Geaux Gaming: Battling Through the Devastation of Indines [Classic Review]
As part of my return to game reviews, I'm starting with posting some classic reviews that I wrote many moons ago at The Nerds Table. I hope you enjoy this insight into the dawn of Geaux Gaming as I get back on track with new and exciting content.
I remember the first video game I ever bought with my own money. It was 1994 and I had saved my allowance for weeks. I could not wait to go to the local Target (this is pre-Super Target, mind you) and pick up... KILLER INSTINCT! It was glorious. My Super Nintendo never got as much use as it did playing Killer Instinct. I memorized all the moves and combos. It was insane. The game itself wasn't very good, but I thought it was amazing.
To this day, I'm not very good at the classic 2D fighting game, but darn it if I don't love mashing buttons. Lately, though, I've found a replacement. A brilliant replacement that scratches that boardgamer itch and doesn't require any button mashing. What could I ever be talking about? Why - BattleCON: Devastation of Indines, of course!
BattleCON: Devastation of Indines, henceforth called Devastation or DoI, is a two to five player game of tactical combat from Brad Talton and Level 99 Games. DoI takes its cues from the classic fighting games of old - Marvel vs. Capcom, Street Fighter, Tekken, etc. In DoI, players are represented on the battlefield by a character with unique abilities. Players have access to two kinds of cards - styles, unique to their fighter, and bases, identical for both players. Players select one of each card type and play them together to form what is called an "attack pair". The base sets the baseline stats for the attack and the style modifies it based on the fighter. Many cards also have special powers and triggers depending on if they hit or not. Let's go into the nitty gritty!
Setup for DoI could not be easier. Lay out the game board between both players. Set the beat (or round) tracker to the side and each player takes a health tracker. Players select a fighter to use and gather their standee, tokens, cards, and a clip to keep them upright. Players should also gather one of each base - Strike, Dash, Shot, Grasp, Drive, and Burst. Two of each type of card have a small "1" and "2" in the bottom right corner. These are placed in the recycle area of the board (see picture below, it's the cards printed to the left of each player). The outermost recycle slot gets the 1's and the innermost gets the 2's. The remaining cards form a player's hand. The final step is to place the standees on the starting spot (small gray circle) to each players' left.
Gameplay in Devastation is super simple but super deep! Let's start with the cards. Base cards represent the starting point for all attacks. There are three stats to make note of:
- Range - this determines if your attack hits or not. Range is determined by counting spaces, starting with the space in front of the attacking character, to the space containing the defending character. If your opponent is within the indicated range, it's a hit!
- Power - power refers to how much damage your opponent takes from a successful hit. This will fluctuate based on a number of factors but, for now, know that power equals damage.
- Priority - before anyone can hit or take damage, you have to know who attacks first! The player with the higher priority is considered the active player and the other is considered the reactive player. The active player will attack first. If the reactive player isn't stunned by this attack (more later), they will get to attack back.
Style cards represent the fashion in which your specific fighter executes that base. Both players may elect to initiate a Strike, but they will be very different from one another. One fighter's strike might be a toe-to-toe melee hit while another might be a ranged volley! Each fighter's styles modify the base in some way, adding or subtracting from one or more of the stats above. When the style is paired with a base, it creates one complete attack - an attack pair. Even the names coordinate (see image below)! Styles add special triggers to those already existent on the bases. Let's examine the beginning of a game round, then we'll talk triggers!
Each round (or as DoI calls them, beat) begins with both players selecting an attack pair. This is one base card and one style card. Both cards are placed face down in front of their respective player. This begins the ante phase. Not all fighters have a need for this phase, but it's worth noting. If an ante takes place, players may ante back and forth, one token at a time, until they consecutively pass. At this point, attack pairs are revealed. The first thing to check is priority - the number on the base modified by the style. As discussed above, the player with the higher priority will be the active player. If both players have the same priority, a clash occurs. In the event of a clash, each player will select a new base to replace the existing base. New bases are revealed simultaneously and a new priority is calculated.
At this point of the game, we can start discussing battle triggers. These are special effects that take place each turn if text on a card refers to them. It's list time!
- Reveal - this happens as soon as attack pairs are flipped.
- Start of Beat - this happens for both players in priority order.
- Before Activation - this happens for the active player begins their turn.
- On Hit - trigger this only if the attack hits.
- On Damage - trigger this only if the attack deals damage.
- After Activating - this happens for the active player only, after resolving any damage.
- End of Beat - this happens once both players are done activating (being stunned).
If the reactive player was not stunned by the attack (see below for more on stunned) they get to perform the same steps above beginning with Before Activation. If the reactive player is stunned their turn is skipped entirely. Regardless of this, both players will perform their End of Beat actions in priority order.
