Wednesday, November 14, 2018

All Star Lineup Baseball: The Latest Cure for Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome

The weather has turned cold, damp and dark and to make it even more depressing, there isn't any baseball. The great Rogers Hornsby said it best when asked about what he does in the offseason, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring"

Waiting for spring can be very difficult but there are people who have made it much easier. One of these people is Markus Heinsohn, who we interviewed a few years back about how he created Out of the Park Baseball. Out of the Park Baseball is a great cure for those awful baseball withdrawal pains. We now bring you a guy named Craig Wessel, who just created a new baseball simulation game that will be another great cure for the baseball withdrawal blues. These guys need to be up for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Craig has created a brand new baseball game called All Star Lineup Baseball. ASLB is a baseball board game with dice and cards. As a kid I played Strat-O-Matic baseball all the time and I loved it. It taught me so much about the game of baseball and the history of baseball. I now have a 6 year old son who was born with my baseball nerd gene. He loves the game and loves hearing about the history of the game. I want to introduce him to Strat-O-Matic but as many of you know, Strat can be very time consuming and complicated. I then stumbled across Craig on twitter and discovered All Star Lineup Baseball. ASLB has all of the great elements of Strat-O-Matic but is much less complicated and time consuming.

Craig was gracious enough to send me a free copy of the game and I love it and so does my son.

Guys like Markus and Craig fascinate me. I could never create these unbelievable games and I love to hear about their creative process. Craig agreed to answer some of my questions over email and he was also nice enough to offer all my readers 10% off the game. Simply go to All Star Lineup Baseball and when checking out use the promotional code PESKYPOLE.

Here is my interview with Craig Wessel of Barstool Games:

Pesky Pole: Thanks again for the copy of the game. It is a lot of fun. Before we get into the game, I wanted to ask you about your baseball fan background. Who is your favorite team and who are some of your favorite players?

Craig: Sure - I grew up in Oklahoma, so with no teams nearby I gravitated to Kansas City and the Royals...George Brett ( I played 3B so he was my favorite back then), etc...I knew I wasn't a Cubs or Braves fan despite WGN and TBS trying to cram that down my throat. When I moved to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in 1988, I became a Texas Rangers fan and still love them...and yes, 2011 still hurts. A lot! As with most fans, it's the guys that national people don't hear much about that I've always loved...guys like Steve Beuchele, David Murphy, Hank Blalock, Rusty Greer, etc...the gamers...the guys that bust their asses and never sniff the Hall of Fame, but without whom the game would be a shadow of what it is.

Pesky Pole: Those are great names. I will always love baseball but there is something special about baseball in the 1980s

Let’s get to the world of baseball games. As many know, I am a baseball simulation addict and have probably played just about every type of baseball game ever made. What were some of your favorite baseball games that you played that helped inspire this great game that you have created?

Craig: I've played Strat-O-Matic Baseball, All-Star Baseball (the one with the spinners and plastic pockets for the disks), APBA ( never grabbed me), and more recently History Maker Baseball. I loved playing them, but the one thing that always stuck with me was all the lookups you had to in order to play the game. In some cases, it felt more like a homework assignment than a game! Tables, charts, thick manuals - there are still tons of rules for APBA that I don't quite understand years later, even. So I loved them..but always wished they had a more immediate playing feel..and I almost forgot, Deadball..a recent but really cool RPG dice baseball game! Deadball got me started thinking about simplicity and quick-roll results...History Maker Baseball was the last game I played where I was inspired to create something different. 

The video game stuff I never got into really - to me, that was just twitch reflex stuff. No matter how well they simulated a player, it was YOU swinging the bat or throwing that slider.

Pesky Pole: You just hit the nail on the head when it comes to how I viewed video games as a kid. I played them but the sports games would bother me for the reasons you mentioned. It was me doing the work and not the player. It wasn’t realistic.

I love Strat-O-Matic baseball as a kid. I loved how authentic it felt and I loved the time it took to set it up and play. That was fun for me. As I got older and life got busier it became impossible to find time to play it so I latched on to Out of the Park Baseball, which in my opinion is the greatest game made for a computer ever.

That being said, I missed so many of the elements of Strat-o-matic that a computer game doesn’t provide which is how I found you and your game All Star Lineup Baseball.

When did you first get the idea to create your own game?

Craig: Well...I did alot of strategy guide writing for video games back in the day...Games like Doom, Quake, Unreal, creating things wasn't new to me. Fast forward to last year - I had been playing Deadball and ran across History Maker Baseball and I was creating tools to make both of them play faster (fewer lookups, etc...). After playing both of those, I realized that neither was exactly what  I wanted to play. That's not a knock on either of them, or any of the other tabeltop baseball games out there.

I wanted something that had a more immediate feel. Somewhere where you rolled the dice, and the game moved faster...but I also wanted it to use real player stats. Simply put, I wanted a game where you didn't have to look up anything - once you knew how the game worked, you could see it all on the tabletop and play the game without referring to a thick manual or a lot of extra charts or tables.

I also feel like tabletop baseball has been such a small niche, and with the resurgence in board games recently, that maybe it was time to revisit baseball and see if I could create something that might appeal to a wider audience, while still maintaining an appeal to experienced players. Part of that was creating a game that LOOKED like a game, and not someone's homework assignment or math project.

