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Fitzgerald Hits Winning Home Run!

The Inquisitive Meeple
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The Inquisitive Meeple

Usually this spot is reserved with the – “tell us who you are” question, but in the case of Mike Fitzgerald, you hardly need an introduction to readers on BGG. So, instead let me ask you something different – first, why do you play games and secondly, why do you create them?

Mike: When I started playing games at 4 years old I did it for the fun. As a teenager I played for the competition and thrill of victory. As an adult I play for the creativity of exploring a game. The social part of game play has always been important to me as well. Creating games came out of wanting to play certain kinds of games that were not available at the time. Now I create games for a living and love the creativity involved. The short answer is I have a passion for playing and creating games and I try to only do things I am passionate about.

You are known for your many cards games (the Mystery Rummy series, Wyatt Earp and more recently Hooyah: Navy Seals Card Game) – what is it that attracts you to make card games over say big box board games?

Mike: Card games are my favorite kind of games to play so it follows they are my favorite kind of games to make. My early successes were trading card games (Wyvern in 1994 and Nitro and X Men for WOTC) and that led to companies coming to me to ask for card games. I am working on some board games and hopefully one will eventually get published. I prefer card games because of the challenge of working with a different situation (opening hand for instance) every time you play.

What board games are some of your current favorites?

Mike: I have to count card and board games in this answer since I prefer card games: My current favorites are: Nations, Russian Railroads, Guildhall, Impulse and Francis Drake.

After one of your games is published – do you still play it or do you move on to other things and don’t look back (for a lack of a better phase)? For example, do you still play your mystery rummy games?

Mike: I play the games I like the most. A few of them are my own designs, but after they are published I forget about that fact and play them just because I enjoy them. I still play the first two Mystery Rummies regularly.

Starting today (March 7, 2014) on Kickstarter, you have a real cool looking futuristic baseball game called Baseball Highlights 2045. Could you tell us about the theme and your vision of what baseball will be like in the year 2045?

Mike: The theme is that Football dominates sports and Baseball has to do certain things to increase its audience. The details of this back story are available to read online.

Inquisitive Meeple Note: Some of the highlights of the theme can be found in the opening picture before the break.

Why did you create Baseball Highlights 2045?

Mike: I am a huge Baseball fan. I play and love the stat baseball games that are available for recreating real Baseball games. I wanted to make an interactive, quick playing card game that would give the players the “feel” of exciting Baseball moments during play.

Could you explain how the game is played?

Mike: The game uses a unique card play mechanic to get all the action of a baseball game in 6 cards per player. Players will draw 6 cards from their deck and then play a game with those cards. Then they will buy new players from a Free Agent row to add to their decks. You continue playing games and buying more players between games until the end of the match.

Baseball Highlights 2045 is played in 10 mini games with each mini game (the 6 card round) standing supposedly for a full baseball game, am I understanding that correctly?

Mike: Each mini game does represent on baseball game. The match can take anywhere form 7 to 10 games to complete. The first three games are like a regular season where you start building your team between each game and get used to the flow of the game. (Experienced players will very often do 3 Buy Rounds at the beginning without playing the game until that 4th round). Beginners get a chance to learn the game and buy some players before the World Series begins. The team that won at least 2 of these first 3 games will have the home field advantage in the World Series. This means they get the first two games at home, then the other team is home to 3 games if needed, and back to the other team being home for game 6 and 7. This is how they do it in the major leagues. The first team to win 4 wins the match. So you could have as few as 7 games and as many as 10 in one match. You continue to buy players after every game no matter how long the match lasts.

Did the mechanics or the theme come first to you in making this game?

Mike: The theme came first in this design. I knew it would be a deck builder. The unique mechanic for the game play came during the design process.

Do you think it is fair to say even though this is a Baseball game – it is also a Euro style game at the same time?

Mike: The game does have both tactics and overall strategy which many good Euros do have, but the play is more interactive than most Euros. The feel of the play is much closer to a dueling trading card game like Magic the Gathering. I am very happy that many players find this a good competitive game that is fun to play, even if they are not baseball fans.

