Buzzworthiness: BattleCON Online

Thanks to Level 99 Games for a prerelease demo of this game.

Level 99 has always had a video game aesthetic.  From the art to the gameplay, you can tell that a lot of their games are inspired by video games, and that they have taken a lot of care to bring that sensibility to the physical world.  Now, they are working on a project to bring one of their physical games to the digital world with

image from Kickstarter project page
image from Kickstarter project page

BattleCON is a system designed by D. Brad Talton Jr, the owner of Level 99.  It’s a two-player fighting card game that has had several versions in the last five years: War of Indines was the original game, Kickstarted in 2011 and in a remastered version in 2014; Devastation of Indines was a successful sequel that was Kickstarted in 2013; and Fate of Indines was unlocked as a result of War Remastered getting so much support.  Now they are Kickstarting an online version, to be playable on the Web, Mac, PC, Android, and iOS.  I got to play an early version of the online game, and I’ll get to that experience in a moment.

The various versions of BattleCON come with a bunch of different characters in a box.  Each character is different, but there is a standard kit for each one, consisting of style cards, base cards, a finisher, tokens, and maybe some other character-specific odds and ends.  There are also six generic bases that everyone has.  You’ll choose one side of your finisher to use.  From your cards, you’ll choose two bases and two styles, and put them in the two discard piles (one base and style in each).  You’ll begin the game with three bases and five styles in hand.  Each player puts their character marker on a 7-space track, one on the second space from each end.

There will be a maximum of 15 rounds (called beats) in a game.  In each round, both players will choose a style and a base to play.  These cards connect (BattleCON stands for Battle Connection) to form a combo.  Like so:

image by BGG user The Innocent
image by BGG user The Innocent – from Devastation

The numbers add up to give you your totals for the round.  Range indicates the distance at which you can hit.  Power indicates the strength at which you can hit.  Priority determines who goes first in a round.  So, with this Jugular Drive (style on the left, base on the right), you can only hit at a distance of 1 (adjacent) and you hit with a strength of 4.  Your priority is 6, so you’re likely going first.  Depending, of course, on what your opponent has.  You can see that there are also some other actions that can occur throughout the beat.

If you go first and hit your opponent, you may end up stunning them.  Some cards have a stun guard value, and if the attack exceeds that value, they are stunned and don’t get to take their turn.  So, going first is good.  But if you’re second, you can avoid the stun by moving or having enough defense.

The game continues until one player reduces the other to zero – they win.  You can also win by having the highest HP remaining after 15 beats.

For those of you familiar with my normal review format, this is going to be a little different.  I don’t really feel qualified to give a full review for several reasons:

  1. The game is still in development.  I played the 0.25 version.
  2. I had never played BattleCON before, and had a crash course just before playing.
  3. Because I had a demo, I’m not really able to go back and revisit things.  My entire experience took about 35 minutes.

So, here’s the story.  JR Honeycutt of Level 99 Games reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing BattleCON Online (which really should be called Battle CONline).  I had been interested in learning the game at some point, so I agreed, and we set up the demo time.  The game still is in the early stages of development, and the only available mode was turbo mode, which I’ll say is NOT the best mode in which to learn the game – it’s more for experienced players who don’t need to take a lot of time. So JR taught me the basics of the rules, and we played two games.  In the first, I got crushed, but I made a better showing in the second.  That speaks well for the game in that new players can generally catch on quickly.

The UI of the game was pretty clean.  Your hand of cards is displayed below the graphic of the board, and it’s pretty easy to take a closer look at each one.  The style cards and base cards can both be scrolled through so that you can always see the combo with the other, which is a nice touch.  The graphics were pretty clean, and the game worked pretty smoothly already.  Only two characters were available for preview, but there will be 10 when the game launches.

I didn’t really get a great exposure to BattleCON itself.  This is a game you really need to explore and dig into what all the cards do in order to get the most out of it.  JR himself told me that it was a game that he initially hated, but once he got to know it, it became one of his favorites.  I guess I’m ahead of him because I didn’t hate it.  I can see a lot of potential in the system, and it’s one I’d like to go back and dig into more.  I never was that into the 2D fighter games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, mostly because I was terrible at them.  I never really learned any of the combos, and so I mostly just randomly hit buttons hoping something cool would happen (it would occasionally, and then I’d spend the rest of the fight trying unsuccessfully to recreate it).  This game seems reminiscent of those in the creation of combos, and I’m guessing that knowing the cards will be a great benefit to being good at it.

The game has a pretty substantial fan base, and I’m guessing that’s really the target market of this digital implementation.  I think fans of the game will eat it up.  If you have played BattleCON and disliked it, you might prefer this version because it does all the math for you.  If you’ve never played before, I don’t know if this is the way to learn the system.  I’m assuming there’s going to be some sort of tutorial mode, but it would need to be pretty interactive for newbies really to get it.  It’s not complicated, there’s just a lot going on.

IS IT BUWORTHY? I think so.  Fans of the game have probably already backed it, and I think it’s something that will help casual players get more into the system.  Having virtual opponents means you’ve always got someone to play, unlike in tabletop games, so that’s a plus.  I don’t think it will replace the card version, but I’m a fan of digital versions of games in general, and I think this one has potential to be really great.  The campaign ends on September 6, and there are a number of pledge levels: $10 gives you access to 5 of the characters; $20 gives you access to all ten; $60 gets you access to all characters that ever will be released; $120 gets you access to all characters and their alternate costumes.

Thanks again to JR at Level 99 Games for running my demo, and thanks to you for reading!


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