[Back in the Summer 2015 issue of Gamers Alliance Report, we ran a review of a different kind of baseball game: Baseball Highlights 2045. With its designer, Mike Fitzgerald, returning to the sports arena in a sort of sequel with his Football Highlights: 2052 featured this issue, it’s only natural to think back and see how the two games compare.]
Reviewed by Herb Levy
BASEBALL HIGHLIGHTS 2045 (Eagle/Gryphon Games, 1-4 players, ages 8 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99; Deluxe Edition $64.99)
Let’s start this review by being perfectly frank. I’m a baseball purist. I like the game the way it is played; I still can’t get used to the Designated Hitter. So you can imagine my reaction when I heard about a baseball game set in the future with robots and cyborgs?!?!? But I love to check out the new stuff and, as someone who has always liked the work of Mike Fitzgerald (probably best known for his Mystery Rummy game designs), I was interested in giving this game a try. So is this a hit? Or a strikeout? Let’s take a look.
Baseball Highlights 2045 (aka Mike Fitzgerald’s Baseball Highlights 2045) is a futuristic look at baseball at it will be played (at least, in the mind of Mike Fitzgerald) 30 years from now. At that point in time (he predicts), baseball will have morphed into something similar to the game we know today but with a bunch of differences. Now, three types of players populate the dugout: Naturals (human beings), Robots and Cyborgs. And the game of baseball has been reduced to six innings simulated by playing a hand of six cards from your team of 15 players.
All players begin with their own “player stadium mat” depicting a baseball diamond and assorted areas associated with it (dugout, home plate and more). Everyone gets to choose a “Starting Team Deck” consisting of 15 cards.
Starting Decks are divided into players who are either Veterans or Rookies but all cards share certain characteristics. Each player is designated as a Natural, Robot or Cyborg. All players have a number in a green circle on the right to indicate how much revenue that player generates. Although Starting Team players don’t have this, others also show a red diamond to indicate their cost.
Players take their Starting Teams (one player will be the “Home” team, the other the “Visitors”) and, after shuffling their decks, place them on their respective Line-Up spaces on their mats, drawing six cards for their starting hand. Now, the 60 card “Free Agent” player deck is shuffled with six cards drawn and placed, face up, in a “Buy” row, off to the side. With set up completed, the first of three “mini-games” (in preparation for the “World Series”) starts.
The Visitors go first by playing one of their six cards to the “In Play” area. All cards have an “Immediate Action” box. If something is written there, that action goes into effect immediately. Underneath that box, possible hits are displayed. (In the card to the right, for example, a Single is possible.) If there are potential hits, pawns are placed on that player’s mat at home plate to indicate a runner poised to move to a base.
There are 3 types of runners: Slow (white pawns) go from base to base on a hit, Average (indicated by an A on the card at right and represented by blue pawns) will score if on second when there is a single) and Fast (red pawns) move ahead two bases on a single. Now, the opposing player plays one of his cards to try to cancel a potential hit (or hits) with something in his card’s Immediate Action box. If he cannot (or opts to play a card without an Immediate Action), those runners get placed on base and, should they get to home plate on a subsequent card play, that team will score runs. This continues until all 6 cards are played.
The team that scores the most runs wins the mini-game. (There is a rule for a “Visitor Save” if the Home Team is ahead at the end of the six card run. The Visiting team may play a card on his Home Deck circle OR draw the top card from his team deck in the hope of having some defensive immediate action to snatch victory from defeat. A card played that way is discarded. Should a game end with a tied score, extra innings are done by having both players draw 3 cards from the top of their decks, choose one, and reveal the chosen cards simultaneously. When the dust settles, the team now ahead wins. Still tied? Then, the card play is repeated. Still tied after playing all 3 cards? Then draw 3 more and do it all again. Baseball doesn’t like – and this game doesn’t allow – ties.)
With a mini-game completed, another aspect of baseball comes into play: that of the General Manager. Remember that line of players in the Buy row? Now you have a chance to add them to your team!
