Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Round 1.....FIGHT! A review of BattleCON

I was around 11 or so when Street Fighter 2 came out. I remember going down to the bowling alley and pumping quarter after quarter into that machine. We got really good at it and eventually we were able to beat the game. Not long after that came Mortal Kombat and a bevy of fighting games after that. I always loved the fact that each character was different and yet they all had a chance to win. Even more, I loved the ability to smash on my buddies relentlessly. We had mini tournaments after our bowling league was over and rejoiced in the 16-bit carnage.

When I first heard about BattleCON: War of Indines I was hopeful that it would offer some of that same fun in a card game form. I wanted something quick and simple yet with some real depth and strategy. Does BattleCON deliver a knockout or is it just another pretender and not a contender?


Rules

BattleCON is a fighting game which can be played by 2 to 4 players at a time, depending on if you want to run 1-0n-1, 2 vs. 1, or 2 vs. 2. The basic idea is that each player is a certain character. Each character has some very unique abilities which gives each character a very unique feel of which we'll talk more later. The characters fight on a series of spaces so range is important. On each "beat" both players will play a pair of cards consisting of a base and a style. Priorities are compared to determine who gets to act first and then attacks are dealt. Damages is assigned where appropriate and then the next beat begins

If you'd like to read the complete rules, they're available on the rules page of thepublisher's website. They've done them as a conversation between two of the characters which makes them very easy to read. It looks like a lot but it's pretty smooth reading.

I found the rules to be solid and generally smooth. I love that the rulebook has a big section describing each of the characters and telling you a bit about what they do. It's really well put together. I had one gripe about the Clashes as I feel they could have done just a bit more explaining. Also, the conversational nature doesn't really make it easy to find key words.

Final Score: 4.50 points


Components
BattleCON comes in a nicely compacted box, but that box is full of cards and cardboard. I like the small size which makes it easy to carry around.  It nicely stores all the cards but I wish there were dividers.  I know I'm asking a lot, but the sheer amount of cards provided can get a little overwhelming.  Dividers would have been a superb touch.

Here's Hirakau Sorayama's cards
Speaking of the sheer amount of cards, each of the 18 (!) characters comes with their own unique set of cards.  As you can see, each character has his own character card which outlines that characters special abilities including his Finishing move. What fighting game would be complete without a killer way to finish off your opponent?  Each character also has a set of 5 style cards which are tied to how that character plays.  There's also one base card per character to switch things up from the standard bases.  The character cards alone count for 126 cards in the box.
In addition to all these character cards, there are 4 sets of bases, special cards and turn summaries.  This is enough for you to have up to 4 players in one game or two separate 2 player games.  You also get a set of location cards which put special rules into effect for the duel, one set each of Almighty and Ex bases which increase the amount of damage a character can do, and even a set of blank cards for you to make your own character.  I really wish there were 2 each of Ex and Almighty so you could just play with those right out of the box, but alas there's only one of each.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the superb quality of the cards.  The stock is perfect and the semi-gloss coating is nice.  The edges are prone to a bit of flaking but I'm okay with that as this isn't a game that can get ruined by marked cards.  In addition, since you never need to really shuffle in this game you can sleeve everything with penny sleeves and save a fortune.

You also get a bunch of tokens, a nice double-sided board and great cardboard stand-ups for each character.  Unfortunately, the plastic pieces that hold the stand-ups aren't very good, but they're mostly functional.



There's a LOT in this box and for the price you get a very good bang for your buck.  Final score: 4.5


Gameplay

The Characters - The fact that you get 18 characters in the box is pretty awesome.  Even if they just had one or two little differences then it would still be cool to try different match-ups.  The fact that every single character here is wildly different is insane.  You couldn't ask for more variety in a group of fighters.  You've got everything from a guy who controls time to a woman who has her pet panda bear fighting beside her.  There are monsters, there are robots, and there are even guys with guns.  Some are easier to play than others and some match-ups will be more even.  The beauty of this amount of choice is that you'll have so much to explore.  When you feel like you've really got a handle on how a single character plays you can ditch him for another and try again.  Then you can explore different match-ups to see what you really know. The possibilities are endless.

