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Improving Strat-o-Matic

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  • Improving Strat-o-Matic

    Some Background
    I was first introduced to Strat-o-Matic (SOM) in 1992, but only played the C&D game sporadically, preferring the computer sims I discovered. (SOM didn't make a computer version back then.) I was impressed with the realism of Diamond Mind Baseball and swayed by Tom Tippett's very persuasive arguments about why Strat and ABPA's game mechanics were less accurate. I didn't buy the new season every year, but I did play in some centralized leagues and bought one every now and then. When Strat came out with a PC version, I picked that up once or twice over the years, too, largely because I'd enjoyed the board game (long since vanished from my home) and was playing in a league that used SOM.

    Like most of us, perhaps, I didn't stick with either year-in, year-out and life gets in the way so there were a good number of years in-between when I haven't played at all (on the PC or otherwise). A few years ago, I picked up the SOM board game for the 2nd or 3rd time, and some extra sets of cards, but rarely have someone to play with. Most of my "fantasy" baseball is PC sims in league play or me doing replay projects of my own.

    I was a beta tester for some other PC games over the years, including OOTP, which I'm happy to see have developed into the best "bang for the buck" for anyone wanting a PC text-based sim. Since Tippett sold DMB, the product has suffered from a lack of innovation and the new owner wanting to focus almost exclusively on providing online "fantasy" leagues. Nothing wrong with those, but that's really led to the primary product (the PC game) suffering. DMB continues to have a loyal following, however, who are grateful for the scraps the company throws them.

    Hal Richman (creator of SOM) deserves special recognition by MLB, in my opinion. Heck, hand him the Buck O'Neil Award so far as I'm concerned. Besides baseball cards themselves, what's promoted the game of baseball as much in the last 60 years besides Strat-o-Matic? It's really the forerunner of Rotisserie baseball and the modern fantasy leagues are all descended from Strat. That said, it's always been a largely "mom and pop" operation, fiscally speaking, supporting Richman and his family, but hardly profiting him millions. In addition to its financial constraints, the game's business model is somewhat outdated, it has seriously lagged behind in the PC market and the game, itself, has not innovated much in years (much like DMB). Richman is in his mid-80's and who knows what the family will do when he passes?

    I recently stumbled over some blogs about SOM with a back-and-forth between people airing their grievances about the product and those defending it. I stumbled on these as I was reading about the company's latest products (2019 season cards, Negro League anniversary set, etc.) and have been considering placing an order. While I intend to do that regardless, I have been doing a little research and trying to think about how the company might grow its customer base, the industry more generally, and its bottom line. I found myself without a single place to put these thoughts down on paper.

    This thread, then, is intended as a sort of brainstorming forum for my thoughts and ideas about Strat-o-Matic. I am making them public here for the benefit of anyone else who would read them. I would ask that anyone - especially if you're familiar with Strat, but anyone - please feel free to provide feedback. If I'm off in left field, let me know. If you like an idea, agree with it, let me know that too. If there are factors that you think I'm not considering, or data you know of that could provide more insight,.....basically if you have any contribution to make, I hope you'll take the time to share it with me here.

    My concern here is in wanting to see Strat-o-Matic excel, not merely survive. I believe that tabletop gaming, in general, is a positive social good, particularly in a society where too many individuals are ill-equipped with basic social skills because they spend an inordinate amount of time isolated in their electronics. I also believe Strat-o-Matic's father-to-son connection is as powerful as the sport that it simulates and "the family that plays together, stays together" as one gamer I know says.

    Much of what will be said could be applied to any baseball "board" game company or product, not merely Strat-o-Matic, but Strat is the grandfather of sports simulations and has a uniquely rich history of loyal customers in a way that exceeds APBA (the only other game that could come remotely close in that respect). The industry can be grown, Strat can be grown, by leveraging that core customer base. Starting something from scratch would completely lose that market advantage.

    Finally, I am sure that some of these observations may also apply to Strat football, basketball or hockey and those products should also be improved as well, but baseball is Strat's flagship product line and I'm sure its baseball revenues outstrip the others combined. Plus, this is a baseball forum. *wink*

    Thanks for reading.

