Yes, I know I talked about wanting to post about media. But, I’m not going to today. There are hundreds of articles that talk about baseball’s TV deal(s) and its merit. It’s important, but not necessarily dear to me. Baseball gaming is something that is much closer to my heart, so that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Baseball video games are awesome. I was first introduced by Little League Baseball on the NES, which is still a favorite that I’m hoping comes back on Virtual Console. Things have progressed through there, but you could always bet there were going to be a few different baseball options on whatever console I was playing at the time. Plus, I was one of the few to own Sammy Sosa Softball Slam. Way better game than it had any right to be. I digress. In any case, baseball games have gotten better more realistic* and complex, and it’s great. The GM/Franchise modes are amazing. But I find is awfully sad that they seem to have completely taken the place of baseball board and card games.
*I am a big fan of MLB Power Pros, which the graphics are not realistic. But the ballparks are done awfully well while keeping the style, and the game play is way, way beyond what you would expect at first glance. Sadly, 2008 seems to be the last version.
As I've mentioned here and linked to, my brother has been playing a full APBA season for a really long time. All 30 teams, 162 games. He started pretty much when he got the full card set, which are the 1999 rosters, so, yeah. It actually might have been more like 2002, because he picked up a sort-of pocket schedule that had every team’s schedule at the hardware store, so that’s the schedule he’s using. In any case, he’s been at it for a long time and only about 55 games in for each team. It’s a pretty big undertaking, and I’m proud of him for doing it and sticking with it.
*While this is the same game, it’s a newer edition. His looks like this.
APBA, though, is not the king of baseball board games, though. That would be Strat-O-Matic. This game is the one that inspires nostalgic columns and ruminations by sportswriters and athletes. As described in the linked articles, Bob Costas and Jon Miller to this day talk about a “historic” Strat-O-Matic game involving Gary Geiger. Those articles are full of those stories by big baseball names. How this game went unnoticed in the Parrish household is a mystery. I guess that’s just not the board game KB Toys had in stock, and thus fate was sealed.* Strat-O-Matic probably has the better back-story, too. I would highly recommend all three of those articles, by the way.
Maybe I just haven’t lived in the right area or hung with the right crowds, but it sure seems like there should be a much more widespread play of these games. Strat-O-Matic and APBA apparently do well enough to stay in business, but when’s the last time you saw a commercial for either? Or saw either in a store? And I’ve certainly never seen any of the expansions in a store. I know the (board) gaming community and jock culture don’t often overlap, but it sure seems to be that there’s a lot of room for growth in this area.
**One thing about growing up in a small town, it seems like everybody is a distant cousin, or some sort of relation. That’s why I made sure to marry a girl whose family is all out-of-town.
It didn’t last, though. The game was over by 2005, just five years after it started. I think I was kind of stung but its failure because it was the baseball game I would have made. One twenty-sided die, two rolls per at bat. And that was basically the game. One roll to see if it was pitcher’s advantage (which is typically was) or hitter’s advantage (which if you had Craig Paquette,* never seemed to mean a home run, even though he had a range of 16-20). There were some other intricacies that you could ignore. There were strategy cards, things like rattling the pitcher or guaranteeing a stolen base. You could test outfielders’ arms and stuff. But, again, not necessary. So, complication wasn’t an issue.
*I think he had a relative working on the game.
So why did it fail? I don’t remember it being particularly expensive, and Wikipedia tells me extra cards were $3 a pop, which sounds right. I know between the three of us, we built up teams in a hurry. Is it just impossible to get kids to play games that aren’t electronic any more? Not flashy enough? Too boring? I don’t know. I know I shouldn’t use my childhood as a norm, because I’m the nerd that read our entire history textbook to study (though I just enjoyed reading it) and aced the test and ruined the curve in middle school. But, I know the three of us had an absolute blast playing this game, just as others have had blasts playing APBA and Strat-O-Matic through the years.
If we don’t know why it failed, it’s hard to say what to do to encourage growth. I would say marketing, but Showdown had marketing, as noted before. My theory is you have to get the game actually in kids’ hands. It’s like the demo games you see at Best Buy and that sort of thing. I don’t know where you would really demo a board game or how. Have an employee at the store ready to play with all comers? Kind of like samples at a supermarket? That might work if you had the right employee. Playing with a stranger isn’t typically as good as playing with a friend, but maybe if he had that sort of outgoing personality, a bit of a child-at-heart, and encouraged parents to play with their kid at the store and acted more like a guide to the game. There’s also the issue of where you sell it. Sporting goods? Dick’s sells baseball cards, maybe that would be the outlet there. There are some specialty gaming stores; it might be a good fit there. Maybe kind of a meeting point for kids to take something they already like and get introduced to other gaming. I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind if somebody wanted to pay me to try to figure it out, though. I just really seems like there’s some fertile ground here, now it’s just figuring out how to plow it.