What is Baseball Trivia Challenge?

In a nutshell, Baseball Trivia Challenge is a baseball trivia game that plays a lot like baseball. This may seem like an obvious statement: Of course a baseball trivia game “plays a lot like baseball!” Isn’t that the point? Interestingly enough, this is not often the case. While there aren’t a lot of baseball trivia games on the market, those that are usually fall into three fairly broad categories.

Baseball Trivia Quizzes

This style of game is as the title suggests: a series of trivia questions you must answer to earn a score. To keep with the baseball theme, your final quiz results are often described by various “baseball” terms. If your performance on the quiz was horrid, you may be described as a “Rookie League” player. As your performance improves, these descriptions usually change to reflect this fact. Your performance is described as “Double A” or “Triple A”— you’re moving up through the ranks! When you’re finally really good, you’re characterized as a “Major Leaguer” or even a “Major League All-Star”. The questions may be fun, but it hardly feels like you’re out on the diamond.

Baseball “Trivial Pursuit”

These games add a game board with baseball graphics and dice but aren’t much different from the baseball trivia quizzes I mentioned earlier. In these sorts of games, you usually have to correctly answer a baseball trivia question in order to advance one square (or “base”). The winner is the player who reaches the “finish line” (or “pennant” or “World Series” square) first.

Baseball, Baseball, and More Baseball

These games are a lot like baseball. Correct answers are rewarded with singles, doubles, triples and homeruns while incorrect answers count as outs. I like these games a lot. For a long time there was a game called CyberSlugger on the Internet I really enjoyed (it’s still there at http://www.cyberslugger.com but the site hasn’t been updated since 2002 and the game doesn’t appear to work). The problem with it and games like it is they take a long time to play and can, at times, feel like a high school or college exam. A nine inning game requires at least 27 questions (and that’s if you get them all wrong, which isn’t a lot of fun either). Also, the hit results aren’t necessarily related to the difficulty of the question (CyberSlugger used a formula that randomly scored hits as singles 45% of the time, doubles 35% of the time and triples and homeruns 10% of the time).

How is Baseball Trivia Challenge different?

Like CyberSlugger, Baseball Trivia Challenge simulates a game of baseball. Unlike CyberSlugger, games involve real-life players and teams. Also unlike CyberSlugger, games can be completed in mere minutes. This is due to a unique game design that simulates the results of entire innings, and not individual pitches or at bats. Allow me to explain.

Like all sports, baseball is a series of events. Baseball simulation games are designed to simulate these events; however, game developers must carefully weigh the pros and cons when determining which events to include in the simulation. For example, for a batter to bat he must first leave the dugout and proceed to the on-deck circle. Once there, he is likely to take a number of warm-up swings, etc. Pitchers— especially the more colorful ones like Mark Fidyrich— practice similar rituals.

While these are events that occur in a baseball game, including them in a simulation would be tedious, even if the developer felt there was some benefit to it. Indeed, many early basketball board game simulations failed because they tried to do too much, which often led to games that played more like football— as a series of plays and possessions. Consequently, they took forever to play and failed to capture the flow and quick nature of basketball.

On the contrary, early baseball simulation board games (like those produced by APBA and Strat-O-Matic, for instance) got it right, focusing on the at bat or plate appearance as the “molecular” event. By ignoring each individual pitch, these early game developers were able to create games that beautifully captured the essence of baseball while making it possible to complete a game in less than an hour.

As noted earlier, Baseball Trivia Challenge takes this concept a step further by declaring the “inning” the molecular event. You may feel this is too much of an abstraction; balls and strikes are one thing but an entire series of at bats? How is that anything like baseball?

Obviously, there are some tactics and strategies that aren’t possible when reducing a baseball game down to a series of innings, just as there are when you distill a game down to a series of at bats or plate appearances. But the key moments and highlights are all still there and often times amplified. For example, in Baseball Trivia Challenge if your team is trailing 6-3 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, you’re immediately rolling dice to win, tie, or lose the game; it isn’t a situation you need to build up to by first getting men on base, etc. It’s urgent and pressing.

This is true of the trivia as well. Every question is critical because every question impacts the score. Your correct answers will always result in runs for your team or prevent runs scored by your opponent. Wrong answers will have the opposite effect— they will prevent your team from scoring or allow your opponent to score. Either way, the effect is immediate.

Despite the game’s simplicity, you’re still responsible for plenty of strategic decisions. For example, when your normally reliable starting pitcher suddenly allows 6 runs after just 3 innings, you will need to decide whether to replace him and further deplete your already overworked bullpen, or stick with him and risk falling further behind.

It will be essential for you to adjust your lineup and pitching rotation to account for hot streaks, cold spells, injuries and even the occasional ejection. You’ll need to decide whether to start a weak fielder with a good stick over a flawless fielder who struggles at the plate. If you’re in a draft league with friends, it will be up to you to propose trades or send under-performing players to the minors.

In other words, it will feel a lot like baseball.

What’s the game play like?

Rather than continue to talk about the game, it’s easier to simply demonstrate how it’s played with a short example. I’ll play the final 3-innings of a game pitting Los Angeles against Chicago. Clayton Kershaw will be the pitcher for Los Angeles and Jose Quintana will take the hill for Chicago. I will manage Chicago against a fictional opponent named Joe. Finally, note that the pitcher’s stamina rules discussed below are optional.