    Lots more to follow.
    Last edited by Chadwick; 02-13-2020, 07:20 PM.
    "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
    "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
    "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
    "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

  • #2
    The Strat-O-Matic (SOM) Board Game
    SOM’s flagship product is its tabletop baseball board game. My understanding is that SOM must order its component parts – the cardboard box, the rulebook and separate (larger) charts, the playing board, the dice, the markers, etc. – in bulk from different vendors. Once received, they are stored in the warehouse, where SOM employees assemble the game boxes, each box completely ready for shipping as soon as it receives its card set. As customers can order the game with either the current set of cards or any other set of available cards (from older seasons to “special edition” sets), all the employees have to do is pop in the cards and then ship the game. As their best seller would be the current edition game, I’m certain that they put together a bunch of those boxes, in preparation for those orders.

    This would explain why the company never discounts the previous year’s boxed set to clear out old inventory – because they’re not stuck selling the 2018 cards (for example) with the game board. They just open the leftover 2019 sets (2018 cards), remove the card set and replace it with the current (2019 season) cards instead.

    I would bet that this is the same model for all four of their tabletop games – the baseball, football, basketball and hockey games.

    I would be curious to find out how cost-effective it would be for the company to have someone else assemble the boxes and ship only the current game (except for the rare special edition). The number of people who don’t already own Strat-o-Matic Baseball who, for example, decide to order the base game with the 1969 cards, for example, and are not interested in the current set must be few-and-far between. I suspect most of them would be willing to buy the game with the current cards and buy the additional 1969 card set as an addition, if that were the only way to get the board game parts.

    But it’s not. You could order just the game parts with any order, even by themselves. The whole contents of the boxed set (for baseball) are $10.00. Which means the other $14.00 to $43.00 of the box set (depending on which you get) is entirely determined by the price of the card set you get with it.

    If SOM’s employees did not have to spend their time assembling the product – if that were done by a copacker – then SOM’s time could be better directed towards marketing, sales and R&D (i.e. innovating the product). Now, perhaps SOM simply isn’t ever going to sell enough copies of its board game to justify the cost of a contract packager? I don’t know, but I think that there are two things the company could do to make it more plausible.
    1. Only package the board game with the current set so that, for any given year, there is only one, single edition of the board game, rather than as many possible editions as there are available card sets. This creates a single SKU of the company’s best-selling product, increasing sales volume and reducing production costs.
    2. Reimagine the board game from the current 16” x 11” x 1” to a more compact 12” x 9” x 2”, something that would take up significantly less shelf space at a retailer and could be sold at WalMart or Target in their board game section, with the front of the box facing customers rather than the product laying on its back like a less-deep Monopoly box. This could be the biggest obstacle to getting the product into retailers, particularly given the increasing popularity of tabletop games in general among retail outlets.

    Strat-O-Matic may also find that they do not want to sell through a middleman like WalMart or Target, because their profit per box sold isn’t as high, but as the venture capitalists on TV’s Shark Tank routinely remind entrepreneurs, “part of a watermelon is better than all of a grape”. It would be short-sighted of the company not to be wiling to utilize the power of these retailers to increase the company’s customer base. It’s not out of the question that they could double or triple the number of board games sold if WalMart, for example, carried their product. Furthermore, how many of the customers who purchase a boxed game at their local retailer will wind up buying additional products from Strat-O-Matic in the future? Certainly, some of them and that’s business the company wouldn’t otherwise have generated.

    As for how to “shrink” the size of the game, the component parts are easy enough: print the various game charts as appendices at the end of the rulebook (which needs better formatting anyway). That would eliminate any oversized paper within the game box. The playing surface, a cardboard ballfield, could be replaced with a folding board (like the one that used to come with the Classic Baseball Trivia card game from the early 1990’s) or a color glossy paper one that folds easily in the box, like the maps frequently included with role-playing games. The markers (which look like Parcheesi pieces) could be replaced with cardboard tokens quite easily. None of these changes would significantly increase the cost of the box game. After all, each would be manufactured in bulk as they would be used in box after box, year after year.

    Absent a license from MLB and the MLBPA (which is expensive), I would suggest Strat-O-Matic change the look of their box from showing a non-descript ballplayer in an unidentifiable uniform to something more modern and colorful. Perhaps a photograph or portrait of a baseball field, or just bats and balls or something. I don’t know, but I would suggest having a firm that specializes in branding consultancy review it and make suggestions to make the box “pop” for retail customers.

    The only thing that remains, then, is how to stuff all those cards into the box and having them pre-cut, rather than coming in uncut sheets, would simply make it like any other tabletop game on the market today. This will add to the cost of producing the box, but all the more reason to have a single SKU.

