The 5-Tools of Baseball >> Meet The 5-Tools of Boardgaming
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I'm a big sports fan, and am reveling in the current MLB season. I also spent a long time working at The Sporting News as the Senior Developer for the website, where I was immersed in sports through every working hour. One of my favorite things about sports off the field is the endless debate on what makes a "great" athlete so, well... great!

Some time ago, talent scouts coined what they refer to as the 5 Tools of Baseball -- five criteria they can use to evaluate talent and determine their potential for the big leagues. Not every player has exceptional skill in each talent, but those rare players who are gifted with all 5 Tools have the chance to become something special.

For the record, the 5 Tools of Baseball are:

1) Hitting for average
Nowadays, with the increasing power output on most teams, a power hitter can get by hitting .260-.280 if he's belting out 30+ homers a years. But can you consistenly hit about .300, or better yet, in the lofty .310-.320 range? Can you hit in all counts, all situations, runners in scoring position, with 2 outs, or off the bench? Batting for average is as much about consistency and discipline as anything.

2) Hitting for power
While the most obvious example is hitting home runs, hitting for power also implies driving the ball hard and deep on a regular basis. Can you hit it deep into the gap, letting a runner score from first? Can you drive the ball to the farthest corner of the outfield, so even if it's caught, the runner on 3rd can tag up and score? Players that hit for power are usually the ones that rack up the RBIs. But if it's not tempered with Hitting for Average above, they also tend to rack up strikeouts.

3) Running speed
Speed is not just about stealing bases. The art of the stolen base is quickly fading from baseball, and it requires as much savvy and experience as pure speed. Rather, speed helps fielders cut balls off in the gap to keep a hitter to a long single instead of a double, allows a baserunner to go from 1st to 3rd on a single, leg out some bunt base hits from time to time to keep the infield defense honest or keep from being doubled up on a groundball with a runner on first.

4) Arm strength
The application of arm strength varies greatly based on your position, but does the player's prowess cause the opposing team to rethink its strategies? Do they send a runner from 2nd to tag up on a deep fly to right, or does the right fielder's cannon make him hold up? Do you even try to steal bases against the catcher, or is the running game put on ice? Arm strength is also tied to accuracy. If you can't aim your cannon, it's not an effective weapon.

5) Fielding ability/Defense
Pitching and defense wins championships. If you keep giving your opponent a 4th or 5th out in an inning, you're going to lose games. And with the swell in power hitting, that makes all the "routine" plays even more important -- as now a single mistake can result in a 2 or 3 run homer very quickly. Can you range far to the left and right, make the routine plays seem easy and end up on SportsCenter on a regular basis for some spectacular plays?

Well, as most of you know by now, one of my other favorite things to do is discuss, debate and dilly-dally about games. So what better start to my week than combine two of my favorite topics, and discuss the boardgame equivalents of these 5 baseball tools?

How do the 5 Tools of Baseball equate to gaming?
Are my analogies valid, or am I missing some good comparisons?
What titles are "5 Tool Players" in the boardgaming world?
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1. Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:389]
Jay Little
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Baseball Tool: Hitting for average
Boardgame Tool: Consistent Excellence

The game needs to "perform" under a wide variety of situations and circumstances. For a boardgame, this means consistency. Does the game play equally well throughout the entire breadth of recommended players? Are there a variety of ways to win the game, or different strategies to employ? Does the game get stale after repeated playings?

For me, this also ties directly into a game's replay value. It needs to consistently offer a compelling, engaging gameplay experience each time we pull it out. If you can't justify putting it on the table and think "But we just played that last week" it probably doesn't have this Tool represented.

"Consistent Excellence" Tool Games: Carcassonne - Hunters and Gatherers, Pueblo, Goa, Navia Dratp
 
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2. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
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Baseball Tool: Hitting for power
Boardgame Tool: Immersive Gameplay

This is hard to qualify or translate, but I think the home run hitting power of a game is how knocked out you are by the gameplay -- can you get immersed in the game and revel in the depth, strategies offered or theme? When you finish your first game, are you clamoring to play again? Are you so impressed that you read more articles about it, daydream about playing again, or think of new strategies for next time around?

A game exhibiting this tool needs to really knock your socks off from the get go, or slowly reveal more and more depth through subsequent plays. I also think innovation, or improving on existing standards/mechanics is also a bit part of this, as truly innovative mechanics tend to get my jaw to drop, even if other aspects of a game are lacking.

"Immersive Gameplay" Tool Games: Princes of Florence, Duel of Ages, La Citta, History of the World
 
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3. Board Game: Blokus [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:519]
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Baseball Tool: Running speed
Boardgame Tool: Accessible Learning Curve

I hesitate to make this tool equate solely to speed, as long, detailed games can be All Stars as easily as quick, light games. Since the concept of speed and efficiency can fluctuate so greatly from a small 2 player card game to an epic 6 player galactic slugfest, it's difficult to come up with a gaming equivalent to the role of speed in baseball.

Instead of simply referring to physical speed, I'll use this tool to imply a sense of efficiency and clarity -- how easy is the game to learn or teach to others? If you haven't played in a while, can you quickly get back to speed? Are the rules clear and make learning the game a breeze?

