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Subject: Strat-O-Matic Pro Basketball - The Basic Game rss

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Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
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"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
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Strat-O-Matic Basketball is a 2-player or a solitaire game that is really 2 games in 1. There is a basic game and an advanced game. Unlike many games that have “advanced rules,” when you decide to play the advanced game in Strat-O-Matic Basketball, it is far more than a few rule additions. Instead, the player cards and the game cards – the engine of the game – changes to an entirely different set, hence becoming an entirely different game. If you play the “super advanced” game, then you run into additional rules to add to the advanced game, making it more in line with what most games consider “advanced.” So with this game, it is really two games in one, which is what they advertise on the box. This review is for the basic game only. I started out on this version and for two years in college, I was commissioner of a Strat-O-Matic basic basketball draft league. Since I played this game heavily in the early 1990s, I will mostly refer to players from this time era. Also, to play this game, you have to be familiar with the game of basketball, so I am going to use basketball terminology, because if I have to explain what a basket or free throw is, this review will quadruple in size, and also because if you don’t know what they are, you probably will not be interested in this game.


Components:

Strat-O-Matic Basketball is about as far from a Euro-game as they come – in components, instructions, and game play. The scoreboard is heavy cardboard without much detail, very little pleasing artwork, focusing instead on the practical over the aesthetic. There is a “score board” printed on the board, which is really just the numbers 1-100 in circles. Cheap circular paper chits are used to cover the number representing each team’s point total. Similarly, paper chits are used to keep track of time outs remaining, which are marked on the game board. The board also has a few tables on it for jump ball results and injury resolution printed on it. Along the long edges are 5 boxes with the positions on them: center, left forward, right forward, right guard, and left guard.



The game comes with three 6-sided dice. Two are your standard issue 6-sided numerical dice. The third is a larger, black, special die. Three sides are blank, one has a letter “X” and two sides have the letter “D”. The black die, unfortunately is larger, bulkier, and hard to randomize without a dice tower or similar device. Due to the nature of the paper chits on the board, it is not advisable to roll the dice on the board, as the vibrations tend to mess up the score. Also, over time, the letters will wear off the black die. I recommend fingernail polish as a means of re-painting the letters.

 


The game also comes with player cards: 10 cards per team. If you buy the additional players, you can get 2-3 more players per team. Generally, these are the guys who sit on the end of the bench, and their addition is for basketball purists, only. However, some years, there is a real jewel in the group. If a key player was injured most of the season (think: Michael Jordan in 1986), then the addition of this player makes for interesting scenarios. There are also two double-sided team defense cards for each team. One card has a basic/advanced split team defense and the other show specialty team defenses used in the advanced game.

The game comes with two sets of action deck cards, with 60 cards per deck. The smaller cards are used only in the basic game, whereas the larger cards are used only in the advanced game. There are also two larger sized cards to place in the action deck. One says “6 minutes” and one says “2 minutes.” Again, the quality is lacking on the action cards and you do not shuffle these like you would a deck of cards, because bending the cards will put creases in them. There are 60 action cards in the basic deck. These control the game play. Like I said, they are not high quality and cannot be shuffled like a traditional deck of cards. Do not laminate the cards, because that makes them too slick and nearly impossible to keep a deck of 60 cards to stand up. Treat them gently and if you wear them out, you can order replacement cards from their website for a reasonable price.

The game also comes with a 10-page rule book. Like I said, this is no Euro-game. The instructions look like they were typed on a home computer in the 1980s. The first 7 pages are dedicated to the basic game and the remaining 5 are for the advanced game. An extra one-page insert outlines the “super advanced” rules. While it would seem natural to include this in the rulebook, it is probably left as an addition because it contains a pair of handy tables (foul distribution and playing time), which is handy to place near the game board, and is more easily placed than an entire rulebook.

Finally, the game includes a roster sheet. The roster sheet tells the players and the additional players. It tells their 3-point frequency (used in desperation situations in the super advanced game), and the offensive tempos of each team. Any restrictions on the number of players (due to extended injuries) are noted on this sheet, and finally, new rules for the season are listed here, an example being “The Rodman Rule” which was created to generate the extraordinary number of rebounds Dennis Rodman grabbed between 1991-98.


