By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
The biggest reason to stay in tune with the world of tabletop board gaming is that not every great game comes from the giants of the industry like AEG, Mayfair, Fantasy Flight, Asmodee and Rio Grande.
The most recent and best example of this fact is BattleCON: War of Indines from Level 99 Games.
Quite simply, there has never been a tabletop fighting game as good. War of Indines (pronounced Indanes). While the video fighting games from which this game is patterned, are mostly hand-eye coordination fests, War of Indines requires thought and spatial considerations.
Game designer D. Brad Talton Jr. has long been a fan of the fighting genre.
“It's something I'd always wanted to do,” said Talton. “My friends and I had been playing fighting games all through high school, and as the game designer in the group, I had already done a bunch of closed circle games - small-scale customizable games that were only designed to be played by that circle of friends. I made numerous attempts at a fighting game style of card game, but none seemed to work out too well--there were always too many variables to effectively balance, and the required card count (300+) to make one interesting was pretty daunting.
But a change in the card gaming landscape gave him an idea.
“It was around the point that LCGs (Living Card Games from Fantasy Flight) began launching that I had the idea of perhaps applying that same plan to my game--I could give each fighter his own deck of about 30 cards, then players could duel it out,” said Talton. “As I began writing the cards though, I started to notice a lot of repeats. Everyone had 2 or 3 heavy punches, everyone needed an evasive maneuver of some kind, everyone had a fast attack and a slow attack and etc.”
So now we come to one of the many beauties of the BattleCON system in general and War of Indines in particular. Each attack has two elements, two cards that are combined to present fully what the attack does. Half of the attack comes from bases that each of the 18 characters that come in the game uses. The other half are styles that are unique to each character.
That means that there are 13 cards in hand from which to plan and execute attacks.
This brings up, for me, what makes this game not only the best fighting game, not only one of the best games released in the past year or so but also one of the best games ever released.
Luck is completely missing in the game. How well or how poorly a character fares in this game is strictly based on the abilities or that character, how well the player makes use of them and how the opponent does with those same options and abilities.
There are no dice. There is no deck from which to introduce luck-of-the-draw elements. It is a real strength of the game that at the end of a duel, the loser will really only have one thing to blame the defeat upon – himself.
The duel play quite quickly, especially once the gameplay is mastered. Each duel should take 10-15 minutes. A game is comprised of best-of-three duels, so that means a game takes 20 to 45 minutes.
Another strength of the game is how different each of the characters feel. That is owed to the style cards, a unique finisher card and each character's special ability.
Getting the characters to look, act and play differently was no easy task. “(It is) harder than you might think,” said Talton. “There was no metagame and the rules weren't very clear in the early stages of the game. In fact, unique mechanics weren't even a part of the game at this point--there were just styles and bases. It was while playing BlazBlue (a console fighting game) one afternoon that I realized how much a truly unique ability could bring to each character. I started searching through other games (both fighting games and board games) to find mechanics that I could convert into unique abilities.”
The work was definitely worthwhile.
Each turn is called a “beat.” Talton explains, “A 'beat' is a term in acting (and fighting games, surprisingly enough to me) that signifies a complete exchange. Since the turns actually happen within the beat, 'turn' wouldn't have been a very good term. Plus, fighting games have always invented their own terminology, so I wanted to be part of that tradition as well.”
So a beat consists of picking the attack pair (base and style), then using ante tokens (mostly as part of a character's special abilities), revealing the pair executing attacks and recycle.
Because of the game's unique mechanic, the pair of attack cards used in a beat won't be available for the next two beats. There are two discard piles. After each beat, one pile goes into the player's hand, the second pile becomes the first pile and the cards just played become the second pile.
Each character has 20 life points and each duel lasts no more than 15 beats. Attack pairs have range, power and priority. The range is how far away an attack will hit, how much damage it will do if it hits and which attack will hit first. There is a game board to keep track of the character movement, which plays an integral part in the game.
An attack that does damage can stun the defending character and make that character's attack not take place at all. Some attacks have stun guard, which can keep a character from being stunned if the damage is less than the stun guard value. Some have soak, which will reduce damage from being dealt.
This might seem like a lot to learn but it really doesn't take long to learn it. But it does mean that a new player is likely to take a beating from an experienced player, right?
“A complete slaughter,” said Talton. “That's the way it should be in a skill-based game. You wouldn't expect to win your first game of Chess against a skilled player, right? That said, the newbie to competency curve is pretty quick, so it doesn't take more than a game or two of total dominance before a creative player starts finding ways to outplay his opponent. The learning curve isn't very long, but it can feel steep when you start.”
War of Indines was a kickstarter project and the next edition of the game, Devastation of Indines, has just launched as kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/level99games/battlecon-devastation-of-indines-a-dueling-card-ga). It will be a stand-alone project. But it can be combined with War. There will be 18 more characters.
“We have all sorts of plans for the upcoming games in the World of Indines series, including Devastation,” said Talton. “For now, I'd like to keep future plans under wraps but I can say that we want to take the world and spin it into different genres--party games, RPGs, maybe even a video game.
As for the iOS version, we are hoping to update again early next year.
Whatever the future direction of the game, the BattleCON system is a real jewel for its variety, strategy and ease of play. I am completely hooked on it and every fighting game fan needs to put this on the must-try list.
You can find much more on this game including videos on how the game works at: http://www.battleconnection.com/