Does Baseball count as America’s favorite pastime anymore? I’ve never been into the sport personally, but I feel like it was much more popular 30 years ago than it is now. That’s just my dim perception of something from which I am too far removed to make a valid observation.
Like Odyssey's Football, Odyssey’s Baseball is asking you to sort of pretend that you are playing a simulation of the game of baseball. This game is actually cooler than Odyssey's attempt at a football sim in that Baseball introduces Player Stats! -- persistent and alterable statistics for each player on your team. Ooooo! It's the first example of persistent player stats in a home videogame. However, technically, the overall design could be better said to push Baseball closer to being the first sports board game with persistent player stats to employ a videogame element.
Okay, so right, um “off the bat”, that sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? I mean, that’s what some sports geeks are into, inn'it? Statistics? Well, meet me at the corner of Nitty and Gritty and let’s get into some of the details...
Regarding those statistics, when selecting your team in the beginning, a roll of the dice and a reference to a table of numbers on the game's board assigns a set of stats to each of your players (represented by Line-up cards). Batting Average is one of those stats. A team member's Batting Average can rise or fall depending on your success with that particular player at bat. You write the generated batting average on the team member's card. You actually write it on the frosted tape which you use on the card to protect it and make the stat easier to erase when you need to adjust it later. Yes, the tape was for more than holding the overlays on the TV!
Speaking of overlays, see the Baseball overlay up there? See Home Plate and the colored rectangles to the right of it? The batter’s box is the white rectangle on that yellow-orange-red-white spectra. The colored parts of that area are the strike zones. Oh, yeah, a Right Handed batter has to bat from the bottom batter’s box, a Lefty from the top. Got it? See, the advantage depends on the handedness of the Pitcher, but we won't go into that right now...
The Pitcher brings in the ball from the left side, essentially “serving” it like one would in Table Tennis, however, in Baseball he’s under some restrictions. First of all, the Ball Spot must pass over the Pitcher’s mound, otherwise, it’s a “balk” which means the batter walks to first and any runners on “base” would advance. Secondly, the pitch must pass through the appropriate strike zone.
A lower batting average requires the Pitcher to bring the ball in within the Yellow strike zone only. A higher batting average allows the pitcher to pitch it over the orange and red areas as well. The Batter responds by trying to hit the ball as the pitcher tries to wiggle it past, but the Batter cannot move his paddle at all until the Ball Spot passes over the Pitcher’s mound.
Let’s say the ball is hit and the fielder doesn’t “catch” it, well then, depending on what the ball spot lights on its way off the left side of the screen determines what happens next. This will involve the baseball game board, runner tokens and perhaps even a deck of cards. Each team member has a running speed by the way... which has to be considered when their token is running around the bases after a hit.
Yes, it sounds a little confusing, overwhelming, even, but it’s not an awful implementation, just over-ambitious. In terms of over-ambition, the movie Waterworld comes to mind, but I digress....
I'm going to try to insert a page from the manual in here, please berra with me...
It appears the designers of Baseball put a lot of effort into simulating all the little events that can happen in a game of baseball. There are cards you can draw under certain conditions to indicate that an error, wild pitch, or pick-off has occurred. The pick-off, for instance, is neat because if a batter draws it he can save it until later when he's pitching and use it when he sees fit. A batter can also choose to bunt, or to make a sacrifice fly. You can even have pinch hitters and relief pitchers. If you are interested in baseball, I would think this would sound kind of neat, wouldn't it?
From a videogaming standpoint, the action on the screen is very similar to what we've seen before. Player One tries to wiggle the Ball Spot past Player Two. Player Two then tries to wiggle the ball past Player One. It’s where the wiggled ball exits the screen determines a variety of results which, in my opinion, might have made this game worthwhile, or, at the very least, interesting enough to read its instructions.
Under favorable conditions, (meaning, perhaps, an unhealthy obsession with baseball during the off-season), this is a game that two baseball nerds might look forward to playing! Provided the year is 1974 or sooner, and maybe they were bed-ridden, or isolated from the general population, like, I don't know, maybe under quarantine?
In the interest of ongoing full disclosure, in case I haven't mentioned it: I'm not a baseball fan, I know just enough about baseball to find its translation into a boardgame-videogame-hybrid to be academically interesting.
Trying to actually play this Baseball with my son was a bit traumatic. We barely made it through four innings before he started becoming visibly upset with all of the different rules. He was seven at the time, and was admittedly younger than the implementors of the game would have likely recommended. As hard as we tried, we were not able to enjoy this game. I doubt there is anyone left on the planet who would, but I think it would take a long time to confirm that. Though I admire the ambitions of the designers to include detail in this simulation, I must say, we’d have had more fun watching an episode of Ultraman. Ultraman gets the point.
The Score: Ultraman: 7, Odyssey: 11