Metric Mile Comments -
Or, Just How Good is Cram?

As I mentioned in Inside Pitch, I have recently (and belatedly) become familiar with this excellent game designed by Terry Goodchild and available from Lambourne Games at the address below. My intention is not to write another review, for that I refer you to Games International 4 wherein Ellis waffles on like a man possessed extolling its virtues, but simply to put on paper a few of the points that come to mind since playing the game. I also want to offer a few suggestions on its scope and potential and finally to supply a basic stats analysis for anyone who is interested in such things. I produced the figures to see if I could work out how the system worked so well and my spreadsheet did the rest; as to what they mean, if anything, I will leave it to you to decide. My main aim is to not to appear as a Bob Medrow clone (the man who dices before he farts, according to Mr.Vasey) so while the stats may be interesting, do not let them affect how you play the game which should be for fun and not as an exercise in quantum mechanics.

System. What Terry has designed here is a classically simple but effective system to simulate not only the running of a mile race but also many other fields of physical exertion. The concept of a finite stamina level and five modes (ease up, normal, pickup, force, sprint) of burning it up is so simple, accurate and useful it is amazing it has not appeared before. (Has it?) The added simplicity of the dice system to reflect the stamina used in these modes makes it a system worthy of further study. While it is appreciated that averages will not have a great bearing in the context of the relatively short duration a mile race, it may be worth quickly itemising the average loss of stamina in each of the modes:

Mode:     Ease Up   Normal    Pickup    Force     Sprint
Ave Loss: 1.0000    2.5278    3.5000    4.4722    7.0000
Max Loss: 1         6         6         6         12
Min Loss: 1         1         1         1         2

The rest of the system revolves around the use of the various modes available, tactical running and watching that ever dropping stamina. What amazes me is how well all the ploys can be recreated in the game. So far I have seen Keino go for the front in an effort to burn off the sprinters; this nearly worked and he took a brave bronze. I have seen (numerous times) Cram go from 300 metres out and leave the field for dead. I have also seen Cram miscalculate badly and start his run too late only to be beaten by Ovett. You can even imagine Coe looking distinctly sick while boxed in third at the bell, Scott giving up as he does after losing 20 metres and you can see Aouita kicking effortlessly from the back. The game works for all these typical sights and that, for me, is its real strength.

Scope. So, ruling out sports where the participants ride powered vehicles (or animals) we have a system that should work, with some tweaking, for any sport in which stamina is expended. My thoughts immediately turned to cycling, substituting attacks for forcing and perhaps allowing interim trips into sprint mode. Quite how you would apply it to road racing I don't know yet but it would work fine for pursuits (probably boring as a game) or points races. Track sprints would be a little more difficult but the basis is there. Other sports include rowing, cross country skiing, speed skating and possibly even orienteering? Fanciful yes, but I am sure in the absence of better systems it would all work with effort. I am not even sure there isn't an application for a variant on the stamina rules in sports games like boxing and particularly in basketball games which have always had weak, or just plain inaccurate systems.

Suggestions. Though I can see exactly why the track layout is done in the way it is, I feel the aesthetic qualities are improved by using a 6 Day Race track and Colditz-type coloured pawns. This enables each player to keep his card in front of him with a corresponding pawn on it and after a turn or two, everyone knows who is who. There is no real game benefit in that there is still no finish line but it does look, and play, an awful lot better than struggling with those cards.

I have racked my brain but can think of no way of converting the movement points to a linear equivalent to enable the use of a track of, say, 150 sections each representing 10 metres. This doesn't work now simply because in a slow, tactical race, no-one would make it to the line. As far as I can work out, it would need a horrendously complex formula taking into account the mode and speed of all the runners on the previous turn, the pace of the race and its length. I think we can safely draw a veil over that one. What would be nice would be some way of achieving this 'inversion' of the system, especially for the other uses that I suggested above, most of which deal with courses of finite length. However, I suspect what we have is a very finely balanced game where the relationship of stamina to game length is vital and does not permit tampering.

When playing the game face to face, there is a tendency for players to 'play the chart' eg looking up how many places Keino is ahead and then choosing the best mode accordingly. The reference to the chart is even more frequent when it comes to checking opponent's stamina. John Harrington has thought of a workable way of solving the latter. He suggests that each player has counters or poker chips to the value of his stamina and throws these into a central pool when they are used. This keeps the other players guessing as long as you ban notebooks. The first problem is best solved by postal play when everyone declares mode simultaneously but I am not sure that is correct - if you see Cram start a sprint ahead of you, you should have the option of following. I would therefore permit conditionals. In face to face play, the rule stating that the leader starts each turn works fine.

Stats. First off, let me say that I have no idea how Terry arrived at the figures on the cards. I would strongly expect, given his effort shown in other games, that they are all carefully worked out and based on a common criteria. It would be nice to know, perhaps we can twist his arm? Having nothing better to go on, I worked out the simplest analysis possible which is based on a weighted average in each mode. The stats on the following page are based on those averages and while they don't show anything more than that the runners are closely matched, they do offer some way of evaluating their slight strengths and weaknesses and hopefully make for interesting reading (if that is possible). Sadly, I have no way of knowing how important the small differences are apart from the performance of the runners in each game we play - again, one mark of this game is that it is almost beyond analysis and thus encourages the players to play as if in real life rather than playing the numbers game.

The surprising fact is that despite staggering performances so far (8 wins in 13 races) Cram is not the best overall, though he does rate highly in all the categories. Neither is he the best sprinter. This all neatly leads us back to how the ratings were arrived at and whether one can really say that, say, Bannister at his peak would be a real match for Cram or even Coe. My only personal gripe is that Ovett's card is probably not as good as it should be but then there is no way accounting for his highly skillful use of the elbow. I would also so like a Rick Wolhuter card please. Perhaps Terry might tell us how the ratings were arrived at but in the meantime, no doubt players of Metric Mile will warble on over the merits or otherwise of each runner. Whatever, in the end it remains a system that has superb atmosphere through offering excellent scope for visualisation, and which works both as a replay and as a game. Excellent stuff.

The Metric Mile costs £8.95 post free (by cheque) from: Lambourne Games, 8 Waters Avenue, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR33 8BJ.

Mike Siggins. 28/4/89.

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