Beyond Subbuteo, my brother and I waded through a number of action sports games through the 70s.
Beyond Subbuteo, it was American sports that dominated. However, I do remember picking up an all action cricket game on a trip back to Blighty (probably 1976).
Bowling consisted of rolling a ball bearing down a plastic ramp. The ramp was adjustable to vary the speed of delivery. In practice: slow, slower and not reaching the batting crease. Theoretically, you could bowl spin by flicking the ramp sideways as the ball hurtled down. Well. In theory.
At the other end of the wicket, your batting opponent was in control of a spring loaded bat device. Nine times out of ten, you would hit the ground, your fingers or the wickets instead of the ball.
The stumps and bails were so fiddly that any slight vibration shattered the wickets. Fielder sat on cardboard bases. If you were fortunate enough to hit the ball and unfortunate to hit the ball toward the fielder, the ball bearing would send him flying.
All action, little game play, not a triumph. It went quickly back in the box and remained at the back of the cupboard until a clear our many years later.
The Carl Yastrzemski baseball game was not only all action, but my brother and I must have played a hundred or so games over a couple of summer weeks in stifling Long Island heat. “Yaz” was star of the Boston Red Sox, perennial bridesmaids in the late 60s and 70s. He was from Long Island, but I bought the game at a toy warehouse because it was cheap and promised a lifelike recreation of baseball.
Well, if lifelike baseball consisted of an endless stream of home runs (this was before the steroid fed home fest of the late 90s), then it was lifelike.
The field was metal with a wooden surround, about the size of an old kids’ bagatelle. There was a wire loop on the “pitching mound” that you used to flick to pitch. You could actually curve the ball, but it had little effect as batting was ridiculously easy. The bat, like the cricket game, was spring loaded. Unlike the white flannel facsimile, it was on one plane. Hit the ball and 90% of the time it would leave the field: home run.
We wound up building a wall made of Lego around the field to keep the ball in play. If it stayed in play the ball would eventually roll into indentations which resulted in something other than a homer: hit or out.
Like real baseball you could strike out: three swings and misses (almost impossible) or leaving a pitch and it hitting a bell that served as the “umpire”.
Great fun, awesome game play, nothing like the real thing.
In contrast, table hockey was like having front row seats at Madison Square Garden, which you might have heard of, home the New York Rangers. I’d prefer the Nassau Coliseum, which you haven’t heard of, but was home of our beloved New York Islanders, hapless, hopeless and loveable.
This was table hockey, not air hockey which is an abomination.
There were several brands of table hockey, but they all had the same principles. The “ice” was a treated bit of board with a shiny side or metal. Most versions came with proper “dasher boards” and “glass” that enclosed the ice.
Players moved up and down the ice in grooves routed out of the board. You used metal rods to control the players, pushing or pulling to move forward or back. Spinning the rods allowed you to shoot, pass or “check” (the hockey equivalent of tackling).
In the table version, there were no complicated rules like penalties or offside. You just dropped the puck and played until one team scored 10 or you got bored.
By the time I got my game, my brother was probably off at uni so I played against my friend Fred, now an eminent seiemologist. Fred had the traditional game with two dimensional players. Mine had 3-D men, Subbuteo figures bulked up to the extreme.
Fred always easily beat me, but he hated my version of the game especially as my players had a habit of falling off their spindles at crucial moments. I loved my game as it had an overhead scoreboard unit which doubled as the face-off device. Drop the puck in the top and it would bounce through grooves, giving you that lifelike delayed action faceoff.
Like most of the action games, hockey had a brief but intense appeal before something piqued my interest.
Games base on dice, cards, spinners; odds, simulation. these games had a more enduring appeal. They still do. But, occasionally, I’d love to hear the noise of the puck dropping or feel the pain of thumping my fingers with Yaz’s springloaded bat.
Photo by K-Free, used under a Creative Commons Licence