If you’re a regular reader of this web site, then I feel it is safe to make certain assumptions about the kind of games you enjoy.
Obviously, you like something strategic, preferably the kind of game that puts you in charge of a large organization that is looking to dominate the competition – a space empire, a rising nation, or even something set in a fantasy world. You might like multiplayer games, but chances are you’re primarily a single player person. That said, you’re perfectly happy to play a game that lacks a set narrative or, at the very least, allows you to take the disparate elements of your experience and craft a story on your own.
You want the game to be fun, of course, but you like details, lots of them. You also expect a sense of realism in your games, even the ones set in places that are wholly unrealistic. Graphics are nice, but you’ll happily accept something that isn’t the newest, hottest, eye-candy-est experience, so long as the interface is clean, understandable, and well designed. And while you’ll certainly support AAA games, there’s a special place in your heart for experiences made by small, independent developers.
If all of that’s true, if my assumptions are correct, then I have a somewhat surprising game to suggest that you might enjoy. Seriously.
Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) – YES BASEBALL – is a text-based simulation created by German developer Markus Heinsohn and published in one form or another since 1999. I’ve played almost every iteration since then, and I can confirm that OOTP is wonderfully, dangerously addicting. It may not have been listed as a reason for divorce (unlike its soccer cousin from a different developer, Football Manager), but like our most beloved 4X games, OOTP has that wonderful “one more turn…” feeling.
If you’ve only been exposed to sports games through the likes of EA Sports’ Madden or FIFA franchises, OOTP is a far different league that doesn’t rely on the hottest graphics or twitch-based gameplay, and it doesn’t have a legion of overenthusiastic dude-bro’s rooting it on either.
Instead, OOTP puts you not on the field, but behind the desk – letting you run your very own baseball franchise. Kind of like choosing a race in Endless Legend, you’re not down on the battlefield swinging swords, but rather determining the long-term destination of your people.
You’re in charge of everything in OOTP – everything. You can pick what colors your team wears and in what town they play. You decide which player to draft, what position he’ll play, how much you’ll pay him, and when to trade him for a more interesting asset. And if you want that new player to play second base only on Tuesdays against left handed pitchers, well, you can do that too. For those of us who dream of being Brian Cashman rather than Derek Jeter, OOTP is total wish fulfillment.
What kind of game will you set up?
There are four ways, generally, to interact with OOTP. The most obvious, and expected, is to start with a team as it exists today and play future seasons. Can you take the moribund Minnesota Twins to glory? Can you run a Boston Red Sox dynasty? You can take ownership (or, if you’d like a little less control, manager-ship) of any team in the Majors and play out their future however you see fit.
Plus, after years of wandering the ‘player name goes here” wilderness, OOTP now offers every player on every team. And not just Major Leaguers but those in the minors, as well, which means it’s almost certainly more in-depth than whatever console baseball game the kids are playing these days.
The second way to play, and my preference, is to create a fictional baseball universe. Here, you can choose any number of teams or leagues and lay them out however you want. If your dream is to have a 32 team league based solely in the state of Connecticut, you can do that. You don’t even need to be bound by reality – there’s famously a league that takes place in Middle Earth.
Once you’ve set up your league, the game will populate your teams with fictional players. Then you’re off to the pennant races with your personalized baseball universe. Somehow, I’ve grown far more attached to my game-created Philadelphia Privateers and New Jersey Swamp Dragons than I’ve ever been to actual baseball squads.
But perhaps you’re more of a Paradox fan. You’re not interested in moving things into the future or making thing up, but rather you like the idea of reliving the past. Well, you can do that, too. OOTP features the ability to take any team at any point in baseball history and play the game out from there. The latest edition even includes historically accurate Negro Leagues for those who want to try something truly different.
Want to pick up the Dodgers in 1955 and keep them in Brooklyn? You can make that happen. You believe that baseball was never better than when it was the 1980s? Go ahead and relive that golden era. OOTP keeps the rules and strategies intact for those times – you won’t find free agency in 1935 or a bunch of home runs in the 1960s – and so it really feels like your games are era-appropriate.
Of course, you can also develop all kinds of “what if” scenarios this way as well – the game will naturally evolve your league as time passes so that it changes the way baseball did. But you aren’t beholden to that progression.
Finally, if all of that still isn’t enough, you can take your team online and play against other human beings. This isn’t my particular cup of beer, but the people who play this way swear by it. Rather than you against the AI, every team is owned by a human. Like playing Civ or Stellaris multiplayer, this can be quite an undertaking. However, it can also be quite rewarding for those same reasons. It’s almost like playing fantasy baseball, but far more in depth. For those who are interested, you can usually find leagues looking for new team owners on the OOTP forums.
How will you play?
Regardless of the league you create, your options are much the same. There’s high-level stuff like what uniforms your team wears and the stadium they play in. There are some high-level budgeting tools, but those looking for an in-depth financial simulation will be disappointed. You can set how much you spend on scouting and player development, but other things like your team’s budget or the amount of money you get from TV deals are dictated by the game.
Money still plays a huge part, however, since you can’t just build a winning team – you have to be able to afford it. Teams in larger markets will have an easier time, and winning with Milwaukee can be a much larger challenge than, say, Los Angeles. Looking ahead to when your players hit free agency and figuring out who to keep and who to trade is a large part of the challenge.
So yes, players can be traded to other teams and here the AI does alright, though not great. It can be fooled by overloading your offer with junk prospects (just like trading techs in 4X games!) in exchange for one golden prospect, but it has gotten smarter in more recent editions. To be fair, it’s tough to say if the AI is making good trades or just being particularly parsimonious with its assets, but it’s harder than it used to be to leverage a Mike Trout or a Joc Pederson for nothing.
