Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the reasoning behind Baseball being America’s favorite pastime. It was a phrase coined well before the golden age of entertainment and with the concept of the internet not even being a consideration. Still, there’s something about it. Be it the long standing tradition, the hope of stardom, the camaraderie between friends, teammates or even just fellow fans. It isn’t fair to call it simply “America’s” pastime anymore as it’s popularity is renowned throughout the world. Even today the game stands as an engrossing hybrid of strategy, strength and coordination. When a culture is so naturally steeped in the romanticism of a sport, it only makes sense that we’d need an abstracted dilution to carry around on our person. And that’s exactly what Pocket Ballpark strives to be.
MadPacks Games is bringing the thrill of the ballgame to homes around the world with their small card game. Pocket Ballpark will be easily familiar to anyone that knows anything about baseball. Two players go head to head in a battle of strategy and bluffing in an attempt to score more points than their opponent by the end of the allotted innings. First one player is designated the “home team” and is given the seven pitch cards. and the other player takes the seven batter cards. Ultimately the separate decks are inconsequential. The artwork is different, but the information remains the same. Each deck consists of seven cards numbered 1-7. 4 bases are laid on the playing surface to represent the four bases. Each player gets a scorecard to keep track of runs. Finally an outcome card is placed on the table along with the pitch count card.. This outcome card is the crux of the game play, it gives you the results of a single pitch based on what a player does. When the game starts, each player picks a single card from their hand and plays it face up simultaneously. Two numbers will be revealed and added together. Taking the sum of the cards players consult the outcome card and reveal what happens. Like in the sport, the number of outcomes is limited. With the cards only having a total possibility of 13 different outcomes, it accommodates for balls,strikes, foul balls, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, and various other hits-that-ultimately-just-count-as-outs. Players keep track of the count on the pitch-count cards. Three strikes is an out and four balls is a walk, advancing the batter card to first base. When a batter is to advance to a base, be it through a walk or through a hit, that player flips the card they used and places it on the appropriate base on the table. Once three outs are reached, the players switch decks and reset the count. When both have had a chance to bat, the inning is over. Once the agreed on amount of innings is done, the game is over and whoever has the most points is victorious.
Like actual baseball, this interpretation suffers from the precarious ability to overstay its welcome and feel a bit dry if you’re not careful. Reading the simple explanation above is going to give you a good idea on what to expect from this. It is simply a quick game that you can teach easily at a moment’s notice. However with that kind of game you lose some vital things, namely strategy and interesting decisions. This game is basically boiled down to choosing which of the seven cards you have in your hand to play. Sometimes you may choose to steal a base, which, while fun and exciting, you can really only do so many times. I didn’t expect some grandiose experience from this, but even still found it lacking. Certainly it plays into the theme well, but that might not be enough if you’re looking for something even slightly meatier in a small game. The ability of Love Letter to cram more strategy into fewer cards was a comparison I couldn’t help but make. However, while I wasn’t dumbstruck with awe by this (which was never the expectation) there were aspects that I could really get behind and appreciate.
Pocket Ballpark takes on an ambitious task by diluting a much revered sport down to essentially a small pack of cards. And, while that sounds difficult, I have to applaud them in their efficiency. This, for all intents and purposes, is baseball, or at least an obvious and familiar abstraction of it. Having to decide what pitch to throw by reading and figuring out what batters have already gone is an interesting enough concept. Understanding that outcome card is going to be vital, because if you play your cards in the wrong order you’re going to be in a world of pain. While the physical and dexterous nature of the sport can’t be included, the game does a good job of including a strong element of what makes baseball so intriguing from a coach’s perspective; figuring out what your opponent might do. This is further impressed upon with the stealing mechanism. Stealing is certainly allowed. The team that has a player on base may announce that they are going to attempt to steal a base. This action is simply resolved with a quick round of rock-paper-scissors. If the batter wins, the base is stolen, if they lose then their base runner is out and returns to their hand. Which is another interesting aspect. You tend to cycle through you seven cards at least a couple times before the inning is over. If you happen to have base runners, however, then those cards don’t become available to you when it’s time to shuffle up and re-use. So while having players on base is great, it also handicaps your ability a bit.
Pocket Ballpark is exactly what it looks like; for better or worse. A simple, light card game where you go head to head and try to outwit an opponent. It has a good number of things I liked and a good number of things I found irksome. Ultimately while it may not be my filler of choice, I think the theme was portrayed well and if it’s something that even interests you a little bit you ought to take a good look at it. Pocket Ballpark is currently live on Kickstarter.