"Accessible Learning Curve" Tool Games: Blokus, Einfach Genial, Memoir 44, Formula De
 
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4. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:48]
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Baseball Tool: Arm Strength
Boardgame Tool: Integrated Decisions

This may seem like an odd equivalent at first, but when you look at the measure of arm strength in a baseball player, you're actually measuring his ability to impact the decision making and risk management of the other team -- does his arm strength make them play the game differently by not sending a runner? By not risking getting thrown out at the plate?

In game terms, this equates to integrated decision making -- games where your decisions have direct impact on the decision making of others. This can be through direct conflict and interaction, or more subtle, such as in bidding, jockeying for position, or creating situations where opponents must guess at your ulterior motive. Integrated decisions are compelling, important decisions with elements of guesswork, risk manangement and strategy -- the types of decisions that elevate games from good to great.

"Integrated Decisions" Tool Games: Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, Tichu, Through the Desert, Torres
 
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5. Board Game: Samurai [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:172]
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Baseball Tool: Fielding ability/Defense
Boardgame Tool: Solid Mechanics

In a broad sense, the fielding ability and defense of a player is the ability to prevent mistakes, or loopholes. You keep mistakes to a minimum, you have a chance to succeed. In this regard, baseball and boardgaming agree wholeheartedly.

Are the mechanics sound, clear and playable? Are there any loopholes or exploits which expose a weakness in the game design? Are actions, decisions and strategies equally viable and balanced? Do the rules contain any errors or mistakes that detract from the gameplay? Do you need to download Errata, FAQs or updated rules on a regular basis?

"Solid Mechanics" Tool Games: Samurai, Survive!, Air Baron, Modern Art
 
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6. Board Game: Wallenstein (first edition) [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:342]
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As you can see, finding a player in baseball that exhibits all 5 tools can be a pretty daunting task. It's no less daunting to find a boardgaming example using these guidelines that also exhibits all 5 tools. Lots of games listed above may be exceptionally strong in 2 or 3 of these tools, but have an obvious deficiency elsewhere.

But based on the criteria I've outlined above, I think Wallenstein is the best example of a 5-Tool Game I've played. Each game has been consistently engaging and fun. The gameplay draws me in and the time flies by. The rules were easy to learn and make sense. The decisions are tough and have a trickle down effect on the other players. For the depth of play, the rules are incredibly solid, and we haven't found any exploits or loopholes to abuse.

What do you think? What are the best "5 Tool Games" in your opinion?
 
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7. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:801]
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Gotta be the one for me.

1. Consistent Excellence: Totally replayable.
2. Immersive Gameplay: Always a new combo of powers to try out.
3. Accessible Learning Curve: Start off teaching people with 1 power face up, move onto 1 face down, then 2 face down. So far i haven't had anyone not 'get it', and i think the people on BGG that don't are the ones that just don't get the diplomatic side of it, which is the most important of all!
4. Integrated Decisions: Again one of the biggest parts of the game again. Who do you want to ally with, who don't you, who do you help, will they get you back later, this is massive in CE. Also the whole bluffing card playing mechanic covers this very well.
5. Solid Mechanics: Cough.... Ok, a slight slip here, but remove the ridiculous powers and it does hold together pretty well. Of course, in a 4 or 5 player game, 1 super-powered player doesn't usually win, as everyone else conspires against them!

Mike........
 
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8. Board Game: Wizard [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:673]
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And to show that all 5-Tool games don't have to be "heavy" I'll throw this in as another game I consider a strong 5-Tool candidate -- the deceptively deep trick taking game Wizard.

Consistent Excellence: Check. I've enjoyed every game of Wizard I've played (probably 40+), and the game scales well. I'll admit that the end of the 3 player game gets a bit unwieldy with 20 cards to manage, but with 4, 5 or 6 it's hard to find a better card game.

Immersive Gameplay: I get lost in the game quite easily. Another aspect of Immersive Gameplay is whether the game can really be the centerpiece of a gaming evening, which this often is with the inlaws. I always look forward to another game, and always second guess my decisions.

Accessible Learning Curve: As a trick taking game, Wizard is very easy to teach. It uses tricks, trump and a lot of common card game mechanics -- but it has enough quirks to add a lot of strategy. The increasing hand size and number of tricks makes the end game meaningful instead of a foregone conclusion, and the Wizard and Jester cards (Wizards break trump and always win a trick, Jester cards belong to no suit an always lose a trick) adds tons of depth.

Integrated Decisions: Between jockeying for position to meet your bid and screw over another, to trying to figure out if you can play conservatively/safely for a few hands or need to be aggressive. Knowing when to dump Wizards or Jesters, when to jump in on a trick. Lots of great decisions.

Solid Mechanics: The rules work well. The scaling hand size lets people get used to the game early on, and fully embrace the concepts by the 3rd or 4th hand. There's no need to refer to the rules, questions rarely come up, and the innovative additions of the Wizards and Jesters are wonderfully integrated into the trick taking design.
 
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