Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.
- For ages 5 and up (publisher suggests 7+)
- For 1 or 2 players
- Variable game play length
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Play a game of baseball, anytime, anywhere
- Gamer Geek mixed!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
American professional baseball catcher, manager, coach, and (in my opinion) one of the greatest philosophers the world has and will ever know, Yogi Berra, said “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” If you are a lover of baseball, you know you have it on the brain constantly. Now you can play the game you love wherever you go.
Pocket Ballpark, designed by Robert Bruce and to be published by Mad Packs Games, will reportedly be comprised of 23 cards. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the game component quality. The artwork, by Jayce White, is functional and clean. Not included with the game, but necessary to play, are three small items to mark point values. For example, a Dime, Penny, or cube.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
To set up the game, first find and place the four Base cards in the middle of the playing area in the shape of baseball diamond.
Second, find and place the Pitch Count card, Outcome cards, and one Score card in front of each player, face-up. Place whatever marker items you are using to keep track of scores on the “0” space on the Score cards. Place the third marker next to the Pitch Count card.
Third, determine who will be the starting Pitcher and who will be the starting Batter. Give to the pitcher the Pitch cards and the other player the Batter cards.
That’s it for game set up. Determine how many innings there will be in the game and begin.
Pocket Ballpark is played in rounds and innings. There are two rounds per inning (one for each player). The following is a summary of game play during a round.
Step One: Play a Card
The Pitcher and the Batter now look at their hand of cards and play one, placing it face-down in front of them. Both players are trying to anticipate what their opponent will play. For example, the Pitcher is trying to play a card that the Batter will miss and the Batter is trying to play a card that will allow them to hit whatever is thrown at them, once resolved.
Step Two: Reveal and Resolve Cards
Once both players have played their cards face-down, they are flipped over and revealed. The point values of the cards are now added together. The total value is then compared to the Outcome card that best represents the current playing conditions (No Runner on Base, One Runner on Base, or Two or More Runners on Base).
The listed outcomes follow the standard rules of baseball. Hitting the ball allows the player to move their played Batter card one or more Base cards around the diamond, pushing any Batter cards already on the Base cards around the diamond too, eventually crossing the Home Plate Base card (which allows the Batter to score a point). Fouls count as strikes (but cannot strike a Batter out), Walking gives the Batter one free Base card as if it was a single hit, and so on.
Let’s look at an example and consider the following play. The Pitcher’s card is “5” and the Batter’s card is a “7”, for a total of “12”. Since there are currently no runners on base, the players use the “If No Runners on Base” Outcome card. A quick scan reveals that the Batter swung and missed. The Batter then updates the Pitch Count card accordingly.
Once the cards are played, both players place them in their discard pile. Unless, of course, the Batter card played allows the player to add that same card to a Base card. Their they will remain until they cross Home Plate. At which point, as already noted, score the player a point and are then discarded.
The Batter can try to steal a base. This is done by announcing to their opponent that they will be stealing a base before the next cards in the round are played. The players then either flip a coin or do a quick Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine the outcome. This same method is used for a few of the outcomes of the card plays, as well. For example, a “Fly Ball” could be caught or dropped.
Step Three: Continue or Switch
Play continue as noted above, with the Pitcher and the Batter each playing one card from their hand and resolving it. When both players have played their last card or the Batter has three Outs, the players switch, starting a new round. The Pitcher is now the Batter and vice versa. After both players have had a turn at bat, the inning ends and a new inning begins.
..And That’s Game!
After the final inning is over (with both players having an opportunity at bat), the player with the most points wins the game.
While I think Pocket Ballpark is best played with a friend, sometimes friends are unavailable. Luckily, the game can be played solo. Simply split the cards as you would normally for the Pitcher and the Batter. When revealing cards, randomly flip one over using the other deck, add the values, and resolve.
