36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

July 28, 2014

Next step: renaming to Rotunda of Notoriety

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 12:29 am

So, the Hall of Fame saw the upcoming logjam of great, dare I say overqualified, players and acted boldly. Sports on Earth is less sanguine about the change. 

The changes, specifically, are two: first, you have to sign a conduct clause in order to cast a ballot and second, you now get 10 years instead of 15 years on the ballot. The first rule is to prevent the Dan Le Batard scenario from occurring again, obviously. Sadly, the conduct clause includes nothing about denying votes to the sort of people dumb enough to not vote for Greg Maddux.

It’s the second change that’s getting the press, and rightfully so. Whether you take the Let’s Go Tribe approach (“shorter period = quicker access to the Veterans committee”) or the Sports on Earth approach (“shorter period = fuck the steroid era guys”), it’s going to be an adjustment. In the short term, it will only affect two players — Alan Trammell (who should get in) and Lee Smith (who shouldn’t, probably). It theoretically would affect Don Mattingly (shouldn’t get in either), but he’s already in year 15. I very much doubt this decision was made about any of those three players, though. It’s about, for either good or bad, cycling through candidates as quickly as possible.

Here’s my take. The steroid era is a fart in a closed room with no windows. We have to pass through the room, even linger in it, to get to the “post-steroid room” on the other side (which is presumably a less flatulent room). The question for us is this: how bad is the fart? We could install a window and let the fart out of the room. We could hold our breath. We could spend our time worrying about who farted. We could ignore the room altogether. Or, we could recognize it’s not that bad, we’re all mature adults, and can handle a bit of fart if the stuff in the room is worth it (and it is).

In my metaphor, here are the possible solutions:

1. “Installing  a window.” Directions from the Hall of Fame remove the mystery from the process; instruct voters that, barring an actual positive test or suspensions, allegations of steroid use cannot be used as grounds to deny a player entry.

2. “Hold our breath.” This is what most voters are doing now, and this is what the new decision seems to indicate as far as the expected outcome. If we can just hang on, holding our breath, for a few more years, we can all pretend the steroid era didn’t happen. It’ll work itself out.

3. “Worrying about who farted.” The witch-hunt solution. Determine who is to blame for the problem (spoiler alert: it won’t be ‘baseball writers’) and place it all on them. ‘The players’ is the current en vogue solution.

4. “Ignore the room.” Everything and everyone in the steroid era is tainted, either by actual guilt or through association, so the only logical solution (according to this theory) is simply to write it off as a bad job.

5. “Recognize it’s just a fart.” The steroid era is unpleasant; it is not the end of the world. Judge players based on the evidence (shocking concept, I know) and not random guesswork.

My preferred solution is #5, but I think the BBWAA is about 90% #2 and 10% #4 right now. Recognizing that reality, I support the decision to reduce the period, if only because we’ll be holding our breath for less time.

July 22, 2014

Start the Cliff Lee to Cleveland rumors now!

Filed under: Sports, U-S-A! U-S-A! — Tony Demchak @ 9:45 am

Since the blog has been quiet, I decided to elevate our discourse to a higher plane of understanding. One, indeed, might say that had Cliff Lee been throwing more gas, his most recent start might have been a more effective one.

That was the first video, incidentally, I have watched on this PC since my return from Russia. I cannot imagine a better choice. ‘MURICA!

July 13, 2014

Congratulations To Germany

Filed under: Sports — Kevin Feasel @ 8:12 pm

The one World Cup game I saw ended up being a doozie, as Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in extra time.  Unlike a standard 1-0 affair, this game ended up being a gripping (well, for soccer…) match, and it’s good to see the kids of 2006 (Schweinsteiger, Lamm, Podolski, and the like) pull this one off.

Bonus reading:  how the World Cup in 2006 helped re-instill some measure of German pride in Germany as such.  I hope 2014 helps further.

