There’s still time to enter my 5 year/500 post contest! See the details here – you could win a copy of the Stonemaier Games Treasure Chest, Evolution from North Star Games, War of Indines from Level 99 Games, or Wrong Chemistry from MAGE Company.
Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing review copies of both games.
Level 99 Games was founded on BattleCON, the two-player fighting card game where two cards are combined to form attack combos. The game has had several versions over the years, and today I’ll be taking a look at Fate of Indines, the latest title in the line. But I’ll also be taking a look at Exceed, their newest two-player fighting card game that is currently funding on Kickstarter. The games are similar, but there are some differences I’ll highlight at the end. Let’s get started with
Fate of Indines is the third full set of BattleCON games designed by D. Brad Talton and released by Level 99 Games (following War of Indines and Devastation of Indines). The first BattleCON game, War, came out as a print-and-play in 2010, and was published in 2012. Devastation came out in 2013, and was so popular that War was revamped and rereleased in 2014. The Kickstarter for the remastered War set was so popular that stretch goals added enough new characters to launch a whole new game. Thus, we get Fate.
BattleCON is a two-player fighting game intended to simulate classic 2D arcade fighting games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Each player has a character with unique abilities, and you have the basic goal of trying to get your opponent down to zero health. BattleCON stands for Battle Connection, and you will be playing pairs of cards to attack as each bout progresses.
Fate of Indines comes with 10 unique characters, each with their own set of five style cards and a single unique base card. Each character also has its own set of tokens or cards. I’ll go over those shortly, but for now, here’s the basic rules of combat.
A match is divided into beats, aka rounds. At the start of each beat, players choose a style card and a base card. The two cards will combine to make an attack pair. Like so:
After choosing an attack pair, players can choose to ante. This involves playing tokens or cards associated with your unique ability. Once both players have consecutively passed, players reveal their attack pairs and compare priority by adding the base and style numbers together (0 in the above example). The higher priority goes first and attacks using their power stat. If the attack does damage (which depends on its range and the opponent’s soak), the opponent reduces their life accordingly. If the opponent did not have enough stun guard up (at least as much as the attack’s power), they are stunned and may not make their attack this turn.
At the end of the beat, attack pairs go into the #1 discard pile. The current #1 discard pile is shifted to #2, and the current #2 discard pile comes into your hand. In this way, each attack pair will have a mandatory two turn cool down period before it is available again.
A duel ends when one player is reduced to 0 life. Alternately, if 15 beats go by and no one is dead, the player with the highest life remaining is the winner. You can play several duels in a best-of-X match to determine the overall winner.
I wanted to give a brief rundown of the different unique character abilities at this point, just to show how different they all are from each other.
- Alumis: Comes with a shadow marker. The shadow marker begins on the opponent’s space. When the opponent moves, the shadow marker moves to an adjacent space. Alumis’ cards have special effects based on relative position of the shadow token.
- Baenvier Marlgrove: Comes with 3 Spell Breaker tokens. If you ante with one of these, you can return the style both players have used to their hands. You never get these tokens back.
- Irialandradayamorella (Iri): Comes with three form cards. As an ante, Iri can change her form (she starts in Magical Form). This gains a Transform effect (which is positive and negative). If you remain in your current form, you gain a Stabilize effect, which is positive.
- Jager Brandtford: Comes with 4 signature move cards. These are complete attacks. When he antes, he can play one face down and then reveal it instead of his chosen attack pair. At the end of the beat, the signature move is removed from the game and the chosen attack pair is discarded as if it were played.
- Larimore Burman: Comes with 5 Firepower counters, and begins a duel with two of them. During the ante phase, he may charge up to three of them, which will give him benefits during play, but will also weaken him based on how many are used.
- Lord Eustace: Comes with 5 Frostflow counters, and begins a duel with three of them. The first time he is damaged in a beat, he discards a counter. The first time he is stunned in a beat, he discards a counter. At the end of each beat, he regains a counter. During the ante, he can discard tokens to gain 1 Soak each, which decreases his maximum range to its minimum. If he cannot discard a counter when forced to, he loses 3 life and cannot hit this beat.
- Sarafina Vanedran: Comes with one projection marker. Each of her styles has a projection range. At the end of the beat, Sarafina can move her projection marker into the space at this range from her. As an ante, you can remove the projection marker to move into that spot.
- Thessala Three: Comes with 15 tracker tokens and an evolution board. To ante, Thessala plays one tracker to a space on the evolution board, giving her a one-time benefit for that beat only. She can only place on spaces directly connected to spaces she has already placed on.
- Welsie Acktern: Comes with three decision cards and five Recursor tokens. When she hits with an attack, a Recursor token is placed on the attack pair, and remains there while it is in the discard pile. During ante, Welsie can play a decision card, which may allow her to swap her current attack pair with one in a discard pile.
- Xenitia Zook: Comes with no special tokens or cards. During the ante, she can spend up to five life, known as her Draw. This will affect different abilities on her style cards. As long as she is not stunned, she will regain that life at the end of the beat.
