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Review: Out of the Park Baseball 17

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Once again the baseball sim hits it out the park.

Full disclosure: OOTP Developments gave me a review copy, but I have also purchased this series in the past.

Fantasy baseball can be fun. Draft players, simulate being a GM by wheeling and dealing - who wouldn't love it? Fantasy, and rotisserie, baseball, though, is limited. You can only play the existing season, your moves are tied to a real world you can't control, et cetera.

Computer sims help fill that void, and Out of the Park Baseball has been one of the best for years.

Quick overview: you can control a team as manager, GM, or manager and GM. You can decide every tactical move on the field, as well as micromanage the farm system. Or you can be hands off and sim most of it if you want to concentrate on one thing (or anything in between).

Once I downloaded my copy, I decided to start by being both the GM and manager. It gave me a good look at a lot of what the game had to offer, but it also might be something better to work up to. If you don't change the AI settings, the game assumes you'll make virtually every decision, including filling the minor league rosters and managing their DLs.

Even if you limit your role down to largely just being the manager, as I eventually did, the game still has a lot to offer. Instead of directly controlling players performance, you pick the overall strategy and tactics (or can have the AI do certain tasks).

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Pitching is pretty automatic, but you can choose how to set-up the defense and whether you're going to pitch around someone. Batting is largely a question of whether you're going to give the batter a green-light to swing away or take pitches. When a runner gets on, though, more tactics become available, and balancing a running game with the long ball keeps the gameplay from feeling like it's on rails.

There's an ocean of data you can use to make decisions, but I do wish some of it was more accessible or clearer for strategy-dumb people like me. I usually set up my defenses in a pretty traditional manner (outfielders deep if the batter had power, corner infield in if batter was threat to bunt), but it would be nice to have visual spray charts to use, and to have other rate stats more readily available.

Still, that's a minor quibble for a game this large. There's so much content here that I'm not sure I'll be able to deeply play all of it over a year, let alone more. Beyond the aforementioned GM and manager roles, you can also choose to instead play in other, non-MLB leagues (minors and Japanese leagues being some of the possibilities). Maybe you want to expand the league and add a 31st team in Bramer, Missouri. Or maybe you want to create a fully fictionally league, meticulously placing teams in random, small Arizona cities like Yuma and Kingman.

What tingles my historical kink, though, is the new feature to create match-ups across eras without painstakingly recreating the teams. Want to see what happens when the 1961 Yankees play the 1994 Expos? You can set that up, along with seemingly endless other scenarios. This function alone could probably fill up my time.

Like any simulator, it's not meant to perfectly predict or mimic life. Whatever secret sauce they use (projections us ZIPS as part of its system [hi, Dan Szymborski's bot!]) is eerily realistic.

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The above set of messages came in the first week of one of my saved seasons, and Tulo being out for 3 months checks out.

I also tried running a full season sim without touching anything, just letting the AI do all the work and see what they thought might happen. It, uh, isn't what we were hoping for:

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That sim was before the news of AJ Pollock, so it unfortunately might be close to truth (if not optimistic).

The Bottom Line: If you like robust simulators, than this game is for you. The historical match-ups are a huge addition for me, but overall this year version feels like just steady progress instead of a giant leap forward. The good thing is that it already was a great sim, so you're going to have that same great core game with some extra features. And if you haven't tried before, there's so much here that most people should be able to find something to enjoy.