With Zatu being a UK-based business, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are at best indifferent to baseball and at worst more likely to get excited about a trip to the garden centre than what might uncharitably be described as ‘sitting through three hours of men in stripy pyjamas being serenaded by organ music’.
For the same reason, you’re probably not throwing money at the screen right now in an effort to secure your copy of deck-builder Baseball Highlights 2045 that bit quicker. I don’t blame you; I was once like you too – but let me set you straight: baseball can be both engrossing and thrilling, and Baseball Highlights 2045 is more than deserving of a spot in your board game collection.
Funnily enough, the theme of the game plays on the decline in the sport’s popularity in the face of brasher alternatives such as American football and basketball. Whereas real-world solutions seem to centre on speeding play up a tiny amount and giving those who turn up to watch bobbleheads of their favourite stars, in the future more drastic measures are required – namely giving pitchers bionic arms and loading batting lineups with robots.
Assembling a World Series-winning team of these exciting, mechanically enhanced all-stars (plus the odd ‘natural’ – humans are still the game’s best fielders) is your route to victory…
Step up to the Plate
Once you’ve got the hang of the terminology, playing Baseball Highlights 2045 is as easy as sending an Aroldis Chapman fastball soaring over the scoreboard is hard. Set-up sees each player grab a ‘stadium mat’ – this features a representation of the sport’s diamond (first, second and third bases, plus home plate), various boxes for laying down the cards with which the game is played, a couple of numerical tracks for recording who has the advantage in game and series, and a spot for indicating who has home advantage.
Next, each player chooses their 15-card starting team deck – there are four included in the starter set, and each has a handful of unique cards that will shape how you play. (For some reason the Chicago Cubs aren’t one of them, but you can’t have everything). When you’ve shuffled them and set them face down on the lineup box, you’re ready to take the field.
Baseball Highlights 2045 plays out over the course of a series of ‘mini games’ punctuated by ‘buying’ phases, in which players get the chance to purchase talented free agents to replace existing squad members. To begin a mini game, each player takes the top six cards from their deck to form their hand. Starting with the ‘visiting’ player – i.e. the player without home advantage – they play a card in turn, until none are left, at which point the mini game ends with whoever has scored the most runs declared the winner, barring the need for an ‘extra innings’ tiebreak.
The cards represent the attacking and defensive characteristics of the players they depict in four ways:
- All are labelled as ‘robot’, ‘cyborg’ or ‘natural’.
- Most have one or more ‘hit boxes’ – these can be ‘singles’, ‘doubles’, ‘triples’ or ‘home runs’. Each hit box allows you to place a batting pawn on home plate, and unless your opponent does something to stop them in his next turn, they’ll be running the bases and hopefully scoring runs.
- Each card also has one of three ‘speeds’: slow (white), average (blue) or fast (red). This indicates how far your single or double etc. will actually get you.
- Lastly, many cards feature ‘immediate actions’ – some are offensive in nature, giving you unstoppable hits or speeding your base runners home; others are defensive and might see you strike out your opponent’s star bat-bot or perform acts of outfield heroics. Some apply only to a certain type of player (robot, etc.)
Each turn follows the same basic structure:
- The active player plays a card and resolves any immediate action.
- Any opposing batting pawns threatening hits on home plate are moved (or removed).
- The active player then places batting pawns according to his card. Here’s an example:
Player one is playing as Boston. As the visiting team, he plays the first card and chooses to lead off with a bang, playing a fast-running robot with one ‘double’ hit box. He has no immediate action, and since this is the first turn his opponent has no batting pawns on her board, so he simply places a red pawn at home plate.
Player two has an immediate problem. Fast runners move one base further than the listed hit box, so that ‘double’ will get Player one’s pawn to third base if it’s not countered. She decides to play a rookie ‘natural’ whose puny human eyes and arms aren’t quick enough to warrant even a solitary hit box, but who does have the ‘Glove’ immediate action – this can be used to cancel one hit, and Player one’s pawn is removed as a result.
Undeterred, Player one plays another robot – this one’s only an average runner, and again has no immediate action, but it does have a ‘home run’ hit box. A blue pawn is placed on home plate.
Player two has no cards with useful defensive actions left in her hand, so she plays an average robot of her own – this one with two ‘single’ hit boxes. At this stage, Player one’s pawn’s home run scores and he takes the lead. Then Player two’s two blue pawns are placed on home plate – the comeback starts here…
Baseball Highlights 2045 comes alive when you start adding free agents to your lineup – they bat better, have more interesting immediate actions and, played at the right time, can turn any mini game on its head. First, of course, you need to secure their services.
Each player card sports a green circle with a numerical value – this is how much revenue it generates. Free agent cards also have a cost, marked in a red diamond. To sign free agents, players simply total the revenue of the cards they’ve played in a mini game, then take it in turns to browse the ‘buy row’ section– six face-up cards drawn from the free agents deck to see who they can afford. You can buy as many free agents as you can afford, but importantly you have to send one of the player cards you used in the purchase down to the minor leagues, so that your lineup never exceeds 15 players.
Hit or Miss? Thoughts on Baseball Highlights 2045
I’m not going to lie – you will get more out of Baseball Highlights 2045 if you enjoy baseball, or have at least a basic knowledge of the sport. But even without that, there is enough here to keep anyone with an interest in deck-building/hand management games going. There’s never a dull moment: when surveying your limited resources you’re constantly balancing the need to attack and defend as the innings pass, and guessing who your opponent might be hiding.
There are other factors to bear in mind – like the fact that ‘average’ runners score from second base on a ‘single’, or the mechanic that allows you to place a potentially useful player card ‘on deck’ and draw another to your hand, then swap the former in at an opportune moment for a colleague with the ‘pinch hit’ icon. The variables you must keep track of quickly add up.
Over the course of the recommended three mini-game series (to determine home advantage) and seven mini-game World Series you can build a team of aces whose abilities interact in satisfying ways – there are a host of expansions, but even without them the free agents deck will keep you going for a long time. There are many strategies to try and, of course, the luck of the draw to cope with.
A final big plus is that the game can be enjoyed by two, three or four people, and there’s even a solitaire variant that works well if you can’t persuade anybody else to take the mound (two players is probably best, though). It’s quick to set-up and play whichever you opt for, too.