If you’re anything like us at CardGameReviews, you were a baseball card collector as a kid, maybe even before you played collectible card games. I collected all sorts of sports cards before I got into card gaming, and still have much of my collection, carefully cataloged, for some day in the future when they may regain the value they had in the 80s and 90s.
When I was younger, I often used my baseball cards to play my own form of fantasy baseball, using dice and player stats, as well as a home-made baseball diamond, to play out games of baseball against teams I made up, composed of whatever player cards I had. The rules were complex, and mostly known only to myself, but it was the closest I ever came to actual Major League Baseball.
The trouble with fantasybaseball is that it doesn’t really feel like the game of baseball at all. Really, it should be called fantasy baseball management, as trading players and building rosters is the name of the game, not swinging bats, scoring runs, and making defensive plays.
Wizards of the Coast’s MLB Showdown card game is very similar to the baseball game I made up as a kid, except with clearly-defined rules and its own set of player and strategy cards. Though the game is now out of print, it ran from 2000-2005, with new player and strategy cards appearing each year to match new MLB lineups, players, managers, and other features.
How the Game is Played
If you are a fan of baseball or collectible card games, it’s likely you’ll be a fan of MLB Showdown, if you can find a set now that the game has been out of print for some seven years. MLB Showdown simulates actual baseball play using cards and a 20-sided die. It is therefore a hybrid of tabletop role-playing and traditional card gaming.
If you aren’t a fan of randomness in your card games, you may be put off by the style of play that MLB Showdown requires. Yes, you play the game like most card games, buying a basic deck for each baseball season as well as different sets of booster packs and special “draft packs.” But the outcome of each at-bat depends more on the luck of a die-roll than any actual player strategy.
Game play in MLB Showdown should be familiar to anyone used to card games–two types of cards are used, player cards and strategy cards. The player cards are all current and former Major League players, and the game’s strategy cards are like in-game actions that affect the way the die is rolled, change the results of a previous action, allow a player to draw extra cards, etc.
Batting & Pitching
Like actual baseball play, the game plays out as a series of at-bats. The player cards you hold affect the outcome of each at-bat. Each pitcher and batter has a chart that is based on their actual abilities–the pitching player rolls the 20-sided die to determine if the batter rolls based on his own chart or against the pitcher’s chart. Each player chart has its own list of possible results for every at-bat. It’s a simple way to represent the way a real baseball game plays out, and for fans of America’s Pastime, it comes off as pretty realistic. Players with good batting skills in the real game are harder to pitch against in MLB Showdown, and pitchers at the top of their game in the real-world are difficult to hit against.
It’s unfortunate that Wizards of the Coast stopped printing MLB Showdown, along with their other sports titles NFL Showdown and NBA Showdown, in 2005 and 2006. The popularity of baseball has waned since labor disputes in the 1990s and evidence of steroid abuse in the 90s and 2000s, so it’s possible that MLB Showdown never caught on because the audience for baseball is trending older, while the audience for card games trends younger. Either way, we baseball fans can only hope that someone will pick up where WotC left off and start releasing new draft and player packs for this extremely fun fantasy baseball card game.