It’s the seventh inning and Los Angeles and Chicago are tied at two. Chicago’s Ben Zobrist is up to bat. I roll five dice. If you are confused by the player cards, click here for an explanation.

Only the first two dice are relevant in this case. The first die is a d20 and it shows I rolled an 11, which is the number I’ll use to determine the result of the at bat. The second die is the control die and it has a bat icon indicating I must read the result from the batter’s card. The third die, referred to as the stamina check die, is blank. This means I don’t need to perform a stamina check to see if the pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, is fatigued and must be removed from the game. Finally, the other two dice are only used to select which fielder is involved on fielding plays (an outcome I’ll discuss in detail later).

Since the number 11 is not present on Zobrist’s card, no runs are possible. Chicago doesn’t score and we move to the bottom of the seventh inning. Yasmani Grandal is at the plate for Los Angeles.

This time I roll a 5 and the control die indicates I should read the result from the pitcher’s card. Since the number 5 does not appear on Quintana’s card, no runs score. However, the red dot on the stamina die indicates I must perform a stamina check. I’ll explain briefly how this is done.

Take a look at Quintana’s card and locate the numbers in parentheses, i.e., 6/4/4. Reading from left to right, the first number (6) refers to the number of games rest Quintana requires after each start. The second number (4) is the number of innings he is allowed to pitch before any stamina checks are made. Finally, the third number (his stamina check number, also 4) represents the maximum d20 die roll enabling Quintana to remain in the game if a stamina check occurs.

Since we’re in the seventh inning and Quintana is only allowed to pitch 4 innings before a stamina check can be made, we must make a stamina check. To do so, we compare the result of the d20 dice roll with his stamina check number. Since the d20 die roll is 5 and his stamina check number is only 4, he must be removed from the game. I will replace him with Hector Rondon the next time Los Angeles is at bat. In the meantime, Anthony Rizzo has stepped up to the plate to face Kershaw.

I roll a 12 and must consult the batter’s card. Since a die roll of 12 corresponds to 4 runs on Rizzo’s card and it is my turn to answer (players take turns answering questions), I will be asked a trivia question. If I get it right, Chicago will score four runs to take the lead! (Also, notice that Kershaw failed his stamina check and must be removed from the game.)

I answer Barry Bonds to the question “After winning the Gold Glove Award in 10 of his first 11 seasons, he never won another.” Unfortunately for me, the correct answer is Ken Griffey, Jr. Since I answered incorrectly, Chicago fails to score and it remains 2-2 entering the bottom of the eighth inning. I try to console myself, knowing I may have cost my team victory. In the meantime, my fictional foe, Joe, is ecstatic!

Joe rolls a 15, which corresponds to 3 runs on Bellinger’s card. Joe immediately answers Yogi Berra to the second question on the question card above (Q5). Since this is the correct answer, Los Angeles surges ahead, 5-2. Joe celebrates by giving himself a high-five.

The stamina die is blank, so Rondon can remain in the game for the ninth inning if necessary (I’ll need to at least tie the game to get there first). Meanwhile, with victory in sight, Joe replaces Kershaw with ace closer, Kenley Jansen, who will face Chicago’s Kris Bryant to begin the ninth.

This is a great match-up. Bryant had a fantastic year for Chicago, smashing 29 homeruns and driving in 73 runs while Jansen posted an other-worldly 1.32 ERA and recorded 41 saves.

I’ll need some luck. If the control die indicates the result must come from Jansen’s card, the game is over; it won’t matter what I rolled on the d20.

I roll a 9. The control die has an icon of a ball and glove, indicating the result must come from a fielder if one is identified (the glove icon); otherwise, I must refer to Jansen’s card (the ball icon). Let me explain how I know all that.

Two fielding dice are used to identify the fielder in question. The first die will always reveal one of three sets of numbers {1 2 3}, {4 5 6} or {7 8 9}. These refer to the standard shorthand for baseball player positions (1 = pitcher, 2 = catcher, 3 = first baseman, 4 = second baseman, 5 = third baseman, 6 = shortstop, 7 = left fielder, 8 = center fielder, 9 = right fielder).

The second die (sometimes referred to as the fielder decider die) indicates which of the three fielders revealed by the first die is involved in the play and can also be blank. A circle “O” identifies the fielder in question.

To resolve the play, I must identify the player indicated and read the result from his fielding card (which is always on the back side of his batting card for position players and included as a separate generic card for pitchers). Note that if the second die were blank, the result would be read from the pitcher’s card since a specific fielder would not have been identified (we wouldn’t know whether to use the left fielder’s fielding card, the center fielder’s or the right fielder’s).

In this example, the fielder identified is 8, the center fielder. The center fielder for Los Angeles is Joc Pederson. This is a huge break for me since Los Angeles is almost without exception a great fielding team. Almost. Joc Pederson is that exception. The fact I rolled a 9 is immaterial. Every number on his card is associated with 4 runs! I’m in prime position to take the lead!

The question is another “stumper” but at least it’s multiple choice and I am spared the further embarrassment of an inappropriate guess. I decide to go with A dropped flyball as the answer to the question about “Merkle’s Boner” on the question card above. The correct answer, Joe informs me, is “a base-running error.” I hang my head. I can sympathize with Merkle. My “error” just cost me the game, too.

Kenley Jansen earns a save and Los Angeles wins, 5-2, while I ruminate about what might have been. Over the course of three short innings, I missed two key questions worth 8 runs! Instead of winning 10-5, I wind up losing instead.