Hits one out of the park that YOU BUILT
When I first got the email announcing MLB Ballpark Empire, I thought it was going to be a game about ruthlessly stomping out the competition a la Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire. Turns out it’s a lot less violent – a Facebook game that has you assembling your dream baseball stadium and a team that can win games and rake in money. Unless you pick the Marlins, in which case the last two parts are optional.
Since even the most grandiose dreams start from humble beginnings, you start your MLB Ballpark Empire saga by picking your favorite big league franchise and examining your very handsome dirt and grass field, which at least sports the official team logo. Your first tasks are to build some basic wooden stands so fans have someplace to sit, and to get your concessions business rolling with a hot dog stand.
To make your ballpark into something really impressive, you’re going to need revenue. And seeing as there aren’t any virtual taxpayers to fleece, that means playing baseball games. All MLB teams are available to pick as opponents, and each game plays out as a simple sim that takes only a minute or two and takes into consideration the relative talent levels of both squads. Your ballplayers, who look a lot like Funko vinyl figures, will do a bit of batting and fielding while the simulation runs.
During the games, you can unleash the awesome power of your F&B department by clicking to send vendors out into the stands to take care of hungry and thirsty fans. The more concessions stands you have, the more coins and experience points (called Fandom here) you can make. You also have the ability to set the ticket price, and while lowering the admission will lead to more food and beverage sales, it also reduces what you make at the gate – and vice versa. There’s definitely a sweet spot that maximizes revenue that takes a little bit of trial and error to find.
If your team wins the game, you’ll get bonus coins or Fandom as well. Stockpiling enough Fandom levels you up, unlocking bigger and better additions for your stadium. Missions that pop up on the left side of the screen can also open up more building options and yield extra rewards.
Improving your team can be done by spending coins or training points to boost individual players’ skills. Another option is to hit the free agent market, where better players can be drafted using coins or MLBucks, the appropriately named premium currency. For big spenders, you can even acquire real MLB players, either on a temporary or permanent basis.
At higher levels, sections of the actual MLB stadiums become usable, and the game does a nice job highlighting unique features like the warehouses beyond the outfield walls at Camden Yards or the retractable roofs in various cities. There doesn’t appear to be anything stopping you from combining aspects from different ballparks, so if you’ve got something of a Frankenstadium in mind, you should be able to go that route too.
The only constraint on playing time is the five Tickets it takes to play each game. Tickets regenerate at a rate of one every five minutes, but you’ll still find yourself limited to only three or four games in a sitting until you get some levels under your belt. Adding friends help, as you can exchange gifts with them and play one game a day in their stadiums without using any Tickets.
MLB Ballpark Empire doesn’t set any new standards as a builder or a sim, but it succeeds in being a pleasant blend of both. The development team at Behaviour Interactive should be commended for bringing some authentic MLB flavor to a social game that’s accessible to all types of gamers, something that has proven to be a difficult balancing act in the past.