Sunday, September 23, 2012

MLB Showdown: What got this blog going

MLB Showdown was a game produced by Wizards of the Coast from 2000 to 2005 before the line was cancelled. The game was a baseball simulator that allowed for a wide variety of strategies and gameplay options (how many points on the team, strategy cards, icons, etc.)

Here's how the game worked:

You made a team of 4 starting pitchers, some relief pitchers, and a starting lineup of position players (catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, three outfielders (which had to have someone eligible to play center field).
This player, Mike Lowell, is eligible to play third base ('3B+2'), and has an On-Base of 7.

Before a game started, you would put your batters in whatever order you wished, and then go. This would either be 9 hitters, if you included a designated hitter for the pitcher, or only 8 if you had the pitcher hit for himself. But I digress...

Let's say Mr. Lowell is your first batter of the game. He's up against this fellow:

Greg Maddux is a starter with a Control of 5.

So, in this at-bat, Maddux's player will roll a d20, which looks like this. If the pitcher's control plus the die-roll is greater than the batter's On-Base, the second roll will be in the pitcher's chart. In the event of a tie or the pitcher's result plus Control is less than the batter's On-Base, the second roll will be on the batter's chart.

So, with our above players, let's say Maddux rolls a 4. 5+4=9, which means 9>7, so the second roll will be on Maddux's chart. While Maddux has a high control, he does have 5 hit results on his chart, so Lowell has a 25 % chance of getting on base.

The second roll is... a 17! Lowell hits a little doinker, and trots over to first base with a single. And now, the next batter comes up to the plate...


I loved this game to death, buying and trading cards with other players, printing proxies for cards just to expensive for me, then a boy/teenager, to afford, and collecting cards from all sets in all six years they were produced. And I still make cards for this game, which 'died' 7 years ago in the year 2005.

In part, the reasons I think the game eventually dried up was three-fold: repetitiveness, the ever-changing format, and power creep.

1) Repetitiveness: Each year, about 20 cards or so would be made for each MLB team, which, if you'll notice, is close to the 25-man roster MLB teams usually carry. So what ended up happening is that multiple cards of the same player would be made over time, and given how consistent the players could be at times, there wasn't  a whole lot to differentiate a 2003, 2004 or 2005 card of the same player.

2) The format: Originally, in the 2000 and 2001 game, you had the team you built for 5000 points, and then maybe a strategy deck if you wanted to. The On-Base for batters ranged from 4 to 10, and pitcher Control from 0 to 6.

Well, 2002 saw the first makeover, moving the needle upward by changing On-Base to a scale from 8 to 15(!) while Control for pitchers didn't budge.

Then in 2003, the game saw the last major revision with the addition of icons, which represented milestones the players reached or awards they won (such as the MVP or Cy Young awards). In many ways, the addition of icons made the icons necessary for teams, because the teams with icons were going to beat the similar teams without icons, thereby making the passive benefits something you had to build your team around.

All in all, not all cards could be used in all formats. 2000 & 2001 cards were unusable with the later sets, and the 2002 set, while using the same On-Base and and Control as the 2003-2005 versions, were underpowered for what they were and lacked the icons of those later sets. While I can understand in hindsight that they needed a way to draw players in to basically buy their baseball cards year after year, they diminished their fan base by negating the stuff they'd bought before.

3) Power creep: I'll make this easy on you and give you a link to Extra Credits: Power Creep, which is more about power creep in video games but gives you a good idea about how it works in gaming in general.

I'll wait until you're done.


Alrighty then!

Power creep was pretty blatant in this game, which probably should be expected, as it's from the same publishers of Magic: The Gathering. Comparing the 2000 and 2001 sets, cards that be very similar or in fact dead-on identical didn't have the same point costs, which usually were in favor of the 2001 set. This meant that your team could be better than a 2000-set team even if the cards were nearly identical because you could have points and use those extra points for better players.

Same thing for subsequent years; 2002 saw the format and costs change, 2003 added icons and lowered the costs, 2004 saw the costs go even lower before they laid an egg with the 2005 set, which was largely over-costed and led many players of the game to say 'Eh, I got better cards from the 2004 set, why buy worse cards?' which helped accelerate MLB Showdown's downfall.

I hope you found this post to be interesting, and I will continue on this topic with the card formula as I remember it.

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