Baseball with cyborgs and robots, what more could you want?
Android & iOS
# of Players
1 - 2
Baseball in the year 2045 has been streamlined down to six innings and humans now share the field with cyborgs and robots, leading to intense bursts of action ration than the slow crawl of the present-day version. Baseball Highlights 2045 is a head-to-head deckbuilding game with a focus on direct player interaction. The game consists of four to ten mini-games, with a card acquisition stage in between, which, in total, play out over about 20-30 minutes.
Before we get started I must confess, I’m a huge baseball fan. I also happen to be a pretty big deckbuilding fan. As such, this game lines up to hit a lot of sweet spots for me (puns always intended), let’s see how it performed.
Two teams start with a stock deck of 15 relatively low powered players making up your team’s lineup. Six of these are dealt to you to begin the first game. Each baseball game takes place over six innings (note that the baserunners don't reset between innings). One inning involves both the visiting and home teams playing a single card from their hand. Each card can have two different actions: Immediate Action and Hits. When a card is played, the immediate action is resolved but the hits aren’t. After the immediate action is resolved, the opposing team has the chance to play a card from their hand. After that card’s immediate action is resolved, then the prior card from the opposing team has its hits resolved.
After six innings, the team with the most runs wins. If there is a tie, the game goes to extra innings by leaving any baserunners in place and dealing three cards to each team. These cards are resolved simultaneously until one team is leading after an inning.
A full game of Baseball Highlights plays out over a best-of-seven World Series, optionally preceded by a best of three “season” to determine who gets home field advantage in the World Series. After each game, there is a round of free agency which allows teams to purchase new, better, players based on the revenue they earned from the last game. Each player has a revenue number and the total from all players used in the previous game is added to give you your free agent buying power. Free agents have more, and often better, powers than the standard rookies and veterans in the starting decks. This is where the deckbuilding comes into play. Any free agent purchased goes to the top of your lineup to ensure it is drawn for the next game. Your team must remain at 15 players at all times, so any free agent purchase must be matched by sending a player to the minor leagues. In deckbuilding terms, this amounts to trashing weak cards. By the end of a seven game World Series, especially if you played the three game season before, the teams are both very powerful.
Pinch hitters and visitor saves are neat mechanisms which can allow you to salvage a victory or make a late inning comeback by replacing a card in your hand with a randomly drawn, or previously reserved, card to shut down your opponent or score a few clutch runs.
It is sort of a clumsy game to try to explain, I hope my version does it some justice, but the bottom line is that this game does an amazing job at recreating the tension of watching a real baseball game you are highly invested in. It is overselling the sport, but many baseball fans fancy it to be a chess match of moves and countermoves, and Baseball Highlights does an A+ job of evoking that aspect. There is luck involved in having the right counter card, but the back-and-forth between players is fantastic, cards can directly counter the other or a team can ignore counters and simply try to out-slug the other. There is huge satisfaction to be had in having a “Cancel all Robot Hits” card ready to go to prevent the game-changing runs to score. You will be on the flip side of that too, when you think you have a game won only to be shut down in the last inning.
Free agency allows teams to build up over the course of the season/series, it is an extremely simple, yet clever and effective way of folding deckbuilding into the game.
Maybe my favorite aspect of baseball this game captures is the unpredictability and variety of the games. I can play a seven game series and have a 1-0 game, a 9-1 game, and a 2-3 game. Each game plays out on its own, you never know going in if you’re going to be battling to stop every single run or trying to pile up the hits to try to outscore the other team.
Okay, I’ve gushed enough about the underlying game, although I could certainly go on for a few hundred more words, let’s move onto the app implementation. It is a bit rough and not exactly overflowing with features, but is it enough to let the game shine through?
Barrier to Entry
Baseball Highlights 2045 includes a rulebook and a tutorial series. The rulebook is okay, not great. The information you need is there, it just isn't laid out particularly well or in a visually appealing way, which is a nitpick.
The tutorial is a series of six. The first one covers the majority of the game, but does so a little too quickly, I left feeling confused on the core aspect of the game: resolving hits and immediate actions. These basic actions are breezed over very quickly, it should be hammered home throughout so you leave with a clear understanding. At the end of the first tutorial the app says you should be ready to play a game on your own. I didn’t feel that way, it took a few games before I felt comfortable with the basic game rules.
The other five tutorials cover a smaller portion of the game, such as Pinch Hits, Visitor Saves, Immediate Actions, etc…
Overall, the app barely squeaks by in its ability to teach the game to new players. It is far from perfect, but the tutorials provide enough of a base that playing a few games afterwards is usually enough to have a firm understanding of the rules.
Not the most visually stunning menu
Deciding which free agents to buy
Look and Feel
The app implementation is rough. The menus look pretty ugly with odd stretching on a phone and almost stock looking buttons. Little conveniences like scrolling through the rulebook are left out, you have to hit a page forward/back button instead. Font sizes throughout are inconsistent. The graphics on the cards look fine and overall the in-game view does give a good awareness as to the current game state, but it doesn’t ever look great. In short, just about everything except the cards themselves looks unrefined.
