Strat’s Baseball Max isn’t bad

There’s a new addition to the sports simulation game universe, and it’s pretty good. I had a chance to test out Strat-O-Matic’s new Baseball Max online platform not long ago, and found it to be powerful and engaging, though not perfect.

First, the good:

  • The interface (which you can see above) looks really good. In fact, it looks like MLB.com’s live in-game environment (which may have been the aim). You can toggle the box score in and out and you have pretty much everything you need to see right there. It’s a much better visual than APBAGO’s flat, top-down, players-as-boxes look.
  • Lineups and rosters are already populated, so you don’t have to waste time if you’re doing an as-played replay. You just go.
  • You have the option to play any game batter-by-batter or have Max simulate it for you, which it can do, complete with box score and stats, usually within seconds.
  • You have a lot more strategic options: you can position your defense any time, hold runners on or not whenever you like, steal, visit the mound, hit and run, etc. You can even try to bunt for a hit.
  • It has a built-in chat option, which I didn’t use, but which is probably really handy if you’re playing someone from a distance. (I didn’t try that, either. I assume it works.)
Like in APBAGO, you can see the actual card of the players you’re playing with. Then again, I have never been able to get a sense of a player’s abilities from his Strat card, but many of you can, so this would no doubt be useful to you.

Now the things that could be better:

  • The matchup is always a blue team against a red team, no matter which two teams are playing. I get it, the use of uniforms and logos and such would be another layer of expense. (For all I know, this was just the beta version, they may have upgraded this in the final release.) But it would be nice to at least have the correct colors for the two teams.
  • I found that sometimes an auto-sim by the platform would hang up and freeze the system, so I’d have to do it again. Most of the time, the sim spits out a result and box score within seconds, but sometimes it freezes.
  • The visual representation of the ball in play isn’t like an EA sports game, where the player swings and runs and such. It’s more a little baseball diamond with a traveling ball showing you where the hit went. Grounders to the infield look particularly nubby and weak.
  • I didn’t try to export stats or anything. It keeps them, but I don’t know if you can export them and use them outside of the environment.

I’ve been playing APBAGO off and on since the pandemic started, usually to play the previous year’s World Series (APBA makes those two teams available for free each year after the Fall Classic) or to replay a World Series I don’t have cards for. It’s functional, though basic. (In fact, it’s literally Basic – it’s APBA’s Basic Game, though some folks are clamoring for the Master Game options to be incorporated.)

Baseball Max is a better look and feel, but I found the constant display of the chances for a runner to advance from first to third on a single, for example, to be too much sim and not enough baseball. On the one hand, you can make informed decisions about whether or not to send the runner to try for the extra base, but real base coaches don’t have that data. It feels like that would actually reduce realism because you’d never send a guy if he only had a slight chance to advance, which might reduce the number of guys who get thrown out.

Both platforms offer subscriptions and the ability to buy seasons and teams. It’s a question of what you prefer – it seems like Strat people are Strat people and APBA people are APBA people, and whichever one grabbed you first is the one you stick with – APBA’s simplicity, or Strat’s granularity.

Apparently Baseball Max has not actually fully launched yet (at least not that I can see), but you can read more about what it’s supposed to be like here.

Both companies (the veteran behemoths of the industry) recognize they are going to have to attract younger customers to survive long-term, and their online platforms are a way to achieve that. Neither is as robust or interactive as an EA Sports-type video game, but they do offer realism and strategy that will appeal to a certain type of gamer.

As for me? I’ll stick with my cards and dice, thanks, though I appreciated the chance to test drive Baseball Max, and I’ll still dip into APBAGO now and again.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

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