How To Get “Rolling” Face to Face

There us one very significant difference between playing solitaire and playing F-T-F.  I think sometimes it’s so obvious that it gets lost but it’s very real and very much the key.  When one plays solitaire the goal is to, on some level, recreate what happened.  Our host Greg B. is the master of creating a path to the recreation of reality.  It’s a genuine mindset and the results speak for themselves.  The goal of F-T-F is a little simpler, it’s to win the game.  There are many paths to that goal but in the end, winning is what you want, much like any game you play against someone.  In Clue you’re not worried about making sure the weapons are evenly distributed and the murder isn’t always in the same room, right?  We can talk about reality all day long but if I have the chance to “over use” someone to win a game.  Guess what, he’s going to be worn out from the usage.

My approach to what I will write is going to be this, I’ll talk about how to play a game F-T-F, drawing on my years of playing that format.  That will be what I talk about here.  Subsequently I’ll focus on strategies, both offensive and defensive, then I’ll take up some rudimentary scouting ideas.  In the end though remember that my whole goal is for you to win games, not to get stats right.  My friend Steve Ryan commented to me after I won the Football Tournament in Alpharetta last year that he thought my biggest advantage was just that, I only cared about winning.  We see it all the time on the forums, people roll dice for basically everything in the game.  I was never about that.  I call the plays, even solitaire I pick the runner/ receiver.  I throw to the C because I know I should but on a 3rd and 12 down 6 points with three minutes to go I don’t want to throw a pass to my third string TE because I rolled a 65 on the receiver chart.  That’s the F-T-F mentality.

So let’s play a game of APBA football F-T-F.  The first thing you want to do is decide what, if any regulations around usage you want to use.  My advice is to keep that very simple, I guess I’ve said that a few times already!  Maybe a player can’t be the target/ carrier more than 2 plays in a row for example.  This can be tricky as one commenter pointed out he played a guy who would only throw to his A receiver.  We can talk about how to stop that with strategy but basically if that happens, only double that receiver, he’ll stop eventually.  You can also limit backups to something like 5 carries or 5 receptions if that makes sense.  I am not advocating that you allow Danny Woodhead from last year to carry the ball 30 times in a game, I am advocating that you keep whatever you do simple.  Once you decide how to regulate it’s time to pick teams.

Picking teams is important, especially if you are “breaking in” a new person.  You want to get teams that have a decent offense because when you’re learning the game a 9-3 defensive battle may not bring a player back.   Also there’s some fundamental issues with the structure of the APBA game that come to light with a limited offensive team.  For example, as with the above team, one A receiver is a pretty easy offense to defend.  The same is true with only one good running back.  APBA developed their rules back when teams routinely had two backs who carried the rock.  So defending the 1972 Dolphins of Csonka and Morris or the 1976 Steelers with Franco and Rocky is harder than the 1983 Redskins with Riggins being the single setback.  There are a lot of teams that have good offenses each year that choosing one shouldn’t be too hard.  Remember that “reality” is not a big part here.  So when I played the 2015 Patriots in a tournament I regularly paired James White and Dion Lewis even though in reality White didn’t really play until Lewis got hurt.  It made the keying much tougher when both were back there.  Same concept with A receivers, the more the merrier.  I’d also recommend that to start you pick two teams that will start in B index for the game.

Once you’ve selected your teams you need to get organized.  My recommendation is that you have a pile of cards that is your starting Defense with the d11 on the top down through d1.  You’re probably only going to need to consult that pile only once or twice.  Get your kicker, punter and returners pulled out and keep them where you can consult their cards easily.  Finally organize your offense.  These are the cards, obviously, that you will be using the most.  Remember that in F-T-F you’ll be flipping through these cards to call a play so you don’t need to lay them out in front of you.  I’ve played guys who keep their QB card out on the table rather than in the stack to call a play.  That’s a mistake.  Don’t ever give the defense that advantage.