4 of the playable character in BattleCON

 Range - One of my favorite features in this game is the use of the board to show range.  In any fighting game range is superbly important because some characters want to get in tight while others want to stay back.  BattleCON does a superb job of this with such a simple board.  I also like the movement rules and how they apply to range as that can really mix up fights.  I think this is one feature that really makes BattleCON stand apart from other games in this genre.

Modes of play - I'm a big fan of the fan of having a few ways to play a game and BattleCON delivers.  You have the standard 1 vs. 1 match played on the regular board.  Then you have the opposite side of the board which supports multi-player battles such as a tag match, 2 vs. 2, 2 vs.1, and even 3 vs.1.  In addition to that, you've got the Ex cards which ramp up the damage or the Almighty cards which are damage machines.  These cards can be used in the many vs. 1 matches above or as a handicap in a 1 vs. 1 match.  In addition, they've included a bunch of location cards which are used to spice up the battle.  At the start of the fight, you randomly draw one and apply those effects to the battle.  There's some great stuff in there which throws a monkey wrench into some proven strategies. Lookout for the Pit!

Expandability - This system is completely open-ended which means we could constantly have a new influx of characters and/or scenarios.  I love the fact that the game even comes with blank cards to make your own character complete with his own abilities.  The possibilities are endless.

Game Length - This falls under both the positive and negative.  Once you figure out the game, you can breeze right through it.  Matches will last 20-30 minutes, maybe less if you're really cranking through it.  That means you can play a bunch of duels in 2 hours which is great for sampling the different fighters.  However the first matches are going to take a LONG time.  While the mechanics and turn order are fairly simple, it takes a while to come to grips with all the different cards, especially when you consider that you have to play them in a pair.  It's not too frustrated, but beware that your first games are going to be slow.  Unfortunately this may turn a lot of people off.

The Mind Game - While your characters may be duking it out on the board, you're not only playing the cards, you're also playing your opponent.  The game revolves around trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do.  The combination of the two aspects is great because in this game there's no bluffing.  You've only got so many cards.  Some are on the table waiting to come back in your hand and the rest are yours to choose from.  That gives you some idea of what's coming, but you can never be sure.  I think this is an area where BattleCON really ties into fighting games because you know with absolute certainty that when you're far from Scorpion in Mortal Kombat you can expect a spear coming your way....or can you?  I love the combination of the cards and double-think and feel that it really makes the game very tense.

No luck, all skill - BattleCON is a zero-luck card game.  You'll always see all your cards.  It will be up to you how to cycle them through your hand.  It will be up to you how you want to pair up styles and bases.  All of those decisions will be made without the random draw of cards which is very nice.  If you were playing Street Fighter IV and wanted to do a Shuryuken with Ryu you wouldn't want it to come down to luck whether you could or not, right?  In BattleCON it's all up to you.

A little bit of clunk -  Sometimes, no matter what you do, some turns just feel clunky.  You'll have occassional turns where a lot of different actions happen and that can bog some turns down a bit.  It's not frequent but when it happens it grinds that turn to a halt.  This can kill tempo some times but the game usually picks right back up afterwards.  This usually goes away with a bit more familiarity but it's another one of those things that can turn new players off.

Final Score - 7.5 out of 10 with an exception.  Once you've gotten several games under your belt then it jumps to an 9 out of 10.  There's a learning curve that may really put some people off.

Overall

The total score for BattleCon is 16.5 for new players with a bump to 18 once you've gotten the hang of it.  I took off some minor points for the rulebook which could have been just a bit better, a bit for the bad stands and and some points for the barrier to entry.  Once you're familiar with the game, it jumps up considerably in my opinion which is why I'm giving it 2 scores. 
 
I'll rate the game an 8 out of 10 on the BGG scale.  That means it's a very good game that I like to play.  I'll likely suggest to play and wouldn't turn down the opportunity to do so.
 