Objective of Play:
The goal is to score more points than your opponent at the end of 4 quarters, or overtime if necessary.


Player Cards:

The player cards are double-sided – one for advanced play and one for basic. The quality is lacking, as they are paper cards and show wear over time. I recommend NOT putting them in rubber bands. As those of us who collected baseball cards back in the day know, rubber bands become sticky and melt over time. Instead, put them in a shoebox with dividers.

 


The card itself shows a wide range of strengths and weaknesses for each player. The upper left-hand side lists his name and team. Below that is his free throw “to hit” numbers on a pair of 6-sided dice. (A 75% shooter hits on 2-8 and 12). Below that is an assists rating. This rating does not affect game play, but rather is used for statistical accuracy in bookkeeping. Below that is his 3-point shooting numbers required to hit the shot, or pass it up (3-pt replay).

In the upper right-hand corner shows the player’s height and weight (not used in game play) and the required minimum rest the player is to have during the game. Below that are the rebounding ratings both offensive and defensive – the higher the number, the better – at a variety of positions. This section shows you what positions the player can play. Every player can play a minimum of 2 positions. The first position shown is the one he most frequently plays, followed by the next frequent, and so on. On the left of the rebounding rating is a “shooting” rating that ranges from 0 to 4. It is basically a “gunner” rating and has nothing to do with proficiency. Players who do not shoot a lot (such as Dennis Rodman) are rated 0. Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley were often 1 or 2. Ballhogs such as Dominique Wilkins, Tom Chambers, and Michael Jordan were 4s. This rating helps insure that gunners will get their shots, even when you don’t necessarily want them taking the shots.

Below these ratings are three columns for shooting, passing, and defense. The left-hand column is shooting. The numbers 2-12 are shown with a symbol beside them. The symbols are as follows:

• Blank = missed shot.
• X = made shot.
• F(2) = Fouled in the act of shooting. Shoot 2 free throws.
• X + F(1) = Basket and fouled in the act of shooting. Shoot one free throw.
• = If the player is open, this shot is good. Otherwise, it is a miss.
• R = Replay. (Player does not shoot). Players with a 0 shooting rating will have at least one “R” in their shooting columns, whereas players with a 1 or more never have an “R.”
• In addition, there are splits, such as “X, 1-4” which means you consult the face-up action deck card and look at the number on it (the number is between 1 and 20). If it is in this range, the shot is good. Otherwise, it is a miss.

The middle column is a passing column. There are numbers assigned to this column from 26-32. Every player has only 2 possibilities in this column and both are listed with a numerical range beside them. They are:

• Turnover (other team gets the ball).
• Pass to the highest rated shooter for shot. (Pass to the biggest gunner)

A turnover-prone player (such as Patrick Ewing in 1989) may have a card that reads: “26-31 – Turnover” and “32 – Pass to highest rated shooter for shot.” Meaning he has a 6 out of 7 chance of turning the ball over if this comes up. Whereas someone like Tyrone Bogues, who protected the ball very well, would have a card that reads: “– Turnover” (“-“ means there is no range for this option) and “26-32 – Pass to highest rated shooter for shot.” Meaning he never turns it over in this instance. Note: turnovers in this case do not represent steals, but rather throwing the ball out of bounds, travelling, and the like.” Also, this does not mean Bogues never turns the ball over. There are other passes that show up and if you put a ball hawk like John Stockton on him, chances are greater that Stockton will force a steal.

The defense column is broken into 2 rows: one for on-the-ball defense and one for shooting defense. The first section (on-the-ball defense) has numbers between 1 and 15, whereas the shooting defense is from 16-25. The on-the-ball defense has the following possibilities (with a numerical range beside them):

• Steal – take open shot (such as Gary Payton picking his man’s pocket and taking it to the other end).
• Steal – no shot – look at control (such as Hakeem Olajuwon picking off an entry pass to the low post).
• F(1) – Non-shooting foul (unless you are in the bonus).
• Pass to any 1+ shooter for shot – (This allows you to avoid passing to the ballhog if you don’t want to, so long as there is somebody else who shoots frequently enough to merit a 1 or more shooting rating. This is particularly useful if your ballhog is not a good 3-point shooter, but another player with a 1+ rating is a good 3-point shooter, and you want to take a 3-point shot.)
• Shot – The player with the ball takes the shot.