So those are the things that drove me to create All Star Lineup Baseball

Pesky Pole: This is where you and I are different. We are the same in making up our own rules for games we don’t think are perfect but I then just wish for a day when someone makes a better game. You decided to actually go make it.

Can you walk me through the steps and the process of creating All Star Lineup Baseball?

Craig: I don't think "better" is the word..."different" is more what I was after. Existing tabletop baseball games are either too simple and play like kid's toys, or very complex with game engines that a NASA engineer would be proud of. I wanted something in-between.

First, I wanted there to be no additional chart lookups - once you learned the rules, you'd be able to play just using dice and what was on the player cards.
Second, I wanted it to be fun head-to-head, and also solo...something you could play against someone sitting across the table, or on your own.
Third, I wanted to use real player statistics.
Fourth, I wanted to ship a complete game, with a playing surface, full set of dice, scoresheets, etc...and wanted it to LOOK like a game on the tabletop.

Those are really the main  things that drove what I created in ASLB.

The head-to-head focus led to my using an initial "Pitcher vs Batter" dice roll to see who "won" that At Bat. When you look at baseball across the board, the pitcher (defense) has the advantage, since a batter that gets on base 40% of the time is one of the best in the league (.400 On Base %). So I played with some dice combinations, and settled on the pitcher using a d8 (8-sided RPG dice) and the batter using a d6 (six-side dice).It gives the Pitcher vs Batter contest the right "feel".When you play against someone, you trade dice across the table for each half-inning. Playing solo, you can just roll them all at once.

I wanted the outcomes to be on the player cards (Pitcher or Batter), so that whoever won the roll would roll another dice (which I eventually decided would be a d20) and check that result on the Batter or PItcher card to see what the outcome was. Once I knew how it would be structured, then I had to dig into the stats (thank you and see how to make it all work...and THEN be able to create the cards for up to 900 players per season without a ridiculous amount of work.

So I spent most of the summer in spreadsheet hell - I'm STILL tweaking and improving it, but...the spreadsheet takes the data I plug in, and generates the cards for the game (after a bit of work on my part). I decided on a playmat for the game after tinkering with a few other ides. I like the feel of it, and it keeps the cards in place better than a board. I also created some custom dice, as well as all the tokens used in the game. Most of that existed in some form, but I created samples and had them sent over to make sure they were what I needed.

I'm simplifying things a bit, but, most of this work happened after April. I launched the Kickstarter for it in August, and it was successfully funded (333%), so that gave me the cash to get it rolling.

Pesky Pole: You did an amazing job. I like the look of it. The playing mat is really nice and the presentation of the game and the player cards has a real clean and classic look to them.

The game has been made but now I imagine the work continues on creating player cards for seasons and teams from the past. Currently, how many teams or seasons do you have available and what is your plan going forward?

Craig: Thanks - one important note. I also offer a free print-and-play demo on my site, the full version which is $54.95, as well as a "no frills" Basic version for $34.95 that does not include the Playmat or full dice set.

The game ships with the 2017 & 2018 World Series Teams, so you get 4 teams to start with. I also have the following currently available:

Full Seasons ($45.95): 2018, 2017, 2016, 1993, 1985, 1974, 1966
Post Season/Top 10 teams ($25.95): 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2012, 2011, 2010, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1993, 1985, 1974, 1966

You can order any Full Season or Post Season/Top 10 set you want - just specify the year and I'll create it.  I just ask for a deposit ($10 for Postseason/Top10; $20 for Full Season) that is taken off the full price once it's done. I typically can have a season done within a week of order, assuming there's no backlog.

Pesky Pole: That is awesome so if someone say wants to order the 1978 season they can contact you and request it and you will create it as long as they send a deposit?

Craig: Yep that's the deal...and I only require the deposit to make sure it'll be paid for when it's ready.

I just had someone order 8 Top 10 season sets - 80 teams...about 2,400 cards. He wanted all of the Texas Rangers playoff seasons Top 10 teams. Took me about 2 weeks. I can typically crank out a season in pretty short order, though...

Pesky Pole: That is a great deal. It would be fascinating to see what seasons get the most requests. Every fan base has their special seasons and then there are those classic seasons that baseball fans in general like.

I thank you for taking the time to talk some baseball and the amazing game you have created. Is there anything else you would like to add to those baseball fans thinking about purchasing All Star Lineup Baseball?

Craig: Just that I'm offering free shipping through the end of the year, which saves the average customer about  $15. So far, everyone that has ordered the game likes it - it allows for customization to your playing style (if you have one). All the info is there on the cards, either in the outcomes or the colors - how you decide to use it is up to you. It was never my goal to cover every single instance that can happen in a game - but I've given the player enough detail to work through just about anything.

I do keep my FAQ updated and in fact, need to post an update now. I've made some changes on the cards too, so I'm constantly working on making it a better product.

I want to thank Craig again for taking the time to answer my questions and for helping all of us baseball nerds brave the baseball withdrawal. Once again, all my readers get 10% off when you go to All Star Lineup Baseball and enter the promotional code PESKYPOLE at checkout.

If you want more information on the game, check out this video Craig made on YouTube going over the basics of the game. You can also follow Craig on Twitter @CWBarstoolGames

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