Bottom of the 9th (Dice Hate Me Games, 2015)

Date played: April 2, 2020

Basic details: 1-2 players, 5-20 minutes

Gist of the game: In solo mode, you’re the manager of a down-on-its-luck baseball team. At the beginning of the season, you were given the ultimatum to make the playoffs or get fired. This wouldn’t make sense as a premise otherwise, so it’s come down to the last week of the season. The last 6 games are at home, and you need to win at least 4 of them to keep your job. What’s more, you have to win them well enough that you also earn a sufficient number of manager points — too few manager points and your team makes the playoffs but you still get fired.

The guidelines here will refer to a single game. To complete the entire campaign, you would simply repeat the game process an additional 5 times.

There are a few game pieces of note. First, there are pitch “tokens,” a set of red and white wooden circles with High/Low on one and Inside/Away on the other. These are used to try to predict where a pitch will be thrown. Next, there are two Pitcher dice. One has letters on it: B for Ball, S for Strike, and a C in a triangle for Corner. Coupled with a regular d6, these determine what kind of pitch is thrown. The letter die is called the Pitch die and the regular d6 is called the control die. Finally, the batter has a regular d6 die that basically determines their swing. I dispense with these technical names below and refer to them generically at pitcher dice and batter die.

To start the game, draw a situation card and an effect card, and then shuffle the remaining cards of each type together to form a pitcher’s deck. The situation card provides you with information like where any runners are on base, the number of outs, the score at the end of the top of the inning, what inning it is, and the maximum number of innings you can go to. The situation card also provides information about how many manager’s points you get for various win scenarios. The effects card, with names like “The Yips,” and “Wind Gust,” potentially impact dice rolls (more on these later).

Basic game play proceeds as follows:
1. Guess what pitch will be thrown using red and white tokens (one for high/low, one for inside/away).
2. Draw pitcher’s card to reveal actual pitch and divvy up tokens based on what you guessed correctly.
3. Roll pitcher dice and batter die and make adjustments based on effect card, pitcher mitigation card, and tokens. The pitcher mitigation card (shown below) basically serves as AI for the pitcher and determines what actions the pitcher takes given the roll and what tokens they have available.
IMG-24654. Based on outcomes of dice rolls, if batter made contact with a pitch, enter the run phase. There is a hitter card (pictured below) that shows what kinds of rolls are needed to make contact given the outcome of the pitch die.
IMG-24665. In the run phase, the first “player” to roll a 5 or 6 “wins” the roll. If the pitcher rolls a 5 or 6 first, the batter is out. If the batter rolls a 5 or 6, they make it to first base. If both a 5 and a 6 are rolled, the 6 wins. Ties go to the batter.
6. Enter cleanup phase. Make any changes needed to pitcher or batter (e.g., replacing pitcher, bringing up the next batter). If same pitcher remains in play, give them “relief” by shuffling a number of cards from the bottom of the pitcher’s discard pile back into the pitcher’s deck equal to the number of empty bases. If a new pitcher enters play, shuffle all discarded cards back into the pitcher’s deck because the new pitcher comes in at full relief.
7. Repeat for next pitch.

Color commentary: It took one YouTube playthrough twice and a second playthrough once before I felt like I understood the rules enough to actually play on my own. Between the rule book, the playthroughs, and my own attempt at playing, I accumulated 18 pages of notes on the game (the last several pages are me describing my own game play in fairly fine detail, but more than half of them are spent just trying to make sense of the rules). I don’t think the rule book provided clear instructions in any way, shape, or form for the solo mode, and my guess is that if I went back and re-read the two-player rules I would find a lot of holes and unanswered questions as well. That said, I think it was time well spent, because this was a really fun game. My color commentary for this game is going to be me walking through the game and explaining the rules as I go along. More pedantic than usual, but I think it both a) explains the rules better and b) gives a sense of what it’s actually like to play the game.

