Sunday, February 28, 2021

1981 Topps Scratch-Offs: Hockey Edition

Scratch-off games were big in the 1980s. State lotteries had them. McDonald's had them. Publisher's Clearing House had them. And as many of you readers may know, trading card companies had them.
 
The most popular example would likely be the 1981 Topps baseball scratch-off game. (Honorable mention to 1980 Donruss Pac-Man.)
 


These three-card panels were separate from the flagship set, and were issued in their own wax packs—six panels per pack, plus one stick of bubble gum. The cards came in two color varieties: green for National League players and red for American League players.
 
Kids would use these cards to play an actual "game". The rules were the same as real baseball: Choose your team of nine players, create your lineup, and scratch off one of those little black circles on the player's card when he comes to bat. Each circle reveals a hit or an out of some kind. Score as many runs as you can before revealing three outs. Once your side is retired, the other player starts scratching off his circles for the inning. Fun!

Now here's the interesting thing: Topps decided to do something similar during the concurrent hockey season (1980-81). But they went scratch-off mad. 
 
Instead of creating a separate hockey game similar to the baseball version, Topps added the special scratch-off coating directly to the front of all the cards in the flagship set.
 
Specifically, the coating appeared over the player's name. And to add to the challenge, the names were deliberately left off the back of the cards too. So, if you didn't have good knowledge of an NHL player by his image or jersey number, you'd have to find out by scratching off the puck to reveal the name underneath.
 
 
Who's that goalie? (scratches off puck) Oh, it's John Garrett.

 
Personally, I don't really mind the idea. Well, at least the little-kid version of me wouldn't have minded, because collecting cards back then was for fun, not dollars. And besides, Canadian counterpart O-Pee-Chee decided against the scratch-off pucks for their 1980-81 set, so examples of how cards look when they are undamaged and free from scratch-off residue do exist out there.
 
However, to many collectors the scratch-off puck idea was a poor one, and I understand that. After all, if you're trying to put a complete set together, do you go scratched? Unscratched? A combination of the two?
 
I was thinking about all this a couple of months ago, and came to the conclusion that it may have been a better move for Topps to keep the flagship cards uncoated, and if they really wanted to cash in on the popularity of the scratch-off craze, issue a separate game like they did for baseball.
 
And that's exactly when I said, "Hey, let's create one!"
 
Here's what the hockey version of the scratch-off game could have looked like. 
 
First, the panels.
 


I like the green color of the baseball panels, but decided to ditch the red. After trying various colors, I chose purple. The cool-ish color seems to work with hockey, a cool-weather sport. And Topps did use a similar purple color for some of the card borders in the 1980-81 set. (See the John Garrett card above.)

Next, the panel backs, featuring the rules, scoreboard, and a merchandise offer. Original baseball panel on the left, newly created hockey panel on the right.
 
 


For the baseball version, Topps used the same red and pink colors that they did for the backs on their flagship 1981 set. I tried the same thing for the hockey version, using the green and yellow colors that Topps used for their 1980-81 flagship hockey set. 
 
Here's an enlarged shot of each panel.
 
 

 
 

 
 

 
Don't send $5.00 to that P.O. Box. You won't receive your NHL mini-bag.

However, there is a prize of sorts. We're actually going to play a game, right here, virtually! (I didn't do so much design work on these panels for nothing.)

First, let's go over the rules. If you don't want to zoom in on the image above, here's the summary:
 
(1) You and your competitor each select a team of five skaters: Three forwards and two defensemen. Each skater will "shoot" once per period. You choose the order in which they'll shoot and write that number in the box at the bottom right.
 
(2) You and your competitor take turns shooting by scratching off a circle on your next shooter's card. Revealing a "GO" means that player has scored a goal. Revealing an "X" means that player has missed, and revealing a "P" means that player has committed a penalty. When a penalty is revealed, the next player in your shooting lineup will miss his turn.
 
(3) At the end of the period, you and your competitor tally up the number of goals scored and write the totals in the corresponding box on the scorecard. Repeat for periods 2 and 3. If the game is tied after regulation, an overtime period is played. First player to score a goal wins.
 
(Note that better players will have more "GO" circles, and therefore fewer "X" and/or "P" circles. This means that the shooting order you choose for your five players does have some importance.)
 
Now let's imagine we're right in the middle of the 1980-81 season and two hockey-loving kids are setting up a game. We'll call one kid Tim (a.k.a. Timmy), and the other kid Steve (a.k.a. Stevie). Picture them sitting on the floor facing each other, shoe boxes filled with hockey cards and scratch-offs at the ready.
 
After downing some Hi-C juice boxes, they're ready to get down to business:
 
Timmy was recently rewarded with a few packs of 1980-81 Topps Hockey Scratch-Offs for a good report card, and with those packs he's put together his starting five as follows: 
 

 
 
His shooting order will be: Simmer, Potvin, Propp, Bourque, Trottier
 
Sitting across the floor we have Stevie, who's been shoveling snow for his neighbors this winter, and has used a good portion of that shoveling money on trading cards and scratch-offs. One look at Timmy's lineup, and Stevie felt he needed to bring out a couple of big guns of his own. Here's his group of five: 



 
And his shooting order: McDonald, Salming, Howe, Gretzky, Gartner
 
With the teams ready, both kids grab their quarters for scratching. Can you feel the tension?!?
 
Let's start the game. 
 