Once your cards are organized get a piece of scrap paper out so you can write down who is on the field for the other guy.  I usually give my opponent my base. 3-Wide and 2-TE starters.  Then I will tell him specifically who is in or out from those three “base” defenses.  In a friendly game if I make a change and my opponent keys on a guy not in the game I simply tell him to try again, before I mock his ability to remember things for short periods of time.  Finally make sure you know the indices for nickel and dime defenses as you’ll need that to roll for the index on a play.  Sounds like a lot and setup is longer for Football than Baseball but if you’re setup right the game will play faster and that’s key.

I think one thing that is oft overlooked is how to call a play in F-T-F.  I am not saying the way I do it is the only way but I think it’s how the game was designed to be called.  No matter how you choose to do it, make sure you and your opponent know in advance what your call means.  So let’s say its first and 10 on the 25.  The first thing one does is call the formation.  That should happen as you are choosing the play since the NFL has the guys in the huddle.  Let’s assume I am playing with last year’s Falcons.  I announce I am pro set and I have Freeman and Coleman in the backfield with Jones, Sanu and Toilolo as receivers for Matt Ryan.  I’ll note parenthetically that the Falcons didn’t usually play Freeman and Coleman together, that’s because APBA is a little different than the NFL.  I’ll have 6 player cards and the play calling cards in my hand, while I shuffle through to get the cards I want I’ll announce I am pro-set.  I’ll then select my play call and the player and place them face down on the table in front of me.  I like to hold the two cards on the table in my hand but that’s just me.

I’ve now called my play and the defense is up.  Here is where I think there’s differences in how things are called that are detrimental to the intent of strategy in the game.  Let me explain what I mean.  Each team has three time outs and two audibles in a half.  It’s when you can call them that seems key to me.  I don’t think you should audible after the key or double team call, only after the line setting.  So I call defense with a second “beat” between the line call and the key.  When I call defense I don’t use “D, S or G”, I like to sound a little bit more like Football and so I say “Light, Medium or Max” line.  So if I am calling a defense against Atlanta I would say “Light Line Double Jones”.  The way I believe the game is designed if I am throwing and my opponent goes light line I can audible if I’d like during the beat but NOT after I double Jones.  If you want to get out of a bad call there you have to take a timeout.

Finally I recommend that after the Offense turns over the play card the defense rolls on the index chart to see what index we start in.  Two reasons for this, index is very much a function of defense and it gives the defensive coach something to do on each roll.  Once the index is done the offense rolls for the play.  If they roll a 66 it probably doesn’t matter how smart you are, if they roll a 51 you may be a genius, or a dope.

I’ll run through a few plays to see if it makes sense.  Assume Atlanta still has the ball.

First and 10 on the 25

Offense: Pro Set / Now have a little fun with this “Ryan breaks the huddle and brings them up to the line”

Defense: Medium line Key Coleman

“Freeman on the run, defense is completely fooled” Freeman picks up 6, second and 4

Offense: Pro Set / “Ryan likes what he sees, from the shotgun”

Defense: Light Line (should I audible?  No too early) Double Sanu

Incomplete pass/  You can talk smack on Defense too “Knocked away by Revis, no completions today!”

Third and 4 on the 31

Offense:  3- Wide (My opponent knows that means Gabriel replaces Toilolo)

Defense: Nickel Light Offense calls audible.

Defense is now stuck in nickel unless they have a player that can move form LB to S, which is a lost art.

Offense must stay 3-Wide / “Ryan moving players around takes the snap”

Defense can call TO and kill the play (audible is done though), I’ll talk about that more under strategy, for now Nickel Light Double Jones.

My point here is that you need to be very specific in how you decide to call plays.  There is a great deal of strategy around this point of the game, really it’s the best part of it, but you need to make sure that you and your opponent are on the same page.

Once you get this part down the game really flows.  Also you start to see how the play calling can really help or hurt you.

I’ll get into that next time.

