Blame it on the popularity of fantasy baseball or football, but all-text gaming has really taken off in the last couple of years. All-text games are games are exactly what their name indicates. You don't manually play any of the games like you would in a game for the PS2 or X-Box, but you rather take care of all the off-the-field variables and let a powerful sim engine take care of the rest. The genre has grown so much that you can now find all-text games for nearly every sport, even horse racing!
But maybe the recent success comes from the competition so to speak, the arcade sports game. In most of these arcade sports games, like Madden or High Heat, the core elements that you find in an all-text game are there: the signing/releasing of players, the developing of players over multiple seasons, watching salary, trading players, and drafting new ones. I for one am one of those gamers that love those other aspects of gameplay as much as I enjoy playing the game. That interest is what drew me to these all-text games and it has now gotten to a point where games like Madden and NCAA Football, which have excellent Franchise and Dynasty game modes, feel almost incompetent.
Front Office Football was the first pure sim or all-text game that I had ever heard of, but as the genre expanded to baseball, the Baseball Mogul series was the first one to catch my attention. The storied franchise is back for the 2003 season and after a few weeks of gameplay I'm ready to pound out a review.
Interface/Options : 70
The interface in Baseball Mogul 2003 (BM2k3) can be described as simple. Accessing line-ups, pitching staffs, league standings, or ticket prices are all one click away. The interface is straightforward as they come.
My gripe with the interface is that it might be too simple. Where fellow baseball all-text game Out of the Park has a bar on the left side of the standings screen with league leaders in batting and pitching categories, BM2k3 has nothing. OOTP4 has various stats that you can sort on your team-specific page (BM2k3 has no team-specific page) and although there is a steeper learning curve it feels as if you have more control over what you are doing. In an all-text game you want as much of the little things as you can get.
There are two game modes in Baseball Mogul, the single and online gaming experience. I'll go into the single game mode later, but in conjunction with the purchase of the game you get a free month of online gaming at Sports Mogul Online. I wasn't able to log many hours playing online, but it was essentially the single player game but humans control the CPU teams. It definitely had a fantasy baseball feel to it, but I didn't find it as appealing as I thought it would be.
There are four difficulty levels ranging from fan to mogul. As you increase the difficulty level the harder it becomes to field a successful team as injuries become more abundant, fans are pickier, and line-ups must be juggled more often.
BM2k3 has player photos for almost every MLB ball player, but as has been the case with all the Baseball Mogul games, the team names are not licensed. As a result you'll find Arizona Rattlers, the Atlanta Georgians, and my personal favorite, the Milwaukee Cheese. Luckily you are given the ability to change the team names for all the ball clubs.
Gameplay : 60
The main fault of BM2k3's gameplay falls under the same category as its interface did; it's simplicity. Unlike OOTP4 you are not allowed to even remotely control what happens on the field. You can gauge how often your offense hits and runs, sacrifice bunts, and run the squeeze play, but you can't order your team "when" to do it. You can juggle your lineup or pitching staff, but aside from that you do no managing at all. The name of the game is Baseball Mogul, but I would like some more input to my team that I spend hours upon hours micromanaging.
You can view the game unfold via a generic play-by-play (which looks almost no different than Baseball Mogul '97), but it provides little entertainment. This past spring I downloaded Baseball Mogul '97 onto my desktop and enjoyed the all-text experience. I had played a few all-text games before, but considering the time frame of BM97 I really enjoyed the game. To sum up why the game is disappointing is that five years later the game, outside of a few cosmetic and small feature changes, the game looks and plays exactly the same.
It seems like every aspect of BM is outdone by OOTP4 and I hate to keep comparing the two, but they are the two leaders in the baseball all-text genre. Where BM2k3 allows you to set the price for concessions and tickets, OOTP4 goes a step further in allowing you to schedule special promotional days. OOTP has a fan loyalty rating and BM has nothing.
