Gaming and Computing Since 1985

TextRich's Strat-O-Matic Baseball Express Review

I have been looking to get human friends to try Strat-O-Matic Baseball. What hooked me was the PC game, but it isn't going to win awards for user interface and graphics. I had never owned physical SOM cards so I thought if my friends weren't going to get into the game, I would at least have something small for solitaire play if I were away from my computer (like right now). Enter Strat-O-Matic Baseball Express, 3rd Edition.

I visited the Strat-O-Matic store (I grew up in Long Island and wanted to save on fees and shipping) and inquired about the availability of Baseball Express. Only the 3rd Edition (released at the start of the 2018 season) was available. So having additional players from previous season to mix and match was out.

I am not going into detail how to play the game. Rather, I want to compare it with my experience playing the computer game using full rules and card images. So if you are looking to start playing SOM for the very first time or want to try to get a kid or friend interested in SOM, you will be able to decide if Express is worth getting or if you should stick with a more complete version or the computer game instead.

The Contents

The game comes in a small box containing 42 baseball players (28 batters and 14 pitchers), four strategy cards to explain how to bunt or steal, four blue tokens (one for outs 0, 1, 2 and the other three for base runners), the famous white dice and two red dice, and the almost as famous 20-sided yellow split die. Instructions, a discount coupon, and a coupon for a personalized hitter's card were also included. Finally, there is a tray with a picture of a baseball diamond. That tray is used for storage and it is also used to mark outs, baserunners, and to keep dice from falling off. It is a good idea if you have limited space to roll dice, such as the back seat of your car. Finally, for those who don't want to spend too much time picking or drafting players, there is an instruction listing two different teams and suggested cards for those teams to ensure even play.

Similarities to Regular Strat-O-Matic

Only the basic pitching/hitting cards (no lefty/righty matchups) are available. The cards look very much like basic SOM cards. The top of the batter cards gives the positions played, steal rating, and running range. For pitchers, the only statistic given is the "pitcher" position and whether the pitcher is a starter or reliever. The bottom of the card gives very simple statistics from the past 3 (I think) years combined and averaged. Batters have AVG, AB, 2B, 3B, HR, and RBI. Pitchers have W, L, ERA, IP, and SO.

Differences from Regular Strat-O-Matic

I'll just list them.

My Thoughts

I was first introduced to statistically accurate baseball games by the old All-Star Baseball card and spinner game. Those who have played it (like Hal Richman, SOM's founder, before he created his own game) will note that the pitchers have zero effect on results. Thankfully that is not the case for SOM Baseball Express, so if I had to choose between either game to introduce realistic baseball to someone, Express wins by a mile.

Express has the probablity of half its results being influenced by the pitchers and half by the batters. However, fielding, other than the obvious rule that your team needs one player for each position on the ball field, means little in this game. There isn't any defensive shifting to speak of (which is the point of a beginners' game). One catcher is not more likely than another to gun down a base stealer. Mookie Betts (famous for his range) and Aaron Judge (famous for his arm) are not going to be better than the other in the RF position. I really missed the thought process of deciding between a star fielder but so-so hitter or an awful fielder but excellent hitter.

Stealing is not affected by trying to steal third base and home compared to second base, but at least the players have different stealing and extra-base running ratings. You can sacrifice bunt, but everyone bunts and runs the same. In one of my solitaire games, I rolled three consecutive red 3's so I had successful bunts with my bunters themselves being safe at 1B!

The good news for purists is that the Express gameplay is still sufficiently complex that you will want to use a scoresheet or make your own to keep track of all the action. A few times in my solitaire play I forgot to not reuse a batter who got the 3rd out the previous inning, for example. Conversely All-Star Baseball came with scoresheets, but I was a kid who only cared about scores back then and never used them. Express doesn't have one, but due to SOM's accuracy and complexity, older players might want to write things down. Younger players will at least want to be able to remember what blue dot represents which baserunner for those SINGLE and DOUBLE rolls.

The Verdict

I played a couple of solitaire Express games. I would have liked more players, but the games and stats were realistic even with Express' more-basic-than-Basic rules. People brand new to SOM will need some time to understand what some of the results mean, while any experienced SOM player will be able to play Express with minimal downtime.

Some of the beauty of SOM was lost in the transition to Express, such as fielder ratings, lefty/righty matchups (admittably that is not in the Basic rules either), and arm strength. If I am trying to convince a fellow adult baseball purist of SOM's complex gameplay and fantastic accuracy, Express is probably not going to do the job. However, if I am trying to attract SOM to a child or a casual baseball fan, Express does a very good job at emulating SOM without being overwhelming.

At $10 Strat-O-Matic Baseball Express probably the cheapest physical SOM offering. The cards are collectible enough and it has everything one needs to play a game on the go or within limited space. Purists will definitely miss some of the features that made the original SOM so great, though.

Go back to my Strat-O-Matic baseball page.

©opyright 2020 by Richard Knopf
Created August 15, 2018