The genius behind this column is that it allows you to capture a large variety of characteristics. For instance, Joe Dumars is one of the all-time great defenders, but did not get many steals. He will have a very low range by the steals column, but also a low range by shot, since his guy is more likely to pass to someone else, since Dumars covers him so well. Meanwhile, players who come off the bench and pick up a lot of fouls are reflected by a large range in the foul column, whereas superstars usually have no range in this column, since they pick up so few fouls.

The shot results section has a numerical range from 16-25 and shows how well a player defends the shot. There are only two possibilities:

• Shot – Good
• Shot – No Good.

A player like Dumars will have a “- Shot Good” (meaning no chance) and a “16-25” shot no good.” Whereas a defensive sieve like Glenn Robinson has a “16-23 Shot – good” and “24-25 - Shot no good.”


Action Cards:

There are 60 action cards in the basic deck. These are the cards that describe the action and act as the game clock (when you run out of cards, you run out of time), and ultimately, control the game play. Because this, the game varies on how one card lines up to the next card and the proceeding card. Therefore, when shuffling, it is not as important to thoroughly randomize them, to break up sets of suits or colors (ex: Ticket to Ride or Go Fish). Instead, here is the best way I have found to shuffle the action deck to preserve the life. Take the top card and hold it in a hand. Take the next card and place it on TOP of the card in your hand. Then take the next card in the deck and place in underneath the 2 cards in your other hand. Keep alternating top and bottom until you have shifted the cards from one hand to the other. This guarantees that no 2 cards will fall in the same sequential order and also the top card of the deck is now exactly in the middle. This is sufficient to properly randomize the results.
After shuffling the cards, count out the bottom 10 cards and place the “2 minute” card. Count out 20 more cards and place the “6 minute” card.

 


The action cards are broken into 4 sections: Home/Visitor, Control, Rebound, and numerical rating. The top section has 2 columns, one for “Home” team and one for “Visitor” Team. There are 6 different types of results that will show up in these sections. They are:

• Shot – The player with the ball takes a shot by rolling the dice and determining the results.
• Open shot – Same as above except all open results are good.
• STEAL Pass to highest rated player for shot
• Opponent Defense 11 – (number varies) Look at the opponents defensive card and determine what action the number 14 corresponds to (steal, pass, foul, or shot).
• Opponent Defense 16 Shot Results - (number varies) Look at the defender’s shot results section and see if the number 16 corresponds to a made or missed shot – note, these are always 2-point shots.
• Passing 31 – Look at the offensive player’s passing column and determine if the number 31 corresponds to a turnover or a pass.
• Replay – A replay is like a breakdown in the offensive set, where the team has to re-set the offense.

The “control” section tells which player has the ball. After a replay, a defensive rebound, or a basket, you consult this section to see who has the ball. In the same section of the card, below is an assists rating. For instance, it may say “Assist RF (1.0), RG (10.0)” This does not affect game play. It is a bookkeeping measure to make sure players who get an extraordinary amount of assists relative to their position (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson) will get their assists if you are recording the individual stats for the game.

In the rebound section, there are either one or two rebounding possibilities listed. If the rebound cannot be contested, there is only one listed. For example, it may say, “Defensive LF”. That means the Defensive Left Forward got the rebound. Another example is as such:

• Defensive C, rating 2 or more, if not – opposing offensive C
• Defensive RF

The first case is a contested rebound and could conceivable create an offensive rebound and if the player missed the follow-up shot, the next rebound is not contested.

The bottom section shows a number between 1and 20. Whenever a player rolls for a shot and gets a split (see “Player Cards” section), he consults this number. I prefer a 20-sided die for more suspense.
In the NBA, the home team wins more often than the visitors. This advantage is built into the action deck. For instance, in the Home/Visitor section, there are 3 “Steal” results for the home team and 4 for the visitors. I am guessing for the visitors the opponent defense is a little more likely to come up in the range for a foul and maybe the shot results are a little lower in average numerical value (meaning harder to hit). It’s not a massive advantage: the Bulls are still going to beat the Clippers far more often than not, but it is a small enough advantage to reflect reality over the course of enough games.


