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April 14, 2011
"Challenge the Yankees", the boardgame
While doing some routine browsing of "baseball" and Wikipedia the other night, I came across a board game I hadn't heard of before. I imagine the older and/or die-hard Yankees fans will know the game well, but it's definitely the first I've heard of if. The game was published in 1964 & 1965 by Hasbro and was called "Challenge the Yankees".
Using prior year stat's, the game came with 50 player cards: the current year Yankees players and 25 all-stars whose job it is to "challenge the Yankees." One player would set a Yankees-only lineup, while the other would focus on his "all-stars" to create a team. They would then play the game using dice to determine each at-bat's outcome.
The Board Game Geek described it as:
Challenge the Yankees is a simple two player baseball simulation that was published twice. The first set, printed in 1964, uses 1963 stats; the second, printed in 1965, uses stats for 1964. One player takes the Yankees, and the other takes a collection of Major League All Star players. Die rolls indexed on each batter determine the result of a pitch; special card draws add further random behavior to fly balls, ground balls, and base hits of varying types.
Digging around some more, it seems that cards from this game are often hard to come by - the player cards were individually marked and featured headshots, clever facts about the player, player "autographs", and game statistics - having been separated from the board game years ago. Collectors have to go out of their way to find the more popular cards. In the two editions, cards were made for many loved and respected players, including Yogi Berra, Jim Bouton, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Juan Marichal, Eddie Matthews, Willie McCovey, Ron Santo, Carl Yastrzemski and dozens more. It's not hard to see why these cards got separated from their homes.
Looking for references to this game from the '60s (and not from today's eBay listings - whew!), I came across this ad from Boys' Life. It doesn't tell us anything that we don't already know, but the ad sure is fun to see.
What this reminds me of most of all, though, is a similar game that my older brother invented when I was probably eight. I could probably spend 4,000 words describing how this (relatively) simple game was played, but I'll try and keep it short. Using a deck of cards and a lineup that was completely invented (but almost certainly a part of a larger "league" with standings and MVP votings, for example), a game could be played by tracking each at-bat on a card-by-card/at-bat-by-at-bat basis. A deuce, for example, would be a ground out; a red five possibly a triple (depending on a secondary check); an ace was a strikeout, while other cards were simple balls & strikes or home runs or doubles or anything else possible. We spent hours playing that game as kids, inventing entire biographies for each player under our control.
The king of all games is still, of course, Strat-O-Matic, which continues to go strong fifty years later. Contenders and pretenders cropped up along the way, like 1964's Challenge the Yankees, but none of them could stick. They are now collector's items, hanging around the eBay marketplace, hoping to get picked for one last game. I don't think I'll be playing "Challenge the Yankees" any time soon, but just knowing it's out there is a great start. Maybe I'll keep digging to see what other gems have been lost to the pages of history.