    If you’re familiar at all with SOM’s community then you’ll know that they won’t have trouble selling older boxed sets as the years go by. A year from now, when the current edition includes only 2020 season cards, people will still want the 2019 cards (if not as many). There is a substantial market for older sets out there among the SOM faithful and it wouldn’t hurt the company to utilize some shelf space in its warehouse for that purpose, especially when the sets are pre-packaged and there’s no labor needed to assemble them.

    These are some initial thoughts about the company’s flagship product. I don’t know how many of these ideas the company has considered, but I think they are worth looking into at least.

    More to come.

    "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
    "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
    "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
    "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


    • #3
      Additional Suggestions for the Board Game Set
      The rulebook should look less like instructions from a 1960's Avalon Hill wargame and more like a modern game's rulebook. Yes, this is an increase in the production cost, but the quality will be vastly improved. Not merely the paper or print quality, but it needs a more professional layout, making it easier to read and the rules easier to reference. This doesn't mean that colors need to be employed per se but there is definite room for improvement. Here's an example of the rulebook for the Settlers of Catan boardgame:
      catan rules.jpg

      And here's an example from the Axis & Allies rulebook:

      AA rule book.jpg

      Surely, the various fielding charts included with SOM (as separate sheets of paper) could be presented within the pages of a rulebook in a tidy layout like that above?

      The dice could stand to be normal size also rather than extra small (the d6s anyway). I wonder if SOM could contract with a leading polyhedral dice company like Chessex to create their dice, perhaps even some baseball-themed color dice that would be unique? Heck, perhaps Chessex (or whomever) would even be willing to create an SOM dice set that's color-themed for individual teams. Yankees fans could order a set of pinstriped dice? Dodger fans a set of Dodger blue and white? So on and so forth, as specialty items or gifts that could be sold separately (not included in the base game set).

      One of Strat-O-Matic's marketing points for many years now has been that the boxed set is actually "three games in one": a basic, advanced and super advanced version of the game. What actually happened is that, over time, the game got better, incorporating more elements of baseball to add realism to the game. Rather than render older versions of the game (and cards from earlier seasons) moot, SOM simply marketed these changes as the "advanced" game and, later, the "super advanced" game.

      I would like to hear from long-time SOM players about this, but I suspect they could simply rebrand it as a single game with certain rules as "optional variants" in the same way that a game like Dungeons & Dragons offers "variant" rule suggestions in its Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide (it's two primary rulebooks). That way the advanced and super advanced rules could simply be "if you want a more robust game, do this". I suspect that's sort of how it's viewed already, however.

      I'll float the idea here of marketing SOM's "standard" game as simply the super-advanced rules, however, not including basic or advanced rules as specific options in the rulebook, but mentioning that players should feel free to "modify or abandon some of these rules if you want a simpler, faster game". If you don't want to play with weather or ballpark effects, for example, you don't have to. The real difference here, however, is (a) presenting the SOM super-advanced rules as the standard game (which I suspect long-time players believe anyway), and (b) not wasting space and money providing rules for the "lesser" game in much detail. This also frees up the cards to not be printed with both the basic and super-advanced versions of each player, saving on printing costs substantially. (I'll get to that in a later post.)

      There is already an introductory version of the game (aimed at kids), which I'll address in my next post, but for now I'll just say that what constitutes the "basic" game in the boxed set ought to be what is presented in that product. The main game, the standard product line, ought to be the full, best version of the game. That's super-advanced rules.

      This is a point on which I would most assuredly like to hear what long-time SOM players think, however, as getting their buy-in for most any change to SOM is essential to the continued success of the brand.

      By the way, here is a snapshot of the Classic Baseball Trivia Board Game:
      classic board game.jpg

      Obviously, there's no need for a timer or the pad at the bottom of the picture, but SOM could either include an actual board like the above (which would fold into quarters to fit in the smaller box) or it could do a folded paper "board" (example below). The little cardboard tokens included with SOM could simply be circle markers of two different colors (home and away) or could be little baseball men with the small plastic base, like those pictured here.

      ME RPG map.jpg

      This is the (fold-up) map for the Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game.

      Ultimately, I would think a basic playing surface of this nature would be more ideal for the basic box. SOM could always sell a higher-quality board (like the previous picture) separately for fans that are willing to spend a little extra on that. That way, you wouldn't have to worry about squeezing the board into the smaller box and fans who want the higher quality playing surface can pay for it.

