When we were kids my grandmother used to take us on walks down to the local store every Saturday morning. I remember around 1990, while on one of our trips, we arrived at the store like usual, but something was different. Like someone had moved our house 2 centimeters to the left. As we approached the entrance of the store all we could hear was the hum of people and a strange synthy music, interpolated by thuds and elephant sounds. As we got within sight of all the noise, there stood before us this black cabinet as tall as a man, thronging with people around it, two at the helm frantically pushing buttons and jostling sticks with red balls. Everyone was much older than me so I knew to stay well back, but from the sides I managed to catch a glimpse of what was going on. Through the cracks I could make out a screen, with a bearded man wearing red briefs and boots, scars across his body, wrestling with another man, made of rubber that could spit fire. My mind was blown to the point of collapse. From that moment on, I was transfixed with this style of game, which I later learned was known as “Fighting Games”.
If you’ve made it this far you’re probably wondering “what in the goddamn hell does this have to do with board games?”. Let me put it this way. For years the ‘Fighting Game’ was one of the most exciting video game genres. Only the most high-tech of systems could capture the realistic feel of slogging it out with an opponent until one of you was a pulpy, bloodied sack of flesh that couldn’t get up. Well, aside from actually assaulting someone of course. Which I don’t advise…..because that’s a shit thing to do. Obviously…..errm…where was I? AH yes! Instead we had games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Punch Out, Super Smash Brothers, Tekken, Samurai Showdown and so on during the 90s. Legions of Fighting Games entered our cultural vernacular, and these were THE games to test your might (Pun!) against other players. You had to employ all the strategy and dexterity of a mutant ninja to be considered the ultimate fighter.
However, I was more of a log than a ninja. My brain could never quite communicate with my hands fast enough to pose a serious threat to even the weakest of opponents. So I was happy to find the one ratty fighting game at the back of the arcade, behind the washing machines, that nobody played anymore and MAYBE get to the third stage. Nonetheless I loved them. I loved the idea of taking control of a character that was as cunning as a fox and strong as a bear. A character with a back story and a purpose. Now that was something I could chew on. I think you know where I’m going with this now. Welcome to board game fight club…
Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice
“Rules? Well rules were made to be broken. AND YOUR NECK COULD BE BROKEN!!! OOOOoohhhh YEEAAAHHH!!!!!” Luchador Mexican Wrestling Dice by Mark Rivera was released unto the masses back in 2013 and up until then, I don’t think there ever was a proper wrestling game. Not unless you consider this proper. In which case, I’m sorry…so very, very sorry. You and your opponent take on the roles of Lucha Libres vying for supremacy of the squared circle and of course, there can only be one victor.
This game is dead simple. You get 4 dice which allow you to hit, block and counter your opponent, but beware, if you’re an over zealous roller, and your die falls off the board, sorry bub, but it don’t count. In fact, one of the strategies you’re meant to employ, is to actually lay the smack down on your opponents die and knock them out of the ring. Once you’ve grappled enough, if you were able to sneak a hit through, you get to roll the damage die and see just what kind of pain you’ve inflicted on your enemy. Drop kick, chair smash, table slam, choke hold you name it, it can happen. If you’re extra lucky and you manage to squeeze two hits through while the referee isn’t looking, you can roll the Lucha die, which has a 50/50 chance of doing massive damage with a high-flying move, or hilariously injuring yourself and losing a valuable die in the next round of steamy man grabbing.
The absolute funnest part of the game is when you’ve weakened your opponent enough and you have the chance to pin him or her. They have to make saving throws on the count of 3, by rolling enough blocks or counters. EVEN BETTER THAN THAT is if they managed to roll 3 identical block or counter results in one go, they reverse the pin and the attacker finds themself at the bottom of a fresh can of whoop-ass.
This game is a treat and an excellent opener to get the blood pumping on fight night. Make no mistake though, just like actual wrestling, you NEED to ham it up. Seriously. It’s in the rules. When you’ve pinned someone, you’re encouraged to shout out the countdown, “1….2…….3!!!!!” If you’re playing a tag match with 4 players, once you roll a successful tag, you have to actually physically tag your partner in. If not, it’s illegal. Thems the rules, now GET OUTTA THE RING!! It’s those kind of touches that make the game pop out and come to life. You can almost see tiny beads of sweat dripping off the glistening cubes. That being said, if you prefer something a bit more diverse, you can always play the advanced rules where each Wrestler has individual strengths, weaknesses and can even unleash a killer combo. Oh! Did I also mention that the 2nd edition comes complete with a 3D wrestling ring? Yeah, I thought that might impress you. We only have the orignal flat board and it serves us well but the real deal ring adds another level of visual deliciousness that is quite frankly impossible to beat. Unless you’re a real wrestler, in which case you can probably beat any thing you want because you’re left breast is probably twice the size of my head…..please don’t hurt me…..If you’re a fan of wrestling get this game. Heck! If you’re a fan of fun get this game.
“Step right up, Step right up folks! For tonight’s contest of manliness, two pugilists take to the ring for the heavyweight championship. Come see the sweet science of a gentleman’s sport. Step right up, step right up!” Back in old timey town, the number one way to prove yourself as an honourable fellow was to test your mettle in a good ol’ fashioned bout of fisticuffs. Knockout, released by Victory Point Games and designed by Frederic Moyersoen, is probably one of the most colossally underrated games of modern times. No, I’m not exaggerating one damn bit.
