Baseball Highlights: 2045
- Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
- Publisher: Gryphon Games
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 45 minutes
- Ages: 9+
- Times played: 3 with review copy provided by Gryphon Games (2p, 2p, 3p) as well as two sessions at the Gathering of Friends 2014 (both 2p)
Baseball Highlights: 2045 is a game that I first encountered at the Gathering of Friends in Spring 2014. It’s a card driven game that imagines what the future of baseball will be like in 30 years. There are apparently going to be huge advances in robotics in the very near future because baseball in 2045 is filled with cyborgs, robots and a smattering of “natural” human players.
In the game, each player acts as the manager of a baseball team. The competing teams are playing a series of short mini-games – and the winner is the team who is able to win the overall series. Games are quite short; in the future, baseball games are played over only six innings!
Each player has a player mat to record the action of the game (runners, score, etc.), and each player starts with a 15-card starter deck. Each card in this deck represents a player on your team. Most cards have an immediate action on them which is in the middle of the card. Each player also has one or more possible hit results shown on the card. The player’s speed (slow, average, fast) is also noted.
You start the game with a 6 card hand from this deck. You have the option to place a card from your hand onto your on-deck circle as well. There are many different reasons to place a card here – more on this later… If you do this, draw the top card from your deck to bring your hand size back to 6. One team is chosen to be the Home Team, the other is therefore the Visiting Team.
The game flow is pretty simple. The Visiting Team starts by playing a card. Each card has an immediate action, and if you can do this action, you do it now. (If your card has a Pinch-hit icon at the bottom, you could choose to discard the card from your hand to allow you to play your On Deck card) Then, the opponents threatened hits are resolved – if hits from the previous turn have not been altered somehow (though your own card play), then those hits happen now. Your opponent places pawns that match the speed of the batter onto their diamond. Finally, you place pawns matching the speed of your hitter on your home plate – these are the threatened hits that your opponent will have to deal with on his next turn. Play goes back and forth until both players have played all 6 of their cards. In order to have the chance to combat the Home Team’s final card – the visitors do have a choice to play either their On Deck card or the unknown top card from their deck as a last-gasp defensive play.
If the game is tied after 6 cards, the game goes into extra innings. The runners remain where they are, and three more cards are drawn from the deck into each player’s hand. Now players choose their cards simultaneously, immediate actions are resolved, and then hit boxes are dealt with. If a player ends up with more runs, the game is over. If the game is still tied after three cards, then three more are drawn and the process repeats itself.
After the game is over, there is a buying phase to help you improve your team! At the start of the game, 6 Free Agents were dealt to the Free Agent Market. Each player looks at the cards that he played in the previous game, and each has a revenue value on it (green circle in the upper right corner). You total up all your green circles and this tells you how much money you have to spend in this phase. If you want to buy any of the players in the market, you spend from your total. The newly acquired card is then placed on the top of your deck. In order to keep your team size to the 15-card limit, you must discard one of the cards which had been played in the previous game. When you buy a player, a new card is flipped up from the deck so that there are always 6 players to choose from. In this way, you can constantly improve or change the lineup of your team. Once all players have spent all the money they want, the top 6 cards from the deck are drawn and a new mini-game is started.
As I mentioned from the start, the overall game is a series of mini-games; usually best 4 out of 7. Once a player reaches the appointed total, the game ends.
So, as you can see, the game itself is really a two-player battle played over a number of mini-games. The recommended format is to play the World Series. The method sounds convoluted at first, but is easy to manage once you’ve gone thru it a few times. So, the World Series is traditionally a best of seven game series, but before you get there, you play a mini-season of three games to determine the home team for the World Series (as the home team seems to have a slight advantage in a mini-game) as well as setting up your team for the finals.
All of the mini-games follow the same format that I have described above. The three game mini-series must be played to completion – mostly to allow each team to have three buying phases before the start of the World Series. Once the first three mini-games are done, you move onto the World Series. This is played in a 2-3-2 format, so that the winner of the mini-season acts as the Home team for the first two games, then is the visitor for the next 3, and then back to being the home team for the final two games (if necessary). The World Series ends whenever a player is able to win four games.
There are many other different options given in the rulebook as far as how to arrange the mini-games. There are rules for a 3 player game where players sit in a fixed order and play alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise direction. The 4 player game is simply a tournament where there are two opening matches (to be played in whatever format is agreed upon), and then the winners play the winners to determine the overall winner, and I suppose the two losers play to see who is the big loser… Finally, there is also a very interesting solo variant in the rules to allow you to experience the game by yourself.
My thoughts on the game
This is one of the better two-player games that I have played in a long while. I love the fact that each mini-game is filled with decisions, but yet, each only takes about 5 minutes to play. Then, with each buying phase between games, you get a little bit of long-term planning/deck building. Depending on your opening hand, you also usually have some interesting decisions to make with your on-deck card. If you’re the visitors, you can maybe save one of your better defensive cards to use as your last chance card – but if you do this, you lose the ability to use it during the game itself. You might also choose to put a super hitter in that slot so that you can call up a home run right when you need it.
