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Fantasy Basho Daily: An Introduction

Starting with the Hatsu 2021 basho, Fantasy Basho has a new way to play. A Daily version is now available over at Fantasizr. You can pick a new team each and every day, discarding rikishi who disappoint you or just seeing if you can pick the right four for fifteen days straight.

Before I dive deeper into this new Daily version of the game, I want to give a short background on why I built Fantasy Basho the way I did. In January 2018, I discovered NHK World's sumo coverage. That meant I binged all fifteen days, watching Tochinoshin get his 14-1 yusho in a matter of hours. I knew I was going to watch in March. What I wanted was other people I knew personally to talk to about it.

So I developed a little fantasy sumo game. The idea all along was to make it something that helped people get into sumo. I was also doing it as I was getting into sumo. I remembered vaguely watching sumo as a kid on ESPN's daytime coverage, with some notions of loving Akebono and witnessing the early rise of Asashoryu. But I only dove into sumo by creating a fantasy game for it.

It worked, and not just for me. I built slowly, with one friend joining me for Haru 2018. Then I got two more to play and built on it. Eventually, I built this website, put the game on Fantasizr, and named it Fantasy Basho. I think the durability of the game has been based on its simplicity and appeal to the brand new fan. A rikishi gets two points for each win, one point for a kinboshi, and one point for a Special Prize. You don't really need to track more than wins. And the Banzuke provides a strong initial take on ranking draft choices.

I also made the conscious decision to make it a draft style game. With eight players in a league and four wrestlers per team, that meant two key things. One, even a terrible rash of injuries wouldn't cause a team to be unable to select four rikishi. Two, no one could just pick the four strongest wrestlers and sit back. Part of the skill of the game was finding the lower Maegashira who would dominate.

This also made for the potential of less heralded rikishi to be focused on more. Take Sadanoumi. He was never really threatening a yusho or double-digit wins for most of the time Fantasy Basho has existed. But he has, until the last two basho, been a solid performer. Finding a guy as your last pick who was likely to get at least 6 wins and a strong candidate for 8 was a nice strategy.

There were some issues I was not comfortable with in a draft-style game. Quite frequently, bad choices or injuries would see someone have no chance to win. I kept saying the good news was that a new basho would begin in two months. That was also a way of saying that certain teams were just always hopeless every basho. And bad luck played an outsized role. Take November's basho. I felt anyone with the top draft pick had three good choices, and the catbird seat was number 3. The two Yokozuna were out, but three strong Ozeki were available. As it turned out, Shodai and Asanoyama both got injured early. Takakeisho got the yusho and frequently delivered the Fantasy Basho win.

Balancing those aspects of Fantasy Basho is why I found it so difficult to come up with a Daily version that worked. A game where someone could take, say, Hakuho, Takakeisho, Terunofuji, and Kotoshoho was a problem. If it was built that someone could take a Yokozuna and an Ozeki and a Sekiwake, they would always do that. Picking lower-level Maegashira makes for a bigger challenge.

The way I realized a daily game would work is by crafting a strict budget. Hard choices are required, and making it impossible to select multiple Sanyaku wrestlers is best. The strict ranking in sumo provided a natural way to structure the budget. Yet how much a Yokozuna is worth versus a Maegashira was tough, without seeming to put the whole budget out of whack. But I feel like I got it. There is an overall budget of 50 for four rikishi, and here is their individual value.

You can not pick two Sanyaku wrestlers. You can pick Hakuho and Maegashira 1 East Hokutofuji, but then you have to take Maegashira 17 East Sadanoumi and one of the Maegashira 16s, Kaisei or Akiseyama. Otherwise, you'll be over budget.

This greatly prioritizes finding the winning rikishi below Maegashira 10. It also makes a high performing joi-jin wrestler slightly more valuable than a less impressive lower Sanyaku wrestler. What it especially does is reward identifying who is likely to win each matchup.

And that's the most interesting thing. Matchups matter greatly if you want to predict who will each day. I am hoping to see some constant lineup switching. Mostly, I hope people will enjoy this way to play Fantasy Basho.

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