Sunday, October 21, 2007

Game of the Week: Baseball Strategy

With the Red Sox forcing a Game 7 in the ALCS and the World Series ahead, it seems an appropriate time to look at the classic Avalon Hill game Baseball Strategy.
Like Football Strategy, Baseball Strategy was an original design by Tom Shaw that actually predated its Avalon Hill edition. Also like Football Strategy Baseball Strategy uses a matrix to resolve the duel between players, in this case the duel between the pitcher and the batter, which makes up the heart of baseball.
The dueling aspect makes it a pretty enjoyable game, although like Football Strategy this emphasis on one particular aspect of a very complex game reduces the "simulation" value of Baseball Strategy. In the basic game both teams field identical rosters and it's up to the managers to make the difference. There's an option in the advanced version of the game to use the statistics of actual players and I have a set of cards for the 1969 World Series matchup between the Orioles and the Mets from an issue of AH's old All-Star Replay sports game magazine, but the game is not primarily a statistical baseball game. Even when using actual players the game results will turn much more on the manager's calls than player stats.
This game never achieved the popularity of its football sister game, and I'm not sure why. In those days America was much more of a baseball country than a football country, so I don't think it was the relative popularity of the respective sports. It may simply be that Football Strategy was a more direct head-to-head duel that would appeal to non-sports fans more than Baseball Strategy did. The baseball game was definitely a more intricate reflection of its game, and maybe that meant it needed that fan base to really appreciate it.
Be that as it may, Baseball Strategy succeeds as a game depicting its chosen subject very well. It helps make clear why managers make the kinds of decisions they do, although the game really does this best when played as part of a series and not a single game.
The heart of the game is the duel between pitcher and batter. The pitcher selects a lettered pitch card and the batter then selects a numbered swing. The two are cross-referenced on a matrix which provides a number. That number is then checked against another chart which varies based on the fielding quality of the defending team. Many results also need a die roll or two to find the final outcome, so chance plays a bigger role in Baseball Strategy than Football Strategy.
Unlike real life, when pitchers get three strikes, in Baseball Strategy most matchups comprise a single pitch and swing, so the duel really represents the entire "at bat" not just one pitch.
Base-running, scoring and other aspects of the game follow regular baseball rules and the game is short on abstractions.
Unlike Football Strategy, which suffers somewhat because of the evolving style of play in the real NFL that makes the boardgame less like typical games than it used to be, Baseball Strategy still does a good job of reflecting its more conservative sport.
Like the sport it's based on, Baseball Strategy has a cerebral and slow-paced play that may not appeal as much to current tastes as other games, which is too bad, because it is a good game.

1 comment:

  1. I've played a lot of Baseball Strategy games and it does capture the "cat and mouse" game between the pitcher and the batter quite well. It takes a little while to learn the Pitch/Swing Matrix, and once learned, the speed of the game picks up and it becomes "less cerebral". Overall. and considering the game flaws, it is a very good game especially when you're looking for a certain pitch in a certain situation and the result is a 3 run homer in the seventh inning!.