You can build your batting line-up in one of two ways. You can choose 6, or create a full roster of 9 with a player filling each position. Both playthroughs I watched chose the latter option, so I did too. I tried to choose female players whenever possible, and managed to end up with a 5/4 split. Not every position had a female player available. I have 2 expansions. I ordered the remaining 3 earlier this week (added impetus to actually play and convince myself I like it), so the number of female options may increase with those additional expansions. Even so, there are a number of cards I don’t know how to integrate into a game, even two-player, like team mascots or the team organist. Also, players come from a bunch of different teams, and it’s not possible to make them all from the same team, at least not with the cards I currently have, and given the size of at least 2 of the remaining expansions, not then, either. Anyway, my lineup was:

Southpaw Straw – pitcher
Verheerend Staab – catcher
JA Kapowski – 1st base
Tiff McGriff – 2nd base
Hannah Cait – shortstop
Yoshiko Kansai – 3rd base
Benny Sobeleone – left field
Kerry Rumble – center field
KC Petty – right field

Pitchers I faced: Kido Hero, Wake Louder, and Hurricane Patriss

Scenario: “Chess Match.” In the 9th inning, can take up to the 10th inning to win. One out, one runner on second. Down in the score 0-1. Added effect on scenario card: The pitcher changes after each base runner; the 6th pitcher remains on the mound
Effect: “Scorcher.” Pitcher gets 1 less relief during the Clean Up phase.

Pitcher: Kido Hero

1st pitch: High and Away (I guess both correctly)
Pitcher rolls a Corner 3. To make contact, I also need to roll a 3. Anything other than a 3 will be a strike.
I roll a 5. Because I had both tokens, given my player’s abilities, I got my MVP move, which wasn’t super helpful, and I could reroll my die. I rerolled and got a 2, which was a strike.

2nd pitch: Effect card: Pitcher selects Ace pitch (I guess neither token correctly).
Pitcher rolls a Strike 6. Under normal conditions, the best I can hope for is a foul if I also roll a 6.
I roll a 5. However, the pitcher’s ace pitch effect says that if I roll a 5 or 6 against a strike, I must reroll. So I get a strike because I can functionally only roll a 6. Also, because the pitcher won both tokens, I have to choose the next set of tokens blindly. To do so, I shake them in my hands like dice and “roll” them.

3rd pitch: Effect card: Pitcher selects Ace pitch (I guess “Away” correctly)
Pitcher rolls a Ball 5. Looking at the pitcher mitigation AI card, on a Ball 4-6, the pitcher can re-roll the pitch die if they have the white token, which they do not. I need to roll a 5 or lower for the strike to be a ball. If I roll a 6, it’s a strike.
I roll a 2, and will not use a token; I’ll just take the ball. But because the pitcher used their Ace pitch again, I have to choose my tokens for the next pitch blindly again.

4th pitch: Effect card: Batter predicts both incorrectly.
Pitcher rolls Strike 2. Pitcher mitigation card lets pitcher reroll the regular d6 if they have the white token, which they do, because I guessed both incorrectly. Pitcher rerolls to a 6.
I also roll a 6, which gave me a foul. However, this would be the 3rd strike, so nothing happens.

5th pitch: High and Inside (I guess both correctly)
Pitcher rolls a Strike 6
I roll a 6; foul ball; nothing happens

6th pitch: Low and Inside (I guess Low correctly)
Pitcher rolls a Ball 5. Pitcher can reroll pitch die and does so; now a Strike 5. If I roll a 5 or 6, Kerry stays in. 4 or below and I’m out.
I roll a 6: contact! Because I rolled a natural (as opposed to manipulating with tokens) 6, I “crushed it,” which lets me roll again. If I roll a 1 or 2, we enter the run phase. If I roll a 3 or 4, I get a single. If I roll a 5, I get a double. If I roll another 6, it’s a home run and I win since there’s already someone on second. ….and, I roll a 1, so we enter the run phase.
Pitcher and batter both roll a 6, but ties go to the runner, so I make it to first base.

Per the situation card, Kido Hero gets retired and Hannah Cait comes out as the next batter. With the new pitcher, all the pitching cards get shuffled back into the pitcher’s deck. Wake Louder comes to the mound. Wake’s trait includes something about the runner having +1 speed. I don’t know what this means, so will pretend that it doesn’t mean anything.

1st pitch: Effect: Pitcher selects ace pitch (Low and Away), but since all odds were about the same as to what pitch would be thrown, that’s the token combo I chose to be able to protect against Wake’s Ace, so I get both tokens. On his Ace pitch, a Ball 5 or Ball 6 becomes a Corner 6.
Pitcher rolls Ball 2.
I roll a 6. Because I have both tokens, I can do 2 of: reroll and add +/- 1 to my die. I start with a reroll and get a 5. Reroll again and get a 2, which matches the pitcher’s roll and gives me a ball.