My favorite method to play is the World Series format that I have described above. The entire thing takes about 60 minutes to play and is fully engaging during that time period. Even if the overall series isn’t going your way, winning one of the mini-games, especially in a suspenseful, last-minute manner can still give you a memorable moment. When you play a longer series format, there is a lot of emphasis that should be placed on the buying phase. Shaping your team for future games is really important. As your newly purchased cards are placed on the top of your deck, you also get to immediately see the results of your new purchases. You also have to pay close attention to which cards you discard from your lineup to ensure that you keep the balance that you want in your small 15-card deck.
The one thing that I’m not a fan of is the versions of the game for more than 2 players. The three player game works, but it lacks in the constant head-to-head battle. And the four player game is really just two two-player games happening next to each other – which is fine, but it’s really still just 2 two-player games. The one good thing about the four player game is that the box does contain enough starter decks for four players, so you can have two fully functional games going on at the same time; but to be honest, if I had four gamers, I’d just as soon play a game where we were all competing against each other in a single game. To balance this out, the solo game is a lot of fun, and this adds to the overall gaming value in the box.
The components in the game are very nice, and the artwork really captures the spirit of the futuristic baseball game. While I’ll admit that I can’t see baseball turning into this is 30 years, maybe in 130? The cards are nice and sturdy stock with a clean linen finish. Additionally, the vac tray in the box is perfect for the expansions. Plenty of slots for the cards to fit in – and with some rearranging, there would be space for further expansions to come! I can only assume that this is something in the works if the base game is successful. As it is, I have limited myself to the base game thus far, and I have not even started to explore the 5 (!) expansions that are included in the box. Having these included in the game also expands the replayability options in the game.
Thus far, I have very much enjoyed the game. I will probably only play this as a 1 or 2 player game, but for that niche, this looks like it will be getting a lot of playing time when I need a game for those numbers.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Larry: Out of all the games I played at last year’s Gathering, Baseball Highlights was my favorite. I played it once (a full World Series) with a fellow baseball fan and we had an absolute blast. The back-and-forth card play and the deckbuilding are both very clever and work extremely well. But the best thing about the game is how much it feels like baseball, even though it isn’t close to being a simulation. All of our games were very tense and came down to the last play, with some walk-off home runs and game saving defensive plays included. All of this made it a must-buy for me. I’ve played the published version once since it arrived (with all the expansions other than the Coaches deck) and if anything, that game was even more fun!
The one thing I’ll say is that even though the game is strong enough to be enjoyed by someone who is indifferent to the real sport of baseball, I think it will be most appreciated by baseball fans. If you like fast and innovative card games, and particularly if you enjoy unusual takes on deckbuilding, Baseball Highlights should be a really good game for you. If you’re also someone who loves and appreciates baseball, odds are you’ll consider it a great game.
Mitchell: I’ve played Baseball Highlights three times. I enjoyed it. The deckbuilding is seamlessly integrated into the short and exciting mini-games. The baseball theme is amusing and humorous, and yet, as others have mentioned, the head to head card play has enough resemblance to baseball that the flavor is retained. The one hour play time is absolutely perfect. I agree with Larry that the game will be more appreciated by baseball fans. This is a very clever and original design. I look forward to trying out the expansion decks. However, after my third play I found a sameness about the mini-games and the novelty lost some of its glow.
Wei-Hwa: I’ve played this game 4 times now, twice with 2, and once with 3 and 4. The 3-player game was with a non-gamer baseball aficionado and he absolutely loved it. Meanwhile everyone else in my games were gamers who knew very little about baseball, and we just had fun. A small note of warning if you’re in the same boat we are — the rulebook to the game assumes you know some basic things about baseball, and if you are as unfamiliar with baseball as me and my wife were, the rulebook won’t help. Specifically, (a) the Visiting team always gets to go first, and (b) a “walk” means that the batter goes to first base, and the other base runners only advance a base if they are being “pushed” by the previous runner. Those of you who actually know this are probably giggling at our ignorance right now.
Mark Jackson: I’ve played Baseball Highlights 2045 seven times now: the majority of games were 2 player, but I’ve managed both a 3 and 4 player game as well. While I’m not a big fan of the “Hot Pepper” three-player variant, the game absolutely shines with 2 or 4 players.
Larry hit the nail on the head – with just six card hands, Mike Fitzgerald has managed to create a game that FEELS like baseball – without being anything close to a simulation. (Harry Obst did something similar with his classic Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball.) Unlike Harry’s Grand Slam, though, BH2045 also incorporates multiple games and a great deck-building/hand management mechanic that means each team will have it’s own personality, strengths & weaknesses as the game progresses.
We have begun incorporating the expansions into our games – and while it makes the free agent deck larger, we’ve found that the variety adds tremendously to an already great game. Most of the expansion sets are simply mixed into the Free Agent deck – the one exception is the Coaches deck, which is drafted prior to the start of the World Series and gives each player 4 one-time powers to use during the Series.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan (or fanatic!) to enjoy the game – frankly, I find baseball on television to be almost as tedious as watching golf. I don’t follow any particular teams or players – but I have enjoyed seeing major league games live over the years (Wrigley Field was especially fun). As long as you “get” the basic concepts of baseball, I think there is something here for you. Heck, I think this could be one of the best designs of Mike’s storied career.
I would strongly recommend downloading the FAQ (found on BGG at http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/114201/baseball-highlights-2045-faqs-2015-02-20), as there are some rules which are not immediately obvious straight out of the box.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Larry, Erik, Mark J
- I like it. Mitchell, Wei-Hwa
- Not for me…