Expansions:

There are no expansions to Strat-O-Matic basketball, however, there are new player cards sets released every fall. Many players see little change from year to year, but for the basketball purists, there is always enough to keep you coming back for more. For instance, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson’s rookie cards were highly anticipated during 1990 and 1994, respectively. When a player has a breakout season or switches teams, those are worth noting as well.


Overview of Play:

To play the game, you first select your five starting players from your roster. You place each player at the listed position on the game board. Consult the rebounding section of the player card to determine what positions he can play. You cannot put a player who only plays guard in the center slot or a player who is listed as either a center or left forward into the right forward slot. When you establish your players, the corresponding player is guarding his counterpart, meaning right guard defends right guard, etc.

Next, you determine if you want to double team a player. The rules for double-teaming are that you can double team a guard with another guard or a forward who corresponds to his position. That means a left guard can be double-teamed by a left forward or the other (right) guard. A right guard can be double-teamed by a right forward or the other (left) guard. A forward can be double-teamed by the corresponding position guard, meaning a right forward can be double-teamed only by the right guard. Meanwhile, a center can be double-teamed by ANY player. A double-teamed player has much harder time getting off his shot and making it, whereas an open player (the one who has no one guarding him) has an easier time making his shot. The double-teamed player automatically has his shooting rating dropped to zero. The open player does not have his shooting rating increase, but he does take all shots as open shots. Note: if a double-teamed player steals the ball on defense and takes the open shot on the action card, or he gets an offensive rebound, he is not double-teamed in these instances. Also, if he has the ball and the action card says he is to take an open shot, he takes an open shot (example: sometimes, Michael Jordan splits a double team).

To play the game, you start by having a jump ball. You roll two dice and consult the table on the game board to determine which team won the jump ball. Then, you flip over the first action card and look at control to see who has the ball. Then, you flip over the next card and look under “Visitor” or “Home” and follow the directions.

When you take a shot, you first declare if it is a 2-point or 3-point shot. Then you roll all 3 dice. If the black die shows a blank or “X” you look at the offensive player’s shooting column and compare the result. If the result is “D” you look at the defensive card and compare the results.

A double-teamed player automatically misses all “D” results on the black die. The open player from a double-team does not automatically hit all “D” results, but rather he takes all shots as open shots.

If the result is a “R” (Replay), you look at the control section and repeat (flip card, look at “Home/Visitor”). If you have 3 Replays before you successfully make or miss a shot, this is a turnover (24 second violation).

If the player missed the shot, you go to the rebounding section and follow the directions. If the result is an offensive rebound, the player gets to take an open shot. If he gets a Replay, this is considered the first replay, because the 24-second shot would reset.

If you take a 3-point shot, the black die is treated the same. On the player’s offensive card, you consult the “3 point shooting section” and see if the number is listed. If so, you he made the shot. If not, look at the “3-point replay” section. If it is listed in that section, it is a replay. If not, it is a miss. For a “D” result, consult the “3-point” section of the opponent’s team defensive card.

If the “Opponent's Defense XX shot results” shows up in the “Home/Visitor” section, if the player with the ball is double-teamed, it is an automatic miss. If the player is the open player in a double-team situation, it is an automatic make.

If you are recording individual stats during game play and if the action deck says “shot” or “open shot” under “home/visitor” or as a result of the opponent defense, look at the assists rating under the “Control” section. If the player listed has an assists rating equal to or greater than the rating on the card, that player gets an assists. If not, look at the next player and compare the result.

If the result is X12 (X on the black die, 6 on each numbered die), and you are playing with the optional injury rules, role the numbered dice and consult the table on the game board.

If the player’s card shooting result says “F(2)” this is a foul. A foul is assigned to the defensive counterpart (or the double-teaming player if the shooting player is double-teamed). Then the shooting player rolls two dice (ignoring the black die) and looks under his “Foul Shooting” section. If the number on the dice is in the range on the card, the free throw was made.

