Back in the 1980s, I thought I had scoured most of the “traditional” sources
for new baseball games: Street and Smith’s, Sporting News, Baseball Digest,
you name it. But I missed a few. At some point in the late ‘80s, a company
named Aldrich Boardgame Company (Abc) came out with a game titled, appropriately
enough, Abc Tabletop Baseball. I didn’t discover Abc until just a couple
of months ago, when a Delphi Forums Table Top Sports member alerted other
forum members that 4th Street Software, formerly Abc, had a few old baseball
games left for sale. Having purchased and enjoyed 4th Street’s board and
computer football games, this seemed like a no-brainer.
Abc appears to have influences in many of the other baseball games that once
flooded, but now barely trickle through, the board game market. Interestingly
enough, Abc also contains a visual element common to the 4th Street football
game; in this case, a grid where you position your fielders, something like
SherCo. However, Abc doesn’t play like Sherco, and isn’t really quite like
any game currently available.
Inside the Box
Abc is easy to set up. First, you choose your teams – in this version, all
1989 teams are included. I have no problem with ’89, since I’m Bay Area-based
and both the A’s and the Giants played the “Earthquake Series” that year.
Each player (26 per team) is represented by an individual card (purists:
pitcher’s hitting is included on each pitcher’s card, a la APBA), although
the cards are numbered instead of including player names, ostensibly a gesture
to the Players’ Union. This doesn’t strike me as a big problem, since the
game includes a roster sheet that lists each player’s card number and real-life
name next to it. And once you’ve played a couple of games with your teams,
it is easy to pick up who is who, especially since the cards include basic
1989 stats. And if you have some time on your hands, you can always type
in the names of the players (I know one forum member who did just that).
An aesthetic comment: I was very pleased by the game components when I opened
the box. The cards are separated and included in plastic bags, so you can
start playing within an hour of getting the game. In addition to the field
grid, you get “stadiums” for all the teams, which are basically fences plus
weather information (die-roll activated). Kevin Mitchell’s deep fly ball
turned into a home run at Candlestick, thanks to the wind; Terry Kennedy’s
deep flyball to right was, sadly, kept in the ballpark. Charts are easy to
read and many results will be memorized after a few games, helping reduce
Establishing the Count
Abc is kicked off by the pick of a “count card” which establishes – you guessed
it – the ball-strike count. Since all pitchers are not created equal, Abc
rates each hurler from “A” to “H”, to help resolve the count. “A” pitchers,
representing the best ERAs (although control may play a factor), will generally
get ahead in the count more than lower grades, although random game factors
may malign your staff ace. On the flip side, that 5.00 ERA fifth starter
(in 1989, 5.00 really stunk up the place) could get on a roll if he can get
consistently ahead of the hitters in a given game, but don’t expect this
to continue over several games.
What “getting ahead” means in Abc is that most play results, irrespective
of whether they come off the batter or pitcher card (more on that later),
will fall into three columns of the Master Result Chart: Ahead, Even, or
Behind in the count (from a pitcher’s perspective). I need not tell you what
a 3-1 count means when 1989’s Kevin Mitchell is up (47 homers), so you may
want to take an intentional walk if you find yourself behind the count on
a great hitter. In this game, the count really plays an active role – you
probably will not steal on a 3-0 pitch, but you might if the count is 1-0.
Same goes for Hit and Run.
The Batter, or the Pitcher?
Once the count has been established, you roll three six-sided dice – one
large, and two small – to determine the result. The key to the roll is determining
if the result comes from the batter or pitcher card. A roll of 1-3 means
the result is read from the pitcher ledger; 4-6, the batter. At first, I
was a bit worried that this would emulate other 50-50 games where it seems
either the pitcher or batter is favored, effectively negating the other.
This is not really true with Abc; the count affects both pitcher and batter
results, often profoundly, and defensive prowess (or lack thereof) also plays
into both results. I found myself generally satisfied at the way the whole
picture was covered in each Abc at-bat, although your pitcher is in real
trouble if he’s up against Murderer’s Row and most of the results are coming
off the batter cards. Even getting ahead of the hitters may not save you!
Irrespective of whose card the result is read from, many results are resolved
immediately. Certain outs (including strikeouts) and walks depend only on
the player card dice roll result and the established count. Hits are a different
story: from the batter’s card, a hit result will depend on a Random Number
(RN) check which considers the hitter’s lefty/righty stats and, occasionally,
the positioning and range (remember the Sherco-like grid?) of the defense.
