Buzzworthiness: Dragon Punch

Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of Dragon Punch.

They sure like their two player fighting games over there at Level 99 Games.  This time, they’ve teamed up with Most Mondays Games to bring us

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Dragon Punch is a two-player card game designed by Koen Hendrix that takes about 15 minutes to play.  It’s meant to emulate games like Street Fighter – a brawl between two characters with their own special abilities.  This is a 17-card game that comes in a vinyl wallet-sized carrying case – the image you see above is what it looks like all laid out.  The 17 cards are broken down into two identical 6-card decks and 5 character cards.

At the start of the game, each player has a 6-card deck and chooses one character.  The 6 cards are all held with their white side up, red side down.  The character card can be either side up – it’s the only one that you can freely change its orientation.

On each turn, both players will choose and simultaneously reveal a card from their hand.  They then compare the results to see what happened.

  • If both players played an evade or block, nothing happens.
  • If one player played an evade or block, check to make sure that it blocked the attack in the correct position (high or low).
  • If one player played an attack that is not blocked or evaded, damage is done.
  • If both players played an attack, the attack with the highest speed succeeds, and the other is interrupted (does not occur).

If you are damaged, you take as many cards as the damage value and turn them so their red side is up.  This gives you a new, stronger ability with that card, so being damaged is not necessarily a bad thing.  Once the turn is done, flip the card you played and place it in the back of your hand.  These cards will not return until you play the Taunt, which allows you to unclip all cards.

Once a player has all six basic cards turned red side up, they lose.  Play a best-of-five series to determine the ultimate winner.

image by BGG user kjhendrix (pre-production version)
image by BGG user kjhendrix (pre-production version)

COMPONENTS: This game comes in a vinyl wallet-sized carrying case.  It folds into three sections, with a plastic pouch on the inside of each section for holding the various card combos.  I think this wallet pouch is a good solution for pocket games as it’s very portable and is really all you need for small cards.  Button Shy is the only other company I know that does this.

The cards themselves are OK quality, though I’m noticing some scuffing after just a few plays.  The text on the cards is easy to read, and the icons used are fairly simple – two arrows for evade, a shield for block, and a fireball for attack.  And the cards are clearly labeled so that you know which is the normal side and which is the wounded side.  The character cards all have a picture of the character on them, which is nice, but the basic cards have no art and are kind of bland because of it.  I’ll talk more about the theme in a moment, but it would be nice to have some sort of picture of the action just to provide some context.

Overall, the components aren’t bad, but the wallet case is the real standout.

THEME: I’mot a Street Fighter guy, so had a really difficult time getting into the theme, particularly with no art on the basic cards.  It really just felt like a numbers game – “Did we both attack, and does my attack beat yours?”, rather than “My Fireball flies towards your head, but you evade it as you go for the Low Poke!”  I can an see how cards make sense thematically, but I wasn’t really engaged in the theme at all.  Even the character cards, despite having a picture of the character, don’t really go into who they are.  So I’d say the theme here is not great.  But again, I’m not a Street Fighter guy, so maybe it would be better for people who are.

MECHANICS: This game uses a basic Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanism for resolving fights.  Both players play a card, and you see which one wins.  The high and low attacks can be confusing at first, but make sense once you think about them in context – if I do a high evade on a low attack, of course it wouldn’t work because I’m moving my head instead of my legs.  I like how attacks have to recharge after you use them by going to the back of the deck – that’s a good way to keep someone from using a powerful hit too many times in a row.  And I like that the Taunt brings used cards back, but it’s a very weak card, so you’re basically risking a punch in the face as you try to avoid it.

The best part of this game is the wound system.  When you get hit, you flip some of your cards to the wounded side.  This puts you closer to a loss, but it also makes you stronger.  So you may want to take a couple of hits in order to make some of your cards more powerful, but at the same time, you may just want to try to pound on your opponent so you don’t lose. It makes for an interesting balance.

STRATEGY: This is a game that has no luck.  Both players have the same basic set of six cards in their hand, and even if you choose to deal the character cards randomly, it won’t take long to know what they are.  The only luck is what I call external luck – when you choose a card, you have to be lucky enough that your opponent chose something that will allow you to do damage.  Unless you’re hoping to get damaged, in which case you have to be lucky enough to have your opponent choose something that will hurt you instead.  So despite having no internal luck, the external luck still makes the game feel kind of random.  There is definitely strategy in the game – knowing which cards to wound, deciding when to go for a hit versus taking a defensive stance, and so on – but it still boils down to throwing a card out there and hoping it does what you want it to.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a complicated game, but you should know your audience.  Fans of fighting games will probably like it.  People who dislike conflict probably won’t.  There are also some confusing things in the rules – the high/low thing isn’t really intuitive until you think about it for a while – but overall, the game is fairly easy to learn.  At the very least, as long as one person knows it, you can play a practice round by pulling random cards to find out how everything works.

SCALABILITY: This is only a two player game.  I am glad they didn’t say “but you can play with four players by getting another set!”  There are some variants that need two sets, but one is a tag team variant where you have multiple characters in your hand, and the other is a draft variant where you can build your deck.  But they don’t try to shoehorn in a fourth player, and I’m grateful.

REPLAYABILITY: I’m not really sure, having not played enough yet.  I suspect that this is a game you’re not going to want to come back to over and over in a short amount of time, but it is something you can pull out if you’re going to be waiting in line for 15 minutes.

INTERACTION: There is interaction in that you are trying to damage your opponent, so their card choice and your card choice directly affect each other.  As such, this is a pretty interactive game.

FOOTPRINT: No table is required to play this game.  It doesn’t even take up much room, fitting as it does into its wallet case that can just slip in your pocket.  This is one of only a couple of games I know of that don’t require a table, the other being oddball Aeronauts.

LEGACY: I heard Brad Talton call this game a cross between BattleCON and Love Letter, and I think that’s a pretty apt description.  It really doesn’t play like Love Letter, but it has that quick feel and you play multiple rounds in order to determine the winner.  It is similar to BattleCON in that you are choosing cards simultaneously and the first one to hit prevents the other from doing anything.  So if you have stayed away from BattleCON because it won’t fit into your pocket, consider Dragon Punch.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think it really depends on your audience.  If you like fighting games and are looking for something quick, then I think this is a great idea.  If you dislike conflict and are looking for a little more meat, then probably give this one a miss.  For me, I won’t say that it’s my favorite two-player fighting game – I think BattleCON, Pixel Tactics, and Exceed all have it beat – but it definitely fills a niche and is good for a quick filler.  Also, I think the wound system is pretty brilliant, and I’d like to see that in more games of this type.

Thanks again to Level 99 for a review copy of Dragon Punch, and thank to you for reading!

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