      I should have done this earlier, but the following is a snapshot of the boxed set's contents:

      SOM boxed set.jpg
      I am not suggesting that this is not a good product or that it isn't worth the price. It certainly is. It's a fantastic game. I am suggesting that this isn't the highest quality, most marketable, best presentation of their product that the company is capable of. I doubt any of the things I've pointed out are really keeping people from buying and playing the game (other than a lack of visibility in retailers), but nevertheless, the product could be better and, I believe, these improvements would add up to a better product, leading to more and happier customers, which is the whole point.
      "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
      "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
      "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
      "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


      • #4
        I don't have any helpful hints, but as a kid we had the 1982 box set, and played the heck out of it in all forms. I must have played 75+ games using that set. Good to see someone still cares about it.

        I still remember how everyone loved Floyd Rayford, 3 HR in 53 AB, 0.132 BA. He had HR's on "11" to "16" or "17" batter cards. Funny how some things stay with you for 30+ years.
        Man will land on the moon before the Mets win the World Series.-Ed Kranepool, Spring Training, 1969

        Play the Who am I? game in trivia and you can make this signature line yours for 3 days (baseball signatures only!)

        Go here for a link to all player links!

        Go here for all your 1920's/1930's OF info


        • #5
          Two Other (Important) Suggestions for the Boxed Set
          The boxed set should include a code for downloading a PDF of the rulebook (which will include the charts). A PDF is inexpensive to create and, frankly, is what they ought to be doing in the first place as that's what they should be giving their printer. People who purchase the boxed set, and the paper copy of the rulebook, should have access to a digital version of that same rulebook. Some may lose or damage their original and want to print a new copy. Others (younger players in particular) may prefer to reference the rules on an iPad, for example, while playing the game.

          More importantly, to increase revenue streams, the company should provide board game purchasers with a solidly discounted coupon (good for the same year) to purchase the computer version of the game. There are three kinds of SOM customers:

          1. Those who purchase only the cards-and-dice games/sets;
          2. Those who purchase only the computer games/sets; and
          3. Those who purchase a combination of both.

          I would assume that the third group is the smallest among the company's customer base. I would also guess that most people who buy the boxed set with the current cards do not own a previous year's set; if they did, then they would just order the new card set by itself. No, most people who purchase the complete game don't already own it and, particularly if it's sold via retail outlets, then the board game is primarily going to be purchased by new customers. Most of these new customers are not going to already own the PC version of the game, which is why it's important to include a coupon for a one-time substantial discount off the current season.

          As a new customer is playing the board game, learning the rules, enjoying the cards, he can also play the PC version to get more games in, particularly if he doesn't have someone to play with in his home or immediate circle of friends. This is only going to increase the new customer's potential loyalty and the opportunity for future purchases, in either product line. I don't know what the sweet spot for the discount ought to be (25-50 percent, I would wager), but it ought to be sufficient incentive as to sell a crapload of PC games to people who otherwise wouldn't have been buying them.

          The bigger goal here, besides short-term sales, is long-term customers. This would be a great way to create them.

          And, no, this isn't inspired by Michael Scott's Golden Ticket promotion.

          "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
          "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
          "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
          "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


          • #6
            I've been a stat o matic fanatic since 1975. I played C&D only until about 2005, now I only play computer.

            I used to run a lot of leagues on this site, but when it upgraded, the HTML function for posting leagues didn't work anymore and it was hard to read results.

            I am currently in a diamond mine league with 15 other playing every season from 1910 up. We are now at 1921.
            This week's Giant

            #5 in games played as a Giant with 1721 , Bill Terry


            • #7
              Very cool.

              First off, thank you for the responses. It's great to see friends comment on what Strat has meant to them. My suggestions are intended only for the benefit of the company and the industry at-large. I am quite sensitive to the idea that Strat's existing fan base should be grown (not replaced). That means continuing to emphasize what they do well, while expanding on it and improving the areas where it could use improvement.

              I have lots more to add, but I'm starting another thread, inspired by my rediscover of Strat this winter. I'm excited to get that off the ground today.

              More posts will be added to this suggestion thread throughout the upcoming week.
              "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
              "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
              "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
              "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


              • #8
                My brother and both majored in SOM in college. Somehow we managed to get degrees in other subjects.
                This week's Giant

                #5 in games played as a Giant with 1721 , Bill Terry


                • #9
                  Man, I miss playing SOM. My unlce ran a league every year, and once he died of colon cancer, everyone just quit. So many great memories.
                  1885 1886 1926 1931 1934 1942 1944 1946 1964 1967 1982 2006 2011

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                  • #10
                    I still play with my dad from time to time. Great game.
                    “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.” Walter Lippmann

                    "I don't care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a ******* zebra. I'm the manager of this team and I say he [Robinson] plays." - Leo Durocher


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