HIGHLIGHT MAKER HOOPS: Nothin’ but net
I’m a big fan of Keith Avallone and PLAAY Games. I have several of Keith’s games, ranging from Second Season Football to History Maker Baseball, Hockey Blast and Red, White & Blue Racing. I love them all so I jumped at the opportunity to pre-order Keith’s latest offering, Highlight Maker Hoops. I am pleased to report that Keith and PLAAY Games have yet another entry in their growing catalog of outstanding games.
I must admit that there was some trepidation on my part while I (briefly) debated pre-ordering. This was a “highlight” engine and not something that was going to generate a full, or even partial, slate of statistics. Stats are the sine non qua for sports gamers, and I’m no different. However, as I was already fully cognizant of the talent and ingenuity of Mr. Avallone, I felt safe in taking the plunge.
What’s in the box you might? Well, you get the usual assortment of PLAAY Games goodies, all constructed of their typically solid quality materials.
Specifically, what you’ll find inside the now-standard colorful PLAAY sleeved box :
- The always essential, and well-written rules booklet
- A set of charts for determining the score
- Two sets of strategy cards
- A game board with boxes for each team’s lineup and bench, surrounded by the scoring track for each team
- A double-sided gamer’s aid board with one side for the FAC deck and discards plus three tables and the other side featuring the final minute “minigame” where you can play out the last 60 ticks of the clock using dice and the player cards.
- A set of player cards covering the final four squads in the most recently completed pro season.
- A note, hand signed by Keith, with notes about the game. My note, as a pre-order, had tidbits about the use of the strategy cards, which were inadvertently left out of rules booklet.
The bottom line for games is always: “How’s it play?”
The answer is: very well indeed.
If you’ve never played a PLAAY Games offering, you’re in for a treat… come to think of it, that’s true regardless. But for a neophyte, it’s likely to be a revelation. Keith often thinks outside the box with his designs and I know from reading his newsletters over the years that basketball was always a sport his customers wanted to see, but one which presented many difficulties in doing the “PLAAY Way.”
Highlight Maker Hoops is a bit of an advance scout, preparing the way for the release of History Maker Hoops down the road. That one will produce a more “full-game” experience in a way similar to History Maker Baseball and History Maker Golf (hence the shared moniker styling). “Highlight Maker” is a brand-new thing: a highlight-driven experience that’s probably most similar to Red, White & Blue Racing, but even then, not so much.
At game start, you’ll need to set up your five-man starting squads and a bench for both the visiting and home teams. There is a symbol on most cards that indicates the usage that player had during the season. I picked up the 1964-65 set (as I am often in an old school mindset). Players who play virtually every game and a lot of minutes in each, get an underlined circle. Following that, in descending order of usage would be a filled-in circle, an empty circle and no symbol at all for lightly used players. You also get coach cards for each coach who strode the sideline that season and a set of referee cards (which won’t come into play until History Maker Hoops is released).
Gameplay is driven by the Fast Action Cards and the experience as Keith describes it is meant to evoke the sense of watching a SportsCenter type highlights show. So each FAC has a category that ties into a specific type of highlight: FLOOR CAM, HOOP CAM and BENCH CAM. Pretty straightforward, right?
But each one has that little bit of special sauce that Keith brings to the gaming table. Your FLOOR CAM results will require determining the active player for each team (the top card on the lineup stack) and either explicitly call for the visitor or home player, or ask for a check on a play-making quality (there are six total and players who have them can have them for either offense or defense, or both). Qualities can also be underlined, meaning the player is dominant in that quality which offers bonuses depending on whether the quality is offensive of defensive.
Depending on the outcome of the FAC you will then rotate one or both of the active players to the bottom of the lineup stack, thereby activating the next man in the rotation. Typically, if one team scores, their active player remains activated while the defender rotates. When neither team scores, both teams will rotate their active players.
There are unusual results too, another staple of PLAAY Games that are called for on the FAC under the FLOOR CAM type.
The HOOP CAM FAC result highlights action around the basket (as you’d expect from the name). These FACs call for a check of the player’s shot-making or rebounding qualities which can result in scores or exciting defensive stops. Rebounding qualities include LEAP, GRAB and PUSH while shot-making qualities include YES, ARC and NET. HOOP CAM results can also include a lightning bolt or hand symbol which represent momentum and a defensive skill check respectively. And each FAC usually has a little snippet of play-by-play such as you might hear from a highlight show’s anchor.
The BENCH CAM brings the coaches into play. Why have coach cards if they don’t have any impact? In HMH, they do. When a BENCH CAM FAC appears it always triggers a coaching contribution. The teams alternate, home and then away, when these cards are called into play. The first thing that typically happens is that a player from the bench is added to the rotation – not swapped in, but added as a sixth, seventh, etc. member of the rotation. Then there’s a coaching skill check to see if the man with the clipboard can draw up something that helps – or in some cases – hinders his team.
These three categories offer a surprising amount of nuance and you don’t even realize that you’re not tracking field goals, rebounds, and assists. The game has an ebb and flow and a feel to it. Teams go on runs, you pull a BENCH CAM FAC and if your coach rolls poorly, the other team gets a bucket and ends your run. Momentum swings and individual players impact the game in ways that feel… right.
Ultimately this is a game that is a fine addition to the collection of anyone who loves basketball. And when History Maker Hoops comes out, this will be the perfect complement as a fast-playing, realistic engine for those games where your favorite squad maybe isn’t playing.
I did a full-game playthrough, including the final minute minigame on my YouTube channel here.
You can purchase the game from PLAAY Classic’s website, here.