Spice it up! With Baseball Highlights: 2045

I love baseball, and I love board games. I have been searching for years for a game that combines both of my favorite pastimes, and I will tell you all about my find today. Before we get to the discussion, this is a great time to do a quick review of Baseball Highlights:2045, because we should note that Eagle-Gryphon Games has made it easy to introduce the game to any audience.  Right now, there is a Kickstarter going on for three new expansions to the base game– but for new payers, there is also a “Spring Training” edition of the game. It is priced right at under $20 per copy, and gives enough cards for two players to learn and play the game. The box will be delivered to your door in September, just in time for the playoffs.  Play ball! 

I can still remember the smell of fresh cut grass and the feel of wet blades stuck to the bottom of my trousers. It was my first season coaching t-ball to my oldest child. I had not been at my hometown ballpark since I myself was just a wee lad. There were more fields now, and the bleachers seemed a little more worn down, but I slowly did a 360 degree turn and saw the entire park filled with happy children chasing each other in brightly colored uniforms.

Baseball. America’s favorite past time.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the nation’s eyes turn toward shiny ball parks in Arizona and Florida. It is spring training down there, and hundreds of players are stretching, spitting, and stealing bases in hopes of making it to The Show.

Is there a board game that can give players the excitement and tension of a real live major league baseball game? Are your game nights getting a little stale playing the same old wizards and zombie themed games?

Well then, Spice it up with Baseball Highlights: 2045!

Baseball Highlights is a “tactical card game with deck building elements” (as Sean Ramirez from The Dukes of Dice likes to say) by Mike Fitzgerald published by Eagle-Gryphon Games in 2014. I talked a little bit about the game in January in discussing Clank!, another deck building game that used deck building as the mechanic to help players explore a dungeon.

This month, let’s talk about a card game that simulates a futuristic style of baseball played with cyborgs, robots, and regular ole’ humans (called “naturals” in the game, because they do not have any augmented body parts like cyborgs do). Fitzgerald uses the deck building mechanic as a way to enhance the development of each team and to power the six-inning, seven game series of ball games.

Player board with Player Aid — four boards provided in the Deluxe Edition

Theme:

The year is 2045, and America has long since passed on the glory days of its favorite past-time. In an effort to revitalize the sport, the powers-that-be brought in robots (with amazing hitting prowess) and cyborgs (with amazing pitching arms) to bring excitement to the stands. The theme is carried through the beautiful artwork, the full color player boards, and especially through the player cards. Each card in the free agent deck has unique names that evoke well known baseball players (for the naturals), funky robotic names from the future, or cartoon style cyborg names.

I recommend you get the big box deluxe edition, which comes with the base game plus seven small expansions.  Each expansion not only adds tons of replayability to the game, but also has different themes like added cards for each of the types of players or combo cards that can really change the play style. I especially like the Rally cards which give teams a chance to mount a comeback or kill a rally.

Naturals, Cyborgs and Robots from the Free Agent Deck

Innovations:

Baseball Highlights: 2045 brings out a number of innovations. Sure, at first glance, it looks like another take on the deck building mechanic, but unlike the dry theme of Dominion, Baseball Highlights 2045 evokes the theme of baseball well.  It was one of the first card games that I played that used deck building as just a mechanic rather than the entire scheme, as in Dominion.  Instead of being the sole focus of gameplay, deck building here allows players to flesh out their teams with a dizzying array of free agent cards.

The game also is innovative in the way that Fitzgerald developed the cards and the game play.  It really feels like you are pitching and hitting against another team. Each side plays one card at a time, and the cards have varying effects which automatically stack depending upon the type of action.

 

Rookie cards from Boston and L.A.
Veterans from the base decks of New York and San Francisco
The game of baseball can be a bit long for some people, and would not translate well into a normal deck builder. That’s why Mike Fitzgerald came up with the idea of reducing the game to six innings (or six card hands.) It works really well in this format, and allows players to attack each other quickly over a seven game series.  The regular rules of baseball (steals, double plays, etc.) are generally used, although they come mostly in the form of immediate actions that are found on the cards.

Gameplay:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach.  Players start out with a small deck of 15 cards consisting of ‘veterans’ and ‘rookies.’ These are low powered cards of hitters and pitchers that have basic abilities.  Players play head to head over seven games, playing baseball player cards out of their hand and deck, trying to score more runs than the other player in only six innings.

The designer suggests that the two players play a three game mini-series. Each player during the game take turns laying down one of the six cards in their hand, and “threatening” hits like singles, doubles or even home runs. If the other player cannot counter that action, then the hit takes place, and runners are moved around the bases.

At the end of six innings (when the cards run out), the visiting player has a chance to “save the day” if he or she is behind, by playing a card from their pinch hit pile or a random card off the top of the deck. This always creates tension in the game, especially if the score is tied and the home team is about to rally for a walk off win.

