Sports Simulation Board Games

Users Guide to HMB Manager Strategy Cards

There’s been a healthy amount of discussion on the PLAAY Games Delphi Forum lately about manager strategy cards. Some gamers have been hesitant to implement the cards, as they represent an aspect of managing (psychological) that isn’t typically re-created in tabletop managing. Others have been concerned about their ability to use the cards impartially. And some have questions about how many cards can be used, and when, and in what order can they be played. So, I felt I needed to put together a short “users guide” to make sure everything went well in Milwaukee. AND—here it is! Presented in a “Q&A” style format…

“If you’re conducting a solo single-team project, it doesn’t seem fair to use the cards for only “your” team.”

A fair number of gamers have this concern. I think the fairness issue stems from whatever perspective you’ve typically had in your tabletop baseball experience. If you’re most comfortable with a “bleacher seat” viewpoint where you’re watching the game from the stands and simply want the game to unfold before you, then you’ll probably be less comfortable with the idea of using manager strategy cards at all, much less using them for one team. On the other hand, if you’re a more broad-based gamer, with an interest in board games in general, not just sports simulation games, then you’re likely to be more comfortable with the idea of potentially altering results with manager strategy, and you’ll be less resistant to, or even outrightly welcome the idea of using the cards for one team only.

Recently, Al Wilson posted what I thought was a great response to this concern. Al recently completed his 1977 Philadelphia Phillies season, using the manager strategy cards for his Phils. Al didn’t see this as giving him an unfair advantage, since, as he pointed out, the opposing teams were always using their best players, had no injuries to deal with, and were more “even-keeled” in terms of HARMONY/DISSONANCE.

“What if I want to use the manager strategy cards for BOTH teams? How do I do that in an objective, fair manner?”

My sense is that most of us have been involved with this hobby long enough to have developed our own sense of what’s fair and what’s not fair. I’d say if your gut tells you that a move is “unfair,” it probably is! So—don’t allow it! I also think the decider die can be a great adjudicator of fairness. For example, when I was playing the Yankees-Twins wild card game, a chemistry result came up with an ICON batter (the Twins’ Joe Mauer) facing a PROSPECT• pitcher (New York’s Masahiro Tanaka). Should the pitching team expend a manager strategy card to offset the disadvantage? I rolled the decider die: “bullet,” yes.

I recently had an idea which might be even more appealing to the traditional solitaire sports sim gamer. How about a rule that says you can only use manager strategy cards for the trailing team? If the game is tied, no cards can be played? Or, perhaps you could allow the HOME team to play cards if the game is tied. This would be an easy rule to implement, would provide a clear-cut guideline to allow gamers to use the cards more freely and, I think, find out how much fun they can be.

“For head-to-head play, are there supposed to be duplicate cards for each team, or do both managers draw from the same pool?”

For head-to-head play, each manager should have his own full set of manager strategy cards. You can download a PDF of the cards from the “free stuff” page of the website. The game comes with only one set of cards, for a couple reasons. First, some gamers don’t use them. Second, most gamers are solitaire players and don’t need a second set. Third, including one set keeps the cost of the game down. Keep in mind, only the green strategy cards have the option for the same card be played multiple times. The individual red, blue and purple cards can be played only once per game, per team. And, there is a limit of six cards per game, per team. When paying solitaire, you can make “tick” marks next to the team name at the bottom of your scoresheet to keep track of how many cards have been played by each team.

“Is there any limit to the number of cards that can be played on a single at-bat?”

No.  There's a limit of six cards per game, per team.  If you want to burn three of them for one at-bat, that’s perfectly fine.  In an extreme case, a batting team manager could, 1) play his manager influence card to get to the experience chart, 2) play his manager coaching tip card to up his batter to icon,  3)if the batter gets a base hit, he could then play the extra base card to advance a runner home, and 4) then play the steal card to have the batter attempt to steal second base.  That's four cards in one at-bat. Probably not wise to burn that many cards at one time, but hey—you’re the manager.

“Could the pitching team manager play a ‘Manager Influence’ card (i.e., for EXPERIENCE) and then play a ‘Manager Coaching Tip’ card (for ICON) at the same time?”

