Players of Trivial Pursuit will know that hardball, also known as baseball, is a cross between rounders and cricket.
The rules are fairly intricate for the novice to master. The idea is to score runs without - getting out - by running around a diamond. Each corner of this diamond is called a base, and depending on how and where the ball is hit the hitter can try and run any number of these bases. A full run is scored when all four bases are passed. With me so far?
Try this then: The pitcher throws the ball at the striker. Behind the striker crouch two heavily-padded and enmasked men, the catcher and the umpire. If the striker misses the ball, and it's within the catcher's permitted area, it's called a strike — because the striker didn't. If the ball's outside the catcher's area, and the pitcher doesn't go for it, it's called a ball because it's a no ball. Three balls, and the striker gets to walk to the first base. Three strikes, and he's struck out. Hit a ball to the boundary, and everyone on the diamond gets their run. If a fielder throws a ball on to the base you're running to you're out.
That's the mechanics of the game, but they bear as much relation to what goes on in the US of A on Saturdays as putting bits of paper in a box does to the presidential elections.
Watch baseball on the TV, and all you'll hear from the commentators will be a stream of numbers interspersed with the occasional droll comment. This is really where baseball leaves its forebears statistically speaking. Each baseball player has his past history, strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities down as a set of figures. The art of running a baseball team is matching your players to the opponents on at the moment. And it's a fine art indeed.
Hardball - the computer game - has all this (without the droll comments). If you're bowling against the computer you can pick your style and speed, the better to get those strikes. In batting, you're limited to one of three types of shot, and whether you pick high, mid (body) or low depends on what you think the pitcher's going to do.
It isn't easy, and Charlie Brown has my sympathies. At any time, you can suddenly become the manager of your team (the Champs), and substitute, shuffle or scan your list of players. That side of things is taken care of with a nice and simple joystick/menu combo.
The runnin', swingin' and hurlin' bits are shown with a pleasing perspective-based style of animation which is as realistic as anything else yet seen on a humble Amstrad. The depth of strategy is unusual for a sports simulator. And, all of a sudden, all those American cartoons make sense. Move over Snoopy. My turn at short stop.