Each player counts up the amount of revenue generated by the six cards used (i.e. total the green circles of the cards played). That number is the amount of funds you have to spend buying players. The player with the fewest funds gets first pick (if money totals are the same, then the loser of the mini-game goes first). Any card bought is placed, face down, on that player’s DRAW deck, ready to be used in the next game. When a card is bought, a new card is drawn to replace it in the Buy Row so there are always six available. Bui Baseball Highlights: 2045 is NOT a deck-building game. Let’s call is a deck-STRENGTHENING game since, for each card bought, a card used MUST be demoted to the Minor Leagues. (This means the card is discarded, never to be used again.) Finally, all remaining cards in the In Play box are sent to the Dugout (your discard pile). Now, both players draw back to a hand of six cards and play their next mini-game. (Should you finish your draw pile, all cards in your Dugout are shuffled and the deck placed back on your Line-Up space, ready to be drawn.)
After three “mini-games” and buying rounds, you have shaped your Starting Team. Your new and improved team is now ready to battle in a best of 7 series. Game play remains the same (with a buying round after each game). The first team to win four games wins the World Series!
There is much to like about the gameplay of Baseball Highlights 2045. Decisions are meaningful as you try to create a six-card engine to maximize scoring potential while, at the same time, prepare to stop an opponent’s offensive. Because you only work with six cards in your hand, you might feel constricted by the “luck of the draw” but there is some “wriggle room”.
Players have the option to put one of their six cards on their mat’s On Deck Circle and draw another card to replace it. Some cards have a PH (pinch hitter) designation (like the ones here) which permits that card to be discarded in favor of using either a card previously placed on the On Deck Circle OR the top card of your draw deck instead. Such maneuvering makes you feel more like a field manager tinkering with the line-up. How you handle this can keep your opponent guessing as to which cards you are holding as well as how much revenue you will have to spend for the next buying session.
Team colors of major league teams (but not their nicknames) are used to represent nearly all of the major league cities and teams. The cover artwork by Bill Bricker conveys the futuristic aspect of the game but the prominent use of “42” give a tip of the (baseball) cap to Jackie Robinson and baseball history. Additional artwork by Jacob Walker is excellent too. What’s more is that the game’s insert has plenty of room for cards (and expansion sets) even with the cards sleeved, a total package of skillful art direction (credited to Ralph H. Anderson). While all Starting Teams have nameless players, free agents available for recruitment come with names that evoke some of the famous players of the past. Check out the two pictured here: Sammy Sandberg and Terry Traynor. But Satchell Seaver and Mickey Maris are just two more that will make any true baseball fan smile. Expansion sets (of coaches, hitters, pitchers etc.) are included in the Deluxe Edition but also sold separately.
Fitzgerald’s “give and take” card play is impressive. As each player reacts to each card, the rhythm of play is akin to a tennis match (to mention another sport) with a sense of volleying back and forth. Remarkably, it seems (especially with the expansions) that nearly every permutation of baseball results is possible. While there are rules for solo play and for 3 or 4 players, this game is really for 2 players when you go head to head with a single opponent in a home vs. visitor matchup. While some knowledge of baseball is certainly helpful, being a baseball guru is not a requirement for play.
Most baseball games focus on the strategy on the field. There is that here but it is blended with general manager considerations as you improve your team from round to round, a facet of the baseball world I find just as interesting. The ability to buy new players allows you to “stack” the deck to give you an edge (at least, in your opinion) versus your opponent. But this aspect of the game requires you to maximize your buys since your team will never swell past a 15 card roster. It’s a quality vs. quantity dynamic with quality players being the key to your winning score.
Card game versions of baseball are nothing new. But with Baseball Highlights 2045, Mike Fitzgerald demonstrates a love for the game and an original unique perspective on America’s national pastime. No matter how or who is keeping score, Baseball Highlights 2045 is a home run. – – – -Herb Levy
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Other Summer 2020 GA Report articles