The Child Geeks had a lot of fun with Pocket Ballpark. Some of the Child Geeks we played with did not understand (or even care) about all the rules of baseball and it didn’t impact their game play or enjoyment whatsoever. According to one Child Geek, “What I like most about this game is never knowing what will happen until you throw the ball and swing the bat!” Well said and true to life in every way. Profoundly, even. Another Child Geek said, “The game isn’t hard if you keep track of what the other player used during the last play.” Yes, true, you do gain a slight advantage if you “count cards”, but keep in mind that the total value of the cards played is not the only determining factor. The number of runners on base are also used. This ensures that a player with a good memory might have the upper hand, but not necessarily the strongest. Conditions in the ballpark change, and with change, comes new opportunities. When the last ball was thrown and the last base taken, the Child Geeks all agreed that Pocket Ballpark was a game they enjoyed.
The Parent Geeks also found the game to be a good time. According to one Parent Geek, “Easy rules and fast game play. I can play this with my friends at the office, at the local pub, and with kids while we wait for our food or a movie to start. Great stuff.” Another Parent Geek said, “The game first sounded really dumb. I mean, I just play a card, see what happens, and do the same thing again? No thanks. But after I played it, I realized that I really was playing against my opponent and trying to out think them. This was a great surprise, as was the game!” All the Parent Geeks found Pocket Ballpark to be the perfect mix of casual game play and logical thinking. Light, fun, fast, and highly portable, the Parent Geeks gave the game a standing applause.
The Gamer Geeks, being elitists, were not easy to please. According to one Gamer Geek, “I like the idea, but hate the execution. It is the same thing over and over again. Worse yet, I play a card, do simple math, and then look at a chart. Yuck. Everything is random, random, random. That’s not fun for me.” But this sentiment was not shared by everyone. Another Gamer Geek said, “This is a great example of a game that has focused simply on player interaction over a short amount of time, that provides surprising outcomes. I played it several times and I felt the same way I do when I watch a real baseball game. I was an emotional roller coaster. Good stuff.” The Gamer Geeks debated and decided that they were split. Roughly half enjoyed the game for what it was and the other half thought the game could be so much more.
I’m a sucker for microgames and nanogames. I love how the complexity, strategy, and tactics are fine-tuned, presenting to the player a streamlined gaming experience without fluff or nonsense, using very little components and space. Don’t get me wrong, I love a big production and fancy game bits, but in the end, it’s the game play you come back to. Not the components. Pocket Ballpark has done this very well. The cards act as moving runners, indicating position on base. The cards are played and mimic the act of throwing of a ball and swinging of the bat, both players doing so with an intent, but the outcome is never a sure thing. It keeps you guessing, keeps you engaged, and keeps you smiling.
Let’s be clear. This game is pretty simple. The Gamer Geek we quoted was a bit too harsh in their description, but the game play noted is correct. Play a card and see what happens. That’s it. But there is also more going on that is only apparent to the players. Anyone watching the game would see two people play cards, squint at a third card, and then move a small marker. Not very exciting. But for the players, they are at war. Each is trying to out think the other, using what they know of the cards still available to their opponent and the current number of runners on base. You can sleepwalk through this game easily. Just play a card and see what happens, but that isn’t any fun. Where the bat hits the ball, so to speak, is trying to think like the pitcher or the batter.
You really can play this game just about anywhere. We put the Score and Pitch Count cards in a card sleeve, allowing us to use buttery popcorn to keep track of points. We played it on bar tables, lunch tables, picnic tables, the floor, and even standing up and playing on top of a filing cabinet. Each time, the game went smoothly as it doesn’t depend on a lot of space. I do recommend you play this game where noise is allowed. One group played it at the library and was “hushed” a good number of times according to the players. Pocket Ballpark does bring out the “feels”, with shouts of victory and painful defeat, even though players never need to speak a single word to each other to play.
If you like baseball, are a fan of card games, like playing games on the go and on demand whenever you feel like it regardless of your geographical location, then do consider picking up Pocket Ballpark. Its simple approach is a fun mix of random outcomes, hand management, and logical thinking. It just might be a home run for you and yours.
This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.