I’ll start this off with a bit of a disclaimer: I’m kinda becoming a fanboy of Level 99 Games.
It took them a little while to find their way onto my radar. Pixel Tactics didn’t wow me at first (I didn’t even make it through a full game), and I didn’t even make the connection between game and publisher. In the age of crowdfunding, the field has become rather crowded, and it’s a bit difficult keeping track of who made what.
Fast forward a bit, and I’m reading about this game where you’re professors at a magical university all vying for the Chancellor position. Oh and there are spells you can level up. The thing I read wasn’t really anything more than an elevator pitch, but it had me totally charmed. I bought Argent: The Consortium and its Mancers of the University expansion on the spot, pretty much immediately following that pitch. No reviews, or really bothering to learn anything else about the game. When it comes to board games, I…may have a few problems with impulse control; but fortunately my instinct in sniffing out awesome is pretty decent. With some exceptions. Epic Resort, I’m looking at you.
As you know from my review of it, Argent knocked my socks off, and awoke my awareness of Level 99 Games as a name to keep an eye on.
When they launched Millenium Blades on Kickstarter, I was immediately excited. It took me a while before I was ready to put my money where my watering mouth was, but at the end, they had unlocked so much stuff that you were getting a TON of stuff for the money. Literally 2,000 pounds of cards if I’m not mistaken. I actually had the extremely good fortune to be able to participate in a demo of Millenium Blades specifically for game reviewers at Gen Con this year. (spoiler alert: it was totally awesome, and will get a post of its own.)
My confidence in Level 99 at this point is strong, which brings me to this, the remastered version of BattleCON: War of Indines.
So that’s a weird name. What’s up with that? It sounds like it’s going to be a wargame.
Nope. BattleCON simulates an arcade style 2 player fighting game, ala Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc. This won’t mean much to you younger sorts, but for geeks in my age range, this harkens back to a time when a $5 bill was a princely sum that translated to TWENTY video games played in some mall’s basement. Home consoles killed the arcade just like video killed the radio star, but I digress. As someone who grew up in the age of Street Fighter II, the idea of converting that feeling to an analog game is pretty ambitious. Surprisingly (at least to me), it does a great job at this. Obviously the translation across mediums isn’t perfect, but Level 99 has done a pretty damn good job of creating an apple that tastes like an orange.
That’s some bold sauce. How does it do this?
First, you pick your fighter, of which there are 18 in just this box. The fighters are all broken into various types (Brawler, Counterattacker, Disruptor, Specialist and Heavyweight) which give you a base idea of what they are about; as well as three different flights (Basic, Intermediate and Advanced) to give you an idea of how complex the character may be to play. Even the most adept player is going to need several games before they can establish a single character’s rhythm, let alone how to play them against other characters. Each fighter kit comes with a set of Style cards, which are unique to them.
Each player receives a set of Base cards (Strike, Grasp, Burst, Drive, Dash, and Shot). These cards define the type of move you are performing, your fighting game standards. For example, Shot has a long range, and Dash moves you quickly around the board.
During each beat (the measure of time where each player executes a move), each player will pair a Style and a Base to create unique(ish) moves.
Each Style and Base card have 3 modifiers on them, Range (how far the move’s combat reach is), Power (how much damage it does), and Priority (how fast the move will go off).
Magdelina, while sharing the base cards with everyone else, plays a lot different than say, Cadenza, a murderbot from the year 3000.
Each player pairs a Style and a Base and both players reveal simultaneously. The Range, Power and Priority modifiers are added together and the higher Priority move is resolved first. Sounds pretty simple, right? Nope. There’s a much deeper rabbithole to go tumbling down. You’ve got to consider timing, maneuvering (that means knowing where both combatants were, are, and will be) and how to use your character’s special skills to the best effect. Oh, and then there’s that person sitting across the table from you, ready to fuck it all up. You’ve got to plan for said fuckery if you want to come out on top.
Which leads me to the next layer in this tasty onion of cartoon violence. Each player is provided a reference card that gives the stats and effects of the other player’s Style cards. At the end of each beat, the Style and Base cards played that turn are moved to a special “cooldown” area. There are two such slots on each side of the player’s board; after you play a set, the leftmost set moves to your hand, the rightmost set becomes the leftmost set, and the cards you just played become the rightmost set. This means that any card you play, you will not see either piece of that combo again for two turns.
Translation: Each player has perfect knowledge of what the other player is capable of. Between the reference card and the cooldown areas, you know exactly what they are and are not capable of. From there you have to try to determine intent. Do they want to punch you in the face? Probably. Or maybe you have them on the ropes and you suspect they are going to try to put some distance between you. They are thinking this out as well to think of what you are most likely to do and what their best foil for that is. The result is an information juggling act and a mindgame of calculated risks.
The game goes on until one fighter is reduced to 0 health or until 15 Beats have gone by, at which point the player with the higher life total is declared the winner. When I played, we often forgot to keep track of beats (which is actually a good reason to get one of the playmats) but there are some characters who are playing an attrition game and trying to run the clock down, so it’s a bad habit to get into.
For a game that is pretty simple in its mechanics, it offers exceptionally deep gameplay.
