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[Review] Harry's Grand Slam Baseball

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I first was introduced to Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game (Out of the Box Publishing, 2004 – Harry Obst) at Origins 2004. Mike Fitzgerald sat me down and played the game against me (thrashing me in the process) and informed me that OOTB was considering publishing it. Now, over a year later, I see the final product, published in their “Heirloom” line of games – fitting, since Harry’s Grand Slam was first published in 1962!

Since getting the game, I’ve played it about ten more times, losing all but one game (hooray, I finally won once!), but loving the game nonetheless. For one thing, I’m a baseball fan, so any game about baseball automatically has an attraction for me. Also, the game, while fairly lucky, is quick, easy, and has some degree of choice in it – enough to make sure that I’ll be bringing it out time and time again. The game is a faithful reproduction of the original game, including artwork (with some upgrades added), and just has a natural charm about it that very few games have.

A deck of fifty-four cards is shuffled, and three are dealt to each player. The remainder is placed in a draw pile in the middle of a small baseball diamond. A reference card is set up, showing the score of the game, as well as what inning it is. One player is designated the Home team, and the other the Visitors. The game takes place over nine innings (more if it ends in a tie). Each inning consists of the Visiting team going first. That player plays a card from their hand, then the opponent plays one from their hand. This continues until three outs occur – at which point the Home team starts, etc. After playing a card, each player draws one from the deck. Every three innings all cards are discarded, the deck reshuffled, and three more cards are dealt to each player.

The cards that a player can play are…
- Single, Error, Double, Triple, Homerun: These cards are placed on or next to the appropriate base when played, with each card already next to a base advancing the appropriate amount of spaces. If a player crosses home plate, the team at bat scores a run.
- Walk, Hit By Pitch: The same as the cards above, but the runners only advance if forced to.
- Wild Pitch, Passed Ball, Stolen Base, Pitcher Balk: These cards advance all base-runners one base, but the batter does nothing.
- Ground Out, Strike Out: These are put behind home plate – each representing one out.
- Fly Out: The same as the above two outs; but if there are less than two outs in an inning, the player on third base will score.
- Sacrifice Bunt: This results in one out but advances all runners one base.
- Double Play: This results in two outs, if there is at least one runner on a base.
- Pinch Hitter/Relief Pitcher: When a player draws one of these cards, they play it in front of them immediately, drawing another card to be placed face-down underneath it, and then drawing a replacement for their hand. Players may have multiple of these cards in play (which are not reshuffled every three innings). When a player does not wish to play a card from their hand, they may play the card that is face down under one of these cards instead, but they must accept the result.

If a player has nothing in their hand but cards that help the other player – that’s too bad, they must play one (unless they have a Relief Pitcher/Pinch Hitter in play). Play continues in this manner until after the ninth inning, in which case the player with the most runs wins the game! Ties result in extra innings, until one player is ahead at the end of an inning – in which case they win immediately.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game comes in a very nice tin container, which includes a cardboard baseball diamond, and a scoreboard, with spinning wheels that keep track of the scores and inning. Inside the tin, however, is a box that is a faithful reproduction of the 1962 game: rules, cards, and everything. It was a neat feeling to open up the brand new 2005 packaging and find a piece of nostalgia. The artwork on the cards represents the grand era of baseball, which I found very thematic and evocative. The cards were of good quality and the scoreboard, while slightly clunky, made me think of baseball games I played in my youth. The whole game comes in a nice little package and would make a great gift for baseball fans and/or a nostalgic gift for those from that era.

2.) Rules: The game comes with the 1962 rules – which are okay, but the new, fully illustrated in color rules that OOTB added are much easier to read. The game, while simple, can occasionally run into a rules question (what do I do if there is a Pinch Hitter under my Pinch Hitter?, etc.), and a reference card is included that covers all possibilities. The game can be taught quickly, as each card that results in a runner going to base has a red border, each “out” card has a black border, and each card that advances runners but not the batter has a dotted red border. This makes glancing at the cards in your hand easy, as you can see if your hand is pro-batting or pro-field. I haven’t taught the game to anyone who hasn’t understood basic baseball principles yet (there aren’t many people like that), so everyone I’ve shown the game to has picked up on it quite quickly.

3.) Baseball: This game is not as realistic as Status Pro Baseball, SportsClix, etc., because there aren’t dozens of charts, statistics, and other minutia included. This allows the game to be played quickly and simply. Yet, for some reason, it does retain the feel of a baseball game, and not simply a lucky card game.

4.) Speed: When teaching the game, I’ve noticed that people are a little more hesitant and play a little slower. But once a player understands that the game indeed is that simple and that there are no hidden catches, everything moves right along, and it’s possible to finish a game in 15-20 minutes. This, combined with the fact that it doesn’t take up too much space make Harry’s Grand Slam an excellent game to travel with. The tin box is exceptionally sturdy, and I can think of very few people (people who hate baseball) who wouldn’t be interested in trying it out.

5.) Fun Factor: I’ve played the game with non-baseball fans; and while they enjoyed the game, it didn’t have the same magical charm for them as for someone who enjoyed baseball. Every baseball fan I’ve introduced the game to has enjoyed it greatly – liking the simplicity, but the simple strategies to the game. Should I try to load the bases before playing my Home Run card? Or should I just use it now, to get that guaranteed run? These aren’t rocket scientist choices, but they do add a little bit to the game. Probably the most fun (or most agonizing) part of the game is the Pinch Hitter/Relief Pitcher cards. It is the coolest thing in the world to flip it over when you’re the batter and find a Home Run there. At the same time, it’s horrific when the Home run is there, and you’re the pitcher! But either way, it’s one of those moments in a game where both players groan/cheer, and these are the moments that people remember when playing a game.

I won’t be using Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball Game to simulate the 2005 baseball season. If I want to do that (and I don’t, currently), I’ll use a more statistically accurate – detail heavy game. But since I just want to play simple games most of the time that have the feeling of baseball, then Harry’s Grand Slam is the best choice for me. I find it fascinating that the game was designed in 1962, yet has the light flavor of a “designer” filler produced today. If Out of the Box continues to find games likes this, then their Heirloom Games series will be one that every person should own.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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