Review: Bottom of the 9th24 Aug 2017 1
Review: Bottom of the 9th
Released 15 Aug 2017
From heavy management simulations to quirky arcade knockabouts, there have been countless baseball games. Usually, you play for season after season, or, at least, compete in an entire series. Bottom of the 9th takes a different approach as it thrusts those key innings at the end of a nail-bitingly close game into sharp focus.
The unbeaten visitors are strong favourites, but the home team are having a fairy-tale season and are still in with a shot. The underdogs are last to bat and know that a single run will clinch a remarkable victory. However, they have given everything and are running on fumes alone. They know that if the game goes into an extra inning then the favourites will be sure to win.
Bottom of the 9th began life as 2-player table-top game in which one player takes on the role of the underdogs, looking for that elusive run, whilst the opponent attempts to defend their perfect record. This digital version allows players to compete against a computer opponent, which has three levels of difficulty. There is also a pass and play option, an opportunity to challenge a friend to an online match, or to play a ranked online game.
Before the game begins, both players select their line-ups from a range of bubble-gum card players with different strengths and abilities. Here, knowledge of baseball terminology will allow you to make more informed decisions. Indeed, although the game is very light, those without a passing knowledge of the sport are still likely to struggle.
Once play commences, the pitcher secretly selects the height and direction of their pitch. Each pitcher has a special ace ball; for instance, Southpaw Straw favours high and away. The batter then tries to outguess the pitcher, earning a bonus if they select the matching height and another if they select the correct direction. Each incorrect guess will give a bonus to the pitcher. In the next phase, these bonuses can be used to modify and reroll dice.
The pitcher now rolls two dice, which will determine the pitch and his control. If the pitch is outside the strike zone then the batter must roll equal to or lower than the pitcher’s control die with his swing die, or else, it will be a strike against him. If the pitch is in the strike zone then the batter needs to roll higher on his swing to record a hit. After a hit, both players roll dice in real-time. If the batter rolls a 5 or 6 first then he safely makes it to first base, otherwise, he is out. There are a few other nuances to the system, which include corner balls, foul balls and even the chance for a home run.
The pitcher needs to keep a close eye on their fatigue levels. Each time that they select a ball that matches the height or direction of their ace pitch their fatigue increases. Fatigue will eventually limit the pitcher’s options, and thus increase the chances of the batter guessing correctly. When a new batter steps up to the plate the pitcher can reduce their fatigue by one level for each empty base. There is also the option to bring in a relief pitcher to freshen up your attack.
That is basically the game; the pitcher wins ifthey get three batters out, whilst the batter wins if they get a run. Bottom of the 9th is a very light game, free of all the reams of statistics that are part and parcel of the actual sport. There is a heavy reliance on luck, but bluff and double bluff also has a large part to play. The more often a pitcher uses his ace pitch, the less they can use it overall and the more predictable they become. So, whilst a pitcher is initially hard to double guess, as the game progresses their options grow ever more limited, especially when the bases are loaded and there is little opportunity to recuperate.
Inevitably, Bottom of the 9th will be compared with another recent release, Baseball Highlights 2045. Both do an admirable job of condensing the thrills of baseball into a small card game. Both successfully portray the growing tension as the bases get loaded and one hit or one strike is all that is required to win. BH2049 offers a more in-depth and tactical game, as you introduce new character cards to your squad. It also has a larger and more varied roster of players, with a nice range of extra expansions. Bottom of the 9th puts things through the blender a second time to produce an even faster moving and shorter game. The simple mechanics here gives less room for a diverse range of players. However, fans of the developer’s previous hit, Sentinels of the Multiverse, will be pleased to hear that these characters may feature in a future expansion.
The stylized graphics do a grand job of reflecting both the game’s table-top origins and the nostalgia of collectable sports cards. The atmosphere is enhanced by a great ragtime theme song and a bunch of catchy and jolly incidental tunes. To sum up, the programmers have put together an expertly crafted and polished digital conversion. However, I still cannot escape the feeling that Bottom of the 9th makes an odd choice for a digital reimagining. It cannot really be argued that the digital version makes the game any easier to play; it is a simple game with only a few components to keep track of.
The table-top version relies heavily on the nostalgia of riffling through your bubble-gum card collection. It is about the tactility of giving the dice a good shake and offering up a prayer. It is a game of bluff and double bluff, meeting your opponent’s stare and getting inside their head. Sadly, no matter how accomplished, playing remotely just cannot compete with those feelings.