Each character also has a special finisher that is unique to them. That’s an advanced variant, however, and I haven’t played with them yet.
COMPONENTS: Fate of Indines is a card game, and as such, the cards are the main focus. Sure, there’s a board, but you don’t really need it – the game comes with some cards that can be used as a portable board so all you need for traveling is a couple of character kits and those cards. The board is of course a nicer and more aesthetically pleasing solution, but it’s nice that they included a portable option.
The cards themselves are pretty nice. The cards are easy to understand as long as you’re familiar with the vocabulary of the game. The art is in an anime style, which isn’t really my thing, but it’s nice enough. It’s easy to distinguish the styles from the bases, though you may not remember which is called a style and which is called a base. Each character has their own little cardboard standee. I know some people gripe about standees, but I think they’re fine – not every game needs highly detailed miniatures.
My favorite component in the game has to be the envelopes that comes for each character. Each of the characters has its own cardboard sleeve that will hold all the cards for that character, and also details everything in that character’s kit. So if you have Thessala Three, you know you have five bases, one unique style, a finisher, a character card, a reference card, an evolution board, and 15 markers. It keeps the cards organized, and you can find little baggies for the other character tokens (I keep each character’s tokens and standee in a small 2″ by 3″ craft baggie). The only downside of keeping the cards in the sleeve all the time is that they no longer fit in the insert. I’ve thrown my insert away…you don’t really need it.
The game also comes with a couple of nice dials for tracking health (yay) but no way of tracking how many beats there have been (boo). If you’re not playing with Thessala Three, you could use her 15 counters, but the rules suggest a pencil and paper to track beats. I know that’s probably a cost-saving thing, but I wish there were something. I’ve been using some glass fish tank beads.
There are only two glaring component concerns that I have. One is that Thessala Three’s tokens are too big for the evolution board. Either the tokens needed to be smaller, or the board needed to be bigger. As it is, there’s not really enough room for them on the board. Since this is one of the suggested starting characters, I think that’s something that should maybe be addressed in future printings. Also, for the initial discard, it is recommended that you use the styles and bases labeled 1 and 2. The problem with that is that there is no base labeled with 2. From the rules, it looks like it should be Grasp, but I’m not 100% certain about that. Other than that, the components are well done.
THEME: The World of Indines permeates most games from Level 99, and I think that’s a pretty fun feature. As I’ve played more of their games, I’ve found there to be lots of crossover in the characters. The one I always seem to notice is Larimore Burman – he’s shown up in Pixel Tactics, 7 Card Slugfest, Argent: The Consortium, and Fate of Indines (that I know of). It is cool to see the world being developed in different games with the same people around. It’s the kind of thing AEG was attempting with their Tempest world, but I think Level 99 is developing the World of Indines more successfully.
MECHANICS: BattleCON is a very unique system, and I don’t think Fate of Indines is mechanically any different from the others, other than the unique character abilities. So I’ll be talking in some more general terms. The process of building attack combos by pairing cards is a really interesting idea. Rather than just playing one card, or trying to build combos over time, you’re trying to find two cards that will work together to accomplish a specific objective. Then, once you have used an attack pair, it will be two turns before either card is available to you again – that’s a nice little cool-down mechanism. By having priority determine who goes first, and the possibility of a stun causing someone to not have a turn, there’s a bit of a programming element to the game as you try to outthink your opponent and put yourself in a better position to be successful.
The Ante phase is a pretty interesting way to introduce player special abilities. By giving both opponents an opportunity to use their unique power here, it allows for some push and pull, and possibly give you a hint about what they are planning.
Attacks themselves are fairly straightforward. The cards will detail exactly what happens. Sometimes you are given a choice (move one or two spaces, you may do something, etc.), but often you just automatically do what the card says. This game is intended to simulate 2-D fighting games, and I think it does that pretty well – throwing out an attack pair and seeing what happens is a lot like mashing buttons and hoping you hit the right combination.
The game plays pretty smoothly once you get over the hump of learning the vocabulary, but I’ll get there in a moment.
STRATEGY LEVEL: The BattleCON system is luckless, by which I mean that there is no randomness at all. The discard piles are not shuffled together, there’s no drawing of cards, and none of the powers have any random elements. This puts it in rare company of games that are not abstract, but still manage to have minimal luck involved. Off the top of my head, I think that list includes Antike, Dungeon Twister, Fearsome Floors, Puerto Rico, and a few others. Sounds like an edition of The Eleven waiting to happen.
ACCESSIBILITY: BattleCON is not a complicated game, but there is quite a steep learning curve. Part of the reason for that is the vocabulary of the game. Beats are used instead of turns, soak is used instead of armor, ante is used to denote the use of special abilities, and so on. It’s the ante term that I think is the most confusing. When I think of ante, I think of betting on poker games – you have to ante to be in a hand. Here, you can ante or not, and it’s just a way for you to get your special abilities in play. I guess it is a form of betting, because you generally have a limited pool of resources and are trying to use them in the best manner.
