Game Buzz – JAB: Realtime Boxing

I consider myself to be a sports fan.  I like watching all kinds of sports.  But if there’s one I really can’t stand, it’s boxing.  Two guys bashing each other’s faces to an unrecognizable pulp does not appeal to me.  Nor does the hugging contest they get into when they get tired.  Plus, it’s such a subjective sport – unless you score a knock out, you’re at the whim of the judges to decide who wins.  So why am I intrigued by JAB?

JAB - image by BGG user Toynan

JAB: Realtime Boxing is scheduled to be released later this year by Tasty Minstrel Games.  It was designed by Gavan Brown, who also did the art.  It’s a card game for two players aged 8 and up that takes about 15 minutes to play.  The game simulates a boxing match in real time, with players laying punch cards on their opponents to score points, or possibly even knock them out.

There’s no board in JAB, just cards.  There are 50 punch cards, 25 per player (white and black bordered).  In addition, there is a head card and two body cards (left and right side) for each boxer.  There are 9 combo cards, 5 counter punch cards, one DING! card, and one knockout/clinch card.  In addition, there are 10 health/round tokens tokens.

Set Up - image taken from rules

At the start of the game, each player gets five health tokens.  You also take a head and two body cards and situate them so they are on the table in front of you, looking at your opponent.  The counter punch cards are shuffled and placed in the middle (face up).  The combo cards are set to the side, along with the DING! and clinch cards.  You’ll take your 25 punch cards, shuffle them, and split them (it doesn’t have to be in half).  One set goes on one side of your boxer’s head, and the other set goes on the other side.

To start the game, you pound fists with your opponent (the rules ACTUALLY SAY “Pound it dog”).  Then you flip both punch decks face up and start beating up your opponent.  Not literally.  The left deck must be operated by your left hand, and the right deck must be operated by your right hand.  To “punch” your opponent, take the top card card from your deck and lay it on their head or body cards.  There are five types of punches: hook, uppercut, cross, jab, and haymaker.  Each punch type comes in five different colors – blue, yellow, green, purple, and red.  Each card also is worth 0-2 points at the end of the round, unless it gets blocked.  To block, you play a card of the same color or punch type on top of the card your opponent just played.  So, if your opponent just played a blue uppercut on your head, you could play either a blue card or an uppercut card on top of it.  You can only block the top punch card, but you can block it no matter when it was played.

While punching, you may land a combo.  Combo cards show three punches, like cross-hook-haymaker.  If the top punches on each of your opponent’s cards match the current shown combo, you take the card and say “COMBO!” in “a mocking, arrogant voice.”  You know, like an announcer in one of those boxing video games.  The order of the punches doesn’t matter, and opponent’s block cards can be used in this combo.  You can’t block a combo – you can block one of the cards, but if your opponent noticed the combo and called it before you blocked, they can take the combo.  These are worth extra points.

As the game goes on, you can damage your opponent.  Haymakers can stagger your opponent – you play the haymaker card, then play a punch card of the same color directly on top of it.  When you complete this, you say “STAGGER!” in a “deep and dramatic voice” (yes, the rules instruct you how to talk).  You can also take two of their health tokens and add them to your total.  The other way to deal damage is with counter-punches.  If there’s a card of a particular color on your side and on your opponent’s side, and that color matches the current color of the top counter-punch card, you cover the one on your side, take the counter-punch card and yell “COUNTER-PUNCH!”  This gets you bonus points, and you can take a health point.

If a player gets down to zero health, they are in danger.  If you damage your opponent while they are in danger, you can flip the clinch card to the KO side.  If you KO your opponent, you win.  If you’re in danger, you can take the clinch card, which allows you to take two health points from your opponent.  It will also cost you three points at the end of the round.  If your opponent clinches during a round, you can still knock them out by damaging them while in danger and announcing “KNOCKOUT” in a “booming, condescending voice.”

The other way to end a round is to call “DING!”  To call “DING!”, play all of your cards and take the DING! card.  Play stops immediately.  Taking the DING! card will cost you five points.  You don’t have to call DING! when you run out of cards and can still take advantage of counter-punch opportunities.  Once the round ends, you score the round.  Your opponent will cover one of the piles of punch cards on their boxer.  You can take one of the two remaining piles and score that pile (you’ll only score ONE pile).  Take all of the block cards out, then remove one of your highest valued punch cards for every block.  Add up your remaining points and bonus points, subtract penalties from DING!ing or clinching, and that’s your score for the round.  If you win the round, take one of your opponent’s health points and flip it over as a Round Win token.  If there’s a tie, neither gets the Round Win.  Between rounds, set up the game as you did at the beginning, but keep your health the same.  You can’t start with zero – if you have zero, take one of your opponent’s health tokens.  Pound fists and begin again.

So, there are two ways to win this game – KO your opponent, or collect three Round Win tokens.  And that’s it.  I’m very attracted to the real-time nature of this game, and it seems like there’s a lot going on.  Even so, if it was just a game of playing your cards on your opponent, this would hold no interest for me.  By adding combos, counter-punches, and blocks, strategy gets added.  There’s luck, sure, but you know you have the same cards your opponent has.  It’s just a question of what you play where and when.  You can play as slow or as fast as you want, but your decisions are largely going to be determined by what your opponent is doing.  I dislike boxing, but I think I would like this game.  So I’m looking forward to giving it a shot when it comes out this summer.  It’s only going to cost about $20, so why not?

Thanks for joining me for another one.  See you next time.

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