In Knockout, each player squares up in the center of the ring, draws their hand of 8 cards and waits for the sweet chime of that beautiful bell. Ding, ding. What happens after that is so elegant you would think you’re at a Bolshoi State Ballet recital. You take turns playing cards, either attacking or defending, pressuring each other to the point of exhaustion, until there is just nothing left you can do except eat some knuckle sandwiches. So what do you do when you’re getting wailed on? You suck it up, and take some more. That’s easier said than done though. MMMmm, is that my tooth?
The object of the game is to knockout your opponent (HINT: It’s in the name), but it’s getting there that’s the tough part. In your hand of cards you’ll likely have a selection of offensive maneuvers, like a straight punch, a cross, a jab and the almighty haymaker, but you’ll also potentially draw up some defensive cards, like move, parry and counter. When a player uses an attack card, the defending player must react with a card of equal or higher strength in order to avoid getting hit. If you can’t, you take a hit and your hand size gets reduced by 1, meaning when you do get a breather and can draw back up, you’re going to have less scruples about you and won’t be able to fight back. Luckily though, both parties need to draw up frequently to stay in good shape and prepare for the next flurry of fists. The round ends when there are no more cards in the draw pile. All it takes to win is landing 6 good hits, but you wouldn’t believe how tricky that can be against one of these wily boxers. If you survived the first round, the weakest player receives a “pep” card at the beginning of the next and this can turn the tables quite dramatically.
I think Victory Point out did themselves with this one. A gentleman’s game of bouting that is as beautifully simple as it is lighting fast. The balance of the card play creates a genuine feeling of bobbing and weaving, going toe to toe with someone. However the game is not merely a functional “take that” card game. It has one of the most visually pleasing designs I have ever seen on a board game. Everything about it captures the grit and raw energy of old school boxing, while avoiding the crass and brutal tropes of modern sports games. I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why this isn’t the crown jewel of Moyersoens career.
Apocalypse Universe: Galactic Arena
“Dum dum dum, duuduudum, Dum dum dum. MORTAL KOMBAT!!!” Here it is. The meat and potatoes of todays post. Apocalypse Universe: Galactic Arena by Storyception Games is a gladiatorial space opera and is fresh off the presses from their succesful Kickstarter campaign late last year. You have a choice of 10 different fighters, each with their own special abilities and strengths, to fight to the death on the intergalactic stage of Cetus 7. Before I get into the game itself, it’s worthy to note that the guys and gals at Storyception have put in a tremendous effort at writing the world for Galactic Arena. Every character has a thoroughly fleshed out back story and if you take the time to read them it really elevates your appreciation for the characters.
Now on with the game. First you choose you’re combatants, then you’ll need to prepare them for the oncoming war. Each character has a dizzying array of stats ranging from defence, attack, health, actions, initiative and most importantly, special abilities. Before combat commences, players will have to customise their fighters according to how much pain they want to dish out. So you can tailor your fighter to be as slippery as an eel or a full-blown homicidal maniac hell-bent on murder.The kicker is you never know who you’re up against or how they may be fitted out for the fight. The game comes with these giant iron gate screens from behind which you will prepare your fighter. Trust me, when you’re hiding behind the screen you’ll chuckle like a chipmunk at all the possiblities for inflicting instant death. As you become a veteran of the Galactic Arena you’ll learn what are the most effective skills to choose from and best combos to utilise, but until then, you’ll probably just mount the plasma cannon on your shoulder the wrong way.
Why Galactic Arena feels more like a fighting game than say a turn based strategy game, is because of its length. It’s fast, aggressive and very, VERY brutal. All the planning in the world wont save you from the short sharp shock of a quick decisive defeat if you’re caught dawdling around the arena. Your opponent WILL come after you, and you always want to be applying the pressure. The fun really comes in when you get to know your fighter a bit more and you start doing the right things to bait your enemy, forcing them to waste actions, hopefully giving you enough edge to splatter them on arena walls. For that reason bouts can be as quick as 10 minutes, which is perfect for a 2 out of 3 style match. We recommend using the draft rules where you choose 3 fighters as a team but face off 1 on 1. If you chose the 3 on 3 match you’ll get a bit more length out of the fight, but I find it’s easier to focus on one fighter at a time. All in all, Galactic Arena feels very much like the Board game iteration of classic arcade fighters, at least in the sense that the game places heavy focus on the characters. The rest of the game plays out in typical action point on hex grid type fashion but like a say, it’s the fighters that make this one special. They all have unique abilities and you’ll probably pick the ones that you identify with the most. Maybe you like the strong guy, so you’ll pick the mutant with four arms, maybe you like the “duo”, so you’ll pick the guys that are closely matched, the assassin, the ranger, etc. There are lots to choose from and a mega ton of variation within those choices. Top marks to Storyception for their debut effort. We’re looking forward to more.
Hopefully we’ll see a few more games emerge that suit the fighting game genre, there’s almost certainly a ton out there that I don’t know of. If you do, let us know! Until next time….