"Famous Games" Review #1 - Famous Fastballs

Easy two player baseball card game, Famous Fastballs (photo: game in play)
[This review assumes the reader understands the basic rules of baseball.]

Famous Games Co. has a series of "famous" sports games, including baseball, tennis, car racing, football, golf, and yacht racing. I will review each of these games, but first up - baseball!

I love baseball. I didn't really play as a kid, due to a traumatizing injury sustained early during my tee-ball career, but since then I have come to love the sport. I think my favorite part of the game is the battle that takes place between the pitcher and the opposing hitter. There is so much drama in each pitch. So much guessing, and bluffing, and re-guessing. Baseball really is a game of inches, and that made very clear every time a batter steps up to the plate.

Famous Fastballs: The World's Smallest Baseball Game certainly lives up to its name. The game includes 11 cards, and requires (not included) less than a dozen counters. Players set up by laying most of the cards up on the table between them, and placing counters where indicated. These cards track everything from the score, to the number of outs, to the current inning.

Famous Fastballs breaks a baseball game down into outs - no individual pitches or strikes - a batter either gets a hit or an out. To resolve each at bat, both players (as when playing Rock, Paper, Scissors), count simultaneously to 3, and throw either a fist or an open palm. If the players threw different things, the pitcher gets an out. If both players threw an open palm, the batter is awarded a walk. And if both players throw a fist, the batter get contact and puts the ball into play. What happens after that requires a second stage of resolution.

Both players simultaneously count to 3 (just like above) and throw either a fist, 1 finger, 2 fingers, or 3 fingers (0, 1, 2, or 3). Players add the sum of the numbers thrown, and consult the Hit card for the result of the play.

That is pretty much the game! Players continue through the game until they have played 9 innings, and whoever has scored the most runs after those 9 innings is the winner!

As you can see, gameplay is dead simple - but the experience of playing the game is so much more than the sum of its parts. The guessing and bluffing that happens during each out and each ball put in play is so awesome - especially when two baseball fans are playing against each other. The dynamic that is created by these very simple tables on cards is truly amazing. I especially love the Hit table. The pitcher can try to go for an out, by throwing something low, like a 0 or a 1 - but that allows the batter to throw a 2 or a 3 to get at least a base hit. So should the pitcher always throw a 0, hoping the batter will get himself out with a 1 or a 2? But then the batter could throw a 3, since the likelihood of the pitcher going for a triple play is probably pretty low...right?

You can almost smell the beer and popcorn.

Probably my favorite part of Famous Fastballs is that all of this happens in "real time." Since the actual mechanics of either throwing out a fist or an open palm, or a 0, 1, 2, or 3 is so simple, half innings could take less than 10 seconds (and sometimes do). These supremely simple (yet deviously difficult) decisions, when made under this intense time pressure makes for some really awesome, often laugh-out-loud moments.

I haven't played too many board games based on baseball, but Famous Fastballs is my favorite, by far. It is quick to play, easy to learn, and it really feels like baseball. I have never played a game of this without both players bursting into laughter, whether prompted by sheer frustration after the pitcher threw a FIFTH straight ball, or after one of the players shouting waay too loudly, "I KNEW you were going to do that!!!" For its weight, its cost, and how often I would be willing to play it, I would rate Famous Fastballs an 8.5/10. I think this is a must have game for baseball fans.

Jim would like to thank Famous Games Co for sending him a review copy of Famous Fastballs.

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