July 7, 2014

All-Star game rosters

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 11:42 am

You can see the actual rosters here. Apart from the gaping vortex of suck starting at shortstop for the AL (thanks, fans!), there aren’t huge numbers of obvious snubs. I do find it bizarre that the AL team’s manager loaded up on first basemen and outfielders. But there is one All-Star that isn’t, who I’d like to introduce you to.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2011 22 CLE AL 66 223 212 27 54 13 0 7 22 1 0 8 49 .255 .284 .415 .699 94 88 3 1 1 1 1 5/D
2012 23 CLE AL 43 151 142 16 38 6 1 5 16 2 1 8 27 .268 .311 .430 .741 107 61 2 1 0 0 0 5D
2013 24 CLE AL 94 308 289 30 65 17 0 11 36 1 0 16 56 .225 .270 .398 .668 87 115 8 2 1 0 0 5/D
2014 25 CLE AL 72 267 237 36 80 20 1 9 39 2 0 19 43 .338 .395 .544 .940 165 129 1 5 3 2 1 5D3
4 Yrs 275 949 880 109 237 56 2 32 113 6 1 51 175 .269 .315 .447 .762 113 393 14 9 5 3 2
162 Game Avg. 162 559 518 64 140 33 1 19 67 4 1 30 103 .269 .315 .447 .762 113 232 8 5 3 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/7/2014.

Lonnie Chisenhall is kind of an awful 3B defensively. He also is just shy of enough ABs to qualify for the batting title. These are details. You know what it isn’t a detail? Being 8th in the entire major leagues in Offensive WAR. A stat that, I will remind you, “punishes” players with less playing time, since it’s a counting stat. Every other player in the top ten is going to the All-Star game, except for Kyle Seager, who is eligible for the final vote (because they’ve stupidly decided only pitchers are eligible for the AL).

Do I think Chisenhall’s performance is sustainable? Of course not. I think he has the chance to be a very good player, but not this good. But isn’t recognizing weird half-seasons precisely what the All-Star games are for?

BTW, if the AL loses the World Series because Derek Jeter fucks up — and I bet he will, since he’s awful this year — I hope it’s the Yankees who get screwed over.

July 4, 2014

There Goes The Season

Filed under: Sports — Kevin Feasel @ 6:00 pm

It’s only July and Buffalo’s season is already ruined.  Kiko Alonso tore his ACL and will not play this year.  Right now, they’re talking about Preston Brown, their third-round draft pick.  Here’s the problem:  Buffalo is in a 4-3 this year.  Brown, like Brandon Spikes, is a slow (4.8 40), run-stuffing linebacker.  As a middle linebacker, Brown has good potential, and his upside is basically Brandon Spikes.  As a weak-side linebacker going up against tight ends or slot receivers, Brown’s probably not a very good choice.  Unfortunately, Buffalo doesn’t have many options available to them:  Brown is a downhill, MLB type; Keith Rivers is probably locked into one of the two OLB spots; Nigel Bradham is fast and has the measurables, but isn’t really good in coverage; Randell Johnson is a rookie who was terrible against coverage in college.  Ty Powell was a 7th round pick last season (Seahawks) who has some potential.  The Bills will probably try some combination of these four guys, but losing Alonso hurts a lot.

Current prediction:  6-10.  That might change as we get closer to September, but I’m really not thinking this will be the year the Bills break .500.

Damn it, Hoynsie

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 4:01 pm

I like Paul Hoynes about 80% of the time, as opposed to Bill Livingston, who I like about 5% of the time (and even that 5% makes me feel icky). Then I read his latest mailbag. Here’s the money question, and the answer.

Hey, Hoynsie: Is there any theory behind Asdrubal Cabrera’s decline?  It seems like at his age, he should be hitting his prime and getting better. – Glen Toplyn, Pittsfield Township, Mich.

Hey, Glen: Cabrera has never been a darling of the defensive metric experts who calculate range with computers and calculators. He probably has lost a step or two defensively, but I notice he’s been diving for more balls behind the bag, which could be an indication that his legs are feeling better after being beat up earlier in the season.

Offensively, he’s been a solid contributor on a team that really doesn’t blow you away with its run scoring ability. After hitting .220 in April, Cabrera hit .274 with three homers and nine RBI in May. In June his average dipped to .243, but he hit four homers and drove in 17 runs, second on the team to Lonnie Chisenhall’s 21.

Among AL shortstops, he’s tied for first in homers, leads in runs and is fifth in OPS. Cleveland fans have been tough on any shortstop not named Omar Vizquel. They didn’t like Jhonny Peralta and take delight in picking apart Cabrera’s game.

