Pursue the Pennant

Board game by PTP
These remarks copyright 1992, 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated May 12, 1998

[Late addition: I get asked so many times if the game is still in print, that I feel compelled to answer it here: no, it's not. The company is out of business. I don't know of any team cards for sale, but you should probably post a request to rec.games.board.marketplace if interested. The designer of PTP has a new game, Dynasty League Baseball, which I've never seen, so can't review - but you can read about it at http://www.designdepot.com. There, that's all I know - good luck finding what you need! The rest of this article is from 1992-1996.]

Pursue the Pennant (PTP) is one of the better simulations of baseball. To be honest, I haven't seen many baseball board games since this one came out, but I have seen most of the ones before PTP - and it's better than those. Something better may have come out since - I don't know.

The game consists of cards of every player in Major League Baseball in a given season, fairly simple rules for their use, and a lot of detailed charts to look up results on. I also have the Best of the 1980s deck, which I actually enjoy playing with more than a regular season. It features stars of the '80s, with stats taken from their best season. I have four teams, AL West and East, and NL West and East, and it makes for a very fine four-team league. I also have the Hall of Famers/All Star cards which I will use the most - more on them below.

The game covers most aspects of baseball, albeit a bit mechanistically. You use three ten-sided dice, reading them red-white-blue as a three digit number from 000 to 999. This means that every roll has 1/1000 chance of occurring. Since batting averages are expressed in 1/1000ths, this means you can get very close to representing a player's performance in real life.

Each manager decides his batting order, and arranges the cards in that order. You then write down players, and their defensive ratings on the scorecard. The home team sends its pitcher out, and it's Play Ball!

To pitch, roll the dice. If the result is less than 500, read the result on the batter's card. If it's over 499, read the result on the pitcher's card. (This is the major bone of contention among fans, by the way. Some people think that certain pitchers should have their cards read more frequently than 50%, and certain batters more frequently.)

The cards tell you the result of the pitch based on the number. For example, it might say: "500-548: 1B." This means if you roll a 526, you look across and find the batter got a single.

The game has numerous charts which explain all sorts of situations - including some wild events that actually happened during the season the cards represent, such as a player being busted for drugs! At first, it's a bit daunting working your way through the charts, but after a few games it gets easier. The charts are very complete, and my example above is more simplistic than the game really is. There are at least five different results that can yield a base hit, and they each detail what happens to the men on each base . . .

Many of the charts call for a certain fielder's defensive stats - if he's good enough, he can turn a potential hit into an out - or even a double play! Other stats come into play such as a fielder's throwing arm, or a runner's running ability, or a batter's bunting rating, or a pitcher's pick-off ability, etc. - they're all on the cards. There are other charts for managerial decisions: do you go for the hit and run? The suicide squeeze? Stretch a long single into a double? Steal? Pitch-out? And so on. This is an armchair manager's dream - it's these decisions that baseball fans love to make, and the game lets you make them - and gives realistic results based on the abilities of the players in question.

The beauty of the game lies in the fact that what works on the diamond works in the game. The fault lies in so many charts to look up, which takes a little of the excitement away.

For me, a baseball historian rather than fan, however, the real fault lies in the game's treatment of old-timers. They did release a set of Hall of Famers and All-Stars in 1994, but they didn't do it right, in my opinion. They provided two cards for each of the chosen players (a very nice selection, by the way): a single season, representing one of the player's best seasons, and a career card.

While this sounds good, they didn't quite get it right, as I said. They are very rigid in representing the chosen year exactly. What this means is that someone like Honus Wagner, one of the best shortstops who ever lived, is shown only for one year in which he didn't play any third base. So he's given no third base rating. But before he became a shortstop, Honus was one of the best thirdbasemen in the league! Since this is a game, not an historical simulation, logically the manager should have the option of putting Honus at third base. In fact, the real life manager had this option. The fact that he never needed to do that in that given season doesn't mean the player manager won't need to though!

One would think the career cards would fix this. They should. But instead of representing a player at his prime, he's given a "year's" stats that are an exact average of his lifetime performance. Thus you average in his first and last years, when he might not have been the threat he was in his prime. For some bizarre reason, they thus discount any playing at other positions: sure he was good at third base, but he only played there three years of his twenty years, so we'll average it as if he wasn't very good. Go figure!

I also disagree with some of their assessments of the older players - as I said, I'm a baseball historian, and feel I know something about these men. For example, Sam Crawford was universally recognized as the major power hitter of his day - the long-ball hitter without par. But they give him a "Poor" Power rating because he didn't hit many home runs compared to later players! This totally ignores the fact that the "dead ball" became livelier in 1921, thus allowing more long balls from even less powerful players. Had Wahoo Sam played after 1921, he might have rivalled Ruth and Aaron in his home run stats . . . after all, how many players have lead both leagues in home runs? Sam did. And imagine how hard it was to hit that dead ball for a triple - but who is the lifetime leader in triples to this day, far, far ahead of any contemporary player? You could look it up . . .

In a way I prefer Superstar Baseball from Avalon Hill because they got the career stats correct - they average a player's best ten to dozen years. But the mechanics and results of decisions in PTP are far superior, so I put up with their lack of historical knowledge and adjust the stats to what I think they should be.

At any rate, don't mind my kvetching - it's still a good game, very enjoyable, and recommended - especially if you have little interest in the old timers or don't mind fudging stats. :-)

P.S.I'm looking to buy the Old Time Stadium set if anyone has it for sale! Contact Steffan O'Sullivan. Also the Camden Yard set.

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