The Case For Fictional

The small black & white dice are in my hand, the ones Second Season footballers have come to shake around in trying to discern such weird questions like, “What would happen if 2016 Oakland faced 2016 Jacksonville in the Sunshine State?” Today, a roll queries whether a short pass to Clive Walford will be completed or not. It is, but at the end of the check, there’s that blasted medical-type cross. Again.

A dilemma then ensues for me. My methods for this project have me develop rather intensive personnel diagrams, plotting out offensive and defensive usage throughout the game. I study old NFL gamebooks and Pro Football Reference for an hour or two teasing out playtime percentages in an attempt to accurately staff each team’s formations. This kind of probing analysis accounts for players who have ended up injured or inactive for each gameday. Any extra injury can feel like a departure.

But unpredictability is fun after all. Injuries generated by the game ought to create some tense moments – maybe the star cornerback has a stinger on a routine tackle which has him miss the rest of the game. Or, *gasp*, the best QB in the league is tackled hard to the ground and comes up with concussion-like symptoms. That could *never* happen, right?

In the midst of a “replay,” these injuries become quandaries. Do you count them? Do you ignore them, since you already have some injury modeling? Can you do it in a way that maintains the level of accuracy and fairness across all teams – say, you happen to like one team more than the other and you decide that losing so-and-so would be unfair, but what’s-his-name being ruled out for their opponent is just too bad for them.

But what if you had no history to go from?

So goes the Plaay fictional releases for most of their tabletop games. I’ll admit that, at first, it sounds drab to me. We all have memories of our favorite teams, or the icons of the day doing iconic things, or even the mundane infielder botching that grounder that elevated their opponent to glory. Isn’t that what we’re doing this for?

I’m not so sure. I think a lot of us do what we do because it provides a stable, rhythmic pulse to our lives which often get shredded to pieces by the worries of the day. We reminisce about play-by-play, we think about Mike Schmidt or Mitch Williams or Chase Utley or whoever finds their way to the top of our pile in that particular inning. And it brings us some peace, but also just enough “what-if” that placates our need for the random, the exciting.

But the fictional sets, they’re devoid of any preconceptions, aside from being able to look at a card and say, “Rube Feinstein is an ACE, FLASH…” etc (Keith, if there isn’t a Rube Feinstein yet, now’s your chance). Sure, when you decide to dive deep into the mechanics and start evaluating, you’re already moseying down the road of, “Hey, that’s <insert famous big-leaguer>’s card” and it could take some of the mystique away. Thus the reason I try very hard not to have a predetermination of what might come about.

In fact, Plaay’s mechanisms are well-designed for this “take it and run” purpose. With History Maker Baseball as the example for the moment:

  • HMB ratings are based on stat ranges, not intended to target exact metric recreation. Thus, just because Rube is solid doesn’t mean he’s going to do it every time.
  • The HOT and COLD momentum-riding designations are rarely incorporated in other engines.
  • Perhaps the most fitting part of the season experience are the Gameday Chart rolls. You determine team mood, injuries, skipped starts, and other trait development.

This sets in motion a unique track for every simmer who embarks – one person may have a star reliever hit the shelf for many games, while another may have minimal injuries whatsoever, but see their team beset by a dissonance that lasts for a week and completely derails their season.

And so if you’re in the midst of a real-life replay, and you decide you really want to use these mechanisms because they seem pretty neat, you’re stuck with the potential of destroying the feel and sense of pride you have about your undertaking. Who wants to relive a franchise-defining season, only to have it in a pile of rubble?

The one area I’ve experienced first-hand a fictional project is through History Maker Golf’s Pro National Golf tour sets. I’ll be starting Season 3 soon. While the long-term points leaders are often easily sleuthed out from embedded rating perusal, watching someone that looks like a surefire back-marker get some good luck and emerge as a champion is uniquely exciting. Now with Tournament Mode, you don’t get the opportunity to observe every player under the microscope of the final round. But plenty will get tested by the flame, and some pass, while others burn. I’ve even had the fun experience of creating some additional fictional players. And in Season 2, two of them won tournaments. What a blast!

