When boxing historian and statistician James Vincent Trunzo created his beloved boxing simulation board game TITLE BOUT in 1976 it was to satisfy a nagging curiosity that many of us shared with him at that time. Who would win if Muhammad Ali boxed Rocky Marciano in a mythical battle of all-time heavyweight greats? Was there really any way to find out?
Like many Boomers, Trunzo watched boxing on TV with his father in the 60s. Growing up in rural Leechburg, PA, Trunzo’s Italian-American family idolized the Brockton Blockbuster.
The infamous 1969 “Computer Super Fight” between Ali and Marciano had left its mark on a future generation of gamers and boxing fans hungry for statistical information about their favorite past and present fighters. That educated fascination with fantasy matchups grew into a booming business for Jim and brother Tom.
When the pair looked at the 70s role-playing-game marketplace, what they saw were successful simulation board games for baseball and other more current American pastimes such as football; but no boxing. The Sweet Science no longer held a monopoly of fan interest.
With the “innocence and impetuousness” of youth Trunzo set out to design the first ever “Strat-O-Matic” experience for the utterly unpredictable flow of boxing. It was no easy task to deconstruct pugilism into its myriad statistical equivalencies but his core concept was sound. Instead of dice or spinners, TB utilized an innovative system of random numerical “action cards” to simulate bouts in a way that reflected the probabilities being played out by gamers at home.
Informative and entertaining—it was also realistic. Trunzo credits fight writers Nat Loubet and Randy Gordon for that. Gordon, then a member of Loubet’s The Ring magazine editorial staff, played a key role in the realization of Trunzo’s vision. “Randy did the first fighter ratings,” says Trunzo.
In 1979, Trunzo’s creative design was released in time for Christmas by the Avalon Hill game company in conjunction with Sports Illustrated. The product was called Title Bout: The Game of Professional Boxing. Growing up in Rocky’s hometown of Brockton, Mass, I discovered this wondrous game for sale at a hobby shop not far from where Marciano attended high school.
My first copy of Title Bout was a gateway drug; an introduction to the addiction of What If? What if Marciano fought the legendary John L. Sullivan? What if Joe Louis had met Ali when both were in their primes? Issued in a simple blue box with a large action shot on the front and the promise of pure magic on the back, Title Bout, said the blurb, “lets you recreate all the great ring matchups of the past and present with over 400 boxers individually rated for their abilities in over 20 key areas.”
There was nothing else like it.
And I was hooked…
Updates in the form of new fighter cards were available for the venerable board game until 1990 before Title Bout transitioned with the times into a sanitized computer version of the paper classic. Rather than flipping cards, keeping tabs, and imagining the blow-by-blow, players now watched mathematics play out on-screen with no involvement beyond fantasy matchmaking.
As the years went by, we who loved this game wondered if it would ever birth a real comeback. Well move over Big George Foreman and Rocky Balboa because on February 1, 2018, Trunzo proudly announced that Title Bout II, a reimagining of his original 1979 boxing simulation, had officially left the manufacturer, shipping to fill pre-orders around the world. One hundred and eighty five (185) backers pledged a total of $14,485 to fund Trunzo’s sophisticated labor of love.
Produced by Bang Wee Games in Hong Kong after crowdfunding on Kickstarter in 2017, Title Bout II in retail form is a physical dream come true for devoted fans of the original table top. But can a board game based on boxing be even moderately successful in today’s modern world?
Will anyone even know it exists?
Trunzo, a former member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and contributor to The Ring magazine, doesn’t seem to care. Calling Title Bout II a return to his roots, Trunzo claims the time is right for the redesign of what he hopes will be the “definitive boxing simulation” available in any format. As a current member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Trunzo’s analytical expertise and attention to detail leave nothing to chance but future sales.
With his Kickstarter pre-orders now filled, Trunzo still has several dozen copies of the game available for sale. Having done no marketing, Trunzo is happy to see that demand for the cult classic is exceeding his modest expectations. His initial print run of 300 units is going quickly.
Improving and expanding upon the original, the large square gameboard puts the ring in the middle of the action with voluminous game charts and player graphs surrounding it like a packed house with a full crowd. Name fighters are now rated in 37 different categories including power, defense, chin and other common boxing variables like endurance and punch accuracy.
“I realized I could greatly improve the fighters that I had rated for the game,” Trunzo told me. “I approached my late boss/partner at Nocturnal Media, Stuart Wieck, about working Title Bout II into our game rotation. We had just completed a very successful project, Gladiator: Quest For The Rudis. That game sold over 1,800 units and literally more than 3,000 gladiator add-ons.”
When Wieck passed away after a fencing workout, Trunzo decided to continue the project on his own. He founded Straight Jab Media, set up a Kickstarter and, as he puts it, “Here we are.” Unlike the original game which featured new and old fighters from all major weight classes, Title Bout II begins with one hundred heavyweights of various vintage. I didn’t see Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder on the list but Wladimir Klitschko and Joe Frazier are right there. Trunzo plans to add new/missing fighters as supplemental card sets to be issued every few months. The first three such add-ons include twenty heavyweights in each of the following three categories: The Great Black Heavyweights, Contenders & Pretenders, and Trialhorses & Gatekeepers.
New to Title Bout II is a personalized variable for each boxer called a Special Rating. Some are plusses while others are liabilities. They include being a strong closer, fighting intellectually or inconsistently, playing to the crowd, being a head case, anger issues and self-doubt. It’s not hard to imagine how Vicious Victor Ortiz or Iron Mike Tyson might rate in this regard.
Trunzo, 68, knows boxing has declined in popularity and that gaming has changed a bit in four decades. What matters to him is the integrity of his sim and the historical lessons it offers to a new generation unfamiliar with boxing’s pantheon. Beyond statistical accuracy, one of the best features of the original were the backs of the “old school” fighter cards produced in yellow. These “ATGs” represented fighters from days gone by and featured a short bio about the boxer.
If you didn’t know who Les Darcy or Sam McVey were (or how good) you could find out easily enough by playing and reading Title Bout. Let’s hope that Trunzo, an experienced boxing writer with a flair for the factual, puts history capsule write-ups on the backs of all his new boxer cards.
With Title Bout II inspired by the analytical input of his upcoming book “Boxing By The Numbers: The Heavyweights” Trunzo claims, among other things, that Earnie Shavers is NOT the hardest hitting heavyweight ever, that today’s super-sized heavyweights have created a “false bias” against the smaller heavyweights of the past—and that Jack Dempsey was overrated.
More than anything else about its “simple but involved” simulation, Title Bout II puts an increased priority on quality of competition over a fighter’s win-loss record. Who fought and beat who—when—is of paramount importance in Trunzo’s meticulous creation of fighter cards.
“I attempted to make the new game more interactive by placing greater emphasis on strategies and using a fight plan,” Trunzo says. “I’ve improved this version significantly by redoing all the tables and most importantly changing the algorithms and formulas that go into rating the fighters. Those changes have produced a more realistic simulation with more accurate outcomes.”
Visit Straight Jab Media for more information.
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