Big Win Baseball represents an achievement of sorts. It seemingly requires very little skill, doesn't seem too rely much on strategy, and has little objective outside of acquiring an in-game currency that helps you to win baseball games to earn more in-game currency. It's the triple crown of pointlessness. If that's the sort of thing that appeals to you, then by all means, download the freemium offering from Hot Head Games. If you're like me, though, you may be left wondering when games became more concerned with micropayments than they are with keeping you entertained.--
In theory, I should love Big Win Baseball. The game puts you in charge of assembling a winning baseball team that you then lead to victory against other human opponents. You put together your team by selecting a pack of trading cards--sort of like the Topps baseball cards of my youth. Those cards also give you the chance to improve your team, either with better players or with cards that can boost the skills of your current roster. So far, so good.
Where Big Win Baseball swings and misses is when it comes time to actually put your team on the field. You deploy up to three strategy cards that ostensibly affect your team's fortunes... and that is when your involvement with the baseball action ends. You cannot perform any in-game strategy: No ordering of bunts, no lifting your pitcher if he's getting shelled, no pinch-hitting in key game situations. You sit back and passively watch the game unfold. It would be unfair to say that baseball games in Big Win Baseball are like watching paint dry, as there's a chance you might have applied the coat of paint yourself and can therefore bask in the satisfaction of seeing your work completed. Big Win Baseball also gives you the opportunity to skip ahead to the end of the game--you'll want to take the app up on the offer, as a nine-inning game can take around 10 minutes to complete. Skipping to the result has all the thrill of watching a random number generator in action.
A representative of Hot Head Games explained to me that the approach is not unlike fantasy baseball where the fortunes of your team are similarly out of your control. That's fair to a point--when I play fantasy baseball, I'm doing so with real players on real teams whose abilities I'm familiar with, not the made-up names that populate Big Win Baseball. It's a lot easier to be invested in the fortunes of Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols (who actually exist) than its Kevin Philbin and Alejandro Morel (who do not). Plus, the game's one strategic element--those cards you deploy before each showdown--don't have any detectable effect. I've played games where I've used no cards and beaten an opponent who's used all three, and I've lost games where I've used all my cards against an opponent with none. It all seems rather pointless.
Big Win Baseball offers a Daily Pennant mode in which you compete against 10 other random players to see who can win the most games in a 24-hour period. (You're capped at 20 games.) Given how unsatisfying the gameplay is, you can imagine how unrewarding it feels to best total strangers. The Friends Pennant, in which you can invite up to 20 friends to compete, at least gives you the chance to go up against people you know for bragging rights--if winning randomly generated baseball games is something you feel like to bragging about.
Big Win Baseball runs on an in-game currency system that involves both coins and bucks. You earn the former for winning games and the latter for leveling up; competing in daily pennant games also boosts your bankroll. That in-game currency dominates every aspect of Big Win Baseball. One of your players gets injured? Spend some coins to heal him up. You want to customize a player's name or appearance? More coins, please. And those card packs containing new players, skill boosts, and contract extensions require coins, too--or the harder-to-get bucks, if you want to buy premium packs.
You can earn this in-game currency at a modest clip, but Big Win Baseball also allows you to buy coins and bucks through in-app purchases. You can probably get by in a treading-water sort of way without paying for in-game currency, but to build a successful team, I feel that Big Win Baseball strongly nudges you toward the in-app purchase route. App makers have a right to pursue revenue, of course, but in this case, it feels like more thought was put into ways of requiring a big bankroll of in-game coins and bucks than in making a compelling game.
When I download a game about baseball, I want to concern myself with runs batted in and whether or not to use a suicide squeeze. I don't want to spend my time checking the balance on my fictional bank account. Big Win Baseball puts an emphasis on the latter, and as a result, this game really drops the ball.
Philip Michaels is the editor of Macworld.com.