I’m willing to bet very few of my regular blog readers know what Strat-O-Matic is, but for someone like me who grew up playing and watching sports it was a big part of my teenage years. Back before game console sports games were sophisticated enough to make players behave like their real-life counterparts, hard core gamers like me had Strat-O-Matic board games to pass the time.
I bought my first Strat-O-Matic hockey game in early 1985. That version depicted the 1983-84 NHL season and included the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers, which boasted three 50-goal scorers in Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. The game also included my then-favorite team the Los Angeles Kings, who were led by Bernie Nicholls, Charlie Simmer and Marcel Dionne but couldn’t hold an opponent under five goals if their lives depended on it. And I can never forget the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, the two worst teams in the NHL at the time. Both of those teams were busy trying to out lose one another so they could earn the right to draft Mario Lemieux the following summer, and the Penguins prevailed with players like Gary Rissling, who amassed an astonishing 297 penalty minutes in 47 games.
What I loved about Strat-O-Matic hockey the most was the realism. It was played with a board, a pair of dice, two stacks of action cards, and a player card set. The top sixteen skaters and two goalies on every NHL team were included in the box, and you could order a set of additional player cards to fill out the rosters so you could choose which skaters to dress. A typical game could be played in about an hour, and I used to play about four to five games a week. I used my Los Angeles Kings team set and played a 40-game mini season, which was easy to do since the NHL only had twenty-one teams at the time.
How realistic was it? The Kings had a 23-44-13 record that season and I don’t think I won more than seven games in either twenty-game season I simulated.
By using those player cards on a near daily basis, I became quickly acquainted with just about every NHL player that participated in the 1984-85 season that was well underway, and I later bought the 1984-85 and 1985-86 season card sets to keep “current”. Sadly, I stopped buying the game after my first year of college. I didn’t have the time to play anymore.
Happy birthday, Strat-O-Matic. I may end up buying the computer version of your wonderful game someday, especially since you have the 1984-85 NHL season and the 1975-76 WHA season rosters available as an add-on.