Why did you choose to make the game more like a sports “highlight reel” then a full fledged baseball game?

Mike: There are many stat based games that do a great job of simulating a full fledged baseball game. I thought this kind of game would be pretty boring for the hobby gaming market. So I started with the task of making a really good interactive card game with some baseball “feel.” I think I have done that. We will find out soon if players agree.

How is the learning curve for Baseball Highlights 2045?

Mike: The game has a short learning curve for all players, because the card mechanic is unique. It takes a few card plays to get the rhythm of the play down so it is intuitive. If you have played deck building games the part of the game where you buy players will be familiar to you. If you have no experience with deck builders this part is easy to learn. Non gamers can play this game easily. It is a harder game for a non gamer to get really good at, because of how the cards interact. I have found that Baseball fan non gamers are willing to learn the game and really enjoy it.

You said you knew it was going to be a deck-builder. What made you decide to go with that choice for a baseball game?

Mike: It seemed such a natural mechanic to use. You are drafting players to make up your team. Once I figured out how to get a game going between each of the buy rounds, I thought I had something good.

After each mini-game players are able to use the deck-building mechanic to buy new players. However, you also have to discard out of the game an equal number of players that you just bought (from the hand you just previously finished playing), because of this you will always have only 15 cards in the game. Why did you decide to keep the deck the same size instead of actually building the deck up?

Mike: In early versions of the game I allowed building your deck up as well as removing cards from the deck via card mechanics. This created two problems. The first is as your deck gets bigger, you lose the synergy between players on your team since the original starting players are still there. With a large deck it would take you many games to see all your players since each game is played with just 6 cards. On the other hand a couple of my play testers were getting their deck down to less than 10 cards so their best players were in almost every game. Both these issues are solved with the fixed number of 15. This insures the synergy of a well built deck and gives enough randomness to card draw for exciting and varied games.

In a lot of deck-builders, when you buy a card you have to place it in your personal discard pile and wait for a reshuffle into your deck. That isn't the case with Baseball Highlights 2045 - you place the card right on top of your draw pile, to be used in the next game. Why did you make this design choice?

Mike: It increases the strategy and interaction of buying players. You need to watch closely and try to prepare your team to deal with the player or players the opponent just bought. Add that with the On Deck mechanic where you can put a player in reserve to maybe use in a game and you have a good system that contains some bluff and timing. I wanted each game to be different as well so the quicker your players get in the game the more variety in the games.

I’m sure there had to be a lot to balance as you were designing this game. Balancing everything from runner speeds (slow, average and fast) to the hit boxes to the special ability boxes. Did you find this a challenge to balance all out or did it come more natural?

Mike: I started my game design career in 1994 by designing trading card games. These games take a tremendous amount of work in balancing and costing cards and game effects. I took the knowledge learned from that and applied it to this project. It was a lot of work, but all fun since I love Baseball so much.

Being a sports game, I’m sure it’s full of interaction. Could you explain to us how the hit box vs action box interaction actually works in the game?

Mike: This is the part of the game that is unique, so I will break down how the order of play works. Once you get used to the flow this all happens quickly and becomes intuitive. First, when you play a card if there is something in the Action Box it happens immediately. Most of these actions are dependent on a game situation, so if that situation does not exist the action does not happen. The Second step is to resolve the opponent’s Hit Box. Your opponent places base runners and moves base runners according to what Hits happen. The Third Step is to Threaten the Hits in your Hit Box. You do this by placing a base runner on your Home Plate for each Hit in your Hit Box. Here is an example: I play the robot Wiffle to start a game. There is nothing in its Action Box. My opponent has not played a card yet, so there is nothing to resolve in his Hit Box. I then Threaten the Hits in Wiffle’s Hit Box. There are 3 singles there so I place three runners on my Home Plate. My opponent now plays the Natural Mike Landis. His Action Box says “Glove: Cancel one Hit” This happens and I must remove one of the runners from my Home Plate as one of the three threatened singles has been canceled. Now I resolve my Hit Box which now contains 2 singles. Since Wiffle is a slow runner I place two slow runners on my first and second base (each player has their own play mat with the bases on them). Now my opponent Threatens what is in his Hit Box. Mike Landis is threatening 2 singles so two runners go on his Home Plate. Play continues this way until each player has played his 6 cards. The player who scored the most runs wins.