This is Cabrera’s seventh year with the Tribe and he’s been a solid contributor and cares a lot more than people think. He’s a free agent after this season and almost assuredly won’t be back. Then the paying public can train their computers and magnifying glasses on Francisco Lindor, but I think they’ll miss Cabrera.

First of all — it’s 2014. Using RBI to evaluate how good a player is really, REALLY stupid. Phenomenally stupid. I like his other points about Cabrera’s offense, compared to his peers. But bringing up RBI kind of killed his credibility. However, being a really good hitter for an AL shortstop doesn’t make him a good hitter.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2007 21 CLE AL 45 186 159 30 45 9 2 3 22 0 0 17 29 .283 .354 .421 .775 103 67 7 2 5 3 0 4/65
2008 22 CLE AL 114 418 352 48 91 20 0 6 47 4 4 46 77 .259 .346 .366 .713 92 129 8 4 11 5 2 46/D
2009 23 CLE AL 131 581 523 81 161 42 4 6 68 17 4 44 89 .308 .361 .438 .799 114 229 13 1 10 3 1 64
2010 24 CLE AL 97 425 381 39 105 16 1 3 29 6 4 25 60 .276 .326 .346 .673 89 132 10 5 11 3 0 6/D
2011 ★ 25 CLE AL 151 667 604 87 165 32 3 25 92 17 5 44 119 .273 .332 .460 .792 121 278 10 11 4 4 5 *6 AS,MVP-20,SS
2012 ★ 26 CLE AL 143 616 555 70 150 35 1 16 68 9 4 52 99 .270 .338 .423 .762 114 235 18 6 1 2 3 *6/D AS
2013 27 CLE AL 136 562 508 66 123 35 2 14 64 9 3 35 114 .242 .299 .402 .700 97 204 10 8 6 5 1 *6/D
2014 28 CLE AL 79 342 308 47 76 21 1 8 33 6 1 24 64 .247 .310 .399 .709 101 123 10 6 0 4 1 *6/D
8 Yrs 896 3797 3390 468 916 210 14 81 423 68 25 287 651 .270 .332 .412 .744 106 1397 86 43 48 29 13
162 Game Avg. 162 687 613 85 166 38 3 15 76 12 5 52 118 .270 .332 .412 .744 106 253 16 8 9 5 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/4/2014.

Those are decent numbers. They aren’t great, but decent. A shortstop who can slug over .400 is relatively rare these days. Except he isn’t doing that right now. Cabrera is a valuable player because he’s a good hitter for a shortstop or second baseman. He’s far from a great player, and really hasn’t been since 2011. The good news is, he’s already reached last year’s WAR in 200 fewer ABs. But what he isn’t — what he’s never been — is anything but a league average shortstop defensively. Last year his defense cost the team a win. At his best, his defense has given the team a win (which was back in 2008 — 1.7 wins, to be exact.) He’s playing slightly below replacement level with the glove this year,but if his bat continues to be reasonably productive, he’s a worthwhile player.

The “calculators and computers” line was clearly an attempt to tap the Bill Livingston portion of his audience. Nobody uses calculators any more, Paul. That’s just stupid. I get his point — Asdrubal Cabrera deserves credit for being a solid SS, which he absolutely does — but Cleveland fans aren’t being dicks when they rip his defense; it’s genuinely not very good. Oh, and Hoynsie: believe it or not, the very best season Jhonny Peralta had? He was still an Indian. He peaked at 23. He’s become useful as a Tiger and Cardinal, but for a long time, was awful. If anything, Cleveland was excessively patient with him.

Meanwhile, we already know Francisco Lindor is awesome with the glove, and he’s holding his own with the bat. I think the chances of Cabrera being an Indian next year are really, really low. I think he’ll be gone in a few weeks. I don’t know what return we’ll get — maybe a fringey prospect or a role player — but I do know that Lindor’s time is coming, and that we’ll probably forget all about Cabrera.

July 3, 2014

Post-War Presidents, A Counter-List

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, Politics — Kevin Feasel @ 6:00 pm

So, our resident Penguatroll listed the presidencies in rank order from Truman on.  Here’s my list.