The final step of the round is Recycle. Both players will take the attack pair in the outermost recycle spot and add it to their hand. The innermost pair shifts to the outer spot and the attack pair just used replaces it in the innermost spot (in the event of a clash, only the base used in the round is recycled - the unused base(s) is returned to the players' hands). In this way, all cards have a two turn "cooldown" before they can be used again. Advance the round (beat) tracker by one and repeat!
DoI is all about properly executing your battle triggers to deal maximum damage to your opponent. Battle triggers represent all manner of actions your fighter can perform, from advancing toward your opponent, retreating, gaining useful tokens, throwing your opponent - just about anything! These triggers are your only means of movement as the game goes on so it's important to move intelligently while trying to predict your opponent's movement at the same time. Remember - both cards together make a single attack. This means that if both cards have a Before Activating trigger, they will both happen and the activating fighter gets to decide the order.
There are a couple ways to modify or nullify damage. Some cards indicate that they provide soak. Soak is damage absorption or evasion for that character. It means that you take the incoming damage from the attack pair and subtract the soak value. The remaining damage will remove life from your fighter. This can be very bad due to the presence of stun. We've all been in that game of King of Fighters where your opponent is pummeling you with a bevy of strikes and you just can't react. That's what stun represents. Taking damage in this game, causes you to be stunned for the round and unable to retaliate! Luckily, some cards provide Stun Guard. Any damage equal to or less than your stun guard will not cause you to become stunned. You still take the damage, but you're able to weather the storm and strike back (some fighters thrive on reactive attacks and get stronger after taking a fist to the face!). If you take damage over your Stun Guard value, you're still stunned! While this element primarily affects the reactive player, it's important to note that the active player, if struck for more damage than he or she has Stun Guard, is still stunned. This can have an affect on the unique abilities of some fighters.
CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTER!
DoI gains its massive replayability from two factors: the uniqueness of each fighter and the massive pool of them to choose from. Each fighter has a UA - unique ability. This ranges from tokens you gain when you take damage that increase priority to insect tokens that travel through your opponent's discard slots and deal damage when the come out the other side. Some UAs add to a character's utility and others help control the board through traps and wormholes. Each fighter is unique, and thirty come in the box! Each fither also has a choice of two finishing moves but these have extended rules that I'll let you discover.
Fortunately, DoI fighters are divided into flights based on their difficulty to learn. You can start with flight level one and work your way to the top! Due to the unique nature of each fighter, it isn't uncommon to need upwards of five to eight plays before you feel fully comfortable with how they act. One of the perks of this game, and something that really helps smooth the learning curve, is the complete lack of randomness. Every fighter comes with a reference card that is passed to your opponent. This card indicates what styles that fighter has. Combine that with both players having identical bases and the discard piles being face up, you'll always know exactly what combinations your opponent has access to. You can even ask to see your opponent's hand before they have selected their attack pair. It's 100% transparency. The game truly boils down to knowing your fighter and knowing your opponent's fighter. The more information you have, the better you play.
Why do I love BattleCON? First of all, it is, without a doubt, the best value in boardgaming on my shelf. The sheer quantity of content is unparalleled by anything I've bought, even at full retail. A living card game would take years of releases to reach BattleCON's variety. Games with many boxes of expansions don't compete with its replayability. Between thirty unique fighters, 2v1, 3v1, 4v1, boss fights, arenas, and cooperative/solo play, there's more in this game than I think I could ever experience unless I dedicated myself to seeing all of it at the cost of every other game in my collection.
The fact that the game is so much fun to play is obviously part of the equation as well. Managing your hand and what you play next, monitoring your opponent's discard piles, making sure you don't put a critical card into recycle for two turns, anticipating movement. It's a game you can learn. I love games you can learn. I hesitate to make the comparison, but it has a feel of chess in that you must plan many rounds ahead and can do so very successfully since all information is public. Knowing how the opposing fighter works is a massive part of winning.
The art in BattleCON is also top notch. Each character is masterfully conceived with excellent colors and their unique likenesses. The components are high quality and the cardboard is thick. The box leaves a little to be desired, but when you cram that much into it, there's very little to complain about. I'm still hoping for a massive all-in-one box like the one teased as a stretch goal for the War of Indines reprint Kickstarter. For now, I use two BCW card boxes (with the lids torn off) for all the cards. There's room for a third, but I leave that area open for bosses, arenas, tokens, and life counters. I also have an awesome set of custom dividers for each hero that were created by a user on Boardgamegeek.com.
If you're looking for a game that captures the feel of a fighting game, heavily features both strategic and tactical thinking, and offers what must be hundreds of hours of gameplay, then BattleCON is a game you're going to love. And there's more to come including War of Indines, Fate of Indines and who knows what next. Keep an eye out because this franchise is blowing up right before your eyes and you do not want to miss out.