Let’s go down a rabbit trail for a second and talk some real baseball. Who is your favorite team?

Mike: Growing up I was a Chicago White Sox fan living in NY. The Yankees were always winning and I liked to root for the team that was good, but an underdog to the Yankees. They also played my favorite style of baseball: Pitching, Defense and Speed.

Do you have a favorite baseball player of all time?

Mike: Luis Aparicio; the Hall of Fame shortstop who played for the White Sox and later the Orioles.

Do you perhaps have a favorite warm memory of baseball that you could share with us?

Mike: Going to games as a kid with my father is what made me a fan of the game. I was in radio in NYC for years and got to play in a celebrity softball game at Shea Stadium before a Mets game. It was NY radio personalities against the Mets wives. George Foster’s wife struck me out (we did have to bat opposite our normal side- but they were good!).

What are you thoughts these days about how there seems to be a lot of talk about steroids in baseball? And is there any allegations in 2045 that Naturals may be using steroids to keep up with the 'borgs and bots?

I am not a fan of steroid use and I do think it has hurt baseball a lot. By 2045 the have gotten smart and use bionic body parts instead of drugs.

In Baseball Highlights 2045 all players take their hits all at once. How did you come up with this idea and what does it add to the gameplay?

Mike: The original version of the game was a simple deck builder where each player had an amount of runs on his card. You simply showed your hand each round and counted your runs against opponents. When I changed to the current system I knew I wanted realistic baseball scores in a quick playing game. This is where the multiple hits on a card came into being. It also allows a lot of variation player to player which is important for the costing of cards in this type of game. In the end, it worked better than I could have expected as games can be 2-1 or 12-11 and everything in between. The combination of defense and offense on players cards and how they interact gives you a different game each time. Winning is based on how well you tactically play the game and how well you strategically buy your team.

One of the features of the game is that certain pitches strikes out certain types of players. So Fastball strikes out a Natural, a curve ball a robot, and a spitball a cyborg. How did this come about in designing the game?

Mike: This game does not simulate a baseball game, so there is no pitcher batter confrontation in the game. I put the baseball “feel” of things like strikeouts in card play, by how the card you play affects the card the opponent just played. The Cyborgs can cancel all hits in a players Hit Box if their Action Box has the right keyword in it. For instance, if you play Mickey Maris (a Natural) you are threatening a single followed by a Homerun. If I then play the Cyborg CC Clemens his Action Box says “Fastball: cancel all hits vs a Natural”. This gives the “feel” of striking out Mickey Maris, because it cancels the threat of the single and Homerun in his Hit Box. This is an example of how the cards interact in the game and how I try to bring some baseball “feel” to it.

Could you tell us how pinch hitting works in this game?

Mike: Some players have the Pinch Hitting ability on them. This means that this player can have someone else pinch hit for them. You place them in the discard pile and then use either the player you put On Deck before the game (known to you) or the top card of your deck (blind draw). There are some very exciting moments in the game when you “top deck” the right player at the right time.

In the year 2045, we see baseball is shortened to 6 innings instead of 9 innings. Let’s switch to real baseball for a second – do you think there will ever be a change like that or even surgically enhanced players in baseball within the next 100 years?

Mike: I hope they do something to make the games more fun to watch. Even a big fan like me cannot sit through a 3 to 4 hour baseball game. I do doubt we will see surgically enhanced players anytime soon.

What happens when the game ends in a tie? Are there extra innings and if so, how do they work?

Mike: All runners stay on base from the end position of the regular game. Each player draws the next three cards from their decks. Each player chooses one and puts it face down on the extra inning space on their mat. These cards are revealed simultaneously and each part of each card is resolved in a certain order. After that if one team is ahead the game is over. If not, each player selects another of those 3 cards they drew to place face down etc. It is a very exciting part of the game and a tip is to have runners on base at the end of regulation if you can. It gives you a big advantage in the extra innings.