You can also scour the free agent pool and the waiver wire to pick up players. Then there are the many different player drafts endemic to baseball. Coming up with a hidden gem feels really rewarding. I’ve found I’ve developed real affection for my oftentimes fictional fielders. OOTP’s FaceGen tech, which creates fairly realistic portraits for each player, definitely helps, as well.
Acquiring players isn’t a matter of just picking the biggest numbers. For one, scouts in the game are fallible. This means that the player ratings you see may be wrong – that stud may be a dud. You can hire better scouts, of course, but it’s also important to look at the stats (especially for prospects and major league players), and to take everything you see with a grain of salt.
There’s more to consider than just talent, though. Players have rudimentary personalities. A team full of selfish malcontents will greatly underperform their abilities. Trading a popular, less talented, player for a mercurial star could be the death knell for your pennant run. Fans have favorites as well, and trading a beloved player could cause your attendance, and thus your cash flow, to crater.
Once you’ve set up your squad, you can look at your team and set your lineup and your pitching staff. As with everything with OOTP, you have a ton of options here, if you choose to go that route. You can do anything from setting who comes off the bench in a 2-1 game against a left handed starter at home to just sitting back and letting the AI do as it wishes.
This is another place where player personalities play a part. Players want to start at their position, and putting someone on the bench could mean they sulk and underperform or demand to be traded. Even something as simple as dropping your leadoff hitter to the #3 spot in the order could cause a revolt. There’s a lot to think about. Many times, I wish my 4X armies would have as much manufactured personality as my teams in OOTP do.
Once your roster is set, you can (finally) start playing games. OOTP gives you the option to watch every game of the season (all 162 plus playoffs!) and even make strategic decisions in game. For those who remember the old MicroLeague baseball, your options are sort of similar. You can tell a batter to swing away or take a pitch. You can order a runner to steal. You can tell a pitcher to go after the batter or to nibble at the corners. Nothing too in depth.
Chances are, though, you’ll be happier simming most of your games. You can tell the system to move one day at a time, or run through a week, a month, or the whole frickin’ year if you’d like. The game will interrupt you if certain events occur (injuries, trade offers, etc.), otherwise you can just sit back and watch the games race by.
For the statistically minded, OOTP tracks a lot. A lot a lot. Not just the usual stuff like home runs or strikeouts, but all sorts of newfangled numbers like VORP and wOBA. And not just those numbers but also all kinds of splits like vs lefties or righties, day or night, home or away… You can get buried in it all if you choose. Or you can stay ephemeral and say “wins good, losses bad.”
And, of course, there are all kinds of opportunities to improve your team during the season, as well. It’s very easy to accidentally become the digital Jerry Dipoto, constantly adjusting your roster on an almost daily basis. I find that OOTP is a game that haunts my thoughts, even when I’m not playing it.
This is where a player can get caught in the “one more turn” trap. You set your lineups and want to see how they’ll do so you sim a week and… oops, your right fielder broke his toe. OK, so now you scan the waiver wire and find a serviceable replacement. You sim another week, to see how the new guy turns out and then you’re on a winning streak so, of course you have to sim the next week and then you get a trade offer for your star shortstop and suddenly it’s 2am and your eyes are burning and just one more turn…
Not just for baseball fans
“But I hate baseball,” you might say, “In fact I hate all forms of organized sports and the people who participate in them.” That’s fine. I think you might still enjoy OOTP. In the same way that you’re not interested in 13th century politics but can still enjoy a Paradox game, OOTP scratches that strategy game fan’s itch to control a large, complicated entity and take on all comers.
Sure it helps to be a baseball fan – or to at least know the difference between Mike Trout and Mike Piazza – but the truth is I think a strategy game fan will find a lot to like in OOTP. The latest version, Out of the Park Baseball 18, just released on 3/24 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The game is definitely old computer/laptop friendly, and if you don’t want to go through Steam, you don’t have to. It sells for $40 which I think is a fair price considering the amazing amount of content. However, it’s a lot to pay for a game, sight unseen. Fortunately, Markus always offers a free demo of the game (a rarity almost worth rewarding just on principle) so you can try before you buy.
I can’t recommend OOTP highly enough. Now I promise we’ll go back to our usual coverage of dwarves, aliens, and Holy Roman Emperors.
TL;DR: Out of the Park Baseball 18 is a text based baseball simulation game that lets you take on every aspect of running a franchise (except the actual hitting, pitching, and fielding). As the owner/general manager/manager of a professional baseball team, you can acquire players, decide where and when they’ll play, and try to lead your team to the championship. And while that might sound strange to talk about on a 4X site, OOTP is a solid strategic title with the same, addictive ‘one-more-turn’ gameplay we’ve all come to know and love.
You might like the game if:
- You’re a sports fan who likes 4X games and wants something that merges your two interests
- You’re a control freak who likes to be in charge of every aspect
- You like a strategic game that makes you think about every move, even when you’re not actually playing the game
- You’ve been getting far too much sleep lately
You might NOT like the game if:
- You think Ichiro Suzuki is a kind of Japanese car
- You need bright, flashy, graphics
- You hate all numbers forever and to infinity times 2
- You must have elves, aliens, or a historical figure in your strategy title in order to enjoy it
Joshua has played the OOTP series for hundreds of hours on multiple machines, most recently on a Powerspec g313 with an Intel i5 6600k processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070.