OOTP has a Who's Hot and Who's Not menu for each team so you can get a feel on who to play and who to give a day off. OOTP has an in-game e-mail account where you will get feedback from players who want to be re-signed and how the farm system is going. BM has nothing of the such.
There are other aspects of the game that make you feel that BM2k3 is behind on the curve. Another example I'll use of BM2k3's over-simplicity is the minor league system. OOTP has a three-class system and an elaborate rookie draft. BM generates rookies based on sliders you set by telling the generator what positions to emphasize. After one season I had eight players generated, five batters and three pitchers. That is downright pathetic IMO.
This may have all been salvaged had it not been for a confusing financial model that uses a point system instead of real dollars and cents. This makes the whole "mogul" aspect of the game dumbfounding, especially in the free agent process. Other games, such as NBA Live use a point system, but because there is a cap on how much you can spend you can sort of gauge how much you should spend (if the cap is 500 points, then you would know that spending 50 on a marquee player would not be outrageous). The free agent process is also skewed in that the game suggests the number of points you should offer the player. You can lower the salary by offering more years and lower the years by offering more salary, but you can't manually change it. This further confuses things.
There are a few cool features that BM boasts now that I am done telling you all about its faults. BM2k3 has simulator that allows you to sim entire seasons more than once and look at trends. This is cool to see how consistent and accurate the sim engine is (it's very good BTW) and can act as a cheater's way on how to manage your team. Batting and pitching stats aren't shown, but it will show if you finish the season in the red or the black. I saw that my Anaheim Angels team was losing beaucoup bucks so I lowered ticket prices to get fans into the stadium and jacked up concessions. Instead of losing 100 points, the Angels was one of the most highest grossing teams in the MLB!
Another thing I enjoyed was the Daily Mogul, the in-game newspaper. You are able to sort the headlines by individual team, hitting or batting achievements, awards, and injuries. I like to sim seasons by the month and I enjoyed checking up on my team's games and the major happenings of the past 30 days. OOTP has a similar news system, but it was more of a newswire than a fictional newspaper.
I also enjoyed the ability to change towns. Let's say you are unhappy with your current financial situation and the fans of your city are not coming out to the ball park. You can pull a "Charlotte Hornet" and pack up and move away. You must have the money to build the new stadium (in most cities, the town and you will split the costs), but aside from that you have free reign on about 50 cities scattered over the US, Mexico, and Canada. This puts a new twist into the game if you are bored playing in Kansas City year after year after year.
I have been very critical of BM's simplicity, but for a gamer new to the all-text genre this might not be a bad thing. I broke into the genre by playing Baseball Mogul '97 this past spring and I got a feel of what a baseball all-text game was like. I got a feeling of what I had to do to juggle line-ups and set ticket prices and how to react to this and that. When I started to play OOTP4 the adjustment period was much easier. For a novice or beginning all-text gamer, Baseball Mogul might be a better fit than OOTP.
Replay Value : 80
If you get into the online league, this game could be worthwhile. Most games like BM naturally have great replay value because you can tinker with so many things. You can download so many rosters and enhancements that you are bound to find a niche. I found not having the ability to have more control inside the ballpark a pain, but some all-text gamers would argue that if I wanted that type of experience I should go to a more arcade type of sports game. I'm not deeply in love with this game, but I have easily logged over 30 hours into the game.
Overall : 62
If I were to give Baseball Mogul '97 a score when it came out, I probably would have given it a score in the 90's. There was a time when BM was the consensus king of pure sim baseball, but that time has now changed. The Mogul series has not made enough significant strides to hold a candle to Mr. Heinsohn's OOTP series. The online capability is a step in the right direction, but I think the game needs a complete overhaul of its interface and feature list to once again recapture its spot on the top of the hill. I have only played all-text games for about a year and a half, so I'm not a grizzled veteran, but I found BM too simple for me. I wanted more variables, more of a challenge, and more control. For a new gamer to the genre, purchasing or downloading the demo for BM2k3 might be a worth choice. For anyone else, I'd suggest that there is a better all-text experience out there.