On the pitching side, a pitcher’s propensity to give up different types of
hits (from little liners and groundball singles to towering home runs) comes
into play. Of course, your longball-prone pitcher won’t give up many taters
to the weak hitters of the world, as a Strat-O-Matic-like batter power rating
helps tame the Joses (in ’89, that would be Uribe and Oquendo) from becoming
Lousy fielding will kill you in Abc. Errors will haunt you, poor range will
turn certain outs into hits, and lack of DP mobility amongst your middle
infielders will extend innings. Make no mistake about it – Abc took fielding
seriously when designing this game, and you should consider defensive substitutions
very seriously when trying to win a close one.
The Flow of the Game
I’m the kind of gamer who likes to start playing the game now and reading
the manual when necessary. That means, irrespective of whether I’m playing
Panzer Leader or Chutes and Ladders, the initial game will likely drag on
compared to the second or third game. True to form, with my compulsive rule-checking
and double-checking, as well as a desire to get every result explicitly coded
into Abc’s excellent scoresheets, my first game took nearly two hours (snack
and ESPN breaks included). My second game dropped, a la NASDAQ, to 55 minutes.
Currently, I’m playing games in about 40 minutes, especially when I know
the teams. Multiple dice rolls are not uncommon, especially when resolving
hits, but the cards help speed play and I tend to shuffle them every three
innings to help maintain the integrity of the random results. Don’t get me
wrong: this is a thought-provoking, intelligently conceived game that is
not designed for a quick and easy resolution of every play. Too many factors
– the count, the position and range of the fielders (including pitchers –
how aggravating to have a bunch of potential 1-3 results turn into hits thanks
to a slow-reflexed moundsman), and even the score and inning – can potentially
modify results. But the interaction of these elements feels so realistic,
you can envision each play unfolding differently, almost like watching a
So what do the cards look like?
If you’re like me, the aesthetic quality of the game is a definite scale-tipper
when it comes to forking out dollars to make a purchase. Cards don't have
to be pretty, but they need to have all the prerequisite information. And
while I won’t cover every rating (4th Street’s site has some card images),
there is plenty here to satisfy even the most obsessive stathead. The cards
are easy to read and printed on quality paper.
-hit and run ability
-fielding DP ability (infield)
-throwing arm (catcher/OF)
-clutch pitching (pretty cool)
-wildness (HBPS, WP, etc.)
-ahead/behind in count
I’m uncertain about individual HBPs and GIDPs; these are certainly affected
by wildness and defensive ability but I’m uncertain if certain plunk-worthy
hitters get their share of HBPs or whether speedy guys like Gary Pettis (remember
him?) can avoid the GIDP.
I haven’t attempted to cover every facet of Abc Tabletop Baseball, but by
now, I think you have an idea what the game is about. If you think this review
implies a favorable reaction to the game, then your perception probably parallels
John Edward (no, not Johnny Edwards!). This is a unique product that somehow
was lost in the annals of tabletop baseball history, but it has re-emerged
thanks to Abc (and now 4th Street) creator Bryan Aldrich’s willingness to
make it available again. And he has even spoken of updating the game, but
I’m sure this will depend on demand as well as his available time.
All that being said, did I find any areas of the game lacking in any way?
Well, the sacrifice system is great from a rating perspective, but I feel
the breadth of defensive elements (as well as the RN system, which could
have been used here) could be better integrated, and bunting is just a little
too stripped down for my taste. Ditto errors, which feel accurate in number
but need more diversity in the types of results (e.g., the only two-base
infield errors come off the Weird Play Chart, which feels a bit unrealistic).
On the other hand, like Replay Baseball, Abc lends itself to easy rule modifications
once you have a dozen or so games under your belt. So while the game isn’t
easy to reverse engineer – nor would you need to, with Bryan’s new PC-based
Player Editor now available from 4th Street Software – you may find ways
to tweak the game to help make it feel even more realistic. If that is possible.
If you’re a tabletop baseball junkie and somehow missed out on this game
during its September call-up in the ‘80’s, you may want to visit the 4th
Street site and see if any games are still available. This is a rich baseball
experience that isn’t without its flaws, but the batter/pitcher/fielder interaction,
especially with the lure of the count cards and the stadia representation
(used for resolving home runs and extra-base-hits), could just hook you like
it has me.
Game time: 45 minutes seems right, after you memorize some results. I can
play it faster but I like to savor the plays a little too much.
Added: Friday, May 02, 2003
Reviewer: Todd Rollin
Related web link: 4th Street Software