Let me first say that I am in no way an authority on baseball cards, or even baseball for that matter. I don’t even really like baseball, I just like traditions that facilitate the wearing of high-socks. I never collected baseball cards and I never wanted to; I thought baseball was dumb when I was young, plus my youth didn’t really overlap with the time that most people loved baseball cards. Also I spent much of my youth in Germany, where baseball is considered “blöd.” Why do I write for Notgraphs. (I kid, baseball “ist kool”).
What I do know about baseball cards is that they are not what they used to be! As a non-baseball card person it seems like they’re not worth much unless they’re Honus Wagner and were discovered in an attic in Germantown, PA by someone’s great aunt. Which is to say, they have historical significance and are probably a worthwhile interest to those who were interested when they were big, but to me, a brazen, uncouth, possibly anti-American youth, baseball cards hold no interest outside of being a record of moustaches throughout baseball history. Which—that’s pretty valuable, I’ll admit.
However, being a nerd, I love collectible cards. Cards like Magic cards, or the Pokemon cards I so desperately coveted when I was 11. The appeal of those games is not just in the collecting, but in how each card adds a key strategic piece to one’s deck. Acquiring a rare card doesn’t just mean it gets stored in a plastic sleeve, but that it could have potential to benefit you in competitive play. In that sense collectible card games (CCGs!) like Magic or deck-building games like Dominion and 7 Wonders are more similar to the task of a general manager in baseball than cards that are simply made to be collected.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any baseball card games. In my admittedly hurried research it seems like most baseball card games are some combination of 1) baseball simulations (i.e. do not involve strategy after a set of cards is assembled) 2) involve only individual games (i.e. not the strategy of winning over the course of a season or seasons) 3) antiques and do not fully resemble modern baseball. Most of these card games involve managerial strategy, but none involve general managerial strategy. Which is what I’m interested in. Playing pretend that I’m Billy Beane.
In other words, there is probably no card game whose aim is to create the experience of being a Major League general manager. If it does exist, do tell me. Also, I realize that fantasy baseball accomplishes a lot of what I’m talking about without the hassle of cards and direct human interaction (ugh!). But fantasy takes a whole season to play out and… just isn’t the same. What I want is to be able to gather some friends for an evening and act as general manager of a fake baseball team. To my knowledge, I cannot yet do this.
So I want to workshop what this game could be. I’m going to brainstorm some ideas and questions, and if you have any thoughts or suggestions please do leave a comment. If we come to something worthwhile I’ll make a follow-up post detailing a draft of the game’s rules.
First, what do I want from this game? You might want different things! That’s okay!:
1) Cards. I LOVE cards.
2) Competitive strategy.
3) A distinct parallel between one’s goals and actions in the game and the goals and actions of a Major League general manager.
It’s this last point that I want to start with. What are the goals of a Major League GM?
1) Construct teams that can make the playoffs and have a chance to win the World Series (i.e. construct a team that is better than most other teams).
2) Promote long-term success.
OR, another way of thinking about it:
1A) Invest/spend/occupy resources to gain wins immediately and over time.
So what are the resources from 1A that a GM can spend? And how can he spend them? What possible actions can a GM perform to gain wins?
1) Spend money. Money is involved in almost everything a GM does, including the next few actions.
2) Draft players.
3) Sign international players.
4) Make trades.
5) Influence and/or decide roster moves.
6) Interact with media and promote the team.
7) I’m forgetting things–please tell me what they are.
A card or board game where one acts as general manager would have to be much simpler than real life, duh, but still involve the same goals and actions. Many popular strategy games from Starcraft to Monopoly to Settlers of Catan involve the economic idea of: Spend Resources to Gain Resources. Build SCVs to harvest minerals to build expansions in neighboring areas to harvest more minerals. Buy hotels on Boardwalk to earn cash from your opponents when they land on it. Spend a wheat, sheep, brick, and wood to get a settlement to gain resources adjacent to that settlement. You get the idea.
Here are some possible simple strategic progressions along those lines that this game could follow. Red arrows indicate an investment and black arrows represent a return on that investment. (This, by necessity, is a gross oversimplification of how the economics of baseball work).
Money→ Wins→ More Money→ More Wins→ Even More Money→ Even More Wins→ Glory Eternal
OK, simple as can be, right? The idea being that more wins make more people like your team and give your team more of their money. Over-simplified. I know. You can’t just buy Wins. If you could, this would be a boring game. You have to invest in the components of Wins and hope they add up to more Wins than your opponent. Which might look more like this:
Money→ Players and Staff→ Wins→ More Money→ Better Players and Staff→ More Wins
You can even remove Wins from that progression and it’d make sense. But keep in mind that Wins are the ultimate goal for a GM. Deciding which players and which staff to invest in, and in what proportion, can make for an interesting game. We could also add different investment options outside of investing in wins:
Money→ Stadium and Team Promotion→ More Money
And more ways of gaining wins besides investing Money:
Trading players→ Better players→ More Wins
Drafting players+time+money+luck→ Better, cheaper players→ Wins
Roster moves→ Optimized a roster→ More Wins
OK. Does that all make sense? Let me briefly recap: I want a strategy game about baseball team construction where the player’s goals mirror the tasks of a general manager or front office. At it’s core, the goal of the game is to earn Wins by investing resources. The resources and means by which they are spent to earn Wins are highly diverse, which gives the game strategic complexity (and makes it fun). Cool?
Now, every action I described above require an in-game mechanism to accomplish the action. There has to be a way to spend money and keep track of the money you have. There has to be something that represents players or group of players, and a mechanism by which those players can be signed and traded. If you think about learning and executing this card/board game, there are A LOT of things that have to be accounted for, and each of those things has to have an order in which they occur. The sequencing of a game is very important, otherwise it leaves room for ambiguity and confusion, but the more one has to remember, the more difficult and daunting it can be to learn and play. Also, most people don’t have hours to invest in a game (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones: The Board Game!!!!) With that in mind, how would you design this game? What would you use to represent money? How would the passage of time/baseball seasons/offseasons be accomplished? How would one win this game?
I have a few ideas of how it could work, but every idea is complicated. It’s difficult to find the balance between simple rules and compelling gameplay. I don’t have anything really satisfying to give you here at the end because this post is meant to explore the topic. So I want to know what you think. Maybe we can conceive of this game together! Like real, useful humans. Or maybe I’ll just go back to writing posts that reference the movie Cocoon. Or both!
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