12. Barack Obama.  We’ve still got two years left, but you can fill out a 16-seed bracket with legitimate scandals.  He’s a complete joke when it comes to foreign policy.  Quick:  name someplace with which the US has better relations than in 2008, or a place which is significantly better off as a result of US foreign policy than in 2008.  Well, I can answer that second question:  Iran and Russia.  On domestic policy, we have “Recovery Summer” 5 years running, the ever-giving miracle known as Obamacare, and scandals ranging from selling weapons to Mexican drug lords, using the IRS to spy on oppositional political groups, etc.  Lately, the only way one Obama scandal gets out of the news is if another one gets in (think Obamacare, the ever-unfolding IRS scandals, the Bergdahl exchange, the EPA ruling that they control everything, and so on).  Further, a Vice President says a lot about a President:  George W. Bush had Dick Cheney, who could shoot a man in the face; Bill Clinton had Al Gore pre-supercrazy (and only kinda-crazy); Ronald Reagan had George H. W. Bush, who knew hundreds of ways to kill a man and probably tried them all.  Barack Obama has Joe Biden.

11. Jimmy Carter.  Carter was history’s greatest monster.  On foreign policy, he was at least as bad as Obama, and in a time in which foreign policy mattered more.  Nevertheless, at least Carter worked on airline deregulation, brought on Paul Volcker, and wasn’t using the IRS and FBI against political enemies.  Also, Carter only had one term in which to fail, whereas Obama has the opportunity to fail over twice as long a stretch.

10. Lyndon Johnson.  The Great Society is a millstone around the necks of future generations and Johnson’s mishandling of Vietnam in 1964 for political reasons was unforgivable, and the idea that anybody thought clowns like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were the best options for running the DOD seriously angers me.  The joke about Johnson that Barry Goldwater used was that Johnson was the mayor of a one TV tower town.  Johnson should have stayed there.

9. John Kennedy.  Our Penguatroll gives Kennedy way too much credit, in my opinion.  The Cuban Missile Crisis came about for two reasons:  first, Kennedy mis-handled Bay of Pigs so badly that he probably should have been impeached; secondly, Kennedy was such a clown at the Vienna Summit in 1961 that Khruschev decided he could push the envelope.  In other words, Kennedy took the United States to the brink of nuclear war to make up for his previous failures.  I give him credit for not cracking, but a President Eisenhower or President Nixon would never have been pushed that far in the first place.  Oh, and a President Nixon in 1961 would have prosecuted Bay of Pigs effectively and kept Cuba in the western sphere of influence.  Bonus negatives for the aforementioned McNamara and Bundy; this was Kennedy’s doing.

8.  Gerald Ford.  Ford didn’t do much and basically just exists.  He got an unfair rep because he tripped on airplane stairs once and he didn’t understand the easy way to whip inflation (hint:  stop printing so much money).  The Nixon pardon hurt him short-term, but like our resident Penguatroll argues, it’s probably for the best in the long run.

7. Harry Truman.  I give him credit for a muscular response to Greece and Italy during tumultuous times.  I’m not a fan of Truman’s domestic policy, which was an attempted expansion of the Roosevelt policy.  Thankfully, a post-war Republican party forced significant spending and tax cuts and really stymied Truman; otherwise, he would have ended up lower on the list.

6. Richard Nixon.  I give him credit for fighting in Vietnam, as opposed to the slipshod “limited war” crap that Kennedy and Johnson ran.  I also give him credit for reaching out to a post-PedoToad China and formalizing their turn against the Soviets.  I take away a lot of credit due to his terrible economic policies.  Also, I want to give him some residual goodness for his days on HUAC and the work he did in nailing Alger Hiss as a traitor and Communist spy.  On the other hand, the EPA was a bad idea which has become worse and worse over time.  Nixon was also responsible for price controls and was the true poster child for stagflation, even though Carter gets a majority of the scorn.  Nixon was truly the anti-Clinton.