Thus the case for fictional. Back to my Second Season game, each time I have an injury, I pray to the heavens that it ends up being a player who is precluded from a major injury by the back-titrated lists included at the front of every real-life set. Ahh yes, it’s Donald Penn, the Raiders’ starting left tackle, and clearly he played enough snaps to enjoy a simple d6 roll to determine that he fights through the pain or whatever. My inner struggle has been assuaged by a considered and helpful caveat.

If I had decided right off the bat to try a Football America season – what Plaay calls their fictional football series – the LT may have very well gotten injured for multiple games. But with a completely blank slate, with no expectation besides fun and excitement, that becomes an additional dollop of butter on the pancakes.

I’m not here to say that I’m done with real-life. Far from it, I have plans to get another TBL going soon, albeit in a different way. But I’m writing this for anyone who dismissed the idea that a fictional season would provide you any enjoyment. The sets are usually cheaper, and a project can be undertaken that doesn’t invest too much time before you make an ultimate decision whether it’s for you.

[For the record, Oakland won the game, 34-17 as Blake Bortles bortled his way to 3 interceptions, making it a coasting victory for Oakland. As I imagine, “What if it had been Bortles who got injured?” I look at his 2016 backup – Chad Henne, the guy who on Sunday scrambled the Kansas City Chiefs into the AFC Championship game against my Buffalo Bills. In other words, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy historical projects too.

Additionally, thanks to Steve Tower for a little bit of reconnaissance on a product, Football America, that I’ve never purchased. -E]

7 thoughts on “The Case For Fictional

  1. Earl – I agree with you totally. I have been guilty of the many quandries of replays…on one hand, wanting them seemingly validate the accuracy of the game engine and replicate similiar results (so and so would NEVER hit 10 home runs, he only hit 6 in real life!”) but on the other wanting to have some variety or change some sort of historical outcome. With a fictional set, you are freed from both dilemmas. I also often do cross-era non-traditional schedules, particularly for baseball. I think it hard to compare vastly different eras (Deadball to Steroid era, for example) but for me I think between about 1946 and 1990, arguably, baseball was baseball and playing teams from different years is okay. Another great thing about the fictional sets is the storylines they can create in your mind, and I think you feel more free to customize the league structure, rules, etc to something you like more – like you are doing with the TGT.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since 2018, I do a Second Season project every year with the Football America set and I love it. Similar to what you mentioned, playing with fictional players leaves EVERYTHING to your imagination. I’m tempted to grab the new fictional golfers after watching some of your TGT videos. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Derek – thanks for the comment! I will very likely try another fictional project at some point, haven’t decided which yet. I feel Football or Soccer would work well for what I like. Anyway, keep rollin!


  3. Earl: I can agree with the advantages of straight fictional sets, as well as more historical replays. In my 1983 replay, the Phillies lost Larry Christenson early in the year for an extremely long stretch. Enough that he’s scheduled to return from the injury only 2 or 3 days before he was shut down for the season in real life. That creates the dilemma of “do I let him play later into the year, without going beyond his real number of games pitched, or do I shut him down when his season really ended?”

    With fictional sets, you just say “them’s the breaks” and move on.

    Either way, you as manager have to decide who will replace him. And sometimes, there aren’t any good replacements to be had.


    1. OldBear49 – For sure! And welcome! I suppose in a fictional league you *could* attempt to orchestrate a fair trade with another team to try and simulate something that could happen in real life. But then again it can be tough to execute in a pure fashion. Thanks!


  4. Whether using historical or fictional players, all tabletop sports sims generate fictional (alternative history) results. The fictional card sets strip away our preconceived notions about what “should” happen. In historic “stat-based” replays there is a high probability that generated results will deviate from the “norm” of what actually happened. But the historic results themselves could have been a case of over- or under-achieving! Bill James wrote about the variability of season performance in “2000 years of Willie Mays”


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