Bottom of the 9th Review
Time: ~10 minutes
Times Played: 12
“Lesley Lou steps on the mound, staring down Anvil McIver in the bottom half of this tied game. Mully Nomah leads off from second as King Launius takes a step off of first. Lou winds up and delivers…
…and Anvil absolutely turns on the ball! It’s back…back at the wall. The fielder jumps and…
HOME RUN!! Anvil crushes a bases-clearing blast to end the game!”
And that was our first game of Bottom of the 9th, a card and dice game that is played over the course of the bottom half of the ninth inning of a baseball game. Needless to say, we were hooked.
Bottom of the 9th is a one to two player baseball game that includes bluffing, deduction and die-rolling as one player takes control of the pitching side (defense) and the other handles the batting side (offense).
The game starts with each player picking their roster from the available player cards. The pitching side will take two pitchers, a starter and a reliever, whereas the hitting side will take six batters and organize them in the order in which they will bat.
Once selected, the round begins with the “stare-down”, which is where the pitcher chooses the combination of their pitch (high/low and inside/outside) in secret. Simultaneously, the batter is attempting to guess what the pitcher is about to throw. After both have made their choices, they reveal concurrently.
If the batter guesses a pitch type(s) correctly, they will unlock a specific player power that will benefit them for this pitch. It could allow them to re-roll a die or unlock a special ability, such as being able to stretch a single into a double or hit for more power.
However, if the batter fails to guess the pitch, the pitcher will gain their own unique bonuses which could include the ability to utilize their special pitch. Throwing the special pitch will fatigue the pitcher though and will cause the pitches to be more easily guessed.
After the “stare-down” occurs, the pitcher and batter will roll their dice (two for the pitcher and one for the batter) to determine the outcome of the at-bat. There are four possible outcomes that could occur:
Hit: If contact is made, the players will both roll their dice as fast as they can simultaneously in the hopes of rolling a five or a six. This result could be modified due to the ability or trait of your player. If the pitcher rolls a five or six, they yell “Out” and the batter is out. If the batter rolls a five or six, they yell “Safe” and they will be safe on base. If there is a tie, the tie always goes to the runner.
Strike: If a strike occurs, the tracker is updated to reflect the new strike. If three strikes occur during an at-bat, an out occurs and the batter is retired for the rest of the game.
Foul: If a foul occurs, the tracker is updated to reflect a strike unless the foul would be the third strike, then nothing happens. A foul cannot cause an out.
Ball: If a ball occurs, the tracker is updated to reflect a ball. On the forth ball, the batter is awarded first base.
The game continues this way until one of the following two conditions are met: the pitcher records three outs or the batter scores at least one run. Whoever meets their condition is the winner.
Bottom of the 9th has the look and feel of a tight baseball game. The theme is one of the more immersive that I’ve seen for a game of its size and price. The player cards have the appearance of the old baseball cards you could get from a pack of gum or cashier stand or that you’d find in your grandfather’s basement. They even have fun facts on the back.
The cards them-self come in a pack that had to be opened which only added to the baseball theme. The ball/strike tracker that is included in the pack is two-sided, with the reverse being a stick of gum.
The game comes with four base runner meeples that are positioned in a way to look like they are leading off the base or running to the next base. This could have easily just been a cube or disc token but the inclusion of the meeple continues to hammer home the baseball motif.
The tokens all carry-on the theme as well. The “stare-down” and fatigue tokens are designed as baseballs and the terms used are true to the sport.
The “stare-down” seems to be a good representation of the chess match-up that occurs between a pitcher and a batter. Also, with each player having unique abilities and traits, this gives them personality that makes them stand out from an ordinary meeple. They have fun names and illustrations which really make you invested in a player, for better or worse (damn you Lesley Lou).
The mechanics took us a game to get through and we played several variants on rolling just so we could consult the player aid to see the result of the pitch and swing. The aid, while looking like complete gibberish upon first glance, is a huge boon to making the game play fast.
The possibility of a home run occurring is rare enough to make it special and having it happen in our first game really drove home (no pun intended) our admiration for the game.
The rolling to be safe or get an out adds a degree of uncertainty and tension as you wait for the dice to finish rolling.
Bottom of the 9th also includes solo rules and scenarios that can be played, which is great as the game does not take long and can be a quick breather as you wait for something to cook or your fiance to get ready.
The game also includes several variants that allow you to switch up how the game is played. I’m a big fan of this as we played this game six times in a row the first time it hit the table.
So everything I’ve said leads to an interesting question: Do you have to be a fan or even have prior knowledge of baseball for this game to be enjoyable?
My gut instinct tells me no. All of my friends that play games either enjoy baseball or know baseball so they already have their biases but the gameplay is so straightforward that the game itself can stand on its own as a fun outing.
That being said, being a fan of baseball and knowing the narrative behind each pitch only enhances the experience that the game provides. Which is why I also want to point out that this game is not a simulation. There are no batting stats or career projections or multiple pitch selections. This is one half inning of baseball and that’s it.
There is some luck that’s involved with the rolling of the dice and that might break the immersion for some, but I like to think that adds to the unpredictability that is the actual game.
Bottom of the 9th plays relatively quickly. Our first game took around twenty minutes as we referenced rules and read every line on the player cards but by our third game, we had cut that in half. We even had one end in under five minutes due to a walk-off home run.
After you have played this game enough that you know the players and your opponent, you can add variants that are available in the rulebook and even utilize the solo challenges that the game provides. Either way, the game does not suffer with any added time or much complexity.
Hands down, I think my favorite aspect of this game, more so than the theme or the brevity, is that it feels incredibly balanced. I started my first four games as the pitcher and thought the batter had it easy compared to what I was going through….until I switched sides and realized the intricacies of the batter position.
There are plenty of quick two-player games where the sides have different rules (and I’ve reviewed two, Hounded and Raptor) and so far, Bottom of the 9th is one of my favorites in this regard. Everything is easy to learn, teach and follow and it just plays so fast. It can also be had for a relatively cheap price so I highly recommend this game and look forward to getting my hands on its expansions!