Dugout Dreams -- review, Partin

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Dugout Dreams -- review, Partin

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September 15th, 2015, 12:49 am #1

Dugout Dreams baseball game, reviewed
by Rick Partin -- September 2007

I hesitate to call the Dugout Dreams baseball game, "Son of Negamco," although in an email
in April of 2006 its designer, Dave Parsons, told me that was exactly his inspiration for the game.
Mr. Parsons mentioned all the hours he spent with his dad in 1969, playing Negamco Baseball.

Dugout Dreams, which debuted in 2002, borrows from Negamco most obviously in its pitching charts
and its use of ratings which appear both on pitcher charts and player rating charts — one team to a sheet
(of 8 1/2 x 11" paper).

At the beginning of his rule sheet included with the game, Mr. Parsons boasts that Dugout Dreams
features "17 pitching charts and 19 batting ratings, not only is the game fast but also accurate.
Complete interaction between pitcher and batter and the results of each play is known in seconds."

Well, that all depends on how one defines "fast" -- as well as "seconds." Because Dugout Dreams
is a game of dice rolling -- lots and lots of dice rolling.

How to play
Players use one 20-sided die and two 10-sided dice to make the game go. Players start by
rolling the d20 and cross-referencing the result with the Batting Rating for a player on one of
the 17 pitcher's charts. On the pitcher's chart there are three basic results: a blank (out),
a W (possible walk), and an H (hit). Each result requires additional rolls to resolve action.

For instance, let's say the result is a blank. Then you roll two d10 dice. First you check to see if
it's a strikeout by combining the pitcher's and hitter's strike out ratings: if the d10 rolls are within
that range, it's a strikeout. If not a strikeout, then the roll will be either in the pitcher's ground out
or fly out ranges. If that's the case you roll again on the appropriate ground out or fly out chart
to find the result. Ah, but you're not done rolling yet: even if nobody is on base and the result
is an out, you still have to roll against the fielder's defensive rating to see if that roll is within
his error rating (which is a very sensible 0-100 rating based on his actual fielding percentage,
rounded to a 100 scale). Mr. Parsons suggests that for maximum realism you roll after each out
to check for errors -- which is the way I play it.

Anyway, back to the rolls. If men are on base during an out, you may also have to roll for
base advancement, which involves pitting a fielder's arm rating (A-E) against a runner's
speed rating (0-100) and consulting a chart that can change these numbers up or down
based on the roll of two d10s.

Now, let's say the result is a W: You take the batter's and the pitcher's walk ratings and combine them
and then roll two d10s: If the roll is equal to or lower than the composite walk rating, it's a walk:
otherwise it's an out and you proceed with the out procedure just described. (For example, batter's
walk rating is 14; pitcher's walk rating is 1, for a total of 15.)

Now if the result is an H (ball hit), first you find out if a home run results. You do that by taking
the batter's and pitcher's home run ratings, taking the difference and rolling two d10s. (For example,
the pitcher's home run rating is -3 and the batter's is 14. This gives you a total of 11.) If the roll
is equal to or less than that number, then it's a home run. If not, it is still a hit and you have to roll
two d10s to see into which batter range the hit falls: singles, doubles, or triples. Then, to find out
where the ball went you have to roll again.

Now here's where things get really tricky, because the results on the "Hitting Direction Chart" go
from 1-200 — yet there is no mention in the game's instructions about how to determine how
you get such results (given that what you have are two 10-sided dice, which gives you results
from 1-100). I have a vague memory of that being the reason I originally e-mailed Mr. Parsons
— to get his explanation. Now that it's 2007, I can't recall what he told me. So when I got back to
playing this game to refresh my memory of game play, I employed a six-sided die: 1-3 puts me
in the 1-100 range; 4-6 puts me in the 101-200 spread. This 1-200 range is used in two ways:
which direction a single, double, triple, or home run went, as well as runner advancement: either
one or two bases in a single or a double -- which can be automatic or require a runner vs. fielder's
arm calculation and subsequent roll. One other note: there are two separate listings for hitting
directions, based on whether the batter is left-handed or right-handed. However, on the player
rating charts, what side a hitter bats from is not listed. So you'd better know your players well,
or you're going to have to do some research.

