When I was in South Korea during the 2002 World Cup, I found myself enjoying soccer (football - whatever!) more than usual. But I must tell you, nothing - and I mean NOTHING - comes close to sitting in a ballpark, yelling at the ump, cheering for a strikeout, and hearing that distinctive "crack" as a bat connects with a ball. In short, baseball is the sport that comes closest to being a board game for me. And as much as I loved Pizza Box Football, I was tremendously eager to see my favorite spectator sport turned into a simple, enjoyable game. Pizza Box Baseball (On the Line Game Company, 2008 - Erik and Scott Smith) is exactly what I'm looking for; a simple game that manages to feel like an actual baseball game.
Board games about baseball have been around for quite a while, with most of them featuring statistical analysis of a game. And while I'm certainly a fan of baseball statistics, there are times I want a game that plays quickly and that has the feel of baseball game. The excitement of two men on, two outs, bottom of the ninth - it can't be rivaled, and I want it in a box. Pizza Box Baseball delivered on this; and while the choices are fairly simplistic - a cynical person might accuse the game of playing itself - I felt that it delivered the baseball experience.
In the basic game, players take turns for nine innings, playing the pitcher and the batters. The pitcher draws five pitcher strategy cards for their initial hand - cards that either show "ball" or "strike". The batter takes two cards, the "Take", and the "Swing" cards. The pitcher and batter each select a card and reveal them simultaneously. Depending on the combo of the cards revealed, the top card of one of three decks (hitter advantage, no advantage, and pitcher advantage) is flipped over, and the results noted (single, fly out, strikeout, double play, etc.) The pitcher's card is discarded, and the next play occurs. The inning continues until the hitter incurs three outs. If the pitcher runs out of cards, they may draw three more and use them. After that, they simply draw the top card of the pitching deck randomly. All other baseball rules apply to the game.
In the level two game, the hitter is given extra cards, giving them the additional abilities of attempting to steal bases or bunting. When stealing, the player shuffles a Base running deck that contains seven "safe" cards and three "out" cards. They then draw one card, and that determines the result of the base-stealing. However, if the pitcher suspects the batter is attempting a steal, they may announce "Pitchout" when playing a Ball card, causing the hitter to draw three cards from the Base running deck - all of which must be safe for the steal to succeed. The steal card also acts as a "take" card when determining what happens to the batter. Bunts are handled in a similar manner, although they almost always result in the batter being out - hopefully advancing any runners on base.
In the level three game, it is important to keep track of which batter in the lineup is batting, as they often have different results when the cards are flipped over. For example, one card might have batters 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 9 get a single, while batter 8 grounds out.
In the level four game, players can use different pitchers, which give them different-sized pitching hands, depending on the inning played. Players can bring in relief pitchers - even allowing pitchers to bat (which is dismal - just like real life).
No matter the level of the game, the player with the most runs after nine innings wins the game, or the first player to break the tie in extra innings wins.
Some additional comments on the game...
1.) Components: As the name implies, the game comes in a small pizza-style box - although a pretty nice one, as pizza boxes go. The board has spaces for all the decks of cards as well as their discard piles. There are tracks with holes (for plastic pins) to keep note of the score, inning, outs, and a baseball diamond to remember what the base situation is like. A pile of double-sided cardboard tokens with various numbers on them are used to mark the score throughout the innings, as well as keep track of runs, hits, and errors. The cards are of good quality, and the board has a sharp green layout that adds to the theme, as well as helping contrast the blue and red colors of the cards. The pin/hole method is occasionally annoying, using them to keep track of the current batter gets annoying (and we often forgot to change it), but they do work for the most part. Everything fits inside a nice plastic insert in the box - especially the nice baseball scoring pad that is completely unnecessary, unless you love baseball as I do.
2.) Rules: If a gamer does not understand the rules of baseball, I'm not sure they'd be attracted to the game, but regardless the rules of baseball are included in the game rules. The rulebook has a ton of full-colored pictures and examples, and I've found the game very easy to teach new folk. For that matter, I won't play anything less than level three, and prefer level four - teaching everything to new players, as long as they have some basic grasp of baseball knowledge. As much as I love the simplicity of the game, most baseball fans won't be satisfied unless they can steal, bunt, and have the chance to change pitchers mid-game. Even more advanced rules can be found at the website; but even at its most advanced level, Pizza Box Baseball is a very easy to grasp game.
3.) Baseball: I'm very pleased with the "feel" that the game has. You can have ground outs, fly outs, strikeouts, grand slams, double plays, and more. Scores come quite close to actual baseball scores, and getting someone home is just as challenging as real life. The game doesn't include everything; you won't have players ejected by annoyed umpires, an amazing triple play, or a fan running onto the field - but those things won't be missed. There are two things missing from the game that may or may not detract from your experience. There is no pitch-by-pitch moment, which can often be quite exciting in the actual game (who isn't thrilled by a full count), and there is very little differentiation between batters (I'd love to cheer for Ken Griffey as he comes to bat). Don't get me wrong - I think the game is fine without these things, but some players may miss them.
4.) Speed: One thing about Pizza Box sports games (all two of them!) is that they just keep moving and moving, with little downtime, and it's going to be a drawing point for Pizza Box Baseball. A game can be finished in an hour - perhaps thirty minutes, if you move quickly. Moving pegs will take up the most time; the decisions in the game are easy - ball or strike, swing or take. Even when adding the bunt and steal options, or the pitcher's larger deck, things keep going at a very brisk pace.
5.) Fun Factor: If you love baseball for the game itself, you're going to enjoy Pizza Box Baseball; the only thing it's really missing is the $5 hotdogs. I found myself cheering when the game-winning hit is made, or screaming in agony when my opponent gets that home run off my tired pitcher that I didn't feel like pulling from the game. Two baseball fans will enjoy the game immensely, but it's even enjoyable enough for folks who merely think baseball okay. The game could be used as a teaching tool, I suppose, for those who want to learn what the fuss over baseball is, but it's more fun for those who know what's going on.
I love reading Baseball Digest, and how they will make lists of players who hit the most triples in their thirties, but the fact that Pizza Box Baseball glosses over superfluous statistics is still okay. I want a game that I can quickly play, and yet gives me a good feeling of a hard fought baseball game. Pizza Box Baseball does this quite well, with high quality components, and a light, easy game play. The levels of game play allow adjustments for those who want more or less complexity, and the whole experience has me yearning for more sports to be given the "Pizza Box" treatment, although none will ever beat the ultimate sport - baseball.
"Real men play board games"