APBA Football F-T-F, Still the Greatest

APBA Pro Football game is the greatest Head to Head board game on the planet.  Note that I didn’t say the greatest “Sports” board game.  The football game is better than Monopoly, Life, even Clue.  There is no game that can combine the intensity and excitement that football provides with the thoughtfulness of a well-crafted game.  APBA football has that and more.

So, you may quite rightly ask, why isn’t it the most popular APBA game?  In fact it may well be one of the least popular APBA games at this point.  If it’s so great, why isn’t it more popular?  These are legitimate questions and the answer to both is the same.  There’s a learning curve to the football game that’s much longer than the other games.  Also, the football game takes longer to play than the other games APBA makes, that’s just reality.  If you want speed than Bowling and Baseball in that order.  If you want a memorable experience though, it’s Football.  Eventually the time it takes to play is about 4 baseball games, maybe a little longer if it’s a close game.  The difference is you’re all in all the time, so you won’t forget what happens anytime soon.

I am honored that Greg asked me to write about the F-T-F version of the Football game.  I am not sure how many folks still sit down to play a game but maybe we can get more people to do it if we talk about it.  The learning curve for the game is about 8-10 games.  That’s when you start to see the nuance, the strategy and the way you can really change the outcome.  Greg mentioned my time playing in Howard Ahlskog’s league.  I actually started in a league on the North Shore of Boston.  10 guys picking from the entire NFL in 1986.  The team I took over was terrible, Jim McMahon’s infamous 1985 card at QB, plus I didn’t know what I was doing.  The result?  0-10, the next season with Jim Kelly and Hershel Walker added I went 6-4 and lost my conference championship 24-20 when my final play was stopped on the 4 yard line.  I tell you this because it’s important to note that whatever I know about his game a learned by getting drilled and because I lost the NFC championship game in December of 1987 and I still know the score and many of the big plays.  Thirty years ago and it’s still there.  Because, Football.

Even before I moved to Western Mass and joined Howard’s great league we talked about the strategy often.  Howard loved the football game and really enjoyed tearing into questions like “which is better B/S or A/D down 2 lines?”  Football is the only game in APBA that you can do something on Defense to turn a 66 dice roll into a bad thing for the offense.  If you and a friend that enjoys football takes the time to learn the game it’ll be some of the great times you have rolling dice.  Of that I am certain.

My plan is to write about the “how-to’s” of playing F-T-F.  Give some tips on the best way to approach game planning and the like.  I’ll follow that with a little strategy around calling plays on both Offense and Defense.  As I said, I am not sure how many people are playing F-T-F but if there are some and you have some questions I’d love to hear them.

My thanks to Greg for asking me to do this.  I am hopeful that it helps to build the audience of fans that this great game deserves.apbacharts

Introducing – Greg Wells

I’m proud to introduce the newest author to the site, Mr. Greg Wells. Greg is a dear friend of mine and arguably the finest Face-to-Face (F-T-F) player on the planet. I’ve been taken to task by him numerous times and never witnessed him lose a pick-up or tournament game. He has easily won the convention tournament the last two years. I am thrilled that he will be contributing tips on the finer points of F-T-F play.

In the early 1980’s, Greg learned his trade doing battle with the legendary, Howard Ahlskog, in the Franklin County Football League. His first year in the league he experienced the typical growing pains and seldom won, however, after that he was a force to be reckoned with. I always enjoyed his stories about the “wars” in Howard’s basement, about how the games would go on for hours, Howard’s pacing around the room and each agonizing coaching decision. Great stuff!

Greg was an APBA Journal staffer and the Lead Football Writer between 1989 and 1993. He was inducted into the APBA Hall of Fame in 2013.

