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.

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