5. George W. Bush.  Flip-flip 4 & 5 if you want; I already did.  With regard to foreign policy, here’s something you probably don’t hear very often:  US foreign relations improved significantly during the Bush administration.  President Bush was wrong on Vladimir Putin, but at least eventually realized it.  On the other hand, he expanded US influence further into Europe, drawing in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia.  More importantly, he improved relations with India significantly.  It’s important to remember that US-India relations were historically pretty sour (part of why the US was so friendly with Pakistan during the Cold War), but under Bush they improved.  Unfortunately, Obama failed to follow through on these lines and has ruined potential American influence expansion globally.  On Iraq, I consider it to have been a success as of 2009:  the Baathists were defeated, Iraq was no longer a haven for international terrorist organizations, and the potential for a free and democratic Iraq was there.  Unfortunately, candidate Obama was strongly against the war and President Obama pulled American troops, leading to a situation in which ISIS controls a third of the country and the dictator-in-training is cozying up to Iran to solidify his tenuous grasp on power.  I think 25,000-40,000 troops with the right leadership would have prevented this scenario.  On domestic policy, Bush was full of ups and downs:  the 2003 tax cuts were great and free trade agreements with several countries helped.  On the other hand, No Child Left Behind was a bad idea (hint:  if Ted Kennedy was for it, you should probably be against it), bailouts were a terrible idea, and spend-spend-spend is never a good idea.  Bush had good ideas like Social Security reform, but instead of pushing that harder, went for amnesty and Harriet Myers.

4. Bill Clinton.  A person with a combination of Nixon’s foreign policy and Clinton’s domestic policy would have been…well, probably Dwight Eisenhower.  A person with a combination of Clinton’s foreign policy and Nixon’s domestic policy would have been nestling between Obama and Carter at the bottom of the list.  Clinton was the politician qua politician of our generation.  I absolutely hate how much of a slimy, slippery toad he was (but no PedoToad, as at least he liked his girls over the age of 18), but after Hillarycare went down and Republicans won the Congress in 1994, Clinton returned to his populist centrist routine.  The end result was prosperity throughout the ’90s for a president beset by scandals that nobody seemed to care about.

3. George H. W. Bush.  Tony calls him “[p]ossibly the most successful single term President the country has ever had.”  I say no:  James K. Polk was that by a landslide (and land grab).  Despite that, I agree with his assessment that Bush was solid.  On raising taxes, Bush’s bald-faced lie is probably what made him one of the most successful single-term presidents rather than a very successful two-term president.

2. Dwight Eisenhower.  Ike showed us that Presidents should play a lot of golf.  As a side note, a lot of people make fun of Barack Obama constantly playing golf, but honestly, I’d rather he be hitting the links than doing stupid things.  Eisenhower had a pretty solid idea of what a president should—and, more importantly, should not—be and helped America return to a sense of normalcy after World War II.  I give him a lot of credit and rank him rather higher than most historians would on the all-time list.  On net, the interstate highway system was outstanding, although there have been cultural costs (as well as benefits).

1.  Ronald Reagan.  Beating the Commies, beating stagflation, beating History’s Greatest Monster (and Walter Mondale, but seriously…), all that adds up.  Reagan was the prior generation’s politician qua politician, but used his powers for awesome rather than sliminess.  I rank him the second-best president of the 20th century, behind the great Calvin Coolidge.

Net difference, throwing out Ford (because somebody was too chicken to include Gerald Ford in a ranking):  15 points of ranking.  We only had one match (Truman), but you can definitely see three groups in which we shuffle candidates:  Reagan-Eisenhower-Bush, Nixon-Clinton-Truman-Bush, and Obama-Johnson-Carter.  Kennedy is the only president in which we have a serious disagreement, and that’s without me talking about how much of a drug-addicted creep he was.

July 2, 2014

Postwar Presidents, ranked

Filed under: Our Favorites, Politics — Tony Demchak @ 4:42 pm

Inspired by the Quinnipiac Poll which found Barack Obama to be the worst president since World War II, I decided to make my own list ranking the Presidents of ‘Murica since the war. I count peak, in Presidents, more heavily than career length, with one exception.

Honorable mention: Gerald Ford. I can’t really fault him as a President, as he basically did nothing of note except pardoning Nixon (which saved the country from a trial it really didn’t need at the time). He gets an Incomplete; if he had played himself on the Simpsons, I would have given him a C+.

The objectively bad Presidents

11. Jimmy Carter. Carter did more damage in a shorter time than anyone else. If Barack Obama is “the wrong way to be a President”, Jimmy Carter is the “Max Power” of Presidents. The energy crisis and Iran were managed extremely poorly. Nice guy, bad President.

10. Lyndon Johnson. Credit where credit is due — he used Kennedy’s death to launch himself into a landslide victory. That’s good politics, at least, if nothing else. Great Society was a trainwreck, and I don’t know if anybody was hated by more of his subordinates.

