Reviewed by Herb Levy
FANTASY FANTASY BASEBALL (CSE Games, 1-5 players, ages 10 and up, 20-50 minutes; $29.99)
It’s spring and, to paraphrase the famous adage, a young man’s fancy turns to ….. baseball! But when you can’t or won’t put on a glove or grab a bat, many fans of the game find a pleasing alternative: Fantasy Baseball. In Fantasy Baseball, you vicarously manage a team of real athletes, drafting them, playing them and more with an eye to wins and statistics. In a homage of sorts to this baseball alternative, the design team of Darryl Andrews and J.R. Honeycutt have amped up the action by putting the fantasy into Fantasy Baseball as players manage baseball players with magical abilities in the appropriately named Fantasy Fantasy Baseball!
While there are small player boards and larger ones representing a baseball diamond and stats, Fantasy Fantasy Baseball is primarily a card game with two decks of cards propelling the action. First, you have Character Cards. Along with some elements for “atmosphere” (name, uniform number etc.), the pertinent information is the Character class (Hall of Fame, All -Star,l Specialist, Pro or Rookie), the Character’s good or evil alignment, various stats (homers, stolen bases, innings piteched, strikeouts etc.) and a magic ability.
From the five Character classes, each player is dealt 7 cards (3 Rookies and 1 each from the other four classes). Now, all players keep 1 of their players and pass the rest of them to the player on their left. This continues until players find themselves with a drafted hand of 7 cards. Then, one of those players is discarded so every manager has a team of 6 cards.
The second deck are Win cards. These cards specifiy which specific statistics are “in play” to win that card (along with the number of “Wins” that card provides) along with “stat tracks” that will award benefits to players.
The regular baseball season is played in 3 rounds with each round representing 3 months of the season. First, four Win cards are placed on the baseball diamond, one at each of the bases (1st, 2nd, 3rd and Home). Each manager then chooses four of his Character cards placing one around his player board at 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Home. The two cards not used are “on the bench” and may be called into play later. Each player has a wizard piece in his color and, when done choosing his players, indicates he is ready by placing his Wizard piece on his Team card. When all Wiizards are placed, we play ball!
All managers reveal their cards simultaneously. Now, in turn order, each manager may use the magical ability of a player on his bench to modify or change in some way, a Character’s value. (A bench player’s magic may only be used once during a “month”.) Magical abilities vary but are all potentially game changers. They can allow you to use an already used player again, add values to a played card and more. Cards are compared and the Characters with the highest required stat total collects that card and gets the wins listed on it. This is done for all four cards for that month. But there is compensation. Should a player fail to collect a card but HAS the stats listed at the BOTTOM of the card, he advances his peg on the STAT TRACK one space for every stat matched. (Tied for the Win card? Then a Good Character wins out over the Evil one. Still tied? Then nobody claims the Wins but EVERYONE can score on the STAT TRACK.)
With the month over, all played Character cards are returned to the players. The player with the most wins is first in Turn Order while the player with the fewest wins will go FIRST in Waiver order.
Waivers can be valuable and come into play after the first month is completed. For the second and third months, after the Win cards are placed around the diamond, managers may take advantage of Free Agency.
With Free Agency, new Character cards (two more than the number of players) are drawn and placed face up on the table. Now, in waiver order, managers may choose one of the new cards, discarding one of their held Characters onto the table, available to be chosen by another manager. Once each manager has had one chance at this, cards still in the pool are returned to the Character deck and the deck shuffled, ready to offer a new Free Agency pool the next round.
With three months (12 games) played, the season has come to an end but it’s not over yet. Now, players check the Stat Track.
There are five tracks on the board and, depending on the number of players, whoever is farthest along on each track will earn as much as 4 wins for each (with second and third and even fourth place, adding to the win total of a team). The TWO players with the highest win totals now move into the “Championship Series”.
To win the Championship, a team needs to earn four wins. Basically, the Championship Series plays like the first month in the regular game but there are a few differences. At this stage, each game played is worth only 1 win (no matter how many wins are stated on the card). Home Field Advantage comes into play as well. The manager with the most wins gets to see what card his opponent plays in the first game (only) of the series before playing his own. In addition, if one team does NOT win four games in the first round, cards are layed out for games 5, 6 and 7 but you do not get ALL of your cards back at once. Rather, for game 5, you get cards played in game 1 and so on for the rest of any remaining games. So, for the final three games (if necessary), managers have to work with fewer cards in their hands. The manager to get to four wins has steered his team to the Championship!
Apart from the obvious (players with magical powers?), Fantasy Fantasy Baseball does a few things that you don’t see in baseball games. Most impressively, it handles what is essentially a game for two players into a game that can handle up to five flawlessly. The drafting of players allows would-be managers to have a feel for creating a team suitable for their vision and free agency helps a manager who feels overmatched and overwhelmed to stay competitive. Graphic presentation is solid, artwork by Rob Lundy first rate and the wizard pieces given to each player, although not necessary, are pleasing to the eye and act as a gentle reminder that magic is in play here. The stats on Character cards are color-coded with large printed numbers which makes seeing what each manager has easy, especially with a full table of players. Surprisingly, some of the colors used on the Stat Board don’t match the colors on the cards. Fortunately, the symbols used do but a color check before the final printing would have been a good idea. A stack of optional Event cards, one revealed after the game is set up for each month, adds injuries (and a few other quirky things) to play. This adds more chaos to the game which serious managers trying to calculate team strengths and strategies would be best to avoid. (Players looking for details on the effects of these cards, as well as drafting variations, are directed to the CSE website but it would have been nice to have the information readily on hand.) A touch of humor is found with the inclusion of a baseball token. This two sided token has no real role in the game. Rather, it is designed for specific players: the “No Crying” side is to be given to the player who constantly complains and the “Rain Delay” given to the player taking the most time on his turn. If it was up to me, I would have this token appear in EVERY game!
Although a baseball purist, Fantasy Fantasy Baseball works for me as it manages to capture the feel of the actual sport albeit with a whimsical turn. That it can handle up to 5 players is a big plus. The game has a built in “leveling” factor in that players with more wins get to draft new players after players with fewer victories, giving those players behind a chance to strengthen their teams and catch up. This is also true for using magical abilities as these abilities are triggered in turn order so players behind the leader will know what the teams ahead of them are doing before deciding whether or not to use the magical abilities of the players on their bench. (Had the designers wanted to just do a straight up baseball game without the magic, the design is so solid that that would have worked just as well.) Player elimination can be a killer with a game and, once the first three months of play are done, players are eliminated. Fortunately, since the game plays so quickly, the final Championship matches are not a deal-breaker here. Even if you are not in the final series, players tend to want to see just which team will come out on top.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan or a sports nut to play Fantasy Fantasy Baseball. The game packs enough gameplay to keep even non-sports fans entertained. But, if we’re talking baseball, Fantasy Fantasy Baseball knocks it out of the park! – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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