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Continued: Minnesota duo break board-game record

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 11, 2012 - 9:37 AM

Update: Brett Carow and Sam Hennemann shattered the record, playing for 61 hours and 2 minutes. They played 111 games featuring baseball’s greatest all-time teams, with the 2007 Boston Red Sox emerging as the champs. “This is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Hal Richman, founder and president of Strat-O-Matic.

Since April 1, Brett Carow and Sam Hennemann have been in serious training, practicing arduously, watching what they eat and eschewing caffeine and alcohol. At 8 a.m. Thursday, they put it all on the line and start what they hope will be more than two days of nonstop competition, playing a game invented by an 11-year-old, Strat-O-Matic baseball.

The two Minnesotans hope to shatter the Guinness record for playing any board game, which stands 1 minute shy of 54 hours. The challenges go beyond finding ways to stay awake and avoiding wrist cramps from all that dice-rolling.

"We'll try to eliminate as many bathroom breaks as possible," Carow said. "Guinness gives you five minutes off per hour, but we can bank 'em. We hope to play the first eight to 10 hours nonstop and see how it goes from there."

Marathon Strat-O-Matic sessions are old hat for these guys. During their high school years in River Falls, Wis., the two "used to pull all-nighters all the time," Hennemann said. "On more than one occasion the owner of [the] house was, let's say, mildly annoyed."

Carow missed a homecoming event after one such conclave, went to prom on one hour's sleep and played "a quick game" on his honeymoon. Hennemann had a 2 p.m. basketball game after one all-nighter and scored 11 points, higher than his average.

But 54 hours would seem to be, as the saying goes, a whole 'nother ballgame. Especially at a restaurant (Foley's in New York City) in front of a live audience. Like marathoners, Carow and Hennemann ran a trial the weekend of April 20. They made it through 46 hours, a confidence boost.

"We know there will be distractions and other things we can't control," said Carow, 32, of Farmington. "But Sam's one of the more focused guys I know, and I love a challenge. The battle is to not get emotional, but it's baseball so it's hard not to get emotional."

And of course, they have a game plan, at least on the caffeinated front: "Coffee first, then Coke, then Red Bull," Hennemann said.

A 'realistic' game

The two have been building to this point since age 10, when Carow introduced his neighbor to a game that combines knowledge of baseball history, in-game strategy and, of course, luck. There are cards for each major-league player with codes reflecting his performance in a given season; a roll of three dice determines whether and how to consult the pitcher's or the hitter's card. A nine-inning game can take just a half-hour, which helps explain how Carow has played 10,000 (and definitely counting) games.

Since 1962, long before fantasy baseball (invented by Strat-O-Matic player Daniel Okrent) or the EA Sports baseball video game (invented by Strat-O-Matic player Trip Hawkins) came along, kids of all ages could manage their own team of big-leaguers. Current sets range from the 1911 world champion Philadelphia A's to last year's woebegone Twins.

Carow, who was named Ultimate Strat-O-Matic Fanatic at the company's 50th-anniversary celebration last year, and Hennemann play a lot of board games but always have focused primarily on Strat-O.

Is it more hobby or obsession? "I'm still gonna say hobby," Carow said, "but there's a lot of evidence suggesting that it's an obsession [laughs]. My wife would say it's an obsession."

The appeal is simple, except when it's not. Hennemann loves "learning about the ins and outs of baseball" as well as the randomness of each game.

"Your favorite team isn't always going to win, which is realistic," said Hennemann, 31, of Minneapolis. "Most video games are set up to where if you learn a trick, you can always go back to the trick. It's not really competitive. But in Strat-O-Matic, you can have tons of experience and play someone just starting and lose because of the probabilities."

That has kept this duo, and some of their old high school mates in the River Falls Men's League, coming back for more. "We still get together and play," Carow said. "It's a common bond, like fishing might be for somebody else."

Icing on the cake

And, yes, these guys do have other lives. Carow is a senior rep with rental car company Enterprise, and Hennemann owns a credit-repair company.

Both also have wives. Carisa Carow always has approved heartily of her husband's passion for playing. They had been dating about two months when Brett was approaching his 10,000th game. She had Ted Williams' 1941 card scanned into the icing on the cake celebrating Brett's milestone.

"I think I won him over with that," said Carisa Carow, who calls her now-husband's hobby "awesome. It keeps his mind sharp and there's nothing more all-American than baseball.

"Our friends actually think it's pretty cool because he's a wealth of mostly useless information."

Carisa will be at Foley's over the next few days, cheering on her record-seeking spouse and his buddy. (Hennemann's wife, Emily, won't make this road trip.) And if they make it to 54 hours?

"I'm hoping for a night on the town in New York," she said. "But I think there would have to be a quick nap first."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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  • ABOUT STRAT-O-MATIC

    How it started: In 1948, 11-year-old Hal Richman of Great Neck, N.Y., devised a baseball board game in which dice would make the results more realistic. In 1962, he got a $5,000 loan from his father (if it didn't work out, he would have to work for his father's insurance company) to release the game.

    Available at: Games by James and other game stores, and at www.strat-o-matic.com.

    Latest iterations: A Negro Leagues game and a starter "Baseball Express" game for ages 8-12, available at Toys 'R' Us.

    Among the devotees: Bob Costas, Drew Carey, Spike Lee, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tim Robbins.

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