Baseball Mogul 2009 Review (PC)
A little over ten years ago, I was tired of replaying single baseball seasons with Strat-O-Matic and of using the horrible so-called career features of the consoles of that day. I searched at least once a week, and finally one day, a Metacrawler search led me to the game I'd always wanted: a baseball simulation that did a good job with player careers--the original Baseball Mogul. Over a decade later, it's somehow fitting that my first review for Operation Sports is of the latest and greatest version of the first serious career sim I played in any sport: Baseball Mogul 2009.
Over the years, the big three career text-based baseball sims (Mogul, Out Of The Park Baseball, and Puresim) have evolved differently, but ultimately, in ways that have brought them closer to the same feature set. However, from what I've seen, they'll each appeal to a different audience. My number one impression from playing the newest version of Mogul is that it's pretty close to the ideal baseball game for someone getting his feet wet for the first time in text-based sims, and that it's a solid option for the experienced text-based gamer who wants a quick-and-easy baseball fix. It's not, however, the best option for someone who wishes to be a bit more hardcore in their simming.
What Baseball Mogul 09 does best (better than the previous versions) is give the gamer a simple path to playing with real team names and real player names. Just pick the "Modern" option on the nice new startup screen, pick your favorite team, and you are set. Opening day rosters for 2008 are included with real player photos along with each organization's top 20 or so prospects are in the out-of-the-box version as well. For the gamer who wants to see familiar teams, names, and faces easily, it is difficult to top that. Fictional draftees will of course eventually take over a long-term league, but it's easy to foresee 10-15 seasons of strong connection to real life should the gamer choose to go that route.
The financial model has remained largely unchanged overall for Mogul over the years, which is by and large a good thing. The gamer sets prices for concessions and tickets, and decides how much to spend on the farm system, scouting, and medical staff. A nice newer feature to the series is the option for the AI to handle setting all of the above options. The interface provides the gamer with a payroll budget that's usually fairly accurate, based on current spending, and the gamer can then decide to spend as much as he wants on free agents and on sweetening the pot with cash in trade offers.
If enough cash is accumulated over the years, the gamer can design a custom stadium to really get the cash rolling in for their franchise. It is not a perfect model by any means, but it is solid enough and it makes playing with teams like Kansas City, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay a real challenge. For those who play fictional leagues or want an equal playing field in the MLB, there's the "Equalize Cities" option, which sets the population, regional population, per capita income, and stadium capacity to equal values for all cities.
My only significant complaint about the financial setup is in free agency, as there are no bidding wars. When you offer a player his asking price he signs immediately. This isn't a huge issue for MLB-based leagues, because the financial situation of each team pretty much dictates what free agents they can sign. However, in a fictional league where all teams are equal, I'd prefer that the market of available players set the prices.
For those desiring to watch or manage games, there has been much added there. Animations for pitching, swinging and hit location are now all in Mogul. Choosing to play in "Player" mode allows detail all the way down to the guessing of pitch type and locations as a batter, and the selection of pitch type and location as a pitcher.
Another major area of play for some will be the ability to start in any real-life past season back to 1901 as any franchise. Take an expansion team and try to build it up, take over a dynasty, or just simulate large chunks of the history of baseball and look at the stats in the much-improved Mogul Almanac. With historical league play, the gamer can choose for rookies to enter the league in their real-life first season, choose to have fictional rookies created in each draft class, or both.
Of major importance to any text-based simulation is the AI, and I'm pleased to report that from what I can tell, improvements have been made in what used to be one of Mogul's most annoying features: AI-offered trades. While they are not always exactly what the gamer would want, they make a lot more sense than they used to. No longer are they the complete "hey, let's see if I can rip you off," mockery that they used to be. Also improved is the lineup-choosing AI in that the game will choose to use guys out of position much more intelligently now.
The list of new features this year is too numerous to break down in detail. Go here for a full list. I would like to highlight one that makes a big difference for me: the new depth chart screen. It allows for a quick overview of the gamer's entire organization. Clicking on any position pulls up a screen with greater detail of age, ratings, and contract status. It's a huge help in evaluating what positions need to be addressed in the short and long term.
My biggest beef with Mogul is one that I also have with other games that use a so-called 1-100 ratings scale for players: roughly half of the scale isn't used at all. MLB-caliber talent exists only in a narrow portion of the scale, and the very worst player in the default player universe has a 46 current rating. The worst "peak" rating is a 56. On a 100-point scale, it's far more intuitive to have a "50" represent average MLB talent at a given skill. For a game that plays best when played quickly as more of a GM than a Manager, it's a bit frustrating to have to spend a lot of time figuring out which 80 to 85 rated player is better. (And inevitably, most starters end up falling into that narrow range.) The need to take on that managerial type responsibility can detract from the "Mogul" in Baseball Mogul. But that's a relatively small complaint, and one that I doubt is universal.
Mogul offers good customization options for those desiring to set up a fictional universe. Team names, nicknames, locations, division names, and division sizes can be customized. The DH, interleague play and trading deadline can be toggled on or off. Tweaking stats output is very intuitive and easy. The gamer can create a league generating anything from dead-ball era to softball stats, if he so chooses. However, fictional play does currently have issues, such as the fictional team having a full history based on a real-life team. Developer Clay Dreslough has indicated in the SportsMogul forums that this will be addressed in the future, and I would imagine likely in a patch.
Speaking of Clay and patches, he has developed a well-earned reputation over the years for continual support. I've referred to him as Patch-A-Day Clay on multiple occasions. He releases numerous unofficial patches to test out fixes, and follows up with official patches in a timely fashion as well. Clay has been the standard-setter in this genre for a long time, and still offers ongoing support at an amazing level of regularity and openness.
Baseball Mogul 2009 is a solid improvement to the series. From what I've seen so far, it's still the best option for the gamer who is new to the text-based sports sim genre, but it's probably not the game for the more hardcore baseball gamers.
-Ben Lewis (aka Ben E Lou) is the Senior Text-Sims Editor at Operation Sports and is also the administrator at Front Office Football Central.