An unrefined look on its own isn’t a huge deal. Sure, we love to see super polished apps, but that’s not a necessity. The problems, however, start coming in when functionality is affected, and that’s what happens when you start trying to use the controls during a game. Scrolling between cards is difficult, in your hand or in free agency. Eventually you will figure out the secret (grab the mostly hidden card you want to scroll to and drag it, rather than dragging the card you can see), but it’s very much not an intuitive interaction. On a more annoying note, when you try to place a card On Deck before a game begins, be very careful! Frequently, if you don’t drag the card in the exact right manner, the card you are dragging will switch with another one from your hand before your finger arrives at the on deck circle. And there is no undo button, so you can easily place a card you didn’t intend to in the on deck circle.
Compounding matters here is that the layout makes sure you can’t see what hits your on deck card has during the game. Although this doesn't affect the tablet version, it feels like a massive oversight for the phone version. The game doesn’t allow you to zoom in on that card, and the card is cut off after the immediate action, so you have to remember what card you used. You can see the card fully once you have decided to pinch hit, but at that point it might be too late. Imagine the frustration of losing a game because you went to drag a card with a home run, only to find out in the last inning while pinch hitting that the game switched out that card while you were dragging it, and you have a single sitting in the on deck circle instead. That could be game changing. This can be overcome by paying close attention when setting your on deck card and then remembering the card you used, but both of these things should be unnecessary with proper controls.
Baseball Highlights 2045 includes a two player pass-and-play option. This mode gives a notification each time the device is to be passed to the other team. The game makes sure to hide your cards from the opposing player if you follow the prompt instructions properly.
The app doesn’t include any online multiplayer options, which is unfortunate. If you consider a mythical unlimited budget app creation world, you can imagine quite a few fun online options for this game. Standard real-time/asynchronous games would both work well, then expand that with fictional leagues where you could group a handful of players together, playing each other over the course of a “season” before moving into a tournament style playoff bracket. Alas, we are left to dream for Baseball Highlights 2045 online play.
There is no multiplayer, so single player mode needs to be strong. There are two modes to choose from: vs AI and Standard. Vs. AI puts you against a bot simulating play against another person. They play by the same rules as you, use a standard starting card base, buy free agents, and the AI attempts to make the best available plays each turn. This mode has Easy and Normal difficulty levels. Once familiar with the game, Easy becomes, well, easy. Normal has remained a challenge over time, although my winning percentage against it is probably well over 50% by this point, I still lose enough to keep this mode fun. The vs. AI game plays out as a three game “season”, the winner of which gets home field advantage for the following best of seven World Series.
The second mode of play is Standard which is the solo variant included in the rules to the physical game. This mode is much different, and much more difficult. The AI randomly selects 15 random free agent cards to start the game, draws six for the current game and uses the top one from its pile in each inning. This doesn’t leave any room for AI decision making, so it won’t counter any of your cards purposely, but it uses only free agent cards, which are generally much more powerful than the starting deck cards. This makes Standard mode quite difficult. The difficulty level can be changed, on Very Easy you are allowed four rounds of free agency before the first game, this goes all the way up to Very Difficult which allows zero rounds. Even on Very Easy, your cards will be outgunned from the start, so this mode is a great challenge.
The app does allow you to exit a game and come back to finish it later. There are no stats kept, which seems wrong for a baseball game, traditionally such a stat-heavy sport.
San Francisco wins the series!
Time to use Bucky Cano?
Can't afford Max Verlander.
Baseball Highlights 2045 includes three expansions as in-app purchases, each of which adds cards for all three player types. The largest of the three, Cyborgs, Naturals, and Robots, adds ten cards of each type. These cards add some fairly powerful new mechanics to the game for each of the three types. One of the main additions this expansion brings is higher priced free agents. These cards obviously have some really strong actions and/or hits, so they are worth saving up for. Adding them to the game puts more emphasis on paying attention to the revenue numbers for the players to buy/demote. In the base game there are a few higher priced cards you can miss out on, but generally speaking you won’t lose because you ignored revenue. Once this expansion is added, the game feels supercharged and you will have a hard time playing without them, but in case you want to try, the app allows you to choose which expansions you want to use when starting a new game.
Rally Cap and Errors are two smaller expansions. They each add 15 cards total, these cards are generally less game-changing than the large expansion, but add some new mechanics which make things a little more interesting.
Some of these expansions are direct ports of physical game expansions, others combine various physical expansions into one group. Absent from the app are the coach cards and new team cards which have made their way to the physical version.
The Wrap Up
We review games with spotless app implementations that we just can’t get fully behind the underlying game, and games where the underlying game is simply fantastic but the app is lacking. Baseball Highlights 2045 might be the most extreme case of the latter that I’ve encountered yet. The back and forth duel of a baseball game, combined with a really fun deckbuilding aspect works so incredibly well for me and my personal tastes. However, the app is pretty rough and there is no online multiplayer.
The lack of polish and features will force me into a lower score here, you shouldn’t buy this game expecting it to be a smooth playing game. However, if the baseball, duel, and deckbuilding mash-up appeals to you at all, I would very much recommend this game. Even without online multiplayer the gameplay is fantastic and challenging enough to deserve a spot on your mobile device.