But enough for basic results: now on to other ratings. Pitchers are rated for stamina. Let's say
a pitcher is rated PC-7 (as in "Pitcher's Chart 7"): If he gives up 4 or more earned runs before
the 7th, you move up two charts each successive inning. The higher the chart the more "H's" that
appear in the squares. One can quickly appreciate how quickly a pitcher deteriorates in this game,
moving up two pitcher charts per inning. Relievers are rated similarly, but the PC rating refers to
batters he can face before you start jumping up charts. So, a PC-8 reliever can face 8 batters
before tiring.

There are only two ground ball and fly out charts, each with 100 different results. One ground out
chart is for the bases empty or with the infield back and 2 outs; the other is for runners on base
or the infield back (DP range) with less than 2 outs. One fly out chart is for a lead runner on 2nd
or 3rd or less than 2 outs; the other for all other situations. In one optional rule you would check
for an error only if there is a asterisk after the result; or, as previously mentioned -- and the way
I play — you check for an error after every play (except I don't check for an error on the catcher
after a strikeout).

For base stealing, first you roll the dice to see if the pitcher holds the runner. If he doesn't
then you proceed with the stealing procedure, in which you match the catcher's throwing rating
(A-D) against the runner's steal rating (on a 100 scale). Similar to the procedure for a base runner
advancement, you combine these ratings and roll two d10s and check a chart which gives a number
that affects the final number against which you roll two d10s to get the final result: if the number
is less than or equal to the runner's number total, he's safe.

Players have a Sacrifice rating (letter and number) and can bunt for a hit or for a sacrifice, again
by checking a chart and rolling to get a final number and checking it against a 1-100 scale. There
is also a squeeze chart for that situation.

A chart exists for hit-and-run, too, by doing the normal check for a hit: If it's a hit, then
all runners advance two bases; if a strikeout you have to deduct a particular number from the
runner's steal rating and proceed with the steal procedure; if an out, you consult the special
hit-and-run chart.

On certain fielding plays, symbols tell you that you have to make particular rolls for determining
safe or out on base runner advancement, or whether fielders are able to turn double plays.
There is also a chart for fly outs or ground outs in hit-and-run situations.

It's obvious that playing Dugout Dreams requires a lot of dice-rolling. This is not to say,
however, that this makes it a bad game. I would say that if you wanted to own and play
this game, you would probably want to commit to playing it a lot, so that over time you would
become familiar with the results on the charts as well as the player ratings, all of which would
speed up play and fulfill the claim that resolving plays takes "seconds" rather than minutes.
(For instance, I played a game between the 1971 Phillies and the 1971 Pirates: it didn't
take me long to get it into my head that the strikeout ranges for the respective starting pitchers,
Chris Short and Doc Ellis, were 1-18 and 1-20, respectively.)

On the other hand, the amount of dice-rolling makes one ponder the question of whether
the extra rolling is worth the extra time it takes to do so, compared to other games like
APBA, Dynasty, Replay, or Strat-O-Matic, which don't require as many dice rolls to resolve action.
Then the question becomes whether Dugout Dreams is so much better than these competitors
that it's worth taking the time to do the extra amount of rolls this game requires. I have played
all of the above, and other baseball simulations, including Statis-Pro, Superstar! Baseball, and
Extra Innings, and based on the 3 or so games I've played of Dugout Dreams (with the 1948
and 1971 charts), I think it would be a long stretch to claim that this game is better than its
competitors, no matter how many or how few dice rolls one has to make or how many charts
one has to consult. I say that primarily because of the time factor involved in the dice-rolling
-- not because it may not be statistically accurate or not feel like baseball. On the other hand,
I've played Sherco Baseball, and Dugout Dreams is probably more in keeping with the time
it takes to play Sherco -- but certainly longer than APBA, SOM, and others mentioned above.
But I know from experience with Sherco that when one can play enough to start memorizing
ratings and results, one can correspondingly reduce the length of playing time.