9. Barack Obama. Won the Nobel Peace Prize for “not being George W. Bush.” Has mismanaged almost every foreign crisis he’s been involved in. Obamacare is not as a big a trainwreck as The Great Society… yet. I appreciate his moral position on gay rights, but that’s not enough to overcome the other problems.

8. George W. Bush. Afghanistan was a good move that might turned out badly; Iraq was not. So much failed potential in domestic programs — privatizing Social Security would have been a big step towards getting him out of this group. No Child Left Behind places way too much on standardized testing. Patriot Act itself isn’t horrid, but the potential for mischief is not worth the cost.

The President I have trouble ranking

7. Harry S. Truman. Soft on Communism immediately after the war… but ended segregation in the military. Containment was the right play if we weren’t going to go to a general offensive against the Soviets. Handled Korea okay, faced up to Douglas MacArthur and won. Not nearly enough credit for Civil Rights as a whole. He didn’t do anything objectively bad, in my opinion, but could have done better.

The good Presidents

6. Bill Clinton. Gets way too much credit for “fixing” the economy (for which the President deserves less credit than how good the weather is, except the President can’t do as much to break the weather), but deserves some. Made real progress with Ireland, handled the Balkans better than a lot of other people have (which is, admittedly, grading on a curve). Might be a kind of a jerk towards women, but as more time progresses, he gets a bit more shine to him until we have a president who’s objectively better.

5. Richard Nixon. I really like what he did in foreign policy — reaching out to China gave the US a counterweight to the Soviets, getting us out of Vietnam as delicately as possible (after actually trying to win the damn war). Even did a pretty good job with the Middle East. Solid healthcare reform plan. Created the EPA, a mixed blessing, perhaps. However, Watergate was unbelievably stupid and completely unnecessary. A bit weak on science.

4. George H. W. Bush. Possibly the most successful single term President the country has ever had. The First Gulf War was a masterpiece of foreign policy foresight and military strategy. Had the guts to raise taxes, which is sometimes necessary and not always an evil if coupled with spending cuts. Worked more on science than Nixon did. Ended the Cold War (even if he was cleaning up what Reagan had already started).

The great Presidents

3. John F. Kennedy. A willingness to aggressively fight the Cold War in a way that no President had before or since. His victory in the Cuban Missile Crisis could be the single greatest foreign policy achievement since World War II. Cut taxes, worked for civil rights reform, and funded the space program. Vietnam is a major blemish on his record, maybe the only one. There’s no way he could have been worse than Johnson in 1964.

2. Ronald Reagan. Devoted a lot of attention to the economy, even if the results didn’t come out as planned. Displayed decisive leadership when it was needed. An aggressive, well considered foreign policy on the whole is slightly diminished by Iran-Contra.

1. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The man killed Nazis. Ended the Korean War, worked effectively with the Soviets in the Suez Canal Crisis. DARPA and NASA. Built infrastructure, something governments are supposed to do and keep forgetting about because it isn’t sexy enough. Continued Truman policies in desegregation. Economic prosperity. Effectively used his Vice President (Nixon) in a way that few Presidents have since.

So, that’s my list. I suspect Kevin’s — if he ever comes to the site again — would be quite different.

July 1, 2014

Good sign? Bad sign? It’s the Browns, it could be both

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 1:08 pm

I think 99% of becoming a QB in the NFL is just being “gritty.” Why else would the Browns have such a fascination with Brian Hoyer, who has had a mediocre career to this point. I’m not saying he’s good or bad. I just think it’s odd that a backup QB — and while I think Johnny Football will sit for a good part of his first year, there’s no way he does for a second – is worth extending. I’d rather see Mitchell Schwartz get an extension, to be honest.

June 25, 2014

Board games vs. video games: which are better?

Filed under: Beautiful and Sublime, Gaming — Tony Demchak @ 6:42 pm

The correct answer would be, of course, “both are equally awesome, you fool.” I would agree, naturally (maybe even with the “you fool” part), but there is a certain level of discussion to be had here, and since Kevin is suspiciously absent from the blog (I’ve never seen him and B.J. Blackowicz in the same room before — that doesn’t mean he’s killing Nazis and Mecha-Hitler, but that doesn’t mean he’s not killing them either), why not have it here?

