Sports Games

Sports Replay Games

Author: Lutz Pietschker
Version: 1998

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This is the translation of an article I wrote for the Berliner Spiele-Anzeiger, a Berlin games magazine run by Martina Hellmich. Published with friendly permission of BSA
Includes short descriptions of the games "Full Time","3 3/4 Laps", "The World of International Athletics and "The World of Motor Racing".


fulltime No, this is not a belated joke to the Soccer World Cup (sorry, an un-translatable pun: "extra time" and "time to replay" are the same word in German, "Nachspielzeit"). I want to tell you about a kind of games that are quite popular in Britain and America but that are not widely known, so far, in Germany. I talk about sports simulations, i.e. games that re-create sports events and that claim to deliver realistic or at least probable results. This kind of games is known as replay games. My examples will be four games of the British games company Lambourne Games that specializes in such designs.

So What Is A Replay Game?

golf A sports event is replayed, that much is clear already. The nature of a replay game is that the event results do not, in the first place, depend on the player's performance but that they produce, within limits, a possible and probable outcome. The sides are existing teams or athletes with all the strengths and weaknesses they have shown to date. If you follow this principle to the end you get game systems that run statistically and without any player interference. In fact there are such games in which the players takes the role of a spectator or, at best, coach. But even if the player has a real influence on the course of event he always plays within the limits of "his" athletes and more against the game system than against competing players. Consequently, many replay games are designed for solitaire play.

All Lambourne games are based on solid and detailed analysis of real sports events. But unlike other games of the kind the events are converted to games using very elegant game mechanics. For example, soccer games are not rendered "pass by pass, shot by shot"; rather, the system makes use of the fact that only a very limited number of actions in the course of an sporting event is responsible for eventual success or failure. Sometimes this requires to split a very short action (like a long jump) into phases (run-up, take-off, jump), accordingly becoming slower in the simulation. In most cases the opposite happens, the replay of the action becomes faster and is concentrated on the highlights, the actions that might deliver decisive results. But in all this the typical feel of that particular sport is preserved- an ice hockey game is fast and turbulent; a marathon run develops along the complete distance because the different styles of the runners cause continuous changes in the field; a motor race is decided in short dramatic moments when cars are overtaken or drop out of the race.

Simulation vs. Tactics

speedway To simulate something, you first have to understand the real thing. Well, Terry Goodchild, author of all Lambourne games, has a very personal relation to all kinds of sports. Not only has he actively pursued a lot of them but even today, with more than 60 years of age, he still is active as a cricket umpire. But he does not only rely on personal knowledge: His sports books library weighed two and a half tons when he last moved; it has grown considerably since then.

When starting into a new design he first tries to pick out what it is that makes this particular event interesting, what is unique, and what are the factors that influence the results most. Those elements also have to dominate the game. The next step is to decide which of the many factors and influences shall be used in the game. Shall it give a detailed account of how the results come to pass? Shall it reward tactical skill? Shall it mirror economic factors? The result of such considerations is a model, a reflection of reality that is meant to portray certain aspects of a sport realistically. The model also decides which of the many statistical data are actually used in that game.

Once the model is known, the game mechanics are developed. Lambourne Games can draw from some well-tried techniques, e.g. the "highlight method" and the "compressed time method" that produce time leaps or time-lapse effects to reduce playing time and make it feasible to replay a complete season. The art lies in the skilled use of such techniques to create a fast-flowing game and to combine them into a game that radiates an atmosphere similar to the original event.

Next comes the graphics design of tables and board. Terry Goodchild is the first to admit that this is not what he likes best to do, and the visual appearance of the games sometimes is a point of criticism. On the other hand it is easy to see how much he likes writing the rules. Not only are they tutorial in style, but usually they are also complete and unambiguous. Nearly all the rules include designer's notes and some remarks about the real-world background of the game design.

The palette of Lambourne sports simulations ranges from "pure" simulations with very little player action to tactical family games that nevertheless mirror the atmosphere and the main factors of the sports event. The examples below are all "real" replay games; I will cover some of the family games in a subsequent issue of the BSA magazine.

Full Time (1-2 players)

soccer This is the latest of the Lambourne games. It is their third soccer game and has a good balance of detail and easy flow of the game. You get tables for 60 European and British clubs with their relative strengths for attack and defence for home and away play. Individual players may have a bonus for goal attempts or midfield play.

You choose two sides, find out their strength factors and possibly adjust them for teams playing in different leagues or for formations other than the classical 4-4-2. Finally, you choose the kind of referee you like.

For each pass two dice are rolled; one decides about the kind of pass this was, i.e. about the movement of the ball on the field, the other, together with a table look-up, indicates the receiving player. The kind of pass and the receiving player depend, of course, on the part of the field the action takes place in. A pass can either be an automatic success, or the defender may get a chance to intercept the ball. In the attack zone the attacking player can decide to try a shot at the goal instead of passing the ball on. Intercepts are decided by the draw of an action card; this may change ball possession to the defender and may also change initiative.

The action cards also determine the flow of time by indicating time leaps without interrupting the current action. Thus game time flows rather fast while the football action remains continuous and fluid.

So much about the basic game concepts- there are also rules for special situations but those also fit into the flow of the game smoothly and do not cause interrupts.

