This is going to be a little different than our usual analytical posts. Well, it will be an analytical post, but it will be a review of a game called Strat-O-Matic Baseball 365. Yes, I was asked to do a review of this; however, I was not influenced or bribed to write anything specifically positive or negative, so everything you see here is my own.
If you’re on a site like Beyond the Box Score, then there’s a good chance that you recognize the name "Strat-O-Matic". Yes, this game is an offshoot of the original game from the same company, but it does come with some major differences.
First, I will preface this by saying that I’m not a huge Strat-O-Matic player. I’m a millennial with a dad that didn’t grow up loving baseball, and that’s really a poor combination for having run into Strat-O-Matic. It’s a classic game that’s steeped with tradition, and it’s a great tool for a father to introduce the game of baseball to his kid and teach him or her the basic strategies of the sport. However, in this recent generation, the gaming market for sports has been crowded with, for example, video games like the NBA 2K or MLB: The Show series. Anyway, I do own a copy of the Strat-O-Matic board game, and I have some experience playing it; however, the experience is rather limited in comparison to Strat-O-Matic junkies.
Baseball 365 is an online game that shares similarities with both its cardboard brethren and with fantasy baseball. If you like both of those, which you probably do, then this will probably pique your interest like it did mine. You start with an $80 million salary and an empty roster. Every active MLB player has a "salary" and is able to be added to your "draft list". This salary is created by the game makers and is correlated to each player’s card; it has nothing to do with real-life salaries.
You then add players to your draft list to create a roster of 25 guys, and of course their combined salaries have to be under the $80 million roster cap. It’s in a similar vein to daily fantasy sports regarding building a roster with a salary structure. Then, after picking your roster, you have to rank each of the 25 players in order of priority. In other words, how important is each player to you? After all, the other teams in your league will also be picking a roster, and there will undoubtedly be players that are picked by several people. Thus, whoever has a certain player prioritized the highest will land him. My personal trial league was only 6 teams, so I got almost every single player I wanted. However, there will probably be a lot more disappointments in bigger leagues; options exist for 6-team, 12-team, and 24-team leagues.
Next, there is a waiver process followed by open free agent pickups, and this is identical to fantasy baseball. Since I was part of a 6-team league, there were tons of superstars on the free agent market like Andrew McCutchen, Kris Bryant, etc. I must admit that the draft and the waiver wire scouring were my two favorite parts about Baseball 365, as I’m a huge fantasy baseball junkie.
Once the "season" starts, each day represents a simulation of a three-game series. Your team will face off against another team in your league, and the game will run three game simulations between the two teams with the lineups and rotations you preset, along with any managing tendencies you may have input.
And this is where the first divisive part of the game comes into play – the whole game is simulations. You can input certain tendencies, like whether you prefer to bunt more or less, or hit-and-run and steal, etc. However, there is no in-game management, which is the whole fun of the game for many Strat-O-Matic players. One of Strat-O-Matic’s main selling points is that it allows you to feel like a real manager in MLB, and that whole aspect is removed from 365. It also ceases to be a tool for learning actual baseball strategy, like why it makes sense to bring a lefty specialist to face the other team’s best left-handed slugger, for example, because the game makes that decision for you.
Now, I mentioned that the simulation aspect is "divisive", not necessarily bad, because this might appeal to some people. I’ve heard of people that simulate entire seasons with their board game set and keep stats for every player and team. Although that’s not my cup of tea, for the people that do that, I’m sure it’s rather tedious, so 365 does all that work for you. I played a trial league, which consisted of 21 games and 7 days, but the full seasons are 162-game seasons with playoffs and a championship. In other words, it has the competitiveness of a fantasy baseball league, but you will have full season stats generated for you in just two months of time.
The other criticism I have with 365, and the sole reason that I will probably not continue to play, is the cost. The listed price for one team credit is $19.99, but they set it up like an infomercial, and the actual price is two teams for $14.95 combined. Now, the price of seven and a half dollars per season is all relative. For someone that splurges on the new set of cards every year for the board game version, which is about $40, then this might make sense. For that price, you can play five seasons worth of 365, which should last you close to an entire year, and there are future credits awarded as prizes, so it could be even cheaper.
Also, a cool aspect about 365 is that the player cards update regularly based on how the player is doing in real life this season, so the cards in 365 will be better to play with than the board game set you may have bought before the season started.
However, I would rather spend that money on a board game set that I will be able to keep forever. After those seasons of 365 are used up, you are left with nothing; if you spend that money on the board game, you will have that game in your collection forever and will still be able to bring it out and play it 30 years from now. Also, 365 is similar enough to fantasy baseball that I will always choose fantasy baseball, especially because it’s free to play.
Although it’s really cool that Strat-O-Matic offers free credits as prizes, if they offer a cash prize as well, it might attract more players. For example, in a 24-team league, they currently hand out a total of seven free credits as prizes, which is rather generous. However, they’re making roughly $7.50x24=$180 in revenue for this league. They could choose to scale it back to five team credits but add in a cash prize. For example, maybe the winner of each 6-team division gets a credit, the loser in the Finals gets a $25 prize, and the winner gets another credit plus a $50 prize.
Final thoughts: Overall, I thought the game definitely had some appeal, especially the regularly-updating player cards. I didn’t get to play for a full 162-game season, but getting a whole season’s worth of stats to look at for every MLB player would be very interesting as well. However, the combination of the cost and the fact that it just wasn’t differentiated enough from fantasy baseball is what really drove me away from recommending this product. On the other hand, they do offer a one-week free trial, and I will encourage you to try it for yourself if the sound of 365 interests you.
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.