(Note: I simulated the "scratching off" by putting a player's 24 outcomes in a randomizer, randomizing them five times, and then choosing the outcome that landed in the first spot. Then I removed that selected outcome before the player's next turn, so it couldn't be repeated.) 

PERIOD 1

Team

Player

Result

Timmy

Simmer

Penalty

Stevie

McDonald

Goal

Timmy

Potvin

Misses turn (Simmer penalty)

Stevie

Salming

Penalty

Timmy

Propp

Penalty

Stevie

Howe

Misses turn (Salming penalty)

Timmy

Bourque

Misses turn (Propp penalty)

Stevie

Gretzky

Goal

Timmy

Trottier

Goal

Stevie

Gartner

Miss

What a chippy start—three penalties in the period, including the very first attempt of the game! Bryan Trottier finally got Timmy’s team on the board with their last shot of the period, but Stevie has the early lead, 2­–1. 


PERIOD 2

Team

Player

Result

Timmy

Simmer

Goal

Stevie

McDonald

Goal

Timmy

Potvin

Miss

Stevie

Salming

Miss

Timmy

Propp

Goal

Stevie

Howe

Goal

Timmy

Bourque

Goal

Stevie

Gretzky

Miss

Timmy

Trottier

Miss

Stevie

Gartner

Penalty

Things settled down in the second period, with a couple of goals right from the start. Timmy’s team got back in it with Simmer, Propp, and Bourque all lighting the lamp. Surprisingly, clutch players Gretzky and Trottier both missed their attempts. And so the score is now tied, 4–4! 

Remember, Mike Gartner’s penalty with the last attempt means that the first shooter on his team will miss his turn in the third period. Will it come back to bite Stevie?

 

PERIOD 3

Team

Player

Result

Timmy

Simmer

Goal

Stevie

McDonald

Misses turn (Gartner penalty, period 2)

Timmy

Potvin

Goal

Stevie

Salming

Miss

Timmy

Propp

Goal

Stevie

Howe

Miss

Timmy

Bourque

Miss

Stevie

Gretzky

Goal

Timmy

Trottier

Miss

Stevie

Gartner

Goal


What a finish! Timmy’s first three players scored on their shots, and although Gretzky and Gartner both scored to finish for Stevie’s team, it just wasn’t enough. Team Timmy wins, 7–6!

Mike Gartner might be in the doghouse for a day or two.
 
 

 
And just for fun, here's the Gretzky panel after the game, showing the scratched-off circles. (Stevie is definitely keeping this card for another game.)
 



Well, that was even a little more fun than I thought it would be. Hope you all enjoyed the post.

Now who wants next game?

16 comments:

  1. You did all this yourself? That's amazing!! The detail on these is incredible, I hope you'll explain how you put it all together. I'm hiring you for my next custom card project!

    The scratch-off concept for a hockey card set didnt make sense to me at first but now that you've given it some context it makes more sense. Still, I feel like Topps/USA should have had the unscratched cards while the OPC/Canadian cards should test fans' knowledge by hiding the player names.

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    Replies
    1. Good thought about OPC being the brand to hide the player names instead of Topps. Back then, the typical Canadian kid would have been much more familiar with NHL players than the typical kid from the States.

      As for the custom hockey scratch-offs, they're only digital so far. I used some Photoshop trickery to make it look like they were physical, printed-out versions. Did I fool Chris The Collector? ;-)

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  2. MAN, I was REALLY rooting for Stevie's team. Gretzky and Gartner against Trottier and Potvin? For a Ranger fan like me, that's a big deal. Potvin sucks!

    Very well executed. Hockey doesn't easily lend itself to that sort of game the way baseball does, but you made it work.

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    Replies
    1. Oh man, I hadn't made the Isles vs. Rangers connection there, heheh. Sorry Brett! Maybe I'll do a rematch in the future.

      Thanks for the compliments on the custom scratch-offs.

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  3. These look awesome! You guys and your custom skills are insanely talented.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Fuji! More to come, so stay tuned.

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  4. Too early in the morning to absorb all this, but my foggy brain is impressed. I don't even know how you did this.

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    Replies
    1. I appreciate the Night Owl reading my blog in the early-morning hours. Thanks for the compliment, too!

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  5. Never knew there was a complete base set like that. Sure hope Topps doesn't get the idea to revisit it at some point.
    Awesome how you made your own game though!

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    Replies
    1. Well, over the past 5 or 10 years it seems like Topps has revisited every other design element they've ever done, so I wouldn't put it past them. Heh.

      Glad you enjoyed the custom game!

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  6. Love the idea and the execution, but one small criticism. In that era, the NHL did not have overtime games. If you were tied after three periods, that was it!

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    Replies
    1. Dagnabbit! Great catch there, Stephen. Maybe we can say that in this imaginary 1980-81 season, Topps was being visionary and forward-thinking by adding the overtime period to the scratch-off game? I mean, the WHA had overtime in the 1970s, right?

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    2. Playoff games went to overtime, no?

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  7. Not being a hockey guy, I have absolutely no idea what's going on here! Buy that's okay, I just wanted to say that having never seen those Topps hockey cards before, I think that they're kind of neat. I'm also guessing that the graders hate these, which if true, would make me like them just that much more.

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    Replies
    1. Heheh. I like the snark toward grading companies, Jon. Let me know if you'd like a couple of 1980-81 Topps hockey cards for your collection. I think I have a few extras. (Scratched and unscratched.)

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