Table Top Cricket

Who here remembers Crown & Andrews’ Test Match boardgame? Anyone? You? Do you remember Crown & Andrews’ Test Match boardgame? One of those perennial grass-is-greener affairs from my deprived childhood; the ornate miniature cricket game that would make a fellow the envy of his or her peers, it was one of those rarities — much like a Nintendo or SEGA machine — that I’d gravitate to when at a friend’s house. One day, I’d say to myself, I’ll own Test Match. I’ll own it and play it every single day. That day never arrived, and while I shifted my focus to never owning Crossbows and Catapults, the glory of the lilliputian crease never subsided.

I do own Test Match now, though. It’s now called TableTop Cricket, it’s digital and made by the BigAnt masters who crafted one of my favourite games from last year, Don Bradman Cricket 2014. They do cricket and do it well. TableTop Cricket might be a drastic change of pace from the complexities of Don Bradman, but it channels a youthful excitement for the game, though not without a few caveats.

TableTop Cricket is to digital cricket games what Madden NFL Arcade is to the more serious gridiron simulations. There’s still nuance in the deliveries, still finesse at the crease, but this is a game with the score voracity of a T20 match. Boundaries or bust. The Test Match heritage shines through, with the act of running being replaced by concentric run zones marked on the field and the fielding team relatively immobile after placement. It might sound limited, but TableTop Cricket is a smaller, faster take. It ushers memories ofCricket ’96, playing local multiplayer with my brother on the same keyboard almost twenty years ago. That level of outrageous run-rate, boundary after boundary or wickets falling like they were chainsawed. TableTop Cricket taps into that same wacky exuberance.

It’s an easier game to grasp in comparison to the simulation-level Don Bradman. There’s still the emphasis on dual analog control for both batting and bowling, albeit a simpler iteration. You can still place shots with relative accuracy, running off the front or back foot. Bowling continues to have the back-forwards motion to push the leather down the pitch, but given the more arcade styling of TableTop Cricket, bowling feels a touch less exciting than swinging the Gray-Nicolls.

Game modes include World Tour, local Versus and Online. There’s a decent challenge in World Tour, with a fun level of challenge, but the real reason to snap up TableTop Cricket is for the multiplayer. However, make sure you’ve got a friend handy or you’re able to pick your timezones, because the online community was next to non-existent throughout my Sisyphean effort to secure an opponent via matchmaking. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that TableTop Cricket would be better on the couch, replete with raucous chiding and cacophonous calls of ‘HOWZAT!?’.

Running with the boardgame scale, TableTop Cricket joins the likes of Micromachines and Toy Commander in rendering a world atop the kitchen bench or living room. A cricket ground beset by cereal boxes and juice cartons beyond the grandstands, with the players animated bobbleheads and the crowd in a toy-like frisson of bounding enthusiasm. It’s a complete graphical package, although I’m a touch saddened that the review build didn’t sport features like resolution options. TableTop Cricket could be sharper, but coming in under a few hundred megabytes, we’re not dealing with graphical prowess or GPU-stopping render requirements. It does what it does, though I can’t but help feel a touch more could have been done – even with the shared deployment on PS3 as well as PC.

When tea is served at the pavilion, as the groundsmen unfurl the covers to secure the pitch, I feel I’m left in a quandary. TableTop Cricket is a fine product, particularly for the minuscule asking price, but a product that lives and dies by the multiplayer. A boozy afternoon of fun with friends? Absolutely. As a single player experience? Not so much. TableTop Cricket is lean and efficient as a party game, not requiring any real practice to have a good time. If you were there for the old Beam Software/Melbourne House games, then this is a game worth picking up for sentimentality’s sake.

But if leather hits the willow in an empty arena, is there any sound?