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HARRY’S GRAND SLAM BASEBALL

(In this issue, we are pleased to welcome Paul Sauberer to our pages. Paul grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and was a fan of Avalon Hill games back in the 1970s, when he first got 1776 at a local toy store. Once he got his drivers’ license, he made frequent trips to the AH offices in Baltimore to buy games directly. Paul also played sports board games, particularly Statis Pro Baseball and Strat-O-Matic Hockey.

While in college in Texas, he got involved in RPG sessions, and played Cosmic Encounter on a frequent basis. He also started a Strat-O-Matic Hockey league among some puckheads, a league which he revived in 1990 as play-by-mail and which continues to this day (although they now use computer Faceoff Hockey instead of S-O-M).

Tabletop sports made up most of his gaming time when he moved to Long Island in the late 1980s, with an occasional session of games like Squad Leader and Merchant of Venus. Time constraints and family considerations meant less ability to play the old AH wargames much at all. Paul still longed for the “old days” and kept his game collection and subscription to The General.

Then, through the magic of the Internet and stumbling across r.g.b., in 2001 he discovered the world of German games, which seemed perfect for filling the gaming itch that still existed. He picked up many titles at a 50% off sale at Wizards of the Coast and played them with his then-10-year-old son. Finding Boardgame Geek and the WGD led to an even greater exposure to these games. Paul found K-ban’s listing and joined LI Gamenite in the summer of 2002. Paul and his son Nolan became regular members of this group and also started a small gaming group at a local store.

In February 2004, Paul and his family moved to Florida. He had already made contact with some gamers there and Nolan and he joined in with the Palm Beach Gamers as soon as they moved. Their house has become the most frequent site for sessions.

Last June, he attended his first invitational, the Oasis of Fun in Atlanta, where he got to meet face to face with a lot of people who he had met on the ‘Net and showed that he is not as mean as he might seem online.

In this issue, Paul offers his insights as well as a little “back story” on a wonderfully enjoyable card game that his discovery gave new life to.)

HARRY’S GRAND SLAM BASEBALL (Out of the Box Games, 2 players, ages 8 and up, less than 20 minutes, $14.99)

 

I’ll begin this review of Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game (designer: Harry Obst) by getting the disclaimers out of the way. I am listed in the game credits as a “Game Historian,” but this doesn’t mean I have any interest in the game other than as a fan who helped get it republished. (If you are interested in how I and Steve Kurzban achieved that title, you can check out the other article about that.)

Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball is a reprint of a card game first published in 1962 and is part of Out of the Box’s Heirloom Games line. The game play is fairly simple, particularly if the players are familiar with baseball rules. The deck is comprised of 54 cards. Half of them (27) are out cards of various types. A total of 19 of them will get a batter on base in one way or another. The remaining 8 cards are divided equally between bench cards (which can be played either as a “pinch hitter” or “relief pitcher” and cards that will move a runner who is already on base (one each of balk, passed ball, wild pitch and stolen base).

To play the game the deck is shuffled and each player takes three cards. If any of the cards drawn are bench cards, the player takes the card from the top of the deck without looking at it and places it in his play area, with the bench card on top of it.

The player designated as the visitor will be on offense first, in the top of the first inning, and will play a card from his hand, following its effects (an out, batter reaches base, or runner advances, any of which could possibly cause a run to score), and redraw. The home player, starting on defense, will then play a card and redraw. If a player does not wish to play any of the cards in his hand and has a bench card available, he can flip the bench card and play that instead. Since he will still have three cards in his hand he does not redraw. As with the initial draw, whenever a bench card is drawn the top card of the deck is taken sight unseen and placed in the player’s area with the bench card covering it. Play alternates in this fashion until three outs are made. At that point, any cards played, including any bench cards used, are placed in a discard pile. A new half inning starts, with the teams exchanging offensive and defensive roles, with the new offense playing the first card.harrybaseball

After three full innings have been played not only are the cards played in the last half of that inning discarded, but both players’ hand are also discarded. Any bench cards in playing areas remain there along with the cards they are covering. The deck is now reshuffled, including discards, each player takes a new hand of three cards and play continues. This flushing of cards happens after every three full innings of play (i.e. after the 6th inning, 9th inning if the game is tied, etc.)

As in real baseball, a game lasts 9 innings, unless the teams are tied at that point, in which case the game continues until one team has a lead after the home team had batted in any inning. The team with the greater number of runs wins. A typical 9-inning game will take about 10 minutes to play.

The mix of cards tends to result in games with plenty of offense. Scores resemble those found at Coors Field or Ameriquest Field. Also, there is no attempt to incorporate any kind of batting order or flavor of individual players. Even the bench cards are very abstracted. The game is all about the play and not the athletes.

Game play is admittedly not deep, with the ratio of important decisions to cards played being rather low. However, if measured by time instead, it fares must better. There is a fair amount of hand management in there. An example of one of the decision points occurs with two outs when you are on offense with a single card and two out cards. Do you waste the base hit and keep the two outs for your defense or do you hold it, play an out to end the inning and deny your opponent the chance to play a last out and redraw before he is on offense? Another that comes up is do you play the bench card with fewer than 2 outs, figuring that it will leave you with the same hand that you didn’t like when your turn comes around again? In 10 minutes you can have several of these decisions come your way and the game can turn on which path you take. Of course, the luck of the draw can impact you as well, with some fortunate draws leading to big innings.

Some of the mechanics of the game feel ahead of their time. Specifically, the flushing of the cards every three innings is a clever way to stymie the card counters who might try to be sure that there will be no more homers allowed in a game, for example. Also, the hand size of three seems to offer the perfect balance between being able to guarantee a result and being entirely at the mercy of the draw.

Included in the new edition is a faithful reproduction of the original deck of cards, box and instructions. Comparing the 2005 edition with the 1962 version, I found nothing to distinguish the two. Card quality is good and they should hold up well to the repeated shuffling required. The box reproduction is perhaps sturdier than the original, made of a similar thick cardboard but with stronger corners. It should be noted that there is no indication anywhere that it is a reprint, so if you are one of the relative few to own a surviving vintage copy of the game and were hoping that it would be a collector’s item, that’s not going to happen.

However there are also new extras that can make up for it to existing fans of the game and make it worth purchasing a new copy. Some of the added features make the game entirely self contained and aid play. The included copy of the original rules are reduced to an object of historical interest, as the new updated rules and card reference sheet are easier to use to learn and explain the game. The new play mat, which is a representation of a baseball diamond with a space to put the deck of cards, helps keep track of the current on base situation- no more using just the cards themselves as a virtual diamond. It is also no longer necessary to either tax your memory remembering score and inning or find a piece of paper and pencil to keep track of them. A spacious folding scoreboard is included that uses wheels and windows (think of the old Cadaco All Star Baseball game) to handle that task. Also included in the sturdy tin that holds all of the components of the Heirloom Series edition is a brief biography of Harry Obst and the story of the origins of Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game, which touches on the fascinating life of Obst and his inspiration for the game.

Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball is not a detailed statistical simulation of baseball. In other words, it ain’t no Strat-O-Matic. However, it captures the essence of managing a baseball game in a short span of time in a simple yet elegant way. Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball is an excellent 2-player filler with enough strategy and decision to hold players’ interest for the game length. – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – Paul Sauberer


 

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