If the shot is made, you advance the paper chit by 1, 2, or 3 points.
After you run out of action cards, the first quarter has finished. Re-shuffle and repeat 4 more times.

For all other rules, NBA rules apply, such as 6 fouls by a player is a disqualification. The bonus rules, overtime, and such apply.


Results:

The first few times you play the game, it can seem to take awhile. It is best to play the game in an environment free of distractions, because focus is needed, while you concentrate on what the next move is. Once you get familiar with the process, it’s very easy and I have found that I can play a solitaire game in about 1 hour. For draft leagues, where we had the same players game after game (and came to memorize our players), play was even faster.

I would advise starting with the basic game, because some of the components to the game engine are introduced here and if they are mastered here, it makes it far easier to pick up the advanced game.
As far as an accurate simulation, the results are acceptable. If you play the old Bulls teams, over the course of enough games, Michael Jordan will lead the team in scoring; Scottie Pippen will lead in assists; Dennis Rodman will lead in rebounding and Steve Kerr in 3-point accuracy. Players’ free throw percentage will be the most accurate to reality.

If you play a draft league, you won’t see Rodman leading the league in scoring, no matter how hard you try. You will notice that few players will meet their scoring averages, just like an all-star game. The league leaders in assists and rebounds will be the better players in those categories.

However, there is a lot in real basketball that is not captured in this game. Examples include:

• Point guards – The biggest flaw in the basic game is that the pass-first point guards who make everyone around them better are not reflected in the basic game in game play. The assists work out statistically, but not from a game play standpoint, because the assists are reflected from bookkeeping rather than a strategic standpoint. This means John Stockton doesn’t make those around him better because of his passing. If you are drafting players for a league, stay away from point guards with low shooting percentages, such as Isiah Thomas or Jason Kidd. As a matter of fact, a team with Reggie Miller and Drazen Petrovic would be preferred, even though neither one can run an offense.
• Fast Break – It does not exist in this game. So long as your guards and right (small) forward are not turnover-prone, you are doing just fine to play two traditional power forwards and two shooting guards and one center. I wrecked havoc in a league and my starting five were Brad Daugherty, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Jon Sunvold, and Ron Harper.
• Rest – I was guilty of abusing this one. Players have to rest 2, 6, 12, or 18 minutes per game. I have been guilty of resting an 18 minute player for the first 1.5 quarters and then playing him for the rest of the game. This isn’t realistic by any means. It becomes a “letter of the law/spirit of the law” scenario.
• Defensive match-ups - The rule that says right guards must guard right guards is absurd. It creates situations where a foul-drawing player can be used to eliminate his counterpart. In the advanced game, you can switch up defenders. Also, there is very little reason to put Joe Dumars on Michael Jordan. When you roll the black die, you are looking at the offensive player’s shooting column or the TEAM defense shooting column, which applies to everyone on the team. The individual defense is not factored into the strategy. Fortunately, this is all corrected in the advanced game.
• Positions – Because the players guard their counterparts, it severely limits the offensive play. For instance, Dennis Rodman (back in his Detroit days) is listed as a right (small) forward first, a left (power) forward second, and also as a guard. The reason he did this is because he defended either forward position and defended Michael Jordan (a guard). However, he was never a guard on offense. He lacked the shooting, dribbling, and passing ability to do so. But according to the basic game, for him to defend Jordan, he has to be a guard on offense and defense.
• Driving vs. jump shooting. Again, non-existent. Along with this comes the defensive ability to play up on a jump shooter (John Paxson) or sag off a slashing player (Larry Hughes). From a strategic and simulation aspect, a dominating low post player teamed up with a team of slashing guards and wingmen will not be very effective compared to teaming him with a bunch of jump shooters (think Hakeem Olajuwon and the 1994 Rockets). Fortunately, this is corrected in the advanced game, for the most part.
• Shot Blocking – it is not part of the basic game. The intimidating middle man is a key factor to many defenses.
• Jump Balls – The only one is at the beginning of the game. There are no tie-ups. Also, the jump ball is determined by random means and not based on height and jumping ability. Maybe this is a good thing because too much detail would be fiddly.
• Mix-match teams – Everyone likes to pretend “what if so and so were to join this team?” You can do that in Strat-O-Matic, but the results rarely match reality. For instance, when Dennis Rodman joined San Antonio, David Robinson’s rebounds decreased. When Ron Harper went to the Bulls, his numbers fell dramatically. Had Kevin Johnson gone the Bulls, there is no way he is a 20/10 (points/assists) player because his style clashed with Michael Jordan’s. But it sure is fun to play the “what if” game.