Because this game has no luck, this is a game that a skilled player will win far more often than a newbie. And that can be a bit daunting – it’s a bit like Chess in that respect. I don’t necessarily see that as a negative, just wanted to make the point as an aspect of accessibility.
SCALABILITY: This is really only a two-player game. I’m sure there’s a multiplayer variant out there, but the game is probably best with just two.
REPLAYABILITY: With ten characters in the box, each with their own particular abilities, there’s a lot of replayability. As you learn the characters, you’ll learn their particular strengths, and then the fun s trying to figure out how to best pit them against each other. There’s plenty of replayability within just Fate (45 possible match-ups), and if that’s not enough, there are lots of other characters in War and Devastation.
INTERACTION: There’s a good amount of interaction in the game as players have to react to what the other is doing in order to be successful. Once the cards are chosen and antes made, the game kind of plays itself, but before that, it is a bit of a mind game.
LEGACY: I haven’t played the other games of the BattleCON series, but after playing this, I am more interested. I hear that Fate is intended to be more of a starter set, and I think that it introduces the system well.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. If you’ve never tried BattleCON, give it a look. It can take a while to get into, but I think it’s worth the effort. Thumbs up for me.
And as if that weren’t enough, Level 99 is now Kickstarting a new two-player fighting system called
Exceed is a system designed by D. Brad Talton. It’s for two players, and much like BAttleCON, is a kind of 2-D fighting simulation. There are a few differences that I’ll get into as we proceed.
Each character in Exceed has a 30 card deck. 16 of these cards are identical in every deck, but each character has their own special cards, as well as some Ultra Attacks. The first player begins the game by drawing five cards, the second player draws six. There’s also a nine-space track, with each player beginning on the third space from their end.
On your turn, you either take an action or strike. There are six possible actions:
- Prepare. Draw a card.
- Move. Spend Force (discard cards from your hand) to move that number of spaces.
- Boost. Play a card and use its Boost effect.
- Change Cards. Spend Force to discard and draw.
- Exceed. Spend Gauge (gained from hitting opponents) to level up your character.
- Reshuffle. Shuffle your discards into your deck. This can only be done once per game. If you don’t do it as an action, you can wait until you run out of cards, at which case it’s done automatically. If you run out of cards on the second time through the deck, you lose.
After taking your turn, you draw a new card (provided you didn’t Strike). To Strike, play a card face down. Your opponent does the same. You then reveal, and compare speeds. The higher speed goes first (tie goes to the attacker). You then resolve effects, check range, and deal damage. If you are second and get hit, you are stunned and can’t resolve your attack. If you hit your opponent, your attack card becomes Gauge. You can also do an EX attack (two identical cards to give you +1 to stats) or a wild swing (draw the top card of the deck and hope for the best).
Play continues until one player reduces his opponent from 30 to 0 life. He wins.
I was sent a prototype version of this game that only included two characters, Reese and Alice (there will be 16 in the first wave). As such, I don’t feel qualified to write a full review. But I can give you some initial thoughts on gameplay. And here they are.
- Unlike BattleCON, which inhabits the World of Indines, Exceed is intended to be a licensed property that can be reskinned with each new iteration. This first wave is from the Red Horizon line of the Universal Fighting System TCG published by Jasco Games. That theme is pretty meaningless to me, but I’m sure there are fans out there. I don’t really have a sense of the story, but then, I don’t in BattleCON either.
- Gameplay is reminiscent of BattleCON without being a clone. Attacks work very similarly – check speed/priority, one player does their attack, the second player does their attack if not stunned. There is a difference here in that the time limit on the game is the health of the players, or the speed you go through the deck. There are lots of effects to trigger during a turn. Exceed has more options – it’s not just attack all the time, there’s other things you can do on your turn.
- BattleCON is luckless while Exceed has you drawing cards from your deck, increasing the luck factor. This means it will be easier for less experienced players to do well with some lucky draws. It also features cards that can be used for multiple purposes – you can use them to Attack, or as Force, or for their Boost effect. I always love it when games can pull that off.
- Once again, this game invents its own vocabulary. You have to learn what Force and Gauge are, as well as Exceeding. I kind of wish for some standardized language, but I guess that sets it apart from other games.
- Turns in this game are very quick unless you are performing a Strike. Even those move fairly quickly once you know what you’re doing.
- I think that this system might have more mass appeal than BattleCON, partially because you’ve got that element of chaos from drawing cards rather than pure strategy. They clearly have plans for more licenses in the future, so I look forward to seeing what else is coming down the pipeline.
So should you back Exceed on Kickstarter? I think it’s worth a look, especially if you like fighting style games. It’s nice that this is a game that is reminiscent of BattleCON while still being its own thing. I think the games will stand nicely next to each other. The campaign runs until November 1, and is already funded. You can get one set of four fighters for $25, eight fighters for $45, all 16 for $80, or all 16 and a playmat for $100.
Thanks again to Level 99 for the review copies of Fate of Indines and Exceed, and thanks to you for reading!