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Subject: Fly Ball in the Sun? rss

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Pete Gelman
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I think there's room for a very simple generic baseball game that is not completely abstract and has meaningful choices while playing fast. A lot of baseball board gamers will knowingly disagree, so it's controversial to start with...

Is this the one? So far I played once solitaire. Simple, generic, but with:

* A field where defense chooses outfield positions
* Lineup option rules, with a few characteristics
* A few offensive tactics

...it does develop a baseball narrative.

And it does not rely on the "guess the pitch type" game mechanic.

This is a slightly vintage game with an attractive cartoon board of a famous baseball field. It requires some choices of the players, some of which, like the fielding, don't seem to matter much.

I mean, jeepers, as defender, why not save time and just leave your outfielders in the default position? It's about the best you can do; the rules don't allow you to move them out of their columns (left-right), just the rows (closer-farther from home). The batter doesn't in any way decide where the ball lands, the dice do (2 six-sided dice left-center-right vector, 3 dice depth). You plot the ball on the nice looking Wrigley field with its fun quirks including, in this spot, a few always-Error spots. So under the shadow of fate's finger you do see the game develop.

But this is a problem with the game. What's the point of having the field grid to move on if it doesn't matter? 2d6 and 3d6 give you beautiful bell curves of results. Mindful of the curves, the defender's choices are not meaningful. Since the dice direct the ball, as defender you can't anticipate it, so why move the fielders? You can only move back a little for big hitters, forward a little for lesser hitters, but due to the dice factor, any improvement would be marginal, so I don't see the need to bother. This is frustrating, because with a few rule changes the defender's choices could be meaningful. What changes? Well... that's the tricky part, right?

Some good news, the advanced game lineup offers minor batter skill variation (+1 hitters, normals with no modifiers, -1 hitters, -2 hitting pitcher, and the Fast runners who can use the special columns when stealing a base). I feel this is promising for a very simple baseball board game. It was fun, when I played, when my -1 batter, named after a pet guinea pig of past baseball seasons, hit a home run, while all the sluggers popped out. The little shock-haired guinea pig with his little cap askew distracts me for a little while... then I remember my quarrel... choices? chance?

So yes, as offense, you can select a few plays besides stealing, such as hit and run, squeeze bunt, sacrifice bunt. That's nice. So in that respect it reminded me of a simple, generic version of standard well known baseball boardgames. I think many of the well-regarded statistical ones offer about as many choices. In this game, the play results are the same for all players, except stealing bases, the fast runners have special columns.

However, aside from being -2 level hitters, all the pitchers are the same. Oh, no... No, no, no. No, no, no, no. The pitcher only comes to play if you roll 1 one in the first step of an At Bat. Then you roll individual 50/50 chance of strikes and balls for a strikeout or walk. It would be so easy to house rule that with different levels of pitchers... ... ...

Otherwise, the dice determine what type of hit (fly ball, also line drives and grounders) and where it went. So, a lot of hits. Makes for some excitement maybe, but a lot of caught balls.

Where it went--the fielder pawn has a small amount of movement to catch different types of balls, else it's a base hit. All makes sense. If the pawn can reach the spot, it's a caught ball. If not, the result depends on the situation with a few reasonable rules.

Grounders are special. You don't use the field, you use a chart, which explains the result (out/safe, other runners may / may not run). The chart is actually a chart-looking version of the diamond--the same, but with results for each space. Most of the time, you need slightly deeper than average hits on 3d6 to get on base, but it also depends on where left-right-center the batter dice direct it.

The rules even offer weather and special events options... It even tells you how to convert real MLB baseball team stats into a lineup for this game. Surprise! That's great. However, let's consider it... I followed the Nationals this past year (2013-2014). According to this system, I think they'd have one +1 batter in their lineup, and (maybe) one fast man. That seems fair; the Nationals' batting was okay but not great. But the Nationals won a lot of games due to (x factors and) superlative pitching, so this game has no way to suggest that, right? Surprise, out of nowhere near the end of the options sheet the game mentions a rule for Ace pitchers and relievers. Normal batters receive a -1 modifier against them. Okay, that's something, but according the rules, it doesn't increase strikeouts, it only means the distance hit will average a little less than normal. So in the end... deflation... mitt over face... kick dirt on the plate...

In the end, this very simple board game is not quite enough, but it's not awful. It has more than just "guess the pitch type" simple rules. It makes me wonder with a crazy eyes factor if some house rules could help. Such as what? Such as... giving batters right or left side field modifiers (L -2, R-2) to impact the white dice, a result less than 2=2, more than 12=12. That would in turn give the fielders a reason to move around (amend the rule to allow them to shift columns.) (But is that fun?) Then add some more simple pitcher rules... maybe different kinds of ball/strike odds after rolling a 1... some left v right modifiers...

Then take the tangent line to the curve, extrapolate heart rate, fan factor and wind vectors... Or just look elsewhere? Perhaps the very simple but good baseball board game is a fly ball in the sun?
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