Things What I Like About BattleCON: War of Indines
There’s SO. MUCH. GAME here. Like the fighting games that inspired this, not everyone plays the same. I’m much stronger with Ryu than I am with Guile. I prefer Scorpion to Sub-Zero. Somewhere out there is someone who is a total badass with Dhalsim. Okay, that last one is probably not true. My point is, that none of the characters play like each other. You can master one character (which will take some time), then when you try another, you’re back to square one. BattleCON: War of Indines has eighteen different characters. Eight. Fucking. Teen. And this is not counting any of the other games in the BattleCON line. This is AMAZING. If you’re anything like me, you’ll master one, then want to master them all. So you’re looking at literally thousands of games. Unlike earlier, this time I am using “literally” correctly. You’re somewhat unlikely to be able to explore everything the BattleCON line has to offer in one lifetime unless this is all you do. Replay value is in the cosmos.
MOAR INDINES PLZ. I love the idea of different games in the same setting. AEG’s Tempest line (Love Letter, Patronize, Courtier, Mercante, Dominare and Canalis) does this, and it’s one of the endearing factors to the games. Indines is home to the BattleCON universe, as well as Argent University. War of Indines comes with a poster of the characters in Devastation of Indines, and I’m not ashamed to admit I squeed a little bit when I saw one of the professors from Argent there. How weird is it when you see your math teacher at fight club?
There’s SO. MUCH. GAME here. It’s going to take a lot for this game to wear out its welcome. Not only is there an insane amount of replay value JUST from the different characters, but beyond that, there are different modes you can play to shake things up, including Tag Team matches, variants where you get to use special “Finisher” cards (signature powerhouse moves unique to each character), and Arenas which add effects to the board.
Learn to play comic! There’s a cute little comic that teaches you how to play. First time I’ve ever come across something like this in a rulebook and I loved it. It was quick, informative and a little fun. Everything you want from a rulebook. A few glances at the comic over the course of the first game and we were pretty much set. I could stand to have more games explained to me this way.
There’s SO. MUCH. GAME over there. War of Indines is actually a small set comparative to another game in the BattleCON series, Devastation of Indines, which includes another THIRTY fighters, as well as a number of different modes including Boss fights (which I understand can be played solo!) and coming soon, Fate of Indines, a lower cost starter set with 10 fighters if you want to play but aren’t sure about committing to the whole thing. For those of you keeping score at home, going all in gives you FIFTY EIGHT FIGHTERS to choose from. And what game like this wouldn’t be complete without promos to be hunted?
It’s made well. The art is pretty, and the graphic design is decent. The cards are pretty clear in what they do once you’re familiar with the system, and they’ve printed on a nice stock with a good finish. I like my card games to feel good in my hands.
Characters and Combos are Cool! The characters are so diverse in their abilities and playstyles. There’s a guy who jumps through time. A girl who slowly gains levels over the course of the fight starting very weak and becoming nigh unstoppable if not dealt with quickly. Another fighter who changes back and forth between human and fire elemental forms over the course of the match and whose moves have different effects based on what form she’s in. I could write a whole series of posts just about the characters.
There’s SO. MUCH. GAME here. It is a thoroughly satisfying feeling to guess your opponent’s move correctly and slam them with something they didn’t expect. Diversity of fighters and play modes all aside, there is still a TON of game here just in the mental game with your opponent. What I like about this game more than just about anything else though?
It hits the nail on the head. It aims to feel like a fighting game, and it accomplishes that beautifully. It is a very elegant design that manages to capture that feeling very well; from the mechanics of how the game plays to even little things like the names of the moves that result from the pairings. (If you’re not announcing each move verbally and enthusiastically, you’re doing it wrong) Accomplishing this feat was no small order. As a designer, I am very impressed, and as a player and fan, I am thrilled.
Things What I Am Not As Thrilled About:
It’s not for everyone. Fans of ye olde arcade fighting games are going to love this. Fortunately, this will cover a lot of people. It won’t cover everyone. WIthout that background, you may have a little bit of a hurdle trying to get someone on board, but at 20-30 minutes a game, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding someone to give it a try.
Enough is never enough. This is technically a validating point for the game. My first game was largely disasterous and I was a little shaky about how I felt. My second game played much more smoothly and I wanted more. More. MORE. This is a game with a serious addictive quality. For someone with not a great deal of time to devote to these things, this is a game that gives me the sad puppy eyes from the shelf. It knows I want to play. I can see myself losing hours to this game easy, and I am excited about the prospect of running and/or playing in tournaments.
My Thoughts as a Designer
This game is brilliant. There’s really no other way to say it. It has unheard of depth and variety, there is room for both strategic and tactical play. I liked it better than Cats. I want to play it again and again. No, seriously. I want to play this over and over and over. If you are one of this game’s target audience, then odds are pretty high that you will greatly enjoy this game. If not, I still think this game could grab you.
The BattleCON system has some14 billion different play modes, in case you weren’t getting crazy game mileage out of the fighters. There’s not much I could recommend that they’re not already doing. It’s even already got an iOS app. AH! There it is. Make that happen for Android, wouldja guys? Not all of us are iSlaves.
BattleCON: War of Indines is an extremely elegant design that captures the feeling of a fighting game beautifully. Brad Talton has established himself as a master of expressing his love of games in different forms. You couldn’t make this game without a deep love for fighting games, just like he couldn’t have made Millenium Blades without having a past in the realm of CCGs. His love of the inspiring mediums really shines through here, blessing us with an extremely addictive game. If you’re thinking about getting this game, stop. Just do it. Here. Now. Go.
(My thanks to JR and Brad of Level 99 Games for presenting me with a review copy of BattleCON: War of Indines for this purpose. I’ll be coming back with American Dollars for the rest, but I’m guessing that by the above, you already knew that)
EDIT: Right now is a Kickstarter for BattleCON online! For PC, iOS, Android and all that jazz. They’re already over 200% funded, so now it’s just a matter of making it biggerer and betterer. Get some.