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Subject: Trading Punches — A Review of Maha Yodha rss

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Nathaniel Hobbes
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There is a game you play as an elementary school boy. It's the game where you take turns punching each other in the arm until one of you gives up. That's it. You just stand there trading punches until you stop. Eventually, you stop playing because it's not a very good game.

When I played Maha Yodha, I felt like I was playing the punch game distilled down into a card game. I play my cards to hit you as hard as I can. Then, you play your cards to punch me back. We keep on doing that until one of us gets knocked out, and then the other player wins.

Let me back up. Maha Yodha is a deck dueling game where the decks represent different factions of gods, demigods, and legendary heroes from Hindu mythology. On your turn, you have 5 points to spend (called Valor in the game) and a hand full of cards that all cost points to play. You have to choose, do I spend them on this scroll (magic spell), or do I play this big warrior and weapon combo instead? Do I have enough to use this smaller scroll and still put out a warrior? Some scrolls and all warriors deal damage. If the damage overcomes defense, then the opponent loses health. The first player to lose all of their 20 health loses.

Right now, it sounds quite standard, but there is a twist that makes this game interesting. At the beginning of your next turn, you discard all scrolls, but you pick up your warriors and weapons back to your hand. Then you choose and discard any number of cards, draw up to five, and take your turn with your 5 valor. That means you can spend all your valor putting down the same warrior and weapon combo five turns in a row. It also means you almost never have more than one hero, and I've never seen more than two.

This hand-management and cycling mechanic is quite solid and interesting. You need to balance attack and defense, cycle your deck, disrupt your opponent's combos, and do anything you can to gain and keep the advantage. It's just that mechanic isn't embedded in much of a game. You play a warrior to punch your opponent, your opponent plays a warrior to punch you. There are some combos and scrolls to mix it up a bit, so you can block, dodge, or misdirect, but you're still essentially standing there in a roshambo match.

In fact, you could completely re-theme this game as a wrestling match. Wrestlers grapple other and balance offense and defense to wear down their opponent's energy. Sometimes, you or your opponent can get a lock (combo), and then the other has to struggle desperately to break the lock before he's forced to tap out and submit. That theme actually makes more sense with the mechanics (but it still wouldn't be a very good game).

It's not very interesting because nothing develops over the game. There is no feeling that the game is building towards something. You assess current present situation with zero long-term planning. You make highly obvious hand-management choices based on this situation. Nothing stays on the table at the beginning of the next turn. Your valor level never goes up. It's always just punch, counter-punch. Oops, you dodged that one. Punch again. One commentator here on BGG said that one turn is exactly like the other throughout the game, and I would agree, but I would go even further. One game is exactly like the other. You draw different cards, but you always make the same choices. Hit or cycle.

I've mentioned the theme before, but let's look at it in more detail. These mechanics seem to have absolutely no connection to the theme. What is this thing that has twenty life? Who is this summoner who controls the actions of the gods themselves? What are these gods fighting for? At the end of the game, what have you won? What is the story here?

One night, after playing it with my friend, we were both so bored we didn't even want to finish the game. Instead, we sat down and hashed out some ideas that turned into a house-rules variant. It took us maybe half an hour to put that interesting hand-management mechanic into a game that everyone who has tried it likes better. My version isn't perfect, but I think it's a good illustration of how to make the mechanics consistent with the theme, and to utilize the clever hand-management of Maha Yodha into a full game with a setup, midgame, and endgame stages.

I had read and watched some positive reviews of this game, so I checked out the Kickstarter. I wanted a deck dueling game. The creators seemed like cool guys, and they unlocked all their stretch goals so that people could have the full experience of the game. I loved the idea of a game based on Hindu mythology, which I have never seen done before. Thus, I backed the Kickstarter. I had some doubts, but I went for it. I got kind of excited about it, and I printed out the PnP. Now, if nothing changes with this game, when my copy is delivered, I won't even open it. I'll sell it on Ebay or trade it as a brand new game and hope to get something that I actually want to play.
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Avri
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Wow - that has not been our experience at all.

On most turns we have found that there are so many opportunities for fancy combos that the worry is AP, not auto-play. And as soon as one player has a slight lead, the other can't afford to get into a slug-fest, so must switch things up.

Each game has left us wanting another play, and the last time we spent 4 rounds with the score a 2-1 with both of us trying to "land that last punch" (in terms of your review.)

Guess the world don't move to the beat of just one drum . . .
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Thanks for broadening the conversation. I'd love a chance to sit down and play a game with you to see if I'm doing something wrong, missing some strategy, or some other oversight or flaw. You may be right, this might just not be the right game for my tastes, but I really am trying to give it a fair chance. So far, it has not provided a satisfying experience.
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hobbesvii wrote:
I'd love a chance to sit down and play a game with you.

Next time you're in New York (or I'm in Korea) . . .
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Mike
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I just got my game today and haven't played it yet. But I've heard a few people saying there's a problem with a player getting a strong combination by luck early in the game and then being able to just keep recycling it every turn.

So here's a suggested rule variant. Any time a player loses a battle, he can optionally surrender an additional life. If he does so, the winner must choose one of his warriors or weapons from the battle and move it to the discard pile.

The cost of a life will keep players from using this casually. But it will give them an option for breaking up an otherwise unbeatable combination.
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Sagar Shankar
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Hello Nat! Hope you managed a few plays with Maha Yodha. Tell us about it. We made some tweaks to it and the game has come a long way since the first PnP version. Have you also play tested your variant more?
 
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Hi Sagar, I haven't cracked the shrink on my copy yet. I've been waiting to see some more users' first impressions to see if I should check it out, or sell it as brand new. I did read through the final PnP files, and the changes all look good, but did not address my main complaints. The final art and package is gorgeous, though. Did you find a distributor to pick up the game for retail? Best of luck!
 
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