Conclusion

In case you can't tell, I'm pretty enamored with this game.  I love how well it simulates my favorite fighting games.  BattleCON truly captures the essence and the spirit of those games.  I remember spending hours learning how to use Guile in Street Fighter II and this game gives me that same feeling.  It's a game that rewards you for really learning a character and brings back the nostalgia of pumping quarters into the machine to do so.  You get a huge amount of high-quality cards in the box with near limitless replayability.  They've packed a lot of quality in a small package and for the price it's tough to beat.

I hate to harp on it, but this game does have a bit of a barrier to entry.  Your first games will be slow and I'm afraid that's going to put a lot of people off.  Stick with and give it 10 games.  Trust me, it's worth it.  I liken this game to a red wine. Lots of reds are very strong and almost off-putting at first until you learn to find the subtle flavors.  Then it all comes together and you "get it".  That's exactly how I'd describe BattleCON.  Stick with it and you'll find something truly awesome and very rewarding.

Want to try out BattleCON before you shell out your hard-earned money?  You can download a PnP copy from Level 99's website and test the game out.

Disclaimer - I received a review copy of BattleCON from the game's designer.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review - Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War






 
 Two-player games have a special place in my home because most of my gaming is done with my wife. We're always on the lookout for games that are either built for 2 or work well for 2. In addition, my wife loves deduction games so when I heard the description of Confusion my ears perked right up. This game had the potential to be a perfect fit for us. Read on to find out our thoughts.

Rules

The basic gameplay is simple. Each side has 13 pieces which each move in a different way. The trick is that you can't see your pieces so you need to try moves which will be validated by your opponent. They will tell you whether the move is legal or not and must answer truthfully. This helps you narrow down which piece is which. You record this information in a portfolio so you can keep track of what you know. The goal is to get one of your pieces to the center of the board, pickup the Top Secret briefcase, and get it to the opponent's back row. Pieces can capture each other so you have to be careful or you could lose them. To make this even more tricky, one piece on each players' side is actually a Double Agent. This is the only piece your opponent can lie about and in fact they can even make the Double Agent stop responding to your commands.

In addition, there are a few variant rules including some ways to handicap the game. This provides even more variety to a game that will never play the same way twice.

The complete rules are available here on Boardgamegeek.com.

The rules are laid out terrifically and the game is very easy to learn from just one readthrough. Final score: 5 points


Components

Stronghold Games has established itself as a leader in quality game components. Everything they've done so far has been of the absolute highest quality and Confusion is no exception. The first thing you'll notice about this game is the weight of the box. This is due largely to weight of each of the pieces. Each piece is actually composed of 2 separate parts, a holder and the insert.

 The most brilliant thing about this is it keeps pieces from getting marked and thereby ruining the deduction aspect. When you start a game each player takes the opponents pieces and randomizes them ensuring that no 2 games will ever be the same. Get a scratch on the A holder? No problem, you'll never be sure which insert is in it. That's a high-class touch that not many companies would do.

Each player gets a portfolio and a dry-erase marker. The portfolios look terrific and the dry-erase function is awesome. This could have been accomplished with pad and a pencil but this again shows the quality of Stronghold Games. Not only are these portfolios awesome to look at but they do a spectacular job at helping you keep your information straight. They were even clever enough to put foam at the edge so when you close it your marks don't get messed up. That's some great thinking.

The board is quite nice looking and is very thick. I love the artwork and think it provides a great backdrop to the drama unfolding on top of it.

Final score: 5 points 




Gameplay

Variety from game to game - One of the most amazing things about this game is that no 2 games will ever be the same. You'll have different pieces in different places. This will cause your movements and choices to be different every time. Another byproduct is that you'll have new interactions with your opponent's pieces due to the new layout every game. It's almost impossible to find yourself in the same situation twice which makes the game infinitely replayable. You'll never be faced with exactly the same situation which means every game will offer new choices. Also, some games will be fast, some will be bloody, and others will be long and tough. That's the beauty of the design in Confusion.

