coach who chooses the plays and waits for the result. Most baseball games don't go pitch-for-pitch but use some means of using a single roll to determine the result of the entire at-bat.
But that's what's great--because sports are so ubiquitous, there have been many designs and it's very possible that you can find a game with exactly the level of detail and chrome you're looking for, where you do get down to the indiviual player performances, or the exact play being run and how it all plays out, and so on and so forth.
There have been plenty of Euro-based sports games, and you can always tell that much of the chrome has been stripped out, and certainly the detail. This is okay too because it can provide you a lighter, faster playing take on the game...but for fans of the sport, give us the chrome, every time.
In most sports games, it's usually very clear--you want to win. Period. And while some sports can be known for tie games (futbol/soccer), most of them end in a winner. One coach gets the Gatorade bath. One team gets the Super Bowl rings. One team is crowned winner, champion, "the best there is."
If competition in a game is not crisp, if the 'stakes' are not easily visible and easily grasped, then interest in obtaining the most highly competitive outcome can really suffer. I konw that I've personally sat through some Euro games where we're just sort of grabbing points and once you're 'out of contention' to a degree, it's all mechanical. You come in third and you really don't care.
Sure, in the final analysis most sports games truly are VP Engines. Each run...each touchdown...each goal...is equal to a certain amount of VPs. Thankfully we've got context for them. Trading in three goods and getting a VP is one thing, but blasting a solo shot homerun to get one feels altogether more awesome, wouldn't you say?
Even while behind or losing, it's easy to set other "winning" goals for yourself. If you're in a American Football league, maybe it becomes clear you're not going to be the champ, but you can aim to have the league's leading rusher, or the nastiest run defense, whatever goals your team can manage. Even in overall defeat, there are enough elements--again tied back to the "storytelling" that naturally flows from sports-based games--that can keep you driving, keep you playing your best.
I'm just bouncing ideas off here, but it's clear to me that many sports games are flirting with a lot of the elements we seem to profess to like in games. Small coincidence that there would appear to be crossover appeal, eh?