2nd pitch: High and Away (I guess Away correctly)
Pitcher rolls a Ball 6. Pitcher can modify -1 with the red token, which he has.
I roll a 4 and use my white token to roll again and get a 2, so I get a strike.

3rd pitch: Low and Away (I guess both correctly), which is the pitcher’s Ace pitch. If he rolls a Ball 5 or Ball 6, it becomes a Corner 6.
Pitcher rolls a natural Corner 6 (jerk!)
I roll a 4. Because I have both tokens, I can use them one of them twice to modify +2, giving me a 6, which means I made contact and we enter the run phase.
Pitcher rolls 3 and I roll 5, so I make it on base.

Bases are now loaded, and Wake Louder leaves the mound. KC Petty comes up to bat. All the pitching cards get shuffled back into the pitcher’s deck, and Hurricane Patriss swaggers up to the mound.

1st pitch: Effect: Fatigue 2 (i.e., discard 2 cards from the pitcher’s deck), draw again; new card is Effect: Batter predicts both incorrectly.
Pitcher rolls Ball 1 and could in theory modify -1, but doesn’t need to.
I roll a 3 and get a strike.

2nd pitch: High and Inside (I guess Inside correctly)
Pitcher rolls Ball 1 and doesn’t need to modify.
I roll a 6 and can reroll. I roll a 6 again and get a strike.

3rd pitch: Effect: Pitcher selects Ace pitch (Low and Inside). (I guess Low correctly)
Pitcher rolls a Strike 2. Ace pitch lets him switch pitch die to opposite side, which gives him a Ball 2.
I roll a 5 and strike out.

Now at 2 outs, Hurricane Patriss stays in, but gets no relief because there are no empty bases. Benny Sobeleone comes onto the field to bat.

1st pitch: Effect: 3 relief, draw again. Bottom 3 discarded pitcher cards get shuffled back into the deck. The second draw is High and Away (I guess Away correctly).
Pitcher rolls a Strike 1 and can reroll the regular d6 die and rolls a 4. If I roll a 4, I foul. If I roll a 5 or 6, I make contact.
I roll a 5 to make contact, entering the run phase.
1st roll is a dud.
2nd roll is a dud.
On the 3rd roll the pitcher rolls a 6 and I roll a 5, so Benny is out, taking the team to three outs and losing in a heartbreaker with bases loaded.

So I think this one game took a solid 20 or so minutes. Both playthroughs I watched played a single game, and one lasted just under 30 minutes and the other lasted about 35. I get that baseball is an open-ended sport in terms of time, which is why I enjoy going to see live games, but also why I don’t like watching it on TV and why I think actually playing the 6-game campaign would be kind of a nightmare because there’s no way to really estimate how long it may take to play through. That said, playing this one single game was tremendously fun.

And I will say that the playthroughs were excellent, because I didn’t have any questions come up while I was actually playing, which was a relief. I don’t know if I had the emotional capacity today to figure out some minute aspect of the game from the cryptic rule book.

Thoughts I think M might have had if he had played (which he never would have if he had had to watch 2 playthroughs to figure things out)I think the playing-the-odds aspect of choosing the pitching tokens is interesting. Each value is present in situation cards 4 times, and you start out with a situation card. You can also check the discard pile anytime and can track the odds that way. You could also read through the Effects cards carefully before playing and know what’s possibly in store, like multiple cards for a pitcher’s Ace pitch. That would change the odds depending on what that Ace pitch is, but you can still make pretty educated guesses for each pitch based on the odds.

I really like the aesthetics of the pitcher and batter cards, which are exactly like old school baseball cards with the super thick cardboard. Reminds me of a Wade Boggs card I had in my youth. And the pitch tracker (balls and strikes) is also on a strip of paper that looks like a stick of gum on one side.

The Pitcher Mitigation card is also interesting, because it brings the pitcher closer to perfect rationality about what they should do with their dice based on what they rolled (and if they have the appropriate token). If you play the 2-player game, you may not be playing against someone who is perfectly rational or especially strategic/crafty. It would be interesting to see how much human fallibility about what the best decision is given the roll and available tokens matters.

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