Deduction - Confusion is a deduction game first and foremost. Yes, it's an abstract with similarities to chess, but the deduction is what drives the game. My wife is a huge fan of deduction games and it really works here. One of the interesting things about Confusion is that every move gives you some info. Sometimes you get more and sometimes you don't get much, but you always learn something when trying to move a piece. How you put that information together to work out which piece is which will go a long way in determining the winner of the game.

Choices - Early in Confusion, your choices are limitless. You have so many options and things to explore that it can almost be overwhelming. I find this to be a good thing because it's like digging into a mystery novel. You know something is going to happen, but you get to decide where it starts. As you start to learn a bit about your pieces you'll have the choice to fine tune your knowledge or just go for a broader approach. Either way, you'll have choices on every turn. Nothing feels forced. You get to decide how you go about it.

The Double Agent - This is one of the greatest rules in any game I've ever played. While you're trying to figure out what your pieces do, one of them is actually working against you. When you move the Double Agent, your opponent can tell you anything. They can say one thing one turn and then change their mind the next. This piece is all about misinformation and used correctly it can be devastating. I've seen many instances where one person would have the briefcase and be on the verge of winning only to have their winning move denied by the Double Agent. It really gives you something to think about and puts a huge amount of uncertainty into a game where there's never enough information. I absolutely love this rule and think that it turns a good game into a great one.

Tension - Confusion is a tense game! From the start, you feel a constant pressure to figure out your pieces and then figure out how to use them. As if that wasn't enough, your opponent is actively trying to stop you by getting in your way and taking your pieces. Add in the Double Agent and you've got a game that creates a real sense of urgency and strain. The game may not last long, but it really pulls you in. I love the feeling of terror you get as your opponent marches your way with the briefcase and you're feverishly trying to work out how to stop them. That adds so much to the total package.

Luck and guessing - I've got one gripe about the deduction element and that's about luck. Early in the game, you're basically just taking shots in the dark at which piece is which. I understand that this is necessary to the deduction aspect. Sometimes though, one person will guess right on all their first moves and they'll be moving out for the kill while your pieces are sitting there waiting for you to figure out what they are. This is by no means a deal breaker but it does occasionally cause some frustration and knocks a point or two off the score.

Final Score: 8.5 points.

Overall

Confusion scores an impressive 18.5 points out of 20. The rules and components are fantastic. Frankly, the component quality is so high that it's almost worth an extra point. I'm giving -1 point for the luck/guessing deal and -.5 because while I love this game I'm not as fond of deduction as my wife is. For her this game is a perfect 20 because those 2 little things that bother me don't bother her at all.  I love the game, but not quite enough to mark it as perfect although it's really close.

On the "How much do I want to play" scale Confusion rates a 8 out of 10.  It's a game I want to play a good deal when I've got time for some 2-player games.  Again, I don't love deduction so I'm not always in the mood but when I am I eagerly grab it.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a 2-player game with nearly infinite replayability then you can't go wrong with Confusion unless you really dislike deduction. If you like deduction as much as my wife then it will be an even bigger hit. It's got so much variety that you could play this game thousands of times and never play the same game twice.  The tension is palpable and really draws you in to the game.  In my mind this goes very high in my list of 2-player only games of all time for those reasons plus the quality of the components.  When we publish our Top 10 2-player only games, you can bet that Confusion will have a prominent spot in that list.

It's worth noting that Confusion has won 2 pretty prestigious awards.  It was chosen as MTV Geek's Game of the Year for 2011 and also as Game Magazine's  Best Abstract Game 2012.  No, that's not a typo, it's how they do the award.

Disclaimer:  I do some booth work for Stronghold Games at conventions but I do not receive review copies of their games.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Welcome to The Boardgame Reviewer

If you're here then you've got some interest in boardgames, card games or hobby games and you're probably looking for some information on games you want to buy.  You've come to the right place.  The Boardgame Reviewer will provide you with reviews of all types of games and will help you decide how to spend your hard-earned money.  Stay tuned, we'll be getting started in the next few days with a review of Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War published by Stronghold Games.

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