Published on December 11th, 2015 | by Nicole Jekich0
Batter Up! It’s Bottom of the 9th!
Our Review of Bottom of the 9th
I have been a baseball fan since I first stepped up to the t-ball plate some twenty years ago. Baseball games, just like board games, were a cherished family activity. Holidays, birthdays and even lazy weekends were spent either playing ball at the local park, catching a AAA league game or watching professional MLB players make diving catches, grand slams and come-from-behind victories on TV. I still to this day like to sit in the nosebleed seats of Safeco Field and enjoy a bag of peanuts while rooting for our struggling Mariners.
I love baseball but baseball-themed board games I’ve played in the past always came up a bit short of what I wanted. I wanted to see a game make interesting decisions with how to represent baseball stats, strategy and luck and also be an engaging, easy to learn and quick game. That is a tall order to put on such a complex and lengthy game like baseball, but my recent playthroughs of Bottom of the 9th, a recently fulfilled Kickstarter game, showed me that it can be done!
Lay Off The High Ones:
Baseball is a very sentimental activity and each baseball fan has a different idea of what makes this pastime so fun and entertaining. For some it’s about the records, stats and book keeping. For others, it’s the time for family, food, traditions and rooting for your home team. Creating a game around such ingrained and varying ideas is tricky and baseball tabletop interpretations can get very complex, very quickly. Designers looking to build a baseball game have to cut out and limit just how much of the sport to represent otherwise they may end up with a game that takes 2-3 hours just like a real baseball game.
Bottom of the 9th represents the tension between two teams a the pivotal last inning of a tied game. The stakes start very high and each team has a clear objective and a short amount of time. The home team is up bat and just needs one run to win the game. The visiting team just needs three outs to push the game to extra innings–which means a guaranteed victory for these enduring powerhouses.
Sentimental and Sepia-Toned:
DiceHateMe and Greater Than Games are two companies known for their dedication towards creating thematically-driven gameplay and products. Every piece of this game has baseball fans in mind and really hits it out of the park with nostalgic and retro elements in game.The meeples in game are in a dynamic pose and feature baseball cap silhouette. The cardboard strips that are used to keep the pitch count have a reverse side which is bright pink, freckled with powder. These strips are a homage to the hard strip of bubblegum that used to be in baseball card boosters which is better recognized by my parents’ generation.
The characters themselves have different retro uniforms with plenty of pin stripes. Bottom of the 9th also has a great cast of female baseball players who are all wearing the ‘dirt-in-the-skirt’ style baseball uniform of the short-lived All-American Womens’ Baseball League. To top it off the player cards are all modeled after old baseball cards with the front featuring a full-color portrait and the back with a sepia-stained stat sheet of the player. My baseball card-collecting family will definitely love these designs.
Many of the characters on the baseball cards are well-recognized game designers, reviewers and other game personalities. I unfortunately can’t name them all but I did spot a couple familiar faces like Daniel Solis (Belle of the Ball, Kodama) and TheOneTar aka Tiff McGriff in the game.
Bottom of the 9th also has a special treat for fans of Sentinels of the Multiverse: a popular superhero franchise and series of games by Greater Than Games. Many heroes from the franchise were done up in baseball uniforms and included as options for pitchers and batters for the initial Kickstarter edition. The abilities for the Sentinels characters are definitely more complex than the regular player cards, so I recommend leaving them out of your first couple games and set them aside for more advanced gameplay.
There is No Crying in Baseball:
The home team is up to bat and will select 6 batters of differing field positions to make up their hitting line up i.e. you can’t have more than one first baseman in your line up. The away team represents the last hopes of defense against this team and will choose 2 pitchers. The first pitcher is the opener-the pitcher that is currently pitching. The second pitcher is your closer and remains in the reserve or bull pen until he or she is called in to relieve the opener. A good time to switch to your closer would be when the current pitcher’s fatigue track reaches zero.
Standard record keeping applies just like normal baseball rules: 3 strikes and the batter is out; 4 balls and the batter walks to the first base, etc. For those that aren’t familiar with baseball rules, the back of the rulebook features a quick reference guide and a link to Wikipedia if you want to learn more baseball terminology.
No 7th Inning Stretch Needed:
When the board, line up and pieces are all in place, players begin the first round. A single pitch marks a round and each round proceeds very quickly and orderly. The phases are 1. The Stare-Down, 2. The Pitch, 3. The Swing, 4. Run! and 5. Clean Up. Transitioning between the phases and beginning new rounds is simple and easy to remember. Gameplay moves quickly and wrapping up a game on average takes 15-20 minutes. I first played Bottom of the 9th between my plates of food at Thanksgiving and enjoyed how rewarding it was to play in such a short amount of time. Bottom of the 9th is a great filler game.
The Stare-Down is my favorite part of the game as players secretly choose their pitch tokens and then reveal their choices simultaneously. Although this is a very simplistic mechanic it is a ton of fun trying to psych out your opponent or try to predict what they’ll choose. There are only four pitch token combinations total (High Away, High Inside, Low Away and Low Inside) so overlap in pitch tokens is common.
Batters are trying to match their opponents pitch tokens and correct guesses allow batters to use their respective abilities or, if they predict both tokens, to use their MVP ability. Pitchers are trying to pick different tokens from their opponent to send the ball straight into the catchers glove. After the reveal of the pitch tokens, players will roll their respective dice and use any activated abilities to change the roll, re-roll a die, etc. Most of the strategy comes from using these player abilities and traits-however the outcome is still determined by a dice roll. Baseball does have a little bit of luck after all!
If a batter makes contact, the two players have a roll-off with the first player to get a 5 or 6 on the die (certain abilities affect this phase too) wins that engagement. If the pitcher won, the leading runner is out. If the batter won, the runners and batter advances on base. Players then clean up and go back to the top of the order for the next pitch or bring in the next batter. Gameplay continues until the visiting team gets 3 outs or the home team scores a run.
For those that want an endurance challenge or a longer version of the game, Bottom of the 9th easily scales to play a full nine innings, but the gameplay in my opinion would be too repetitive to keep my interest. Thankfully, Bottom of the 9th also comes with a robust solo-challenge where the player plays as the team manager. Instead of one run, a manager is trying to win at least 4 of the 6 games in their season so the team makes the playoffs. Win just 3 games or less and the manager will have to hit the showers and is unfortunately fired from the manager position.
Great Game of a Favorite Pastime
All that’s missing from this game is a bag of peanuts and box of cracker jacks. Bottom of the 9th is a great addition to the family board game shelf and brings the love of baseball into a quick and fun card game. I can easily see this game as a perfect way to ignore the the between-game commercials and engage a family member or friend in a quick showdown. I’m looking forward to adding this game to my collection and playing it with my baseball-obsessed family.
Bottom of the 9th is designed by Darrell Louder and Mike Mullins and published by DiceHateMe Games and Greater Than Games.