3 3/4 Laps (3 players and up)

3 3/4 laps 3 3/4 laps equal 1500 metres of track. The players choose runners from a list of 63 world class athletes whose personal best times (converted to 1996 standards), stamina and field leader capacity are given. The game is played on an oval track of 50 sections. Each game turn represents a certain stretch which gets shorter as the game progresses. The 10th game turn is the final sprint. On the first 800m the 8 to 15 runners try to get into favourable positions to win through their stamina or sprint capacity on the final laps.

The speed values of the runners are converted to distance run by means of a look-up table. The players can decide to risk a die roll on another table instead of running steadily. By doing this they get the chance to choose one of 2 to 10 possible results that speed up or slow down the runner momentarily or permanently. Favourable results cost more stamina points than adverse results. Exhausted runners, i.e. runners down to their last few stamina points, only have a limited choice of actions. Once in race the runner may make a special effort and speed up at the expense of their reserves. In the last game turn the remaining stamina points are converted directly into the sprint performance.

The properties of the runners influence their best tactics. Some are suited to lead the field, others lose stamina if they do. Some runners have predetermined speed increases or decreases over the course of the race. All of these characteristics are derived from those of their real-world equivalents.

Rules allow to use pacemakers and to take into account the current fitness level of the runners and the track condition. After the race the run time can be calculated for the runners so you can even compare "your" runner's performance to standing records!

The World of International Athletics (solo)

int. athletics Again, this a an athletics competition but this time it encompasses all track, field and combined events. The basic game module covers track events, extension modules add field and combined events. Player influence is small in this game, in most events the athlete's performance is determined directly from a few die rolls and modified only by his current fitness level. There is no game board, the action takes place across a couple of printed tables. Nevertheless the game has its appeal- it transports the atmosphere of an athletics competition, you get accurate time or distance results, and of course the competitors are famous athletes from all over the world and from different epochs.

The process to get results is similar in all events. Depending on the performance figure of the athlete (which is based on his personal best) you roll dice on several tables and match them with the athlete's fitness level to get partial results. You then add the partial results to get the final result.

Track events have a number of sections, and the final time is the sum of the section results. For long distance races you may impose an "effort curve" by distributing the athlete's peaks of effort along the distance at your discretion.

The high jump and pole vault results are determined by comparing the set height with the personal best height of the athlete. Modified by the fitness level this gives a probability factor against which you roll the die. For the long jump and throwing event partial results are determined for the phases of the effort -in case of the long jump these are run-up, take-off and jump- and added up to the total jumped resp. thrown distance. Extremely good or bad results carry over to the next phases. So, a messed-up run-up decreases the chance to achieve a decent take-off and probably gives an average total result at best.

The World of Motor Racing (1-many players)

Motor Racing Car racing is the topic here, Formula 1, Indy500 or touring cars. The game concept assumes that decisive events only happen every couple of rounds and that the race runs more or less predictably in between, subject to car and driver performance and the chosen style of driving. The highlights that eventually will decide about victory and defeat may just be changes in speed but can also be mechanical trouble or the occasional spin. The cars hit by incidents are chosen at random, but aggressive driving increases the chance to encounter serious trouble.

The race is run on an endless circuit that only registers the relative car positions. Cars falling behind are moved backwards, those pulling ahead move forward. The length of sections between incident checks and car position corrections depend on the circuit used. Some motodromes are a challenge to car and engine, others demand higher driver skill. The possible incidents are described in enough detail to be able to give a running commentary in the style of a radio correspondent.

Even the basic rules create enough realism and suspense, but of course there are also optional rules that introduce things like qualification rounds, tyre wear, pit stops and weather conditions.

Play it Again

cricket Do you want to replay the Soccer World Cup Finals of 1966? Or the speedway season of 1980? Or let Armin Hary run against Ben Johnson? No problem! Lambourne Games has games to more than 20 sports, and for many of the games yearly updates of statistical data and lists of current athletes are available. Some of the games have also been converted into computer games.

Typically, the games have small print runs. To sell 200-300 copies of a game in the year of publication is regarded a success, and you must take this into account when you judge about appearance and material of the games. Rules and tables are mostly copied on paper or coloured cardboard, and the games come in ziplock bags. From time to time Lambourne Games treats us to extravaganzas, though, like boards printed on PVC sheets (a concession to the damp English climate?). In Germany the games are rather expensive because of the unfavourable exchange rate. The games sell for £ 4.50 for a card game to £ 20 for the more complex boardgames. To do the games justice you must take into account the effort that goes into the design of those games. For sports that are not common outside Britain Terry Goodchild even delivers the game complete with a short description of the laws and tactics of the sports. In addition, Lambourne Games publishes a newsletter, the Replay Report, that announces new games and reports current (gaming and real-world) events.

Replay games are for sports fans, solitaire game buffs and for friends of elegant game systems and British wit and lifestyle. I didn't mention it so far, I believe: Games about cricket, rugby and horse racing are, of course, bestsellers in the range of Lambourne games.

Written by Lutz Pietschker

See also an article written by Terry Goodchild himself, "About Replay Gaming". A related article is now on the internet with an account of Lambourne Games Day 1998 and a few more short game summaries.

Source and catalogue:

Lambourne Games
15 Mill View Close
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4HR, England
Tel. 0044-1394-388102
or see the Sports Game Shop

About 28 board and card games of Lambourne's are currently in print, plus several computer games (DOS/Windows).

As the author of this page I take no expressed or implied responsibility for the content of external links; opinions expressed on such pages are not necessarily mine. The web space provider is not responsible for the contents of this page or any linked pages.

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, last change 2011-03-12