Friday Night “Clash”

I always look forward to my annual Friday night clash with APBA Hall of Famer, Greg Wells, at the convention. This years it was a matchup between the 2004 New England Patriots and the 2004 New York Jets. My strategy facing the Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots, was simple, on offense, establish some sort of running game to limit New England possessions and take some risks on defense. On New England’s first play from scrimmage, they broke the huddle and lined up in a Pro Set formation any my defensive call was “Standard, G alignment, Goal Line, Key Dillon” and to my delight it resulted in a four line drop once the play card was revealed. However, my joy was short lived and it was all New England for the entire first half. New England’s offense generated 18 first downs in the first half and entered the locker room at halftime with a 14-0 lead. Tom Brady was 16 of 18 for 162 yards and one touchdown. Truth be told, the score should have been even worse. Twice rare plays resulted in Brady fumbles inside the New York ten-yard line. New York only made three first downs the entire first half and an injury to offensive guard, Pet Kendall, put the Jets in “C” passing index for the majority of the first half. Curtis Martin was having minimal success running out of a three wide receiver set (7 carries for 48 yards) until a key third down and three from the New England 42-yard line. The play call was an inside run from a three wide receiver set but Greg’s defensive play call was brilliant, “Standard, S alignment, key Martin” resulting in a four line drop and a loss of yardage and any momentum that I had.

Determined to make a game out of it, New York opened the second half with a 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. On a third and one from the New England 27, it was a 2TE offense versus a goal line defense in G alignment, however, the play call was a medium pass resulting in a 27-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Becht from Chad Pennington. After New England answered with a 47-yard field goal to make the score 17-7 a key coaching decision on my part changed the game. Realizing the Jets had three capable running backs (Curtis Martin, LaMont Jordan and Jerald Sowell), I decided to go to a “Full House” backfield with 5:00 remaining in the third quarter. It changed everything, New England was completely off balance on defense. It reminded of the game in 08 when Miami unveiled the “Wildcat” and ran the Patriots out of Gilette Stadium. The Jets marched right down the field and Sowell finished off the drive with a 26-yard touchdown run. New England closed out the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal to make the score 20-14.

Faced with a third and nine, I went three wide and called a draw play to Curtis Martin. To my delight, Greg not only went “Dime” but he blitzed resulting in a 22-yard touchdown run and New York’s first lead of the game. On the 26th play of the fourth quarter, New England had a first and goal from the New York six-yard line. New England went 2TE and called an inside run with Dillon, I decided to let them score and called “Dime, D alignment” and watched Dillon reach the end zone untouched. Vinatieri booted the extra point before Greg realized there was the two-point conversion during the 04 season. This kicked off a lively conversation between players and participates. Armed with all my timeouts, I reached the New England 27-yard line with one play remaining in the game. I went three wide and called a medium pass to Wayne Chrebet but I rolled a 46 resulting in an incomplete pass.

New England                                     7          7          3          10        – 27

New York                                          0          0          7          14        – 21

NE – Givens 3 pass from Brady (Vinatieri kick)

NE – Givins 5 pass from Brady (Vinatieri kick)

NY – Becht 27 pass from Pennington (Brien kick)

NE – FG Vinatieri 47

NY – Sowell 26 run (Brien kick)

NE – FG Vinatieri 20

NY – Martin 22 run (draw play) (Brien kick)

NE – Dillon 6 run (Vinatieri kick)

                                                                          NE                           NY

First Downs……                                               25                             14

Rushed – Yards…..                                          25-110                      24-155

Passing Yards……                                          272                           115

Sacked- Yards Lost……                                 1-4                            1-4

Return Yards……….                                      82                              127

Passes………………                                      27-34-2/0                  11-19-1/0

Punts ………                                                  0-0.0                          5-37.8

Fumbles-Lost………..                                    2-2                             0-0

Penalties- Yards……..                                   3-20                           8-66



            NE: Brady 27-34-272-2-0

NY: Pennington 11-19-115-1-0


           NE: Dillon 21-71, Faulk 2-10, Patten 1-29, Brady 2-0

NY: Martin 13-71, Sowell 4-43, Jordan 6-33, Pennington 1-8


          NE: Branch 8-126, Givens 11-92, Faulk 3-32, Graham 2-7, Patten 3-17

NY: McCareins 1-12, Moss 1-23, Martin 3-3, Becht 2-31, Chrebet 4-52