A New Twist On Tabletop Sportball: Fantasy Fantasy Baseball

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Sometimes a concept is worth a million bucks. That’s certainly the case when you combine the popular pastime of fantasy sports (think Yahoo.com) with fantasy sports (think Gandalf). We have dark elves, undead, and of course wizards. It’s Mutant League coupled with elements of fantasy baseball in a beautiful package.

First let’s talk about those looks. The game is wonderfully illustrated and features solid graphic design. The infield board adds a touch of setting and everything appears very thoughtful. The scoreboard mimics the beloved Green Monster in Fenway Park and can even stand vertically. It’s a fantastic touch undermined slightly by the frustration of pulling player scoring pegs in and out repeatedly. In terms of looks though, Fantasy Fantasy Baseball definitely has it.

At the core of this design is hand management. At the beginning of play each participant will draft their roster in standard take one, pass the rest clockwise fashion. You will build your team of miscreant cyclops and princesses attempting to secure diversity in stats and position.

Each player has stats denoted by colored ribbons of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. These abstractly represent different elements of achievement such as strikeouts or slugging power. So you may have a ghoul who has a six in strikeouts and a two in heart. Most players don’t possess every single stat so you will need to draft and bulk out your roster with players possessing a range of assets.

This is a key element of strategy in the game as your roster develops over time. Play consists of three months, each containing four weeks of head to head match-ups. Between months you will pluck players from the waiver wire in a similar fashion to acquiring cards in Ascension or Star Realms. Shifting your roster to fill in the gaps and acquire stronger assets is paramount to victory. It also serves as a clever catch up mechanism as waiver selection is done in reverse order of current league standings.

Each month of play consists of dealing out four weeks worth of matches. These weekly bouts will list a stat or two and each manager will program four players, one card per competition. Once your lineup for the month is locked in, players simultaneously reveal their first selection. You compare the value of your stats listed on the match card and the player with the highest total wins. Simple and easy, reminiscent of a streamlined trick-taking system with the thematic symbols being the suit.

A large element of play is the consolation stat increases awarded. At the bottom of the weekly match cards are listed additional ribbon colors. Managers who lost the competition increase their pegs on the Green Monster if their player who participated also possesses those colored ribbons. This is interesting because it affords an alternative vector to score points and also softens the blow of losing the competition. The winner of the bout doesn’t receive the stat increases, but instead keeps the match-up card which is worth a couple of victory points typically.

This simple process of play contains a significant twist. After programming your four players for the month you will retain two cards in your hand, dubbed your “bench”. You can play these cards one time during the month for the special magic ability listed on the bottom. This affords some dramatic and swingy results such as swapping two match cards or removing an opponent’s selection from play. There’s a large amount of “take that” going on and it can provide a solid amount of laughs. It can also heavily aggravate and undercut the strategy at play. This is the double-edged bat Fantasy Fantasy Baseball wields as it presents a solid degree of tactical decision making while also allowing players to slap each other around and create anarchy.

The mischief continues over three months of play–about 40 minutes of real-time–and culminates in the famed World Series. At this point, the scoring pegs on the Monster are awarded with the three teams at the top of each stat doled out runs in ascending order. Add these points to your total from weekly play and the two teams at the head of the pack square off on the big stage.

The World Series is a best of seven affair where two players repeat match-ups and toss magic each other’s way in an attempt to claw and tear their way to victory. It’s tense because the stakes feel elevated as the rest of the players ogle from the stands. Being effectively eliminated may not be the most enjoyable circumstance, but there is a certain captivation in watching a distilled straightforward slug-fest.

While this is an interesting game that is certainly unique, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of. You don’t need to be a baseball fan to get enjoyment from this design, but it certainly helps. The thematic touches and most entertaining aspects arise from nailing that fantasy sports feel. Elements like weekly head to head bouts, deciding who to bench, and competing for long term glory all tie into that fantasy sports theme. It’s clear the designers are fans of the genre and the effort is obvious.

It’s also necessary to be careful when teaching the game to point out the difference between pitchers and batters. Each possesses different symbols on like-colored ribbon stats which can be confusing. In the first month of play newcomers will often make a mistake and it may end up costing them. Separating the two types of players more distinctly would have certainly helped this issue, but it’s a difficult conundrum because of the already substantial spread of color in the design.

Those issues aside, this is an interesting game from a couple of emerging talents in Daryl Andrews and JR Honeycutt. It does a good job of integrating the two fantasy ideals, standing apart from other sports table-top titles. I don’t know about you, but I have a serious hankering for more Mutant League.

Have you played any sports table top games? What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credits: CSE Games

In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on twitter @CharlieTheel

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