Conclusion:

Strat-O-Matic basic basketball is an enjoyable game for basketball junkies. It is not the detailed basketball simulation that the advanced game is, but it is very fun nevertheless. I have Avalon Hill’s Basketball Strategy and Stasis-Pro Basketball and I found Strat-O-Matic basic to be an improvement over both.

If you play team vs. team, it is more difficult to abuse the rules and notice the flaws as much as if you play in a draft league. However, despite all of the warts on the basic system, a basketball fan will have hours of fun playing in a draft league, because everyone learns the same deficiencies and after ignoring it, it becomes a fun game, albeit one lacking realistic simulation.

In addition, I have had fun putting every team in a single-elimination NCAA-style tournament and letting them slug it out. The results have been odd (The Bulls never made the Final 4 during 1991-93) and sometimes outrageous (Reggie Miller went for 72 points in a game, though it was that rare game where he just couldn’t miss and the stars were aligned).

In the world of Strat-O-Matic basketball, the computer game is by far the most realistic simulation, as well as the easiest and fastest to play. But for the board game purist, I could not more highly recommend a game over Strat-O-Matic basketball. It has BY FAR the most plays in my collection and is ranked #1 in my all-time top 10. To have the most fun, strategy, and realism, you want to play the advanced game, but first, play the basic game, in order to get acquainted with the game system. Once you have it down, the jump to the advanced game has a much smaller learning curve, and you can avoid those 4 hour games that people suffer through while learning the advanced game from scratch. It will also help you appreciate the advanced game, because once you see the flaws of the basic game up close, you will learn to appreciate the advanced game for the corrections that it makes.


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David Bohnenberger
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Excellent review. Will you be reviewing the "advanced" game as well?
 
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Bill Eldard
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A thorough and terrific review, J-V! It's among the best I've seen on BGG. Many thanks for taking the time to share your experience and insight!
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Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
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"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
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Yes, I will be reviewing the advanced game. I have it written and will submit tomorrow. Thanks for the pub. I love SOMBB (advanced) -- it's ranked #1 on my list of all-time games.
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Ralph B
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That is possibly the best review of a sports board game that I have ever seen.

Thank you for posting it.
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Louye P
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I am just getting started with the basic game using 1993-94 cards. A test game was run with the Magic at Knicks with no stat keeping. Kept track of score in my head at it seemed a bit high, then played "for reals" with the 76ers at the Pacers. Final in regulation was 116-103 Indiana. Do you run into these kind of inflated scores often in basic? These two teams combined for an average of 166 FGA per game in that season, and in this game they attempted a combined 191.
 
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Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
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"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
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Keep in mind that from 1989 on into the 90s, the league slowed to a crawl (after the 89 Paces and 92 Knicks made thug ball fashionable and the media rewarded coaches who won 70-68 games over those who won 118-116 -- the latter having "great athletes"), so the fixed deck timer made it difficult to replicate the scores, even with the number of added misses on the cards, because offensive rebounds are still a pretty high percentage shot.

Back then, I think I shuffled the deck and then pulled away something like 4 random cards and that made the scores fall in line.

But remember that Basic is fun, but advanced is where the realism is: especially when you follow their shooting tendencies: a guy with "**" shooting tendencies is going to drive only about 1/3 of the time, and probably more when he gets caught in a switch and a guy with **** is going to drive about 80% of the time, so don't have him chucking up 3's even if he has a lot of replays on his 3-pt shot and he's matched up on a guy like Scottie Pippen, who shuts down the drive.
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