Is going into extra innings a common thing in Baseball Highlights 2045? Or is there often a clear winner in a game?

Mike: The average appears to be 1 extra inning game out of every 7 games. Occasionally you will have more or none at all. Most games there is a clear winner at the end.

Let’s talk about William Bricker’s art in the game. He not only captures the futuristic look, but gives it a classic Americana baseball look – what was your first reaction seeing his art and vision for the game?

Mike: I love the Bill’s art for this game. I wanted to see both the old baseball card look as well as the steam punk kind of futuristic look, but I did not think that would be possible. Bill showed us it is.

What is your favorite part of William Bricker’s art in the game?

Mike: I love the old time baseball card look of the Naturals.

Speaking of the Natural card art. Another thing we see, is that some of the players are “inspired” by baseball greats of old – like Satchel Page and Mickey Mantel – but instead in this game they are called Satchel Seaver and Mickey Maris. Did you come up with the names?

Mike: I did name all the players at first. I wanted a first and last name from real players to help the baseball “feel” of the game. I thought that would work well for the Naturals and the Cyborgs. The robots have names fitting the model and type of robot. Everyone involved in this project is contributing to refining the names as we get closer to publication.

So are you a fan of the Naturals, ‘Borgs, or ‘Bots? If you could see a baseball game in 2045 what “type” would you like to see in action?

Mike: I am a fan of defense in baseball so I like the Naturals the best. In 2045 they are the best fielders available. I would also love to see the Robot “See Ya” hit two homeruns at once (though they are trying to make a Robot that fields - that is a little scary).

In the game, naturals, who are loved by the fans bring in more money. While the bots, who the fans hate, don't bring in money, but they do bring in hits. Does this make an interesting choice for the players as to who to pick? Do you remember why you decided to put this in and how you thought of it?

Mike: I knew I needed to make different player types with different feels to each of them. Once I had all the different attributes for players I designed a way to make them different from each other. You will find Robots that the fans do like in the set. It is a more general feel than exact.

There are several variants included in the rulebook, including tournament play and even tournament variants. What is the biggest tournament with Baseball Highlights 2045 you have been involved in and did you win?

Mike: I was in a 16 player tournament and did not win. I did make it to the finals, but as in most of my designs, I am not the best player. As a designer I am more interested in exploring the combinations that are possible in the game and sometimes miss the opportunities a champion player would not miss. The great thing about the tournament was how quickly it plays. You spend 9 rounds playing games and building your team. Then you are seated by your win loss record and go to the playoffs where there is no more buying of players. You simply play the game itself in 2 out of 3 matches. The whole tournament took a little over 2 hours to play.

What is the highest scoring game you have seen?

Mike: So far it is 12-11. Most games fall in a normal baseball score. I like the fact you can have 1-0 games and 12-11 etc with the game.

Could you tell us how the Coach Expansion will work?

Mike: If the players agree to use the Coach expansion, the deck of 15 Coaches is shuffled separately from the Free Agent deck. Each player is dealt 4 cards from this deck. Each players looks at the 4, keeps one and passes the other three to his opponent. This continues till both players have 4 Coaches. Before each game of the World Series the home field team must indicate if they will use a Coach. If they do, it is placed face up next to their mat. The visiting team can now decide if they will also use a Coach. The Coaches abilities work for one game only, then they are discarded.

What is your favorite coach expansion power?

Mike: Lou Lasorda is my favorite. He starts a brawl where the player the opponent just played gets thrown out of the game for good. Your opponent draws the next card from the Free Agent deck and must put that card on the game stack for his turn. That player is now part of his team. I like some fun randomness in the game that can work or back fire.

Are there any stretch goal plans to add any free agents not found in the box? And do you think that if 2045 is a hit – there could be small free agent or coach expansions in the future or is your work complete?

Mike: There will be lots of stretch goals but I am not in charge of that, so I do not know the details. I have made 5, 10 card expansions that are tested and done. Some of them will probably be used on the Kickstarter. I would certainly make more if there is a demand for it.

In the back of the rulebook there is a short story called the “Natural’s Tale” (setting the theme even more) by a relation of yours – off the top of my head I can't recall playing a game that has a short story in the rulebooks before. How did this come about?