At the end of each game, the players totally up each of their cards’ “buy value” and then hop into the free agent market. There, six cards are displayed, which offers the players better players, more abilities, better buy values, and stronger hitting or pitching. The player take turns buying the free agents. Once purchased, the card goes right onto the deck to be used in the very next game, which adds some strategy considerations since the other player has to decide whether to counter the card now, or continue with his or her own deck building strategy.  Of course, purchasing free agents also lets you tighten your deck, since you must discard one of the just used player cards right out of the game for every card you buy. Looks like Fitzgerald was serious about limiting each deck to only fifteen cards! Once the buy phase is completed, the next game starts until the World Series is decided (usually by winning four out of seven games).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

There will be plenty of joy in Cardville after playing this game. I have introduced Baseball Highlights:2045 to gamers, even those who don’t find any joy in the game of baseball, and it has been a big hit. There is something about the quick games, the take that card play, and period artwork that combine to make it a great expression of the beautiful game of baseball.  Throw in the free agent pool, where there are so many decisions as to what to buy to fill out your deck, and you have a real winner with plenty of deep strategy as well as emotional experiences.

Without a doubt, Mike Fitzgerald hit a home run with Baseball Highlights:2045. If your game nights are getting bland, or you are looking for a great two player card game (or even four player card game if you and three friends play side by side with the winners taking on each other), leg out a double to your Friendly Local Game Store and pick up a copy of Baseball Highlights: 2045. Or hit that Kickstarter for a great way to introduce yourself to the game. At only $19, it is a….steal!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— B.J.

 

 

 

Spice it up! with Clank!

When Donald X. Vaccarino unleashed Dominion in 2008, the unsuspecting board gaming world tilted a bit on its axis. Finally, someone had invented a way to scratch the itch of building a deck and competing with your friends in a self-contained game system.

Hyperbole? Not really. Even an esteemed card game designer like Mike Fitzgerald has told interviewers that Dominion changed the way he looked at card games. But as the months passed, some gamers complained that Dominion was soulless, just a mechanic gussied up as a game.

Game companies quickly produced numerous clones, but few games to date (Fitzgerald’s Baseball Highlights: 2045 being one shining exception) have realized the potential that the mechanism could bring to the table. Instead of making the deck build the essential element of the game, in what other directions could designers go?

Does your board game group say “ho-hum” anytime you pull out Dominion? Are you looking for a great deck building experience like Baseball Highlights: 2045, but want a fantasy themed adventure instead?

Let’s spice it up — with Clank!

OVERVIEW:

Clank! is a deck building, dungeon diving, adventure game published by Renegade Games in 2016, in conjunction with Dire Wolf Digital. The game was designed  by Paul Dennen, a former online game designer for numerous studio who has turned his attention to the world of tabletop, with art from Rayph BeisnerRaul Ramos, and Nate Storm. It plays two to four players, and is listed at 30 – 60 minutes to play a game, but you will probably find that the average time is closer to 90 minutes especially for your first game.

The game is a twist on your classic dungeon delve where four adventurers are thrust into a world of thievery. The quick, the silent and the cunning will slip into the dark recesses of a cave system guarded by an angry dragon with one goal: Gather as much treasure in artifacts and gold as your backpack (or two) can carry. (A secondary but important goal is to come back in one piece.) The adventurers will try not to “awaken” the dragon by playing too many “noisy” activity cards. The thief who has the most treasure points after everyone has exited the cave or been knocked out is the winner.

Renegade has been making big splashes in the board gaming world recently.  From Fuse to Lanterns to Lotus to Worlds Fair 1893, Renegade has made a lot of noise (clank?) with games near the top of the hotness charts on BGG. Does Renegade have another quirky hit here?

INNOVATION:

Clank! gets my vote as one of the most innovative games of the year. The designer took a tried and true mechanic (deck building), and made it a part of the game rather than the entire game.

Clank! feels different from your average deck builder.  First, this is really at heart a board game. The fact that the players use and build up their deck to move, attack monsters, upgrade their “companions”, and gather resources is definitely unique and an interesting take on the genre. The  deckbuilding mechanic is here to supplement the game, rather than be the focus of the game.

Throw in another innovation, namely the clank mechanic, and you have a very fresh feeling game unlike any other in my collection. (I played Tyrants of the Underdark at Gen Con, and yes it has a similar feel, but Tyrants switches out the exploring mechanic for area control.) The clank threat on some of the cards really makes for some tough decisions as the clank box (and your own health meter) starts to fill up.

Although it has been done in other games, I also really appreciate that the publisher included two separate sides of the board with unique elements.  The added replayability that comes with a wholly different board is a welcome bonus, and I look forward to the new expansion currently in the works, presumably another board based with water elements.

