'Dream Nine' brings baseball cards to web

"Dream Nine," a Facebook game, is part fantasy baseball, part card collecting, and part social media. Courtesy of Konami

“Dream Nine” is a virtual card-collecting game where players not only collect and trade their favorite baseball stars: They try to put together the perfect team They take advantage of combos that are triggered when you earn cards that play perfectly together, like starting both the Giants shortstop and Giants second baseman in order to turn quicker double plays (as opposed to the Giants shortstop and Dodgers second baseman, who wouldn’t be on the same page).

The game is live on Facebook right now, but Konami is introducing a slew of game play enhancements that should hit online by June 1, including new cards, improved scouting, and microgames that will bring a fastest-finger competition to the art of picking off baserunners.

“Dream Nine’s” producer, Shawn Green, fills us in on the details.

ESPN Playbook: What differentiates “Dream Nine” from the other baseball games that are available on Facebook?

I think the big thing we’re really trying to leverage is the collection element. It’s all about the collection and trading of players and how you build your roster. We’re really trying to turn it into more of a roster and talent management game, where you not only go out and get the players you want, but you constantly tweak your lineup to find the best combination of players. One of the things we’re building on is this concept of combos. For example, if you have two guys from the same team in your leadoff and second hitting position, you’ll get a bonus to your running and batting. So we’re really trying to build these combos and make them more specific to players and teams. In the current game, they are the same combos for all teams, but we want to have things like “Five Aces,” where if you collect a group of these elite pitchers who have all earned a certain amount of wins, your team will get a super-powered combo as opposed to just getting something more generic like it is now. We’re really trying to embrace the MLB license, and for the Facebook audience, we’re looking to make the interface a lot less complicated. We want the game to be fast and easy to learn. We want to bring the fun to you.

Once you set your lineup and the combos start playing out, the game flies by and there isn’t any pitch-to-pitch or batter management during the game. Why go for speed over simulation?

We want people to be able to play through a lot of matches quickly, but with the Facebook version we are going to add this concept of microgames. In the microgames, when you’re playing and this key moment comes up, you’ll get to play this scenario out, and based off your team composition and your statistics, you’ll either have the advantage or disadvantage during this microgame. It’s going to be reflected on your team’s structure and stats, but you’ll have the ability to influence the outcome by hitting the key faster or whatever the situation calls for. We’re building the game with the Facebook user in mind, and they want these quick sessions they can play during a break at work and hop back out.

You earn cards through playing the game, but will I also be able to buy specific cards I’m looking for, like if I want Buster Posey as my catcher?

It’s like collecting baseball cards where you’re buying random packs. There are different qualities of packs that will offer better players, but you can’t directly buy a specific player, which leads to that baseball card chase element that we think is really cool. Another thing we’re doing in the Facebook version this year is open up the trading capabilities. The trading system is there, but it’s not as robust as it should be. So if you’re a Giants fan and you want Posey, but you have Victor Martinez, you can post offers to other gamers and set up a real trading block. And you’ll be able to trade with anyone who has the game, not just your Facebook friends. We are going to have the ability to add friends in the game without adding them as Facebook friends, and we’re hoping to add something where we can find fans of the same teams and help put them together. It’s social, and we want to make the interactions interesting, but we don’t want to make you commit to a Facebook friendship.

Who is in your “Dream Nine” lineup right now?

Personally, I’m an A’s fan, so I like to play small ball. They had a great year, so it’s a fun time to try building an A’s team. A lot of the combos are based, not only on teams, but divisions, so right now, I’m pretty focused on trying to build a team of AL West players.

Is there a master combo list where you know what you’re building toward, or are the combos a surprise element in the game?

There is a surprise element to it, but when you have the right cards for a combo, you’ll see a notation that you just unlocked it. In the update, we’re bringing this more to the forefront, so you’ll know and understand more about the combos and how they work. One of the drawbacks of the current game is combos aren’t communicated well enough. We want to make these combos more exposed to players and reveal more of the criteria so when you’re building a team, and you see there’s a combo where if you need a shortstop and a second basemen who both have over 500 at-bats and also hit in the first and second spots of your lineup, and you find a player who fits, you’ll receive a notice of a partial unlock and get clues on how to tweak your lineup a bit in order to unlock the full combo.

Are there legends in the game, or only the current MLB players?

Currently, we only have active MLB players, but in that, we do have multiple series of players. One thing we’re really looking to do is add more in-season events. Last season we had three series of profiles, and then we also had subsets of franchise players, where the best player on every team had an exclusive version. We hope to do more things like that, where in April we add hitter of the month, pitcher of the month, rookie of the month, and have special versions of these profiles for you to collect. We’re really looking to do more seasonal subsets. I don’t want to spoil them just yet.