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Subject: 7-Card Slugfest: A Review rss

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Jesse Hickle
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Colorado Springs
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This review originally appeared on my blog, Boards and Bees. A review copy of this game was kindly provided by Level 99 Games.



7-Card Slugfest is a game for 3-8 players, also designed by D. Brad Talton and also set in the world of Indines. Whereas Pixel Tactics is more of a tactical strategy game, the Slugfest is chaos in a box. The idea is that you're in a bar, and you're getting into fights, trying to earn the most gold. There are eleven possible characters, each with a 7-card deck (imagine that), and you have to time your punches just right to get the knockouts.

The game comes with 77 character cards, 12 placards (one per character plus the bartender), eight drink tokens, and a bunch of cardboard gold coins. Each player takes a character deck, placing their placard in the center. When someone says "FIGHT!", everyone can start flipping cards over from their deck (you may only use one hand to play this game). You can look at the card, then place it face down on another player's placard. The back of each card gives a number indicating that card's strength, but many of the cards (three in each deck) have a special ability that can affect their power.

When a player runs out of cards, they grab a drink token (-3 to +3), which affects their stamina for the fight. When all players have finished with their cards and have a drink token, you resolve each fight. You can do this simultaneously, but I like to see what happened to everyone. You flip over the cards on your placard so the bottom card is resolved first (it was the first punch, after all). You add up strengths and apply damage until you have reached 10 (plus or minus the number on your drink token). At this point, you are KO'd, and the player who knocked you out gets a KO point - all other cards are discarded with no effect. Anyone who does not get KO'd gets a survivor bonus (1 KO point). Once all have been resolved, whoever got the most KO points gets a gold bonus.

At the beginning of each round after the first, you'll flip over a stage card. This changes the rules somewhat - now you can use two hands, now you play your cards face up, now you can't attack either of your neighbors, etc. This will also indicate gold payouts for each round. After seven rounds, the player with the most points wins. And I love how they deal with the tie situation - "If the case of a tie, total up all gloating rights and distribute them evenly among all tied winners." Much better than "Rejoice in your shared victory."

COMPONENTS: The overall component quality for this game is pretty good. The cards are all a good size, and clearly marked. There are some subtleties in the powers that may take a while to pick up, but the cards are good. The placards for each fighter are big and thick, and include a reminder of the card powers. This can be a bit confusing if you don't realize that the placards do nothing - you're waiting for a bonus from the placard that never comes, or something like that. The money, character, and drink tokens are all pretty large sized. The box is a good size for everything, but once it all comes out of shrink and gets punched, you'll need to get rid of the cardboard insert.

THEME: The Indines theme of this game is present in the characters, who all appear in other Indines titles (including Pixel Tactics). There are some character descriptions in the rules, and I'm assuming it's consistent across all titles. If you're a fan of the Indines universe, there's some fan service there.

The other big part of the theme is the barroom brawl aspect. The theme is pretty unique, as far as I know, and the multiplayer simultaneous play does well to imitate it. The chaos that you get is definitely reminiscent of people just throwing punches and trying to hit anything. I'm not a huge fan of the barroom aspect of it - I don't drink, and alcohol themes are typically ones that I avoid. However, the tavern setting is a little more thematic for the universe than, say, a brawl at a soccer game (where, let's face it, alcohol would probably be involved). The use of drink tokens helps the theme as players can be empowered or weakened by the booze.

There are no female characters in the game. My wife commented on this, and also commented that apparently women wouldn't be taking part in this activity. Take it as you will.

The theme is present, but not overwhelming in the game. As you play, it's easy to forget that you're hitting people and fall into just playing cards. I suggest shouting some insults with each punch to heighten the atmosphere.

MECHANICS: The central mechanism of this game is simultaneous card play. Each player has a small deck, and everyone is throwing punches left and right quickly to try and knock each other out. Chaos abounds. But the card play works well for what it is - you're simply trying to play the card that hits a target number. This is made more complicated by the drink tokens, which can change the number. These make the game a little more random.

The special powers are what separates everyone from everyone else, and help provide some extra variety to the game. One character can move cards around in the stack. One can do damage based on cards that are placed after his. One can do damage based on cards placed before his. One causes other punches to be discarded. One does damage that is not necessarily what the back of the card said it was. One only does damage if his is the knockout punch. One does damage based on the opponent's drink token. One steals the survivor bonus of anyone who doesn't get knocked out. One has punches that cycle around. One has very powerful punches that can't knock someone out. And one does an indeterminate amount of damage - there's an X on the back of every card.

The other thing that provides some variety, even within the game, are the stage cards. These change the rules in every round. It doesn't change the game substantially, but does change the way you play. One had players take turns rather than the usual free-for-all (one player in our game said he preferred playing that way). One had you play a card on your neighbor to your left and to your right before playing. One had you play without looking at your cards. This made each round different, so it wasn't just lather-rinse-repeat.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Let's say this. If you're looking for a highly strategic, deep, meaty game, you're looking in the exact wrong place. You CANNOT strategize this game. If you try, you're going to have a bad time. You can be smart about your placement, you can try to combo your punches, but it's going to be mass chaos. You have been warned.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is an easy game to teach, but it's not an easy game to play. The fact that everyone is playing at once makes everything very confusing, especially in your first game. Plus, some powers are easier to understand than others. The resolution of each fight is supposed to be done simultaneously, but I've found that it's better to resolve them one by one, especially in the first game. The simultaneous resolution makes things quicker, but can be chaotic as players pass their tokens around.

This is a game that can be learned. But it is extremely group dependent. Some people are going to like the chaos and embrace it. Some are going to be confused. Some are going to outright hate it. This game is one where you're really going to have to know your audience.

REPLAYABILITY: The different character powers and stage cards will provide lots of variety to the game. I think it's pretty replayable as long as you find a group that's willing to play it multiple times.

SCALABILITY: The game is for 3-8 players. I have played with five and with eight. Five was good, eight was far too chaotic. Eight might be better with experience, but I suspect 5-6 is the best number for the game. Three seems like far too few.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes and no. I like the game, but I tend to like games with that element of chaos and unpredictability, games where you do your actions and then find out what happens. I also recognize that this game is not going to be for everyone. In my first game, I had some very mixed opinions. One person was very vocal about his dislike for the game. Another person mentioned later that he just didn't care for it. Several people were confused throughout. At least one person was just playing randomly throughout. One person said he liked it, but had some suggestions about how to better teach the game. Another player told me he really liked it and wanted to get his own copy. My second game was more successful as I streamlined the teaching and resolved battles one at a time rather than simultaneously. That group all generally liked it. One person said it was a good palate cleanser - something that would be good to play after burning your brain out with a longer game.

So take that as you will. I enjoy the game, and I know others will too. However, some people won't because it's just not their style. And that's OK. I'll gladly recommend it to people who like chaotic games, but I also think it's a try-before-you-buy situation.
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