COMPONENTS:

This is a great production.  Opening the box reveals a well done board that is snuggly fit into an insert that accommodates all of the game pieces as well as all of the cards (even when sleeved!)

The card board tokens are sturdy and colorful, and the board itself is well laid out with the cave system and treasure spots.  The artwork is typical cartoony fantasy, but not in a schlocky sort of way. There is almost an element of 80s fantasy in the depictions, and I definitely appreciated the fact that the designer did not just copy some of the cards but instead there is a multitude of different cards that have slightly different abilities.
It is not as lavish as some of the recent productions we have seen, but there is certainly nothing to complain about in this production. I really like the addition of the wooden adventurer meeples and the wooden carved dragon rage token.

The cards are just okay from a production standpoint, but the artwork  on the cards is perfect — a little cartoony / whimsical, with just the right gravitas for what is essentially a game more focused on fun than cut throat strategy.

GAMEPLAY:

Players start out at the top of the dungeon / cave with a goal of going as far as they dare down into the depths to steal treasure, and come back out alive. The goal is accomplished with the help of a starter deck of low level (and in some cases, noise-inducing) cards that come standard for each player.  Players get the opportunity to use “skill points” (one of the currencies in the game) to purchase ever more powerful cards. They can also use “swords”, which are found on some of the attacking cards, to face some of the denizens of the deep and earn rewards like extra gold or extra cards.

Being quiet and not making clank! (noise) is important. One of the interesting twists in the game is that your most powerful moves (and some times unintended mistakes) produce something called “Clank!” Each player is given a pile of colored cubes that must be placed onto the clank section of the board if demanded by the cards.

Apparently, the dragon that guards the enormous horde of treasure is alert and aware that there are adventurers afoot.   Whenever an event triggers a dragon attack, the players must throw all of the clank into a beautiful felt bag (emblazoned with the dragon’s image), and then randomly draw clank cubes out.

The dragon’s bag already contains a bunch of black cubes, which represents the dragon being focused away from the thieves (or maybe missing them in an attack?), but if the player pulls colored cubes instead of black ones, then these will go on the  health track corresponding to that player’s color.  Too many hits, and the player is “knocked out” and unable to continue to collect treasure.

Once all players are accounted for (either exiting or being knocked out), then the points (the accumulation of gold, artifacts, treasure, and victory point cards purchased during the game) are tallied and a winner is chosen.

The game is very easy to teach, especially if the players are already familiar with the deck building mechanic. The board is well laid out with treasure and market spaces, which allow you to purchase equipment that can allow you to carry more artifacts, move through locked doors, or score big points.

Players can get bonus wealth by stealing treasure from various rooms or defeating monsters along the way, but you have to be careful. This is essentially a push your luck game, where players will try to gather as much treasure before the dragon wakes up and knocks out everyone still underneath the castle basement. If you can get out with the required artifact that sent you to the castle in the first place, then you are “eligible” to win the game and get a bonus, assuming you scored enough points to beat everyone. Even if the dragon wakes up and knocks you out before you can get out, as long as you have an artifact in hand and are above the dragon’s cave system, then you will have a chance at the win if you have enough treasure in hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love deck builders. Baseball Highlights: 2045 is one of my favorite all time games, definitely in my top ten. But sometimes, I just want to harken back to those early days of playing D&D with my friends, exploring giant cave systems, stealing the dragon’s loot, and racing to get out while punching baddies along the way.

After my first couple of plays, I realized that someone had finally improved a game from my youth. What the designer did here was improve that old chestnut, Dungeon! by TSR.  I had so much fun playing this game as a youth in the 80s, but it has not held up very well. Clank! does everything Dungeon! did (fighting monsters, exploring caves, and getting treasure) but does it a lot better. For me, Clank! fires Dungeon! easily (even though I haven’t really played Dungeon! except when I purchased it off Ebay to show my boys when I was introducing them into the board gaming hobby.)

There’s a lot of juicy tension in Clank! that isn’t present in a lot of dungeon games. The addition of the push your luck mechanics with the clank cubes really adds some fun stress to the game, without making it overly competitive. It is definitely appropriate for a family game night, as long as the family is old enough to understand how deck building works.

If I have a complaint, it is that there so far has been very many cards to come out that give you the ability to cull your deck. We’ve seen a few here and there, but a game like this really screams for more deck stripping, because fighting, looting and movement are so critical. As I explore the game with more plays, I am seeing other strategies for affecting the results of card shuffles, so there are ways to mitigate the bad luck of pulling your clank creating cards, but a few more deck cleansing cards would be helpful.

So if your game nights are getting bland, and your game group is looking for that next step up from Dominion (or your family has outgrown Dungeon!) get down to your local game store, and pick up a copy of Clank!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.