Mike: I have seen this in some other games and it really helped to set the theme. Fantastiqa has a story in the rule book. My daughter Lauren is a writer and she did a great job with this idea. She will be continuing the “Naturals Tale” with more short fiction over time.

Does Lauren have a website that fans can go to if they want to follow her Baseball Highlights 2045 short stories?

Mike: She used to, but does not at this time. When she does I will post it on the Geek on the games page.

What was the greatest design challenge you faced in making Baseball Highlights 2045?

Mike: Making a good card game that had a “baseball” feel. It took me many attempts and lots of time to come up with the “Action Box happening right away and the Hit Box threatening hits depending on the next Action Box played” mechanic. This made the deck building part of the game secondary to the actual playing of the game. This is what I wanted.
Could you give us some pointers as how to best teach this game to others, since you no doubt taught this game to new players many times?
Mike: I shuffle up the starting teams and give one to each player. Then I always take the visiting team in the first game so I play the first card. I then play the card and explain what happens. I tell them to play a card and go through the process. By the end of one game players know what is going on. Then they have some knowledge to make their first purchase of players from the Buy Row.

Do you feel like you have done exactly what you set out to do in making a baseball game? Are you happy with how this game turned out – how it seems to ooze the theme from the art, to the team building, to the player names to the story at the end of the book, etc?

Mike: Yes. Out of the 50 or so games I have designed I have never been more excited about how a game has turned out. The one thing I am most excited about is that the game feels like baseball without being a baseball simulation. The theme “oozes” as you say from the art etc all the way to the game play itself.

What has been your favorite thing about working with Eagle Games on Baseball Highlights 2045?

Mike: I feel so fortunate to have found a company that is dedicated to making great quality games and being so passionate in how they market them. It does not hurt that the head of the company is a huge baseball fan.

You have another new game coming out later this year called Diamonds being published by Stronghold Games. Could you give us a preview as to what the game is about and how it plays?

Mike: Diamonds is a trick taking game in the spirit of Hearts and Spades. You get a special power whenever you win a trick. Each suit gives you a different power. You also get a suits power when you discard a card to a trick that is not the suit led (when you are out of the led suit). You do not get a power when you simply follow suit and do not win the trick. You are trying to collect Diamonds from a supply and eventually get them into your vault. I think the game is unique in its strategy in the very familiar trick taking setting.

Is there anything else on the horizon (say in 2014 to early 2015), besides Diamonds and Baseball 2045 we should be on the look out for from you?

Mike: Mystery Rummy no. 5 Escape from Alcatraz comes out around June. I am working on a big board game that I have not placed yet, so I cannot discuss the theme, but that will be out in early 2015 I hope.

So for those that have read this far, that may still be on the fence - could you give your best pitch (no pun intended) as to why they may want to add Baseball Highlights: 2045 to their collection?

Mike: My “pitch” is pretty simple. The game is both tactical in the play of the 6 cards and strategic in the deck building as you make your team better. I think you can enjoy this game even if you are not a baseball fan. It takes the deck building idea and provides a very interactive game that can be played with 2, 3 or 4 players with one set and works great with larger numbers for tournament play with multiple sets. The games mechanic is unique and will probably take you a little while to get comfortable with, but the feedback we have gotten is very positive.

As our time comes to an end, is there anything else you would like to add?

Mike: Thank you for letting me talk about my game. I do hope gamers will check it out and I hope they enjoy playing it as much as I do.

Thank you Mr. Fitzgerald, for taking time out and doing this interview!

What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?
You may want to check out these links:

Eagle Games Facebook page

Video Overview of Baseball Highlights 2045 with W. Eric Martin and Mike Fitzgerald

Rules and Expansion Rules:

Baseball Highlights 2045 Rules Draft 2014-03-06

Baseball Highlights Coach Expansion Rules

Baseball Highlights 2045 Rally Cap Expansion Rules

Baseball Highlights Magna Glove Expansion Rules

Baseball Highlights 2045 Cyborg Expansion Rules

Baseball Highlights 2045 Robot Expansion Rules

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