Also, I am not a mathematician, so I would leave it to the math whizzes to analyze the
reliability of the mathematical assumptions behind the game. For instance, the process
by which one determines whether a walk happens starts with whether a "W" comes up
on the pitcher's chart. Then you combine the batter's and pitcher's walk rating to see if
the two d10 dice roll falls within that range (for a walk): If not, then it's an out. In the
games I've played it seems as though walk totals are somewhat low. But unless I were to
replay an entire season I couldn't begin to report on how accurate this game is statistically.

But to give some further perspective, let me go back to the email I received from Mr. Parsons
in April of 2006. At that time he said he was about to unveil a new baseball game that would be
a combination of Dugout Dreams and Grand Slam Baseball, another game that I didn't happen
to be familiar with. This gave me the impression that Mr. Parsons wasn't thoroughly satisfied
with Dugout Dreams, although he obviously thought it had its merits, too. (Incidentally, I did
email Mr. Parsons at the time I wrote this review: the e-mail address did not bounce back,
but as of September 25, 2007, I have not heard back from him. I specifically asked what,
if anything, happened with the development of this 'hybrid' baseball game. If I should
hear back from him, I will report back.)

Another limitation of the game is the number of grammatical errors in the instructions.
If Mr. Parsons had maybe taken the time to run his copy by an English major, or a professional
proofreader, he could have been saved numerous grammatical or typographical mistakes.
And, a proofreader might have noticed things like the chart with results from 1-200, when
there is no mention of how to figure how two d10s can translate to rolls of 1-200.

These points also make me wonder whether it was solely Mr. Parsons who play-tested
the game. If I could inject myself into the role of play-tester for a moment, I would have
first offered to clean up the grammar in the rules sheet. As regards the game as a simulation,
I would have commented that the number of dice rolls slowed the game down to the point
where the "feel" of baseball -- of a the game moving along and action taking place seemed
too slow at times, and even a bit mechanical, given the number of necessary dice rolls and
chart referrals. Then I would mention this in contrast to some other aforementioned games
in which you roll dice once or twice and quickly find a result. Games that 'move' quicker
capture the 'bang-bang' feel that occurs in real baseball. I could imagine becoming familiar
enough with the charts and ratings in Dugout Dreams to speed up play quite a bit, but there
is no way around the fact that this game requires more rolls than many of its counterparts.

With all that said, I've played three games, using the 1948 season charts and the 1971
season charts that I own, and the scores and overall results seem realistic to me. The scores
have been: 2-0, 5-2 and 4-2. I can't draw any conclusions, statistically, although it appears
there is a tendency to have high hit totals relative to runs, with a high percentage of singles.
In the 3 games mentioned above, the winning teams scored 11 runs on 34 hits, with 25 men
left on base, while the losing teams scored 4 runs on 21 hits, with 15 runners left on base.
But, for instance, Bob Feller a fire-baller with high strikeout totals, fanned 9 opposing batters
in 8 innings of work even though he yielded 4 runs on 12 hits and lost. The spreads of putouts
and assists seem realistic, too. In these 3 games only one error was committed, and that was
by Pittsburgh's shortstop Jackie Hernandez, a weak fielder who statistically would commit
5 errors in every 100 chances.

Bottom line, I think there are better baseball simulations than Dugout Dreams, but by no means
does that mean that Dugout Dreams is not a good game. There are a lot of good ideas in this
game system, and I am intrigued to learn whether Mr. Parsons ended up publishing his alluded-to
new game that presumably improves upon Dugout Dreams -- a game that in its own right has
its merits.

{P.S. — One final note: Mr. Parsons, in his rules sheet for the game, spelled the title "Dug Out
": I don't know if this was a grammatical issue or if he was attempting to make a
play on words. So it could be that in my use of "Dugout Dreams," I've misspelled the title
of the game.}