How we designed Roll Saga Baseball

Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 12:53:00 AM

Giving people an epic tabletop baseball game with no charts and a lot of visual.

On May 23, 2016 we officially started shipping Roll Saga Baseball following our successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign. With our game, tabletop baseball players not only get to manage their teams using a hybrid statistical and visual approach, but they get to do it in any ballpark of their choice.

We believe that a large part of our success so far comes from our design: we feel that a baseball game played non-digitally should not suffer from a lack of visual beauty, just because it deals in statistics. That’s why we've invested a lot of time, and as much money as a small Miami startup can muster, creating a premium tabletop baseball experience.

A tabletop baseball game should be more than just tables and charts
Over the last 3 years we’ve made hundreds of sketches and prototypes to figure out what a visually appealing tabletop baseball game should look like. The most challenging part of it all has been that we had to carefully craft a balance between beauty and math. Because why should you have to do without one or the other? Baseball is a beautiful game – not just an intellectual one.

We tried many different designs, materials, and concepts for play; but every time we ended up with something far more generic than we wanted. A tabletop baseball game should look like, well, baseball. And baseball is all about green grass, brown dirt, and the crack of the bat on long summer days. It’s most certainly not about black and white paper strips and cardboard cutouts.

The game mat - shown here without an overlay -  is 27 by 27 inches
When selecting the material for the game mats, a durable and flexible materials was used
So we decided to try something else. What if we could make a game that would not only be as big and bold as a baseball game should be on the tabletop, but intuitive as well? The results have been exciting: by using a large premium game mat as the centerpiece, individual players that sit upright in the field and are not dependent on charts, and as much depth and detail as the player’s desire, the game suddenly felt alive and more valuable. And by emphasizing the use of stadium overlays to sit on top of the game mat to transform it to any ballpark, our fans suddenly began to see the exciting idea of playing a baseball tabletop game that comes to life.

An animated GIF showing how the different Stadium Expansion overlays look when laid atop the game mat - transforming its appearance to that of another ballpark instantly

Stadium Expansions

From that moment on, we decided to create a new overlay for every major league baseball stadium out there, and to have it easy to place on top of the game mat to convert it to that field. We designed each overlay to be an actual template that when laid atop the game mat in the outfield area, it would not only alter the appearance, but also provide accurate wall distances and heights; not to mention ballpark factors.

An early prototype of a Stadium Expansion being tested

The players

We used the same cutting-edge strategy with our player standees. We made the bold decision to try and fit every single detail needed for that player to function in the game on the standee itself. We did that to create an experience that frees the players from chart flipping. Although we had quite a challenge in getting everything to fit on each separate standee, we were successful. And people love it.

At just 1.75 x .75 inches in size, each standee is packed with a lot of data in a small space to eliminate the need for charts
The above image shows all of the data that we’ve squeezed on to each and every position player. We've done this for every pitcher, coach, manager, and umpire standee as well. All content is directly printed on the small 1 ¾”x ¾” standee that is inserted into a stand that sits upright on the game mat. When a play ensues involving any given player, everything that needs to be known about that particular player’s ability to succeed in that action: whether a hit, fielding play, or certain type of pitch, is clearly visible without any attention being taken off the field.

These abilities, which are calculated from over forty columns of statistical data per player, accurately reflect the prowess and capabilities of that player when attempting an action: these abilities are the raw talent of the athlete and can dictate his success or failure for that action. Not only that, we also included simulation-based data for the players who wanted more of a replay-type experience: a game where the results are hyper-dependent on how the player actually performed during the season as opposed to how he could have performed.

Pitching mechanics

We also knew that for a game to really and accurately reflect baseball, the timeless duel between the pitcher and batter had to be authentically replicated without the use of motherboards and plasma screens. So we concentrated on the major types of pitches that are thrown in the game: from the slick and wily cutter to the profound and jaw-dropping Japanese shuuto. And we found that by incorporating cards to represent each pitch, along with the placement of a ball token on a pitching pad representing a strike zone, we achieved a result that truly mimics the action of the pitcher-batter matchup.

Showing a player holding the pitching cards corresponding to his pitcher on the mound's repertoire, Roll Saga Baseball uses a very unique pitching mechanism to replicate a pitcher's specific arsenal and skill-set
In addition to pitching cards, the game utilizes a pitching pad representing the strike zone and surrounding sectors to mimic the movement of thrown pitches and how they look coming in towards the batter

Playing levels and rule flexibility

One of the downsides of our overzealous desire to include every single type of play and strategy, was that we ended up with our games lasting as long as baseball games in real life do – and sometimes even longer. But they didn’t have to be. Reaching out to our community, we discovered that while some players truly wanted the intense game of pitch by pitch, others did not - only wanting games that were fast and focused on results; while still others wanted a combination of the two, as well as the choice to go either way.

So we went back to the drawing board and came up with a system of play where the players themselves choose the amount of depth and strategy that they want to use in-game, thereby setting their own time constraints. How did we do it? By letting the players decide what rules to include and what game speed and depth to play. Only have 20 minutes for a game? We got this. Want to play out a full 9-inning game with all the bells and whistles? You’re covered. Want to mix it all together and play light for 6 innings and heavy for three? No problem.

A screenshot of the actual Core Rulebook, which is included with all Core Boxes as well as posted online, showing the intense amount of detail and explicatory passages and figures

The results

The results have been fantastic. And so far we have managed, with the great support of many Kickstarter backers and customers, to keep moving onward in design and development. We haven’t had a loss yet – only a few occasions where we learned a lesson or two.

But these wins did not come without a lot of cost and heartaches. So many times we had to stop and reboot just to make sure we get it right. One area that was very much a challenge was the material choice and production for the stadium overlays. Time and time again we had to revisit the design and choice of materials to ensure that they would, as a final product, be worthy of the game itself.

The next steps

Launching Roll Saga Baseball was one big adventure, but this is only the start. Since we've launched, not only have we done well in our Kickstarter and post-Kickstarter orders, but our email fan base has continued to grow by so much that sometimes our inboxes are quite literally overflowing with questions and comments. Over the last few months, since the end of our Kickstarter in August of last year and the start of our shipping in May, we’ve continued to add on more and more features to the game, a lot of them based on assumptions. Sometimes our assumptions were right and sometimes they were wrong. Now it’s time to keep analyzing the data that we’ve garnered, heed the feedback that we've been given, and continue optimizing for the future. Bigger. Better. Faster. Smarter.

Of course Roll Saga Baseball isn’t perfect yet and we’re working very hard to improve it, step by step. We’ve had our share of delays after getting started, but each time we overcame the challenges and never gave up the fight. And you know, for a small startup with big dreams in a very niche market, we’ve come a very long way. Feel free to send me any suggestions or thoughts to or at Twitter: @RollSaga.

Jody Pike

Lead designer of Roll Saga Baseball

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