Yes, a pitching team could play both cards at the same time.  It would not ordinarily be the best use of cards, though. Usually, you’d want to use the “Manager Infuence” card for exploiting an existing mis-match of ICON vs. PROSPECT, rather than using two cards to create one. Similarly, the ‘Manager Coaching Tip” card could be used when a trip to the EXPERIENCE mini-chart had already been called for, to improve the favorability of the match-up.

“What if the pitching team manager makes a move and the batting team manager makes a move. Can the pitching team manager then counter that counter-move?”

No, not by playing another manager strategy card. Using the above example, if the pitching coach played the “Manager Influence” card for EXPERIENCE, and the batting coach upped his batter to ICON status by playing a “Manager Coaching Tip” card, the pitching coach could NOT then play another “Manager Influence” card to, say, switch to the chemistry chart.  At that point, I believe it starts to cross into "gaming the system" territory, kind of like that video clip of the switch-hitting batter facing the pitcher who could pitch both righty and lefty.  Absurdity.  

My sense is that it should be simple.  As the rules say, first the pitching team manager has the opportunity to play a card; then the batting team manager may play a card, but may not play a card that would cancel out the pitching card.  The above example illustrates what I'm talking about here, where the batting team manager responds to the experience play by upping the batter's experience level.  After the batting team manager plays a card, or declines to do so, that's it.  Roll the dice.

"What if the pitching team doesn’t play a card, and the batting team does. Can the pitching team then play a card to counter the batting team’s card play?"

No. The pitching team must be given an opportunity to play the FIRST card, but that’s all. For head-to-head play, there should be some protocol in place to allow this, without bogging the game down. For example, the batting team coach could be required to ask, “are you going to play a card?” before he, himself, plays a card. Yes, that might telegraph his intentions—or, it could be used as a “smokescreen” to coerce the pitching team coach to burn a card. In other words, if the batting team coach were to ask, “are you going to play a card?,” it would not then REQUIRE the batting coach to play a card. It would only give the pitching team coach the required opportunity.

"Which cards can the batting team coach play in response to the pitching team coach’s card play?"

I made a spread sheet of pitching vs. batting manager card use, thinking that this could be a potentially confusing issue and difficult to explain. But as it turns out, it’s remarkably simple. The manager strategy protocol can be pretty thoroughly explained in a simple, three-part sequence…

(1) If the pitching team brings in a relief pitcher, only GREEN manager strategy cards can be played, and only by the batting team (see note below).

(2) If a reliever is NOT called for, the pitching team manager gets FIRST opportunity to play a manager strategy card. If they do, then the batting team manager may play a card of the same color, OR they may call for a pinch-hitter, sending play to the main chart.

EXAMPLE 1: The pitching team manager plays the “Walk to the Mound” (green) card to give his pitcher the FLASH quality. The batting team manager may then 1) play a green card of his own, either the BUNT or HIT AND RUN card, 2) call for a pinch-hitter, in which case the FLASH quality would still be in effect (see note below), or 3) do nothing.

EXAMPLE 2: The pitching team manager plays the “Manager Influence” card for CHEMISTRY. The batting team manager may then 1) play a purple card of his own, either the “Dugout Chatter” or “Argue with Umpire” card, to improve his own team’s chemistry, 2) bring in a pinch-hitter, which would return play to the MAIN chart, or 3) do nothing.

(3) If the batting team manager does EITHER (plays a card OR brings in a pinch-hitter), the only remaining option for the pitching team manager is to bring in a new pitcher, which would return play to the MAIN chart.

NOTES: Here are a few specific thoughts on the above three-step program…

• In step (1), it seems best to me to NOT allow the pitching team manager to bring in a relief pitcher AND play a strategy card. While I’m not totally against the idea of bringing in a reliever (gaining the temporary ACE quality) and then walking to the mound to also give him a temporary FLASH or CONTROL quality, my sense is that’s too much influence.

• I am intrigued by the idea of a pinch-hitter possibly cancelling out the pitcher’s temporary ACE advantage or a “walk to the mound” quality, just as it would cancel out a red, purple or blue manager strategy card. I’d welcome thoughts on this. As the rules stand now, if a relief pitcher is brought in, he’d still get the ACE quality facing his first batter even if that batter were a pinch-hitter.

• Unresolved is the question whether cancelled-out strategy cards should count against the six-card limit. My sense is that they should, but I’m not 100% behind it.