To begin with: my answer to this question, like the answers to all of life’s most important questions, is “it depends.” There are genres of video games — first person shooters come to mind — that generally make for lousy board games. I owned, at one point, DOOM the board game. It was an attempt to make a Dragon Strike/HeroQuest sort of RPG out of DOOM. It failed, sadly. (Nostalgia note: Dragon Strike was my first, albeit indirect, introduction to tabletop RPGs. The Dragon piece alone was massive and badass.)

Here are a couple of other genres that work better as video games than board games:

Sports games. My father, who retired in February, loves the shit out of Strat-o-Matic. Calling it his life’s all-consuming passion, I think, is not a stretch. But we are in the era of Out of the Park Baseball and, in 2015, Beyond the Sidelines Football. There are so many more variables a computer game can take into account that a board game can’t that it’s absurd.

– Platformers. Has anybody actually tried to make this work on a board game? I’m assuming they wouldn’t bother, but you never know.

– Rhythm games. Again, has anybody bothered to make a Guitar Hero: The Board Game? Is it actually just a guitar?

For any other genre I can think of, execution matters more than format. RPGs can be awesome tabletop and as video games. It depends on your DM or the story, respectively. If you don’t actually like people, maybe tabletop isn’t your bag. That’s fine. Here are some specific examples that show what I mean:

– Magic: The Gathering vs. Magic: The Gathering. I very slightly prefer the real life version over the current electronic versions simply because there’s no deck builder in the Steam versions. What makes Magic brilliant is the whole, y’know, customizable aspect. And the present Steam versions don’t allow you to customize very much. There was a PC version many years ago which had you fighting wizards for cards around the countryside. That was awesome. It had a fully functional deck editor, and I spent many an hour designing insta-win decks that would cost me thousands of real life dollars to buy if I did so in real life.

– Axis and Allies vs. Hearts of Iron III. I enjoy both games. I really do. We’ll leave setting up aside, since that’s the worst part of many a game, and go straight to the heart of the issue: Axis and Allies, if played consistently with the same group, comes down to dice rolls. That’s awful. In my experience, the team format does not encourage experimentation — hey, why can’t I spend my IC on carriers as the USSR? — because people are jerks and like winning. If your teammate does something stupid, you lose. Unfortunately, the dominant strategies (the Soviet meatgrinder, for one) are fairly obvious and once you establish them, it’s about dice rolls.

hate games based entirely on dice rolls. I refuse to play Risk because, 99% of the time, that’s all that matters. Unless you have six complete n00bs, strategy is all but meaningless. Let’s contrast this with Hearts of Iron III. Yes, there are elements of randomness — but, by and large, whether you play singleplayer or multiplayer, luck will not determine who wins. You can add complexities — supply is a big one — that most board games don’t handle well, if at all. This doesn’t make Axis and Allies bad: it just makes it inferior.

– EU: Rome vs. Republic of Rome. Here’s the thing. I vastly prefer Republic of Rome, as an idea, to EU: Rome. EU: Rome is not without its charms: it’s one of the few games I’ve played that gets civil wars right, makes them dynamic and interesting. But Republic of Rome is about stabbing people in the back, about competing for dominance through sheer wits and your ability to bullshit people. That’s awesome. I love games like that. The problem is, the rules were written by a homicidal, drunken, ferret. Why is the ferret homicidal? Maybe it’s drunk on terrible booze. I am not a ferret expert.

I’m not complaining about the grammar — I’m complaining about the entire concept of the manual, how the rules are laid out, etc. The attempt to provide a 2 player game is an admirable one, but it lacks in execution. If I have a question about a specific situation, where do I go? Fuck if I know.  The learning curve, thanks to this awful piece of shit rulebook, isn’t even a vertical line — it’s slightly inclining at the top to the left, indicating it actually gets harder as you get through it. The number of times you need to stop play to check the rules, especially with two people — it’s not good.

– Twilight Struggle vs. every computer game and video game known to man and put together (possibly including the Twilight Struggle computer game). If I have one friend over, and we have time for one game, I will pull out Twilight Struggle every. damn. time. It is genius in a box.  It perfectly captures the spirit of the Cold War. The sides are not equal, but they weren’t equal in real life either. You can win by tricking or manipulating your opponent into nuking the planet. Twilight Struggle is sublime. You need another human being to play, which is mildly troublesome, but